To Tweet or Not to Tweet…That is the Question
March 21, 2013
Kerri Schweibert – Guest Blogger
I don’t have a Smart Phone, I don’t have cable, and I took the leap into 2011 last year by finally signing up for online banking. So I’m not the go-to girl to lead a technological revolution. Of course I host online discussions, have class websites on Moodle, and utilize a SMART Board, but I’ve realized that I’m hesitant to blindly follow in the direction technology seems to be baiting us (no carrot required). As an English teacher and lover of books, I cannot fathom a world where Kindles have become ubiquitous and books extinct. And when people ask me why I’m so opposed to digital texts, the Romantic in me can’t come up with a more concrete explanation than, “There’s just something about holding a book!”
I recently came across an article that, for the first time in a long time, opened me up to the possibilities of technology in education. I’ve always believed that our children’s use of technology hampers their writing capabilities. However, according to OMG Engaging Students on Their Own Terms, “texting encourages written communication. Students are actually writing more now than any time in history.” This makes complete sense when you realize that the typical teenager sends over 3,000 text messages per month. Okay true, but texting will be the death of real writing. In response to this growing sentiment, the article explains that Socrates believed “writing was going to be the death of thinking and debate,” and “fifteenth-century educators believed that the printing press and wide availability of books would be the death of scholarly writing.”
In Shakespeare’s words, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” Having students summarize an article, or state an opinion, or forge a question in a tweet of 140 characters can force them to stop doing the tango around their point and just get there. However, at the same token, what if Shakespeare tweeted the balcony scene? The beauty and romance of his language would be lost. So what else can be at stake? What is the dowry we need to pay to the technological gods infiltrating our classrooms?
Larry D. Rosen claims that we’re all headed for iDisorders: “where you exhibit signs and symptoms of a psychiatric disorder such as OCD, narcissism, addiction or even ADHD, which are manifested through your use — or overuse — of technology.” As ludicrous as it sounds, it’s true. People keep their phones next to their dinner plates, families enforce “tech breaks” at the table, someone gives you the play-by-play of their daily activities via status updates. As my dear friend Ryan once said, “Why is it I can drive for days with my gas light on but freak out when my cell battery goes below 50%?”
So what’s the apropos cliche here? “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”? Well, maybe you can just send them a friend request.
Kerri Schweibert received a B.A. in English Education from Stony Brook University and an M.A. in English literature from Queens College. Born and raised in New York, Kerri spent time traveling and studying abroad before she decided to settle down in Hawai’i. She currently lives in Honolulu, teaching English at Assets High School.
EdTech and Teacher Voice
March 18, 2013
Ben Barton, Guest Blogger
I have just returned from SXSWedu (4-7 March) where my company zondle was competing for the Launchedu prize (K12). We didn’t quite make the showdown but the experience of pitching was fantastic.
Overall the conference seemed more a ‘trade show’ rather than teaching event with groups like Pearson (Foundation) and Amplify having a big presence. Others have commented about the lack of teachers including @tomwhitby, @ewanmcintosh and @audreywaters, and this did cause me some concern (along with the obsession with ‘big data’ – what are governments going to do with it?).
I share many concerns that business and big government are driving too much of the innovation in education right now, and teachers are being left as passive consumers of whatever technology will give the right data (or return on investment).
This is why the best part of my week was visiting a small school in South Austin called Cunningham Elementary to take a class on games based learning, talk to teachers and watch an amazing assembly.
Zondle is my third start up, each of these have started bottom-up by focusing on what teachers need to deliver on requirements set to by districts or central government. By keeping our overheads low and building communities around each business, we have been able to make strong profits by targeting affordable products straight to teachers.
There are three key methods for keeping in touch with teachers and putting them at the heart of our community:
a) Focus Groups – run 5-10 every term to test products, find out what teachers are concerned about right now and build community.
b) Regular email/twitter contact –to keep teachers informed about our developments, and even what we are thinking about new initiatives from government etc.
c) Visiting schools – after I sold my second business, I became a teaching assistant in a school in inner city London. The experience was invaluable, and I now try to visit a school (for a whole day) at least 2x per month to ‘walk in the shoes’ of teachers.
None of this is rocket science, but it does fly in the face of the cult of the engineer and marketing guru in many EdTech startups I see. Of course I love amazingly put together technology and innovative approaches to the market, but if your company doesn’t begin and end with the teacher in mind then your product/service won’t get used.
Ben Barton is CEO of zondle (one of 6 semi-finalists in LaunchEdu at SXSWedu 2013). Zondle has over 220,000 users around the world answering 7m questions each month. Previously Ben was a co-founder at Rising Stars UK Ltd and a teaching assistant at Whitmore School, Hackney, London. He tweets @bartoneducation and re-builds a canal boat in his spare time.
Funny to say out-loud and passed in 1974, FERPA seems like a law that wouldn’t be relevant today. But, with the advent of the edtech industry, the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99) has never been more important.
FERPA was created to make sure that information about students, collected by schools, was being utilized in a responsible way by setting up the following rights:
- Parents, guardians, and students 18 or older (PG&S) can obtain and request corrections of student data
- PG&S must sign off on the sharing of any student data with the government, other schools, or outside firms
However, Schools can share “directory” data with whomever they please. Directory data is categorized as “the student’s name, address, telephone listing, date and place of birth, major field of study” (5, A), among a few others.
Why it’s so Important Now:
When reading the bullets above, one might ask, “why is the second bullet point in bold”? The section of FERPA that gives PG&S the right to be notified about data has a wide swath of exceptions. This is where the all-important discussion about edtech innovation versus personal liberty comes to the center stage.
Subsection 5, F of FERPA gives teachers and administrators the ability to share student info without permission if they feel it will improve their education.
The sharing of information is a double-edged sword for education innovation, both a vital tool to be utilized for aiding teachers on shaping the future of our world, and an area that could be manipulated and over-marketed if put into the hands of those who care more about money than our children. At Always Prepped, we believe that student data must be secure and entrusted to only those who are fighting to improve education, not manipulate it. That is why we have taken so much time and care to make sure we have the best and safest system (bank grade encryption) for our educators, students, and parents to help them monitor their information.
Whatever direction the future takes, the door is open for a great dialogue.
To read the actual text of FERPA: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/20/1232g
5 Things that can change education forever
March 27, 2012
I recently heard a speech I’ve been bragging about to everyone I know by Harvard Professor Roland Fryer that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about — not even at 2am on a Saturday night. I’ve never heard him speak before and it was incredible to see such passion in a person when he started diving into why education was so important to his life. The only other person who has impressed me as much when talking about education is Sir Ken Robinson.
My radical 9th grade college idea
March 27, 2012
Here’s a radical idea – What if we had every 9th grader in America fill out a college application before they start high school? These applications are exactly what they’d see as juniors and seniors with one exception – they don’t actually get sent to the schools.
Sometimes we get caught up in all the numbers and statistics only to forget that life has a lot of simple answers waiting for us. My proposition for having every 9th grader fill out a college application started from a simple thought I myself had about high school: “If I only knew then, what I know now.” Haven’t you had this thought in your life at some point? Well, as adults we know the value of a higher education. We know that kids have extraordinary potential; now more than ever with all the tools and technology available for them; and we also know that most 14 year olds – no matter how polished or educated until that age – have no idea what the college process is really like. So why not give it to them? The application won’t obviously go out – but will simply be a “practice run” on what they’ll actually need to do towards the end of high school. An early guide, kick in the face – whatever you want to call it for every student entering high school with one objective in mind: continue your education in college with a mastery and understanding of this application process being your “golden ticket” out.
I’ve spent the past four years of my life working at an education company in Washington DC selling software to college admissions offices, so I’ve picked up a few tidbits about the college application process over the years. I’ve talked to and met with schools in places I didn’t even know had schools. Did you know there are over 4,000 Colleges and Universities in America and 20,000+ programs? I don’t believe for a second that there isn’t an option for every kid out there who truly wants to get a degree of higher learning in something; Heck a lot of schools now even allow you to “create” your own major!
If every high school freshman filled out a “practice” college application, I believe it will do the following:
1) Show them first hand what schools will ask of them throughout their high school career outside of the classroom (extra-curricular activities, sports, clubs, etc). I think this alone will help boost engagement and teach kids the value of a rounded experience in high school and that simply getting good grades isn’t everything or enough.
2) It will give them a better idea of what kind of grades their favorite schools tend to look for. I believe this will better motivate kids to achieve in the classroom because for the first time, they’ll have an exact goal to aim for. They’ll learn that not everyone can or needs to be a valedictorian or that every school requires a 4.0 to get accepted. I think most kids have a fear their grades aren’t good enough for college when most of them consistently show extraordinary capacity for academic success.
3) For the first time in their lives, it will give students a direct correlation between education and money. Yes money – not just a “job”. Most of us grew up being told, “Go to College and you’ll make more money”. Okay – but like most things teenagers hear, I think that goes in one ear and out the other. What if a freshman in high school could understand that a career in anthropology, technology, music, arts, dance, advertising, media, etc – all have a better start with a foundation in higher education. I bet most kids in high school have no clue how broad college is in terms of what it can offer.
I haven’t been able to find any statistical data or analysis on giving freshman a “college application” experience and then tracking that against a control group to see if their:
a) Performance academically over four years increases.
b) Their desire to attend and actually apply to college increases.
c) Their retention rates in college are higher because of the early path they started on.
d) They are less likely to commit crimes or go to prison.
e) They are more likely to have a social impact on society.
I’m willing to bet – a whole heck of a lot that if we continue to push students at a younger age with more information about their future – in lectures, charts – numbers – and statistics, it will only move the needle so far.
We need to let students discover all of this for themselves. They need to feel the impact of their future, before the future gets to them. Our job as education advocates, teachers, and “adults” is to use information and data to create better systems for students to adopt, try, and develop. Our job is not simply to feed kids data and information about their future and expect them to “understand” how they need to live their lives for success.
Let’s hand them the future – literally.