Explaining the Why of Your Ed-tech Choices

What does personalized learning mean at your school?

But what exactly does “personalized learning” mean across these varied products and contexts? And more broadly speaking, which labels and claims employed by companies can be trusted? How do the products schools are being offered differ from what teachers are already doing in their classrooms? Is personalized learning being oversold?

They’re all questions that get more complicated by the year for district officials trying to settle on personalized learning strategies and figure out which products will help them meet their goals.

“It’s become such a generic term. It’s aspirin,” said Daniel Gohl, the chief academic officer of Florida’s Broward County Schools, the sixth-largest district in the country. “Slapping on the label ‘personalized’ does not mean that [a product] helps me systematically move student achievement.”

Source: Are Companies Overselling Personalized Learning? — Education Week

I don’t really know what my school district means by personalized learning. It’s nebulous and never really explained. I don’t know the why.

Some years ago, therefore, I hatched the idea of supporting such educators by convening a brain trust of leading theorists, researchers, and practitioners to create – and then disseminate – concise defenses of various features of progressive education. I imagined a set of handouts, each consisting of a single (double-sided) sheet that responded to a common question. The idea was to lay out the case briskly, making liberal use of bullet points and offering a short bibliography at the end for anyone who wanted more information.

One of these “Why Sheets,” for example, might explain a teacher’s decision to create a curriculum based on kids’ questions. Or for setting aside time each day for a class meeting. It might defend helping students to understand mathematical principles rather than just memorizing facts and algorithms. Or it might lay out the case for avoiding worksheets, or tests, or homework, or traditional bribe-and-threat classroom management strategies.

Eventually I started thinking about creating additional Why Sheets to help administrators defend enlightened schoolwide policies: why we don’t track students; why we push back against standardized testing and never brag about high scores; why we have multiage classrooms; why we’ve replaced report cards with student-led parent conferences; why we use a problem-solving approach to discipline in place of suspensions and detentions; why our commitment to building community has led us to avoid awards assemblies, spelling bees, and other rituals that pit kids against one another.

In short, any practice that’s constructive yet still controversial would be fair game for one of these punchy handouts. The idea was to help educators explain why they do what they do – and, equally important, why they deliberately avoid doing some things. The sheets would be made available free of charge, uncopyrighted, and accompanied by an invitation to distribute them promiscuously.

The Why Axis – Alfie Kohn

Kohn presents these why sheets as a way to provide support for progressive teachers trying new things, something I’ve suggested at school a time or two.

Some years ago, therefore, I hatched the idea of supporting such educators by convening a brain trust of leading theorists, researchers, and practitioners to create – and then disseminate – concise defenses of various features of progressive education. I imagined a set of handouts, each consisting of a single (double-sided) sheet that responded to a common question. The idea was to lay out the case briskly, making liberal use of bullet points and offering a short bibliography at the end for anyone who wanted more information.

I don’t consider the mainstream ed-tech notions of personalized learning progressive, but I still want to know the why. I want to know the why of choosing behaviorism and data collection. I want to know the why of choosing, for example, platooning vs. looping. I want to know the why of many things I see in ed.

My professional culture is heavy on writing.

For organizations, the single biggest difference between remote and physical teams is the greater dependence on writing to establish the permanence and portability of organizational culture, norms and habits. Writing is different than speaking because it forces concision, deliberation, and structure, and this impacts how politics plays out in remote teams.

Writing changes the politics of meetings. Every Friday, Zapieremployees send out a bulletin with: (1) things I said I’d do this week and their results, (2) other issues that came up, (3) things I’m doing next week. Everyone spends the first 10 minutes of the meeting in silence reading everyone’s updates.

Remote teams practice this context setting out of necessity, but it also provides positive auxiliary benefits of “hearing” from everyone around the table, and not letting meetings default to the loudest or most senior in the room. This practice can be adopted by companies with physical workplaces as well (in fact, Zapier CEO Wade Foster borrowed this from Amazon), but it takes discipline and leadership to change behavior, particularly when it is much easier for everyone to just show up like they’re used to.

Writing changes the politics of information sharing and transparency.

Source: Distributed teams are rewriting the rules of office(less) politics | TechCrunch

Communication is oxygen. At my company, we build our communication culture on blogging. We create FAQs and Field Guides and Master Posts for everything. Writing and transparency are important parts of managing change and creating alignment.

Administrators are educators. Educate by writing in the open. Educate by publishing why sheets. Borrow from what works in distributed work: a culture of writing and transparency. Do some of the heavy lifting for teachers who have to defend district decisions to parents. Write. Write on the open web so that teachers can reference why sheets when communicating with parents. Default to open.

The Flow of Multi-age Learning and Peer Mentoring

Time flows differently when children work together, the older becoming aspirational peers for younger children, no bells demanding that they stop what they are doing to move in short blocks of time from math to reading to science to history in a repetitive daily cycle. Instead, they work on projects that engage them in experiences across content areas and extend time as they see the need.

Source: Timeless Learning: How Imagination, Observation, and Zero-Based Thinking Change Schools (Kindle Locations 4366-4370). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

We lose so much when we divide students by age… We lose peer mentoring, we lose the aspirations to be “like the big kids,” we lose the ability of younger kids to become leaders, and we lose the ability to let kids grow at their own rate. We also lose the shared public space which lies at the heart of community, culture, and democracy.

Source: SpeEdChange: The Multiage Magic

Via: Making Sense of Multi-Age Learning – Abe Moore – Medium

Via:

We’ve noticed this with homeschooling/unschooling networks using programs like Science Olympiad. Students with Olympiad experience loop through helping newcomers and younger kids. They get to demonstrate their expertise and teach.

“Time flows differently”, indeed. It flows more on a maker’s schedule than a manager’s schedule. It flows through backchannels because written communication is the great social equalizer. It flows in ways more compatible with neurological pluralism.

A Tale Told in Plain Text: Accessibility, Written Communication, and the Unix Philosophy

Around 1971, Ray Tomlinson developed the idea of networked electronic mail, which was hugely attractive to me because it replaced uncertain voice calls with the clarity of text. The development of the Internet was undertaken in the context of heavy use of email.

The rise of video conferencing has actually been a huge challenge for me as it reintroduces some of the uncertainty of voice calling and I look forward to real-time, automatic captioning to overcome the limitations that medium poses for me.

What message do you have for people creating technology today and how they should think about accessibility?

It must be thought through during the design phase of any product. Accessibility and ease of use go hand in hand. Many people experience temporary disability (broken arm, leg, finger, blocked ears…) and appreciate the value of accessibility features from that experience. There is no excuse for making products that are not accessible.

Source: Vint Cerf on accessibility, the cello and noisy hearing aids

Video conferencing has been a challenge for me too. I’ve been collaborating via text for decades. Written communication is the great social equalizer. I wouldn’t have been able to contribute without it.

This kind of technology supports the shy user, the user with speech issues, the user having trouble with the English Language, the user who’d rather be able to think through and even edit a statement or question before asking it.

Backchannels especially support autistic people. “Online communication for autistics has been compared to sign language for the deaf. Online, we are able to participate as equals. Our disability is often invisible and we are treated like humans. It provides much needed human contact otherwise denied us.” “Online communication is a valid accommodation for the social disability that comes with being Autistic. We need online interaction.” “Thin slice studies showed that people prejudge us harshly in just micro-seconds of seeing or hearing us (though we fare better than neurotypical subjects when people only see our written words).

Source: Bring the backchannel forward. Written communication is the great social equalizer.

Appreciation for plain text and written communication is part of the Unix philosophy on which the Internet was built. Unix is “the geek Gilgamesh epic; it’s a tale told in plain text.”

Authors and writers of all stripes can learn a lot about creating and managing words from computer programmers, beginning with an appreciation for the simple, durable efficiencies of plain text. Anybody running Unix, Linux, or BSD already knows all about text, because it’s the third prong of the Unix Tools Philosophy:

  1. Write programs that do one thing and do it well;
  2. Write programs that work together;
  3. Write programs to handle text streams, because that is a universal interface.

The geeks who made Unix nearly 40 years ago made plain text the universal interface because they believed in economy, simplicity, and reliability.

If Unix is the geek Gilgamesh epic, it’s a tale told in plain text.

Source: Plain Text For Authors & Writers – Richard Dooling