Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Distance Learning, Cyber Schools, and the Future of Education?

In a paper written in 1999, Roger C. Schank and Kemi Jona make some interesting predictions about the impact that online learning will have on our education system. It's suprising to me how relevant these predictions seem now, almost 10 years later.

Here's an excerpt that really gets to the heart of this vision:

"...traditional academic courses are no longer going to be taught by local teachers. The computer will allow the creation of learn by doing courses rather than learn by telling courses. The computer will allow the designers of these courses to be the best and the brightest in any given field. Moreover, these courses will be very engaging, non threatening, diverse, and fun. Once the very best physicists in the world sit down and create a physics course, there will be little use for local physics teachers....The same will be true for every academic subject and for many subjects that are not now seen as academically relevant. Companies will create courses and guarantee employment to those who pass them. Quality universities will put their names on these courses. This will create tremendous change for everyone involved in the education system, from students to teachers to administrators to government education agencies." [Full Article: Schank, R.C. & Jona, K. (1999). Extracurriculars as the Curriculum: A Vision of Education for the 21st Century. Forum on Technology in Education: Envisioning the Future, Office of Educational Technology.]

The basic premise here is that teacher's roles will shift from teaching academic subject to focusing more on social and interpersonal skills. Their role will become more of a "learning facilitator" than a direct conduit of information and facts. The role of school will also change in this scenario to become more of a social center where students participate in group projects and activities.

It's interesting to see the prevalance of distance learning options for secondary students that are popping up lately. For example, brightstorm.com has just launched a video-based learning portal.

The courses are delivered like t.v. shows in a very fun and engaging way. Each course is $49 for a 12 month subscription and all sorts of academic and non-academic topics are available. The site also offers student networking and the ability to apply creativity and technology skills to variety of student "challenges".

It definitely feels like a shift is on the horizon!

Monday, October 20, 2008

CHAD (Charter High School for Architecture & Design)

The Charter High School for Architecture and Design in Philadelphia (CHAD) has an innovative way to approach Education through a curriculum that emphasizes the design process.

What's really interesting is that objective is not to offer professional architectural education. Rather, the design process is used as a vehicle for instilling creative and analytical thinking and to engage students who are more visually-oriented.

Important to this process are studio activities that involve structured investigation, self-reflection, critique, aesthetics, historical context, and multiculturalism. Students also take a very hands on approach to learning. For example, in geometry they might make physical models. In Environmental studies they will go out and observe what they are discussing.

CHAD opened in 1999 and serves approximately 400 students in grades 9-12. The school has partnered with the General Building Contractors Association (GBCA) and over 80 architectural firms. The Industrial Designers Society of America and The American Institute of Arts have also officially endorsed the school.

Friday, October 17, 2008

What are 21st Century Skills?

There is a lot of talk about 21st century skills, but what exactly is meant by that? What are the specific skills that students need to be learning?

Here is my representration of the 21st Century Skills framework developed by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (click image for a larger view).

Traditional core subjects such as math and science still form the base of the 21st century skill set. However, additional important 21st century themes such as global awareness and entrepreneurial literacy are added to these core subjects.

As much as students need to learn academic content, they also need to know how to keep learning — and make effective and innovative use of what they know — throughout their lives. This is where the additional skills such as creativity, innovation, media and technology literacy, communication and problem-solving become important. These skills should be taught in the approach to all academic subjects.

Finally, there are life skills which need to be incorporated more broadly across the school's curriculum such as personal responsibility, ethics, self-direction and adaptability. These skills are important to life-long success in today's world.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Innovative Learning Conference 2008

Today was the last day of the Innovative Learning Conference 2008 at the San Jose Convention Center. Unfortunately I learned of this event too late to attend, but definitely an event I want to check out next year.

There were some many interesting sessions on technology integration and using technology in new ways to engage and enrich the learning experinece.

Would have liked to catch the session on "Immersive, Collaborative Simulations and Neomillennial Learning Styles" by Harvard school of Education professor Chris Dede. The session on "Learning in Multi-User Virtual Games" also looked very interesting.

If anyone out there attended I would be interested to hear your impressions!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Go Ask Alice

Alice 2.0 is an innovative 3D programming environment developed by Carnegie Mellon that makes it easy to create an animation for telling a story, playing an interactive game, or a video to share on the web. It uses 3D graphics and a drag-and-drop interface to facilitate a more engaging, less frustrating first programming experience. This is not only a great way to teach math and programming skills to kids, but is also a digital storytelling tool that can be used to augment any type of curriculum.

Alice 2.0 is designed for High School and college students, but there is also a stortytelling version for Middle School Students. My daughter (age 11) downloaded the regular version, watched the tutorials and within a couple hours and created a couple short animations. I decided to try my hand at this as well and put together this short animation in about 15 minutes (okay maybe it shows!):

A new version of Alice is in development now in collaboration with Electronic Arts. This new version will utlize characters and models from the popular Sims 2 game. Hopefully it will also come with better export capabilities. With the current version there is no easy way to save out animations to post or share.

I did download the beta version (2.2) which supposedly saves out .mov files, but could not get it to work. I had to utilize a third party screen capture utility to create the avi example above.

I would love to hear from educators that have succesfully utilized Alice in their classrooms at the secondary school level.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Visual Literacy: The Story of Movies

Visual literacy is an increasingly important compentency in today's digital and highly visual society. This is the ability to see, to understand, and ultimately to think, create, and communicate graphically. Visual literacy incorporates several of the skills indentified by the Parternship for 21st Century Skills including critical thinking, media literacy and communication.

I just happened upon a fantastic Middle School Curriculum that is designed to teach students to "read" the visual language of Film. The curriculum (entitled "The Story of Movies") is a project of the Film Foundation, established in 1990 by Martin Scorcese and fellow film directors Woody Allen, Robert Altman, Francis Ford Coppola, Clint Eastwood, Stanley Kubrick, George Lucas, Sydney Pollack, Robert Redford, and Steven Spielberg.

There are three curricula each based on a different film: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Day the Earth Stood Still and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Students learn the language of film, the composition of a shot, the collaborative process of film and the connection between history and culture (among other topics).

The Story of Movies curriculum is available for free to teachers by completing a simple Web registration.

Books on my reading list

  • A Whole New Mind
  • Designing the Sustainable School
  • Digital Storytelling in the Classroom: New Media Pathways to Literacy, Learning & Creativity
  • Digital Storytelling: A Creator's Guide to Interactive Entertainment
  • How to Grow a School
  • No Homework & Recess All Day
  • The World is Flat