The Delphian School

More on Learner at the Center

More on the Aspen Task Force on Learning and the Internet’s 2014 report Learner at the Center of a Networked World. (Aspen Institute Task Force on Learning and the Internet, Learner at the Center of a Networked World, Washington, D.C.: The Aspen Institute, June 2014.)   At their site is a great short video that summarizes the report hat I highly recommend (click here).

(You can also watch the longer video of the live Panel on the Task Force.)  I did and I learned a lot.  This group really confronted all aspects of this topic, and they were action-oriented from the beginning of their work.

I want to focus on a few notes in the Forward that bear highlighting and contemplation.

“America is at an inflection point [major change in direction of a curve] with respect to reshaping learning, teaching, institutions and indeed how we deliver these to individuals—of every age. In our country, the quality of education today will determine America’s strength in the future and help individuals secure their own prosperity. Yet, according to international tests, American students are falling farther behind their counterparts in other countries, which suggest that our 18th and 19th century model of education is not working as it should in the 21st century.”

The Washington Post used National Center of Education Statistics data in its April 28 report on high school graduation rates, reporting a high water mark of 80% of students who entered schools four years earlier graduating four years later, but noting that “disparities persist”.  Hmm.

“In many states, one-third of students from low-income families did not graduate. Black students had a 69 percent graduation rate and Hispanic students had a 73 percent rate, while 86 percent of white students and 88 percent of Asian students earned high school diplomas.  English-language learners and special-education students had below-average rates of 59 and 61 percent, respectively.

“And graduation rates varied from state to state.”

The article was about a talk by US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who spoke about the 20% who did not graduate:

“Let’s talk in concrete terms about who is behind those numbers,” Duncan said. “That 20 percent represents 718,000 young people, among them a sharply disproportionate share of African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans” as well as special-needs students and English-language learners, he said.

“Those students without high school diplomas face a bleak life of “poverty and misery.”

“High school graduation may have once been a finish line, but today it is just a beginning,” Duncan said, adding that the nation needs to also concentrate on college graduation rates, which have been slipping.

“A generation ago, the United States led the world in college graduation rates. But today, 11 other countries have surpassed the United States, where 43 percent of young people have a college degree, Duncan said.”

OK.  We have to do better.  We have to.  We have to do something, change something, stop doing something and start doing something else.  These are our children.  

The Aspen Report Task Force wants to provide realistic solutions, and was highly motivated to help solve this problem.  They noted:

“Manufacturing and factories which influenced subjects, teaching models and even classroom design have been replaced by an economy of creating, developing and selling across a vast array of platforms. The jobs of today, and tomorrow, will require an entirely new system of learning—online and offline, in traditional settings and in the real world, inside and outside walled classrooms.”

As many of us have been saying - the time-based factory-model school is dead.  

What I like is that “[t]his report sets forth a vision that stems from the premise that the learner needs to be at the center of novel approaches and innovative learning networks. It argues that we need to embrace innovation to create a diverse system of educational opportunities that can help each and every child reach his or her full potential. “

As many others have noted, our schools are the last institution that has resisted change, while all around us the world has changed, flattened and sped into the 21st century.  The Report Forward says it better than I could:

“New learning networks allow learners and teachers alike to connect directly to resources, people and activities. Teachers likewise will utilize networking for preparing classes, connecting to students and parents, and learning from and with other professionals. A new era is expanding the possibilities for inspiring, mentoring, assessing and credentialing learning for students of all ages. This starts with putting the focus on the student. For today’s students, learning does not start when they enter their homeroom or end when the dismissal school bell rings. Kids can attend class anytime, anywhere, in courses tailored to their own learning style, and at their own pace. We can create an education system where instead of time being the constant with learning the variable, the constant is mastery of content and the variable is time. If the opportunity for personalized learning were made available to all students—and we believe that it can be—we could realize the potential for improving academic performance for all students, substantially reducing the disparities that have long been a troubling aspect of the American educational system.”

I hope you agree with the Task Force (and me) that “[t]his is the education every student can and should receive.”
Posted by marks on Thursday July 10 at 10:02AM
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Learner at the Center - What a Great Idea!

I just read a great short article that everyone should read.  Skip my blog and read the article Tanya Roscorla wrote for the Center for Digital Education 6 Recommendations for Learning in the Digital Age. Really, stop here and click on the article. 

OK, if you are still reading, here’s what the report is all about.  The Aspen Task Force on Learning and the Internet issued its June 2014 report Learner at the Center of a Networked World.  (Aspen Institute Task Force on Learning and the Internet, Learner at the Center of a Networked World, Washington, D.C.: The Aspen Institute, June 2014.)

I watched the release video and read the report.  I get it.  As the article says: “[T]he central idea of this report is that learning should revolve around the student, not the institution or school.”  I’ve mentioned this a few times (smile), and I’ve blogged extensively about this, but it is always good to see it and hear it again, from yet another point of view).

On a note familiar to my readers, John Bailey, co-chair of the task force and executive director of Digital Learning Now. said “The shift to competency-based education will also take a lot of work because it requires a change in thinking and policy.”

These challenging action steps are nested under six recommendations that the task force made in its report. I want to share three of the six recommendations with you.

“1. Redesign learning environments so that students can learn anywhere, any time, at any place and at any pace.

“Public education organizations in the U.S. have traditionally dictated that learning happens in school buildings according to a set bell schedule. But today, many organizations, advocates and education leaders are pushing back on this system and emphasizing that learning can happen everywhere without limitations on time or place.”

You get the idea.  I’ve written and spoken about this a lot.  I loved that the recommended action steps include “pilot competency-based learning, share what's working in these pilots and create assessments that show student progress toward competencies.”  This is exciting to me, because I’ve been talking about this for a long time.

I loved the third recommendation.  “3. Build an infrastructure that will connect students no matter where they learn”

Luckily much of this is happening already, but there is much to be done for public school students.  The report does a good job of outlining what must be done and how best to do it.

Recommendation 4: “Ensure that digital resources can work together.”

This is really needed. Unless you’ve had a job like mine (integrating educational technology), This recommendation might seem silly.  But the report gets it right.  “With so many education technology tools on the market, schools have a hard time getting them to talk to each other…[M]any vendors focus on proprietary systems that don't work in the way that schools want to use them, which is as a suite of connected tools.”

 Why is this report important?  The Forward makes a few key points that we all need to think about if we care about the state of education and care about the future of our society - local, national or global.

“This report sets forth a vision that stems from the premise that the learner needs to be at the center of novel approaches and innovative learning networks. It argues that we need to embrace innovation to create a diverse system of educational opportunities that can help each and every child reach his or her full potential.”

As a private school advocate, I fight to preserve the widest range of educational options for families.  The US Supreme Court made it clear that “Children are not the mere creatures of the state.”  That is why I get excited when the report talks about “novel approaches and innovative learning networks” and “a diverse system of educational opportunities.”

I will discuss more of the report in my next blog, but who can disagree with the Report’s observation:

“In our country, the quality of education today will determine America’s strength in the future and help individuals secure their own prosperity.”
Posted by marks on Monday July 7 at 03:10PM
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Education and Freedom Go Together

As we prepare to celebrate freedom in the United States on the Fourth of July, it is important to remember the vital relationship between freedom and education.  It is easy to prove just how important!  

Nelson Mandela said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”  Just ask yourself how totalitarian governments and leaders (existing today and in the past) controlled the education and information available to the populace.  If education wasn’t so powerful, they wouldn’t spend so much time and controlling and restricting it and keeping people ignorant.  Educated people want freedom!   Freedom means the ability to make choices, and we all want freedom to make choices about our lives! 

George Washington Carver said that “Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.”  Remember the pamphleteers who simply wanted to educate the American colonists about their lack of freedom.  Think about Mao’s Cultural Revolution in China that sent the educated populace into the fields to work while he burned books!

Private schools are important parts of the heritage of freedom, because they allow parents to choose the educational path that is right for their children.  Schools are important keepers of the flame of freedom.  President James A. Garfield said: “Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained.”

As we celebrate America’s independence, we have to remember that not everyone on planet earth is free.  Freedom is hard won, and today’s headlines remind us that there are those who seek to take it away.

As educators, we are bringing freedom to our students when we open their minds to new ideas and we encourage them to think for themselves..

Thomas Jefferson wrote that  “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”  As educators, we have the obligation and the honor to teach students about our heritage of freedom and the duty of vigilance.

Nelson Mandela said “Let freedom reign. The sun never set on so glorious a human achievement."

Happy Fourth of July….to all freedom lovers!

Posted by Mr. Mark Siegel on Thursday July 3 at 01:46PM
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Even More Proficiency-Based Teaching and Learning At College

I found  a report that I love - A ‘Disruptive’ Look at Competency-Based Education
How the Innovative Use of Technology Will Transform the College Experience (June 2012 by Louis Soares for the Center for American Progress)
.  It is impossible to summarize and it is well worth reading.  But it makes points new to this blog.

The report confronts what it will take to change from the factory-model college delivery system to various forms of competency-based education”, while respecting “ the strengths of traditional colleges and universities“.

After discussing the power of competency-based education at the college and university level and various competency-based programs in higher education, the report asks “whether these innovative learning initiatives and others like them can truly disrupt the current model of postsecondary education—a model that relies on time-based measures to structure and fund learning experiences.”

Side Note: My readers may not be familiar with Harvard business professor Clayton Christensen’s work on disruptive innovation theory, which the report says “is when technology is applied in a way that creates a simpler, more affordable product for a new group of customers who, in most cases, were not buying (or succeeding in) the traditional offering.”  

Christensen’s written much on this powerful subject generally, and educators know of his book Disrupting Class about disruption applies to education. His thinks “[t]he way we learn doesn’t always match up with the way we are taught. If we hope to stay competitive– academically, economically, and technologically–we need to reevaluate our educational system, rethink our approach to learning, and reinvigorate our commitment to learning. In other words, we need disruptive innovation.”  He writes about what individualized education would be like.  And make no mistake - disruptive education is a good thing!

Back to the report.  Applying disruption theory to higher ed, the report notes that “[w]e are now...beginning to see alternative business models emerging that are using centralized curriculum development along with technology enablers to standardize instruction and assessment so that costs can be dramatically reduced within the business model while still providing a meaningful education experience... 

“While not strictly competency-based, these are three different technology-driven business models that are providing attractive alternatives to the traditional, campus-based postsecondary experience...

“Our analysis clearly demonstrates that competency-based education does have the potential to be a disruptive innovation in postsecondary education. Our four-element analytical lens shows that the technologies, organizational experimentation, and standards are coalescing in ways that make competency-based education a potential game changer in the delivery and affordability of postsecondary education."

This is exciting.  Others and I have been saying some of the things in the report , but I don’t run in higher ed circles.  This approach from a business and technology approach provides another useful viewpoint and route to move to competency/proficiency approaches. The transition of higher ed to proficiency/competency systems will mean higher ed will be much more familiar with, and more eager to receive, standards-based transcripts from proficiency-based K-12 schools!  It will help favorably settle any arguments about (or resistance to) proficiency-based education.  That’s exciting for both our schools and our colleges!  More important, it is important to students of all ages, who will no longer be prisoners of time and who will receive individualized and personalized educations!

Posted by marks on Tuesday July 1 at 03:27PM
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More About Proficiency-Based Teaching and Learning At College

Following up on my recent blog about proficiency (competency) education in college, I found many resources about the progress being made by colleges and universities to shift away from factory-model education.  I wanted to share another one.

"What is Competency-Based Education?" is a Huffington Post blog (9/5/2012) by Dr. Robert W. Mendenhall, President of Western Governors University (WGU),  WGU is a nonprofit, competency-based, online university with more than 34,000 students and 17,000 graduates in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.  WGU offers more than 50 bachelor's and master's degrees in the high-demand fields of business, information technology, K-12 teacher education, and health professions, including nursing. 

I was thrilled to find that yet another college had moved from the factory to the proficiency/competency model.  I encourage you to read the entire blog.  It is wonderful.  Dr. Mendenhall writes:

"Competency-based education has become a hot topic in higher education circles these days -- it is becoming increasingly popular as the country searches for ways to improve college affordability and more accurately measure student learning..."  

This was news to me, and very exciting.  It makes it easier for K-12 schools to make the case for changing to proficiency-based teaching and learning, because colleges are doing it, and colleges will understand and welcome standards-based grades and transcripts. 

More from Dr. Mendenhall.  "While more traditional models can and often do measure competency, they are time-based -- courses last about four months, and students may advance only after they have put in the seat time. This is true even if they could have completed the coursework and passed the final exam in half the time. So, while most colleges and universities hold time requirements constant and let learning vary, competency-based learning allows us to hold learning constant and let time vary.

He continues talking about competency-based learning which " particularly ideal for the 37 million American adults with some college but no degree. It makes it possible for them to come back and complete a degree, which can mean a better job, higher earning potential, and a better life." 

"We know two things about adult learners -- they come to higher education knowing different things, and they learn at different rates. Competency-based education recognizes this reality and matches the education to the student. Unlike a one-size-fits-all approach, it allows adults to come back to college and apply what they've learned, either through formal education or their work and life experience. They can move quickly through material they already know and focus on what they still need to learn. For many, this means that they can accelerate their progress toward a degree, saving both time and money."

Mendelhall writes that this will "[f]undamentally change the faculty role. When faculty serve as lecturers, holding scheduled classes for a prescribed number of weeks, the instruction takes place at the lecturers' pace. For most students, this will be the wrong pace. Some will need to go more slowly; others will be able to move much faster. Competency-based learning shifts the role of the faculty from that of "a sage on the stage" to a "guide on the side." Faculty members work with students, guiding learning, answering questions, leading discussions, and helping students synthesize and apply knowledge."

This is very provocative idea.  This shift of the teacher's role applies to the K-12 world as well.  No student should be the prisoner of the teacher's pace of presentation and course schedule.  I'm sure many share my experiences of being bored in class after class once I "got it" while the teacher kept going over it, as well as the experiences of being totally lost and needing to slow things down while the teacher kept talking and everyone else seemed to get it.  This competency-based  approach really addresses the need for educating the individual.

I have to agree 100% with Dr. Mendenhall when he writes: 

"Implemented effectively, competency-based education can improve quality and consistency, reduce costs, shorten the time required to graduate, and provide us with true measures of student learning."

I love it!  More good news to come!


Posted by marks on Friday June 27 at 09:32AM
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Proficiency-Based Teaching and Learning At College

I am giving a number of proficiency talks across the country over the next year, so I’ve been updating my research on proficiency-based teaching and learning (also called competency-based teaching and learning). I found many new resources that I want to share.

I found there are many colleges working on proficiency (competency) education.  I enjoyed a YouTube video “Overview of Competency-Based Education” by Sally Johnstone, Vice President of Academic Advancement, Western Governors University at a New American Foundation conference.

 She talked about the movement at the community college level to move to CBE (Competency-Based Education) and the progress being made to accommodate different learning styles and different learning speeds.  She talked about the shift from courses and credits to competencies, and from time-based learning to competency-based learning.  She and her colleagues have worked hard to come up with good tools for assessing student competencies without teaching to the test. They have addressed many issues and solved many problems to make it all work. As you can imagine, I got very excited, because here were higher education professionals actually doing something to improve the education of each of their students.  That’s the language she used!  It was exciting!

Here’s an excerpt from the YouTube summary:

“The past year has seen an explosion of interest in CBE [Competency-Based Education] on the part of students, institutions, employers, and policymakers. With the cost of higher education sky-rocketing, recent graduates struggling to find good jobs, and real questions about how much students are actually learning, colleges and universities are under more pressure than ever to equip students for career and life success. CBE has the potential to address a variety of the challenges facing higher education -- from cost, to relevancy, to transparency of learning outcomes -- by shifting the measure of student learning from seat time to mastery...

"While the adoption of competency-based approaches by universities such as Western Governors and Southern New Hampshire has been widely covered by the press and policy community, CBE at community colleges has received less attention, despite its close fit with the more career-focused programs at two-year institutions. In fact, for many community colleges, competencies have been at the core of their instructional design models as they strive to meet the needs of regional employers and adult learners seeking industry-recognized skills and credentials.”

I’m always asked about where is proficiency or competency-based education happening, and now you know that community colleges and four-year colleges are heading that way also (there was an "explosion of interest").  This is an education evolution that makes sense and it works!  Now you know it works at the college level!  Isn’t that great news!
Posted by Mr. Mark Siegel on Wednesday June 25
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Thinking About Visions Of The Future

Maria Schriver said “You have to be willing to let go of the life you planned in order to make the life you’re meant to live.” 

John Lennon said "Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans."

Two different viewpoints about life.  

I talk to my students at length about being the causative agents in their lives, being the ping pong player (not the ping pong ball).  At Delphian we talk about the dangers of being a tumbleweed, just going where the wind blows.  

A major goal of education is to help students of any age make life and career-goal decisions. These decisions require information (lots of it), intelligent analysis and most importantly, tapping into a student's dreams and visions of the future.  When asked if it was bad to be blind, Helen Keller said, “It is a terrible thing to see and have no vision.”

I want my readers to think about education so they can improve it.  I ask you to look at your children’s education and the education for the children in their community and state and country.  Are students being educated so that they are the causative agents in their lives (the ping pong players), or are they being asked to fit in and become a cog in someone else’s machine (ping pong balls)?  Are they inspired to have dreams?  Are they tapping those dreams, or are they told their dreams are unrealistic and a waste of time?   Are they asked about their passions and what they want to do with their lives? Are they developing their own visions of the future - a future that means making this world a better place to live?

That’s a pretty good way to start the new year if you want to join me in thinking about education.

Posted by marks on Tuesday January 7
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Thinking About Privacy And Educating Our Children

My good friend Jeb Bladine (editor and publisher of the local News-Register) recently wrote an editorial “New Technology Threatens Privacy”.  He concludes, “Privacy, it appears, is on the chopping block in America.” I have to agree. Why? Because he sent me off to watch a story on 60 Minutes called “A Face in the Crowd: Say Goodbye to Anonymity”.

Bladine notes that news about the National Security Agency monitoring personal communication raised major concerns, but far more shocking to him was the widespread availability of “tracking apps” that turn mobile devices into portable spying devices. (I searched that term and found out he was right.) 

This quote from the 60 Minutes story about the current state of facial recognition software is enough to keep me up tonight!:  “Alessandro Acquisti is a professor at Carnegie Mellon who does research on how technology impacts privacy. He says that smart phones may make ‘facial searches’ as common as Google searches and he did an experiment to show how easy it could be. He took photos of random students on his campus. He then ran the pictures through a facial recognition program he downloaded for free that sifted through Facebook profiles and other websites. And he was able not only to identify many of them instantly, he also got their personal data, including in some cases, their social security numbers.” Yikes!!!

We knew government surveillance could be a problem, but now our friends and the businesses we patronize are contributing to our loss of privacy.  Is privacy in America on the chopping block? Something to think about...all by yourself! This is certainly a topic to take up with students when we think about education!

Posted by marks on Thursday September 5, 2013 at 03:13PM
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Education Gone Badly - Avoiding Death by PowerPoint

I love humor, and I laught at the many funny powerpoints, videos and books about Death By PowerPoint.  (I also love "pointless graphs"; if you search that topic, you will find yourself laughing.)  Just below the humor I think we all realize there is something terribly wrong with the world of presentations using PowerPoint, meaningless slides, etc.

There are many good articles on the topic of good and bad PowerPoints presentations, and I’d like to share this one by Alexei Kapterev .  But before you click away and never return to this blog, here’s what I think, based on my years of public speaking to an ever-widening range of audiences across the country..

 1) You should be able to make an effective presentation anytime, anywhere, as long as the audience can see and hear you.  

Prepare your talk as though you have no audio-visual tools.  Check out one of my favorite speech coaches Patricia Fripp’s site.  Watch some of her speeches and you will see what I mean.  I’ve never seen her use slides!

2) Something’s wrong if audience members get your PowerPoint handout and walk out before you start.

Simply stated, a PowerPoint presentation should augment, supplement, and add to your presentation.  But you are making the presentation!  The audience should be there to hear and see you!  Otherwise, publish your speech content in text format or a handout and stay home!

Always prepare your presentation (Point 1 above), then see how you can make it more effective through the use of presentation tools.  Remember - PowerPoint is just one of many presentation tools!  Visual aids have been around forever, and many have been used effectively!

As a general guide, I refer folks to Say It in Six: How to Say Exactly What You Mean in Six Minutes or Less by Ron Hoff (available used).  Can’t go wrong starting there.  Here’s a good video on improving your presentation.  

3) Presentations using PowerPoint can be done well or poorly (and most are done poorly). Good ones are prepared, practiced and refined.

You can give great presentations, if you do your research on effective presentations.  Before you go off and do your research, I think that this short video by Don McMillan is one of the best because it makes the important points while making you laugh like crazy.

 A good short blog for students and teachers on this subject is by Holly Clark.  

 4) Practice

Enough said.  

As educators, we should be excellent communicators, and be ready, willing and able to help fellow educators avoid Death By PowerPoint.  We owe our audiences and our students more. So do your own research, click on the links above, buy books, hire a coach, attend a class and read articles on the subject.  Educate yourself so you can learn to make better presentations.  That's thinking about education!

Posted by Mr. Mark Siegel on Monday August 12, 2013 at 10:56AM
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Young People Are the Geniuses Who Change the World

In my recent blog about the importance of listening I wrote, “Students are really brilliant, you know.”  In my recent blog about creativity I wrote about Erik Wahl’s book, ““Ask a roomful of five-year-olds how many are artists and every hand will shoot up.  Ask a roomful of thirty-five-year-olds the same question and you get one reluctant hand.”  Well, I just read another blog by Angela Maiers that is really good.  That led me to Choose2Matter, a site that is really, really good.

She took my blog concept in a whole new direction, which I love.  I am including it in large part here but I encourage you to read all of the examples that follow this:

“At Choose2Matter, our opening line in speaking to young adults is, ‘You Are a Genius, and the World Needs Your Contribution.’  Next, we tell them they can change the world.

Why do we say this?

“Because studies show that, at the age of five, 100% of students believe they can, and will, change the world. When I visit with first-graders, they always confirm this by enthusiastically charging the stage en masse when I invite them to share their genius and tell me their ambitions for changing the world.

“By the age of 9, only half of students believe they are geniuses who can change the world.

By the age of 16, just 2% of students believe they are geniuses who can change the world.

When I visit high schools, I see something very different than I do in elementary schools. The genius is still there, but it’s buried under years of schooling. How? I’ve actually had educators and parents comment on my posts that we shouldn’t tell students they can change the world, because it sets unrealistic expectations. My response: unrealistic for whom?

“Fortunately, I’ve seen again and again how little it takes to bring this genius back to the surface and set students on their path to changing the world.”

She then shares examples of how the remaining 2% of students share their genius with the world.  There is a theme here.  Children are brilliant, creative and they can change the world.  Think about it, and think about how education should enable a student’s ability to change the world!

Posted by marks on Friday August 9, 2013 at 08:28AM
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Mark Siegel

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Mark Siegel

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Proficiency Resources Handout - (Google Doc) I hand this out at all of my talks 

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