This week's class consisted of a panel of four guest speakers: Catherine Casserly, CEO of Creative Commons; Tom Vander Ark, author of "Getting Smart: How Digital Learning is Changing the World"; Steve Midgley, deputy director of Education Technology at the U.S. Department of Education; and Prasad Ram, founder and CEO of Ednovo, a nonprofit that is developing a "search engine for learning" called Gooru.
After a brief introduction by Roy, the panelists each had time to discuss their work and discuss the impact of digital technologies on learning in K-12. In brief:
- Casserly discussed the need for commonly accepted legal standards for sharing content of any kind online, while maintaining rights over how that content is commercialized and to whom it is attributed. For ten years, Creative Commons has provided a set of standards that allow anybody to maintain precise legal control over digital content without needing a law degree. Casserly noted the continued importance of established standards for sharing open educational resources around the world.
- Vander Ark offered a condensed summary of the main points of his book, which focuses on the transformative power of digital tools for improving teaching and learning. He summarizes these tools into five "P"s:
- Profiles of learner progress that can provide student and teacher feedback,
- Playlists of customized content for each learner,
- Platforms that can support teachers navigating student data and help learners to find new content,
- Personalization of compelling and motivating new learning environments, like games, and
- Projects in class to promote critical thinking and deeper learning as a counterbalance to skill-based online instruction.
Vander Ark offered some bold predictions for the impact of digital learning tools in schools, suggesting that flipped classrooms will become ubiquitous by the end of the decade.
- Mr. Midgley built on his knowledge of school-reform dynamics to describe some of the challenges that digital reformers face in bringing their tools to schools. For instance, individual school cultures might be highly resistant to changes if their teachers aren't granted choice and respect. Teachers around the country have an expression — "This too shall pass" — to refer to the reforms that come from above and wash over their classrooms without leaving much of an impression.
- Mr. Ram offered a less school-centric perspective, suggesting that the state of online learning right now is analogous to early motion pictures that imitated theater performances. For millions of children around the world, open educational resources are the best option available, and they are desperate to learn. In addition, technology can augment our natural curiosity of the world around us, acting as a Rousseau-like tutor that is ever-present and ready to help people learn anytime in their own way. This is hardly science fiction, Ram suggested - it's possible today, and it calls the necessity of traditional "school reform" into question.
The discussion that followed included comments from Janice Jackson of Stanford's SCOPE, pressing for more concrete strategies for school reform. She suggested that until some ill-defined "always-learning" revolution occurs, our current schools need immediate and serious changes. Kareem Edouard noted the danger of one-way delivery of open educational resources from the wise men at Stanford and MIT out to the rest of the world, and Casserly agreed and highlighted Creative Commons' partnership with OER Africa. And in perhaps the most controversial comment of the night, a visiting educational entrepreneur lamented the difficulty of partnering with schools to sell digital teaching and learning tools. Vander Ark and Midgley agreed, describing the decision-making processes of district school boards as dysfunctional at best and "corrupt" at worst.
For more from the panel, check out the Twitter feed for the class at #403x.