Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Takeaways on the future of education

As I mentioned last week, I was able to attend the iNACOL Virtual School Symposium last week in New Orleans, where the theme was "Inventing the Future of Learning".  It was a true "drinking from a firehose" experience with 2,000+ attendees and hundreds of breakout sessions.  For a great overview, check out these blog posts at Getting Smart:
Here are some of my own takeaways:
  • The keynote speaker, John White, Louisiana Superintendent of Education, made a depressing point about the overwhelming bureaucracy around education in this country: 14,000 school districts, 50 states, federal departments, politicians, unions, nonprofits, and vendors - all creating a super-fragmented quagmire that is in no way ready to embrace the amazing new potential of educational technology.
  • Louisiana is actually ahead of Texas in empowering local schools, encouraging charters, and supporting vouchers.  Louisiana students also have "course choice", allowing them to pick online options to replace any courses at their school.
  • 46 states have aligned around the new "Common Core" curriculum, and vendors are aligning amazing new eLearning technologies with that curriculum, and yet Texas continues to go its own way and miss out.
  • Texas does have a Virtual School Network (TxVSN) that has approved over 1,000 online courses for Texas students, with a heavy recent focus on making sure those courses are fully accessible to the disabled.
  • Schools are still locked into an outdated "seat time" mentality when the real issue is not time, but the amount of actual learning that's occurring and students' ability to demonstrate that learning.
  • Texas does have good regulatory initiatives around free Open Education Resources (OER) which can dramatically reduce spending on textbooks, led by our local state representative Scott Hochberg.
I was both inspired by the amazing innovation that is happening all around the country and dejected by the slow adoption by the education system.  One thing that occurred to me was that eLearning technologies seem to be radically reshaping the optimal configuration of school buildings where they are fully embraced (single teacher classrooms are very sub-optimal), and yet HISD is running a $1.9 billion dollar bond issue referendum to replace schools with buildings that ultimately function a lot like the old ones.  Yes, I know they want to make some technology investments, but I don't think they have a handle on how radically education will shift over the next decade, and we're going to get locked into a lot of obsolete buildings that are going to be built by these bonds.  I support most of the other bond referendums on the ballot (especially the Metro referendum and ParksByYou, Prop B), but the HISD one does have me concerned by this issue and the fact that it will have to raise taxes to pay for it.

To close out, if you're interesting in reading more on an amazing vision of the future of education, I highly recommend this inspiring new book by Sal Khan of Khan Academy fame:



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