September 2012

From the book:
“None of these technologies are isolated, or isolating, systems.   People are not hooked on gadgets– they are hooked on each other

The new media is the new neighborhood. 

This is the era of free agents and the spirit of personal agency. But it is not the World According to Me– it not a world autonomous and increasingly isolated individualists.  Rather, it is the World According to the Connected Me. 

The more people use the internet, the more friends they have, the more they see their friends, and the more socially diverse their networks.  

People’s lives offline and online are now integrated– it no longer makes sense to make a distinction.”

This new book, Networked: The New Social Operating System by Lee Rainie (of the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project) and Barry Wellman (of the University of Toronto’s NetLab),  to which I was directed by Howard Rheingold’s terrific Net Smart, is a refreshingly no-holds-barred,  full-throated advocacy for the power of the network to improve lives, learning, and society.

The book, sadly, is not a complete success;  at times its narrative flattens into research-report data drudgery, and sometimes its voice  speaks about contemporary digital lives to its readers as if we lived on Mars or in the 19th century:  much of what is explained requires little explanation.   And the two “interludes”- intended as richly described “days in the life” of a networked, wired young person– simply fail, I believe, to illuminate, inform or influence minds (more about this at bottom).

But, if you are caught up in the current intellectual debate about the value of online networking– if you are looking for helpful argumentation versus the Turkles and Carrs— this is a valuable book, collecting and sharing research based evidence and an idealistic vision for where we are headed as a society of increasingly networked individuals.  And if you are looking for guidance on how to be a more effective online citizen, or netizen, this book offers good guidance.

The title is Networked, but the argument is something a bit different: many of us are living now not in a networked society but lives of “networked individualism.”  Because it is as individuals we are networked– at the very same time that we are more connected, we are less group-defined, less tied to tight networks such as churches and small town communities.

This new world of networked individualism is oriented around looser, more fragmented networks that provide succor.

Small densely knit groups like families, villages, and small organizations have receded in recent generations.  A different social order has emerged around social networks that are more diverse and less overlapping than those previous groups.

The networked operating system offers new ways to solve problems and meet needs. It offers more freedom to individuals than people experienced in the past because now they have more room to manuevre and more capacity to act on their own. (more…)

Installment seven of a weekly post, Quotes of the Week.  (For more about QoTW, click here.) Sorry to have missed last week: in the past ten days I have been in San Francisco/Oakland, Washington DC, and Chicago.

  • What if every classroom had mostly writable surfaces on walls and cabinet faces?  The paint for this is cheap and it would utterly change the relationship between students, actions, information, and teachers.
  • What if someone kept a log of how much time a teacher is talking, and how much time students are talking?  What about the ratio of teacher questions to student questions?
  • What if we reduced the number of pieces of paper we hand out to students in a year by half? Is there a better way to learn than each student filling out a worksheet?

If every educator who follows this journey reaches out and connects with just one other school, think about the thousands of innovative nodes at work!

Journey Reflections after Two Full Weeks, Grant Lichtman

nb: If you aren’t already, you ought to be following Grant’s #edjourney here:

This is what motivates many test designers, whose ultimate goal is to expand what is taught in schools by expanding what can be tested. If we had better tests, they imagine—ones that could really assess abilities like creativity and collaboration—the door would suddenly open to a vision of education in which seemingly “soft” skills could be taught just as rigorously as what we consider the basics.

Things being as they are, we bristle at the idea of teachers feeling pressured to “teach to the test,” out of fear their students will otherwise score poorly on nationally mandated standardized tests. But what if teaching to the test didn’t have to mean mechanically training kids to crank out answers to invented questions? That’s the promise of a better test: By drawing a map that more accurately reflects our world, we may discover far more promising paths to get where we want to go.

What to Test Instead, Leon Nayfakh

Forms for team and self-assessment can be easily found online through resources such as the Buck Institute, and can be modified for many different classroom settings. These evaluations can then be translated into a score that reflects what each student put into a project. Students still see a final score on the project as a whole, which is important to pulling together a polished product, but are able to see that the contributions of each individual team member are accurately assessed. This “weighted” score also is a more accurate assessment of where they are with the skill of teamwork.

Practical PBL: The Ongoing Challenge of Assessment, Kate Piper at Edutopia

“We found that the high volume of information available these days seems to make most people feel empowered and enthusiastic. People are able to get their news and information from a diverse set of sources and they seem to like having those options.”

In fact, rather than feeling buried by information, people are getting more critical of its quality. “But these frustrations were accompanied by enthusiasm and excitement on a more general level about overall media choices,” Hargittai said.

Study Explodes Myth of Internet Based Information Overload, Shel Holtz (more…)

(originally posted this as SSATB 2013— not sure how/why my brain did that, but apologies)

Very happy to be reporting from this fine conference in the excellent city of Chicago.  Kudos to organizers: this was a great agenda and set of speakers, and I thought the JW Marriot space and the hospitality worked just fine.  I especially loved the availability of Diet Coke and sodas throughout the day!

(nb, full disclosure: I am here as a consultant participating on an SSATB think tank, and am very appreciative of working relationship I have with this fine organization.)

Let me share highlights and some thoughts on 8 of the sessions I attended (note: occasionally my tenses shift in these reports, when I transcribing live I use the present tense, when recollecting afterwards the past tense.  apologies).

1. Executive Director’s Heather Hoerle’s Welcome and Overview:

Priorities for SSAT

Goal: Keep Testing at the Highest possible standard

  • developed all new UL and ML test.
  • we now have independent school admissions tests written by independent schol teachers
  • Writing prompts had grown stale– so we have all new writing prompts
  • created a brand new elementary school admissions test.

Goal:  Strengthening Test Security.

  • Got serious about international testing administrations
  • rebuilt infrastructure with multi-level security
  • re-wrote test management instructions

Goal: Caring about and supporting Admissions professionals.

  • Wrote a report on the independent school professional.
  • worked with the ALC to offer free seminars and monthly blog
  • designed a survey to provide industry wide data on your issues, coming winter 2012
  • Desgined this conference with three themes: Lessons learned from higher ed, diversity and access, and future of assessment.

Goal: Help families and improve customer service.

  • Hired a professional call center and live chat
  • improved current registration system and revamping for next year.
  • redesigned materials for families.

Goal: Become More Transparent.

  • Asked us for help in trustee and award selection
  • Shared information about challenges.
  • Convened a think on the future of assessment
  • appointed a computer based test advisory committee.

There is clearly strong support and enthusiasm in this assembly for Heather’s leadership; one representative tweet from Bill Leahy,

Admissions Director at Phillips Andover: “Feeling fortunate to have a fantastic executive director@HeatherHoerle running @TheAdmissionOrg and #ssatb12


Creativity and Ethical Mindset: These are what we should be assessing in learning, PK-16, in addition to analytic intelligence. So says renowned author and academic, and former President of the American Psychological Association Robert Sternberg.

Important: All slides above are Sternberg’s, from his presentation today at SSATB.

Sternberg matters, and deserves even wider and deeper appreciation and influence in PK-12 education than he already has, and I am sometimes surprised about why he is not more frequently a reference point in 21st century learning. It may be that his work has been primarily in post-secondary that K-12 folks overlook him, but as he said today and as I believe firmly, in almost every way his works is entirely suited for applications in our domain.

Ray Diffley, the trailblazing Director of Admissions for Choate-Rosemary Hall, introduced Sternberg, and labeled him the single most important thinker on expanding and revamping educational assessment in the nation today.

Sternberg, who is in his sixties and has 20 month old triplets (!), couldn’t actually attend in person, due to his airplane’s equipment failure, but his virtual contribution worked just fine.

A few observations about Sternberg, but before you read any further, be sure to view the slides, all of them, if you haven’t seen him present. This session was a very valuable and sweeping overview of his essential themes and thoughts, and the slides convey a very high proportion of what he said in this session.

1. He clearly deeply cares about kids, his own kids and all others, and works always from a foundation of personal experience, his own learning journey.

2. He has walked this talk– he doesn’t just research how assessment can change, or theories of what it could be, but again and again at different universities and schools he has been implementing these assessments. Rarely do you find someone who has done more to blend theorizing and implementation.

3. Expanding assessment is both practical and idealistic.

Across the breadth of the 21st century learning movement, the question of which critical skills and aptitudes we assess (and how we do so) looms large.

Very often we are discussing how to broaden what we assess beyond the narrowly defined cognitive skills which we are what are most frequently in our sights: reading comprehension and literacy, math and quantitative analysis.    We argue for assessing creativity, collaboration, and communication; we are looking for ways to evaluate student character: integrity, compassion, resilience, perseverence, grit, empathy.

Keith Stanovich, who is new to me I am afraid to say, offers a different tack in his highly acclaimed 2009 book, What Intelligence Tests Miss: the Psychology of Rational Thought, which won the 2010 Grawemeyer Award in Education.    Stanovich pleads with his readers, quite passionately I would say, to broaden our gaze beyond intelligence (the IQ g,  and SAT style testing, about which Stanovich says “has remained constant[ly] a stand-in for an  IQ test”) but not beyond the cognitive.   We must divide the cognitive into two quite distinct arenas, so distinct that it is easy to find abundant examples of individuals strong in one, but not the other: intelligence (IQ-g) and “Rational thought.”

Beyond asking us to recognize that there are two distinct cognitive domains, Stanovich makes the case that rational thought is the ugly step-sister of intelligence, neglected and overlooked by society, and yet is ultimately of equal or greater significance for the makings of success in all that we do, and hence deserving of a great leap forward in valuation by schools and employers.

In short, we have been valuing only the algorithmic mind and not the reflective mind.  This in part the result of historical accident.  We had measure of algorithmic-level processing efficiency long before we had measures of rational thought and the operation of reflective mind.

The lavish attention devoted to intelligence (raising it, praising it, worrying when it is low, etc.) seems wasteful in light of the fact that we choose to virtually ignore another set of mental skills with just as much social consequence– rational thinking mindware and procedures.

I simply do not think that society has weighed the consequences of its failure to focus on irrationality as a real social problem.    These skills and dispositions profoundly affect the world in which we live.

As illustration to open the book, Stanovich offers a very engaging discussion comparing Presidents, quoting in an opening epigram George W. Bush in a wonderfully revealing personal self-assessment:

I’m also not very analytical.  You know I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about myself, about why I do things. (more…)

“There’s a seventh C too, you know” my neighboring seat-mate, the excellent educator Larry Kahn,  leaned over to whisper to me.   “Really,” I said, “what?”  “Connectivism.”

I wasn’t sure whether I was painfully behind the times, not already knowing about this seventh C, or alternatively that I’d been let into a secret club, the club of connectivism, but I was hooked.

Pat Bassett, the NAIS President, was presenting, and he shared with us his vision of the 6 C’s, be they 21st century skills or the essential capacities for success today: Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, Creativity (the big 4 emphasized by P-21, edleader21, and Ken Kay), Character and Cosmopolitanism (Cross-Cultural Communication and Collaboration).

The elusive 7th C, though, I’m increasingly becoming convinced, is key: essential, exciting, empowering, elevating.   It captures something about learning today and tomorrow, and the way I understand it, it taps into, draws upon, and expresses (with its helpful first letter C), the power of networks and all that they can do to advance each of us individually and as groups.

This 7th C is just as important, I’m coming to believe, for ourselves to learn and develop and for us to faciliate our student learning, as any of other 6 C’s, even if, conceptually, it is still relatively more elusive than the first six.

Connectivism is defined on Wikipedia this way:

Connectivism was introduced as a theory of learning based on the premise that knowledge exists in the world rather than in the head of an individual. Connectivism proposes a perspective similar to the Activity theory of Vygotsky as it regards knowledge to exist within systems which are accessed through people participating in activities. (more…)

Week six of a new weekly post, Quotes of the Week.  (For more about QoTW, click here.)

Highly recommended for principals, school-heads, and other educational leaders: provide your own version of suggested readings/links with your team.  Curate them: don’t give them too much, but choose the best three, four, or five (max).

Today, I’m calling more audibles. Screw it. We’re making a documentary. I’m giving them more freedom in their blogs. I’ll pull kids for one-on-one conferences even if I worry that the class might get off-task. We’re making children’s books for the children’s hospital, even if the department says narratives should be more autobiographical and less creative.

I’m going back to what I believe works rather than trying to look good for the Clipboard Crew that might be observing me…. Our best class periods have involved projects, so I’m switching to completely project-based.

I’m not going to let fear dictate what my classroom looks like.

I’m Tired of Being Afraid, John Spencer

Senior education officials’ own creative confidence is so important to bring about a sense of self-efficacy in their teachers and students. Self-efficacy is that feeling that whatever you do can have an impact on the world around you. Creative confidence is not feeling uncomfortable when people start to approach things in ways that rock the status quo.

Much in the same way the snake phobic can see other people are not phobic, and must have found the means within themselves to be that way, we can realise that people we see as creative found a set of processes, steps and attitudes that allow them to think in that way.

Creative Confidence and the Power to Change the World Around Us, Ewan McIntosh

The course was for me an adventure in the co-evolution of education and technology—indeed, of life and technology. The excitement of computing created the demand for the course in the first place. The new teaching style was a response to the flood of digital content—and to my stubborn, libertarian refusal to dam it up.

The course couldn’t have been done without digital infrastructure—five years ago I could not have recorded videos, unassisted and on my own time, for students to watch on theirs. The distance version of the course is an exercise in cyber-mediated intercontinental collaboration.

Yet in the Harvard College classroom, almost nothing is digital. It is all person-to-person-to-person, a cacophony of squeaky markers and chattering students, assistants, and professor, above which every now and then can be heard those most joyous words, “Oh! I get it now!”

Reinventing the Classroom [at Harvard], Harry Lewis

I guess what I’m trying to say is that teachers are FINE with being held accountable for our performance when we know that we are working in systems that give us a fighting chance to succeed.

But it’s unrealistic — not to mention unhealthy and unfair — to point the finger at classroom teachers for the struggles of the system while simultaneously refusing to surround them with the tools that they need in order to succeed.

Can Ed Policy Nation Learn from Andrew Luck and the Colts?  Bill Ferriter

New adage: never pick a fight with a networked individual with strong Internet & mobile connections

Networked: The New Social Operating System, Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman

In the spirit of the NMC Horizon reports, a group of scholars at the Open University has prepared a thorough and thoughtful analysis of what is coming in pedagogy.     The 36 report is available here, and though its attention is focused upon post-secondary teaching and learning, there is much here that is highly applicable to those of us seeking to be more informed about coming trends in K-12 pedagogy.

The authors pay deference to the NMC Horizon reports, but explain they have a slightly different goal:

We acknowledge inspiration from the NMC Horizon Reports as well as other future-gazing reports on education. Those explore how innovations in technology might influence education; we examine how innovations in pedagogy might be enacted in an age of personal and networked technology.

In a short commentary on the report, an educational blogger who identifies himself only as “Derek” orders this reports coming innovations by immediacy:

  1. Personal inquiry learning  – Learning through collaborative inquiry and active investigation
  2. Seamless learning  – Connecting learning across settings, technologies and activities
  3. MOOCs – Massive open online courses
  4. Assessment for learning  – Assessment that supports the learning process through diagnostic feedback
  5. New pedagogy for e-books – Innovative ways of teaching and learning with next-generation e-books
  6. Publisher-led short courses – Publishers producing commercial short courses for leisure and professional development
  7. Badges to accredit learning  – Open framework for gaining recognition of skills and achievements
  8. Rebirth of academic publishing  – New forms of open scholarly publishing
  9. Learning analytics – Data-driven analysis of learning activities and environments
  10. Rhizomatic learning – Knowledge constructed by self-aware communities adapting to environmental conditions

Setting aside numbers six and eight from the list atop, which simply don’t interest me very much, and deferring four and nine to a separate discussion at bottom, focus upon the remaining six (1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 10), which lead me to draw out what I think is the single most important unifying theme and takeaway from this report:

the future of learning lies in a student-centered, web 2.0 empowered, networked connectivism.   This is the New Culture of Learningand we owe it to our own life-long learning and to our students to study this mode closely and exploit every opportunity to advance it. 

Note that in nearly all of these six, technology is essential, particularly the power of the internet.   Personal inquiry learning and badges, of course, are ancient, but are both accelerated dramatically by learning online.

Below let me share some key quotes from the document, with comments, to draw out this unifying theme: (more…)

Week five of a new weekly post, Quotes of the Week.  (For more about QoTW, click here.)

Highly recommended for principals, school-heads, and other educational leaders: provide your own version of suggested readings/links with your team.  Curate them: don’t give them too much, but choose the best three, four, or five (max).

I think we can and should have a very robust debate about the design and impact of Khan Academy, and it’s vital that educators and the public critique him as a lecturer—personal attacks on his motives or character are, to my mind, beyond the pale.

To all those who are getting their kids logged into the Khan Academy this September, to all those who are done with Khan forever, to all those out there trying to build something better (including the current KA crew), you all have my best wishes for a great start to the school year.

Khan Critiques: We Were Promised Jetpacks, and We Got Lectures  Justin Reich

The role of teacher has never been more important to facilitating young people as they move into a post-Gutenberg mode to “search, connect, communicate and make” learning. The passivity of the old Gutenberg mode of “write, print, read, recall” demands far less of educators in terms of mindset changes than teaching for contemporary learning.

I believe, just as with our young people, we educators also are curious, passionate, and engaged in pursuing our own personal and professional interests. Our kids aren’t bored learners at heart and neither are we adult learners.

However, the Gutenberg mode of learning creates passivity in us all. To see beyond that model, I push myself to both listen to what kids are doing as learners and to try out new tools myself. After all, if I’m not willing to put the time in to find my own S-curve and take on personal learning challenges, why should I expect that from anyone else?

Finding our Way on the S-Curve: Confident, Competent, Contemporary Learning, Pam Moran

Some decisions are better made with a slow hand.

While framed within a deadline, most great decisions in history were made with care and foresight. As I look at my to-do list, I see a host of actions that require very little thought and others that I have literally tagged “Think” so that I will find time in my day or night to simply contemplate. Driving fast through your day may facilitate the quick actions or decisions, but there are some calls to be made with care. Perhaps I should tag every “Think” action with a second tag entitled “Breathe”.

Slowing Down, Bill Carozza

The way learning occurs is as important as the content of particular courses. Process is important for learning. Courses taught as lecture courses tend to induce passivity. Indoor classes create the illusion that learning only occurs inside four walls isolated from what students call without apparent irony the “real world.”

Dissecting frogs in biology classes teaches lessons about nature that no one would verbally profess. Campus architecture is crystallized pedagogy that often reinforces passivity, monologue, domination, and artificiality. My point is simply that students are being taught in various and subtle ways beyond the content of courses.

What is Education For? David Orr