Build A School In The Cloud

SM at UFM 2015-4HD

In his 2013 TED talk, Sugata Mitra – educational researcher and winner of the 2013 TED Prize – shares a powerful example of kids learning on their own. Mitra was working at the time in New Delhi teaching computer programming. Right next to his office was a slum and one day Mitra placed a computer in the slum. “I gave a computer to children who never would have one, didn’t know any English, didn’t know what the Internet was.” Eight hours later, when he came back, the children were browsing the internet and teaching each other how to browse.

Mitra continued to test the ability of children to learn on their own with just a computer. These experiments culminated in Tamil-speaking children in a south Indian village learning the biotechnology of DNA replication in English from a street-side computer.

These experiences have led Mitra to ask some provocative questions. “Could it be that we don’t need to go to school at all? Could it be that, at the point in time when you need to know something, you can find out in two minutes?” In contrast to the way k-12 education functions now, Mitra offers this vision:

I think what we need to look at is we need to look at learning as the product of educational self-organization. If you allow the educational process to self-organize, then learning emerges. It’s not about making learning happen. It’s about letting it happen. The teacher sets the process in motion and then she stands back in awe and watches as learning happens.

This kind of learning is driven by questions: sometimes big questions like “when did the world begin”, sometimes questions related to the natural world like, “what are those twinkling lights in the sky?” Mitra wishes for a future of learning that supports children “all over the world to tap into their wonder and their ability to work together.”

Finally, while this vision for learning is certainly applicable for classroom education, it is equally relevant for a wide range of education options. Mitra says: “you can do Self-Organized Learning Environments at home, in the school, outside of school, in clubs.”

Mitra is continuing his experiments through the organization, The School in the Cloud which is a global experiment in self organized learning. It’s amazing to see how they are tapping into the inner desire to learn.

“Disrupting Class” – Book Review

Clayton Christensen (author of Disrupted Class) speaking at the 2013 World Economic Forum
Clayton Christensen (author of Disrupted Class) speaking at the 2013 World Economic Forum CC BY-SA 2.0 Source:

Once upon a time, computers were large, cumbersome, hard-to-operate, and expensive. Then Apple created a personal computer, broke into the market, stole the market shares from Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), and revolutionized the world. Well, not exactly. Apple didn’t compete directly with DEC – to do so would have been futile given the stronghold DEC held. No, Apple created it’s own market by creating its model IIe personal computer which was marketed to a whole different set of consumers – children.

The true story above is the perfect example of a potent form of change. Disruptive Innovation. Apple reinvented the game. At first, Apple’s product was not nearly as capable as the computers DEC was making, but over time, as the cost of building went down even as the computing power went up, people quickly realized the personal computer wasn’t just a children’s toy – and the world has never been the same.

On the back cover of Clayton M. Christensen’s book Disrupting Class are endorsements by: a former Governor, a press syndication service operated by the Washington Post, a Chancellor of Education, and the author of Good To Great (a staple in the business world.) And while the book is focused on “How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns” (subtitle), it’s equally valuable reading for its insights into business as well as education. And its vision for the reinvention of schools is one that has many leaders, myself included, excited.

Disruptive Innovations happen on the sidelines; they create a new way of doing things and once that new way has fully matured, it displaces what once was. And thus Apple PCs replace the DEC minicomputer and Wikipedia makes academic print encyclopedias almost irrelevant.  The School Choice movement is a Disruptive Innovation. Nevada’s new Universal Education Savings Account legislation is a Disruptive Innovation. And schools equipped with software that adapts in real-time to the learning styles and pacing of each student while providing ongoing assessment of learning? Well, that’s a Disruptive Innovation that is waiting just around the corner.

Currently customization in education is largely conditional on financial resources. Wealthy families pay for tutors who customize their instruction for their pupils. School districts with ample financial resources offer more AP classes and extracurricular studies. Imagine then if barriers were broken-down and students from all backgrounds had access to education that is customized to maximize their learning.

Like all disruptions, student-centric technology will make it affordable, convenient, and simple for many more students to learn in ways that are customized for them. – Disrupting Class, page 92

Are you concerned that such an approach, which turns teachers into mentor/guide/tutor and places software at the center of learning might not be effective? Consider this area (one of many) where student-centric technology would be of benefit and would alleviate a major concern of educators, parents and students: testing:

When students learn through student-centric online technology, testing doesn’t have to be postponed until the end of an instructional module and then administered in a batch mode. Rather, we can verify mastery continually to create tight, closed feedback loops. Misunderstandings do not have to persist for weeks until the exam has been administered and the instructor has had time to grade each student’s test.

There is a lot more great information contained within the pages of Disrupting Class. I highly recommend that you buy a copy and read it. Here’s a link to the author’s website – and here is a link to his Twitter page.

Hands-On Learning With Microsoft Hololens

Microsoft is gearing up to release HoloLens, “the first fully untethered, see-through holographic computer.” HoloLens is a headset that allows the digital world to be overlayed on the physical world, what is referred to as augmented reality. Imagine being able to host a boardroom meeting where a coworker in Japan is holographically sitting right beside you. He hands you a paper (digital) and you pick up, write a note on it, and hand it back to him. Imagine playing Minecraft and seeing all of your creations filling up your living room.

InnovateMySchool.com has an article entitled What Can The Microsoft HoloLens Offer Education? One teacher in the article, Mike Tidd, talks about how this will revolutionize teaching geography. He writes:

As a Geography teacher, it has always been difficult to explain to students what different environments such as glacial, desert or rainforests are like from only using clips and photographs. Unfortunately, it is impossible to visit via field trips all of the wonders that Earth has to offer in 50 minutes, or even within a two-year course. The cost would be crazy to start off with, let alone the risk assessments! I think my local authority would have a heart attack at the sheer idea! But with Microsoft HoloLens, we could have virtual field trips. We could literally walk amongst the glacial moraine, investigate how the wind shapes a desert landscape or meet & talk to a tribe in the Amazon Rainforest. Actually touching and looking around different environments would make geography come to life to our students. We would actually be there!

Below is a video (a few minutes in length) exploring how Microsoft Hololens can transform medical education. Hint: think about how amazing it would be to practice doing surgery on a 3D model right in front of you as your teacher hands you the scalpel while floating arrows direct you to the specific place in the body that you’ll make the insertion.

The speed at which technology is changing is truly breathtaking and with that speed we are seeing a merging and cohesion between the digital and the real world. It’s an exciting time to be alive.

Digital Learning Report Card 2014

Image by MIKI Yoshihito CC BY 2.0
Image by MIKI Yoshihito CC BY 2.0

The Foundation for Excellence in Education released their 2014 Digital Learning Report Card. Introducing the report, the CEO of ExcelinEdu, Patricia Levesque, writes:

“Digital learning has the power to connect students with the best teachers in the world. It can offer all students access to hard-to-serve courses and groundbreaking career and technical education as well as vocational training. Digital learning promises better instruction, tailored to the progress and needs of each student. It can allow advancement when a student masters a concept. It can provide additional support for subject areas where students are struggling. Digital learning policies offer a new way to fund education and learning, not fettered by old constraints linked to time, but rather linking funding to learning and the needs of students.”

The report highlights 10 elements of high quality digital learning.

  1. Student Eligibility: All students are digital learners.
  2. Student Access: All students have access to high quality digital content and online courses.
  3. Personalized Learning: All students can customize their education using digital content through an approved provider.
  4. Advancement: Students progress based on demonstrated competency.
  5. Quality Content: Digital content, instructional materials, and online and blended learning courses are high quality.
  6. Quality Instruction: Digital instruction is high quality.
  7. Quality Choices: All students have access to multiple high-quality providers.
  8. Assessment and Accountability: Student learning is the metric for evaluating the quality of content and instruction.
  9. Funding: Funding creates incentives for performance, options and innovation.
  10. Delivery: Infrastructure supports digital learning.

To gauge states’ progress, Digital Learning Now identified 42 actionable metrics that examine state laws, administrative rules and other policy levers that identify what is needed to ensure the 10 Elements of High-Quality Digital Learning are addressed. These metrics are divided among the 10 Elements and provide states with a framework of the policies that should be in place in order to create an environment that supports a broad system of digital learning.

PA scored a 65%, earning the state a disappointing D grade. Here is the breakdown:

  1. Student Eligibility: D grade
  2. Student Access: F grade
  3. Personalized Learning: C grade
  4. Advancement: F grade
  5. Quality Content: A grade
  6. Quality Instruction: B grade
  7. Quality Choices: D grade
  8. Assessment and Accountability: F grade
  9. Funding: F grade
  10. Delivery: D grade

The report, which you can access here, provides the in-depth metrics that lead to the grades in each of these ten categories. The report also details the 50 new digital learning laws passed in 2014.