This Week’s Trends in Education and Technology (March 23-29)

by | Mar 29, 2019 | TWTET

[The Week in Education and Technology is a weekly summary of news, events, and ideas related to education.]

Notable Quote

“Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.” —H.L. Mencken

Things That Caught My Attention


With the growing pressures on our public education system, educators and institutions alike are beginning to weigh current practices against the evolving needs of students in the 21st century.

One question on many people’s minds has to do with homework. Does homework really work?

The 21st century has so far been a homework-heavy era, with American teenagers now averaging about twice as much time spent on homework each day as their predecessors did in the 1990s. Even little kids are asked to bring school home with them. A 2015 study, for instance, found that kindergarteners, who researchers tend to agree shouldn’t have any take-home work, were spending about 25 minutes a night on it.

But not without pushback. As many children, not to mention their parents and teachers, are drained by their daily workload, some schools and districts are rethinking how homework should work—and some teachers are doing away with it entirely. They’re reviewing the research on homework (which, it should be noted, is contested) and concluding that it’s time to revisit the subject.

There is also quite a bit of discussion about the role of teachers in a world with an increasing amount of educational technology. Thomas Arnett points to these three things that technology can’t do as evidence that we need teachers now more than ever.

Higher Ed

In addition to news and research related to shifting business models in higher education, this week was all about online learning.

Quality Matters and Eduventures published the latest report from their multi-year research into online learning: The Changing Landscape of Online Learning (3). According to the report:

  • Enrollment in fully online courses grew 10% from spring 2017 to spring 2018
  • Regional four-year private nonprofit colleges were rated as the “most strongly committed” to growing online-only programs.
  • There is growing interest in alternative credentials and the use of third parties for help developing online courses

If you’re looking for short, helpful overviews regarding the state of online learning, you might also be interested in these two posts.

Finally, I enjoyed reading Hallie Busta’s interview with Marnie Baker Stein, Provost and Chief Academic Officer at Western Governors University, about the “false dichotomy” in online learning.

One of the tensions between traditional higher ed and competency-based education is that traditional education is founded on coverage. The more you cover, the more rigorous the course is, right? And so the very thing that’s the most important in the traditional coverage culture we (WGU) have let go of. What’s important to us is that mastery of competency and being able to validate it through whatever type of assessment it takes.

Another tension is the idea that CBE works for technical skills but not for the liberal arts. We can assess critical thinking, high-level transfer of knowledge — we can assess anything. But many people don’t think of it in that way. They think you can assess very technical skills or professional skills but not communication skills, etcetera.

Learning Design and Learning Theory

Nick Shackleton Jones has a thought-provoking post about the gap between real learning and many assumptions behind our current approaches to education — “the notion that learning is about storing information like a book, or a computer.”

If someone wants to pass a test, the most efficient process is to give them the answers so that they can copy them into the paper. This is called cheating. Students generally understand that this is the net process though, so cheating has enduring appeal.

How about if we gave people the answers one day before the test, and gave them 24 hours to memorise them. Would this be cheating? Yes, probably.

What if we gave students a ‘study guide’ 24 hours before the test, one which contained all the answers, plus some other things that wouldn’t be on the test (but the student didn’t know which).

This is now entirely legit: this is education, stripped of all the silly ritual.

Along somewhat similar lines, I really liked this updated post by Terry Heick — Teaching Is Establishing The Need To Know.

‘Not knowing’ is an awkward but precise label for the starting point of learning.

The purpose of assessment can be thought of in ‘not knowing’ terms–not so much to find out what the student understands, but what they don’t understand. What they don’t ‘know.’ It’s about at this point that semantics get in the way, and start tangling themselves with basic epistemology. What does it mean to know? What does it mean to understand? How can understanding lead to competencies? Skills? Is there a difference between competencies and skills?

Workforce Readiness

There is an increasing push by employers to take charge of bridging the skills gap for both current and future employees. Increasingly, companies are deciding they can’t wait to find the “right fit” and, instead, are hiring candidates without required skillsets, providing training to fill roles.

A survey of HR managers found 42% of résumés they receive, on average, are from candidates who don’t meet the job requirements. And 84% of HR managers reported their company is open to hiring an employee whose skills can be developed through training.

As further evidence of this trend, JPMorgan Chase has announced a $350 million global investment in the future of work.

Interesting Media and Technology Developments

Apple rolled out its news subscription service this week, Apple News+. At roughly the same time, The News Literacy Project unveiled its global playbook for teaching news literacy. As a great, detailed example fo the issues addressed in that playbook, Mike Caufield has this excellent post on network heuristics.

Advancing this digital literacy work is hard because many of the heuristics people rely on in the physical world are at best absent from the digital world and at worst easily counterfeited. And knowing what is trustworthy as a sign on the web and what is not is, unfortunately, uniquely digital knowledge. You need to know how Google News is curated and what inclusion in those results means and doesn’t mean. You need to know followers can be bought, and that blue checkmarks mean you are who you say you are but not that you tell the truth. You need to know that it is usually harder to forge a long history than it is to forge a large social footprint, and that bad actors can fool you into using search terms that bring their stuff to the top of search results.

We’ve often convinced ourselves in higher education that there is something called “critical thinking” which is some magical mental ingredient that travels, frictionless, into any domain. There are mental patterns that are generally applicable, true. But so much of what we actually do is read signs, and those signs are domain specific. They need to be taught. Years into this digital literacy adventure, that’s still my radical proposal: that we should teach students how to read the web explicitly, using the affordances of the network.

Research Articles and Posts for the Week

TEL Library Posts You May Have Missed

K-12 Education

Higher Education

Workforce Readiness

Media and Cultural Trends

Technology Trends

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