Serving a pupil what to learn next


Posted on 11th October 2010 by Judy Breck in Findability | Testing and assessment


Although couched in negative context that spook privacy fears, kudos to the New York Times for putting a HUGE new step toward open learning (though learning is not mentioned) on its front page today. Here from the article is the gist of what the new HTML.5 that is the subject of the article does:

The new Web language and its additional features present more tracking opportunities because the technology uses a process in which large amounts of data can be collected and stored on the user’s hard drive while online. Because of that process, advertisers and others could, experts say, see weeks or even months of personal data. That could include a user’s location, time zone, photographs, text from blogs, shopping cart contents, e-mails and a history of the Web pages visited.

Let’s change the the above quoted paragraph to get a look at what the new Web language can mean for a student when she goes online to learn some more about a subject, say Egyptian history:

The new Web language and its additional features present more tracking opportunities because the technology uses a process in which large amounts of data can be collected and stored on the user’s hard drive while online. Because of that process, history expert websites and Egyptology museums could, experts say, see weeks or even months of study data for the student visiting their webpage. That could include a user’s previous pages visited about Egypt, time spent on such pages and whether the student had clicked there on simple or challenging links, blogs on Egypt she has bookmarked, tests and her scores for previous online assessment, other related e-mails and a history of the Web pages visited.

For education, this can mean that very different webpages about Egyptian history will respond to individual students — based on what they have looked at in the past. A second-grader’s data would tell the search process that her recent visit was to a childlike tutorial on pyramids. A high school student’s data would include a previous visit to the Metropolitan and British museums’ collections on Egyptology. Today, a Google search for “Egyptian history” would return the same list of recommended websites, in the same order, to both students. With HTML.5, a Google search will return a list of simpler websites to the second-grader and more enriched and advanced Egyptology online material for the high school student.

Quoting again from today’s New York Times article:

“It’s going to change everything about the Internet and the way we use it today,” said James Cox, 27, a freelance consultant and software developer at Smokeclouds, a New York City start-up company. “It’s not just HTML 5. It’s the new Web.”

For education, HTML.5 means serving a pupil what to learn next. This very powerful individualization of dynamic knowledge cannot be experienced without online access. A mobile internet browser will put the new HTML.5 Web into a student’s hands.

Every kid who has a smart phone can read this poetry


Posted on 24th June 2010 by Judy Breck in Equality | Findability | Mobiles | Obamaschool

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The picture of the girl reading American Negro Poetry is from the Gates Foundation website. Getting the analog book into her hands undoubtedly cost the foundation quite a bit of money. She could, instead, use her smartphone to read comprehensively in the Negro poetry genre for free.

If you will go to the page where the girl is reading and click the picture, you will be cycled through some other classroom projects funded by Gates grants. The starfish dissection (one of the pictures) provides a strong illustration about how much more can be learned through subject websites than in a small classroom module. Sure, actually cutting up a dead starfish has dimensions the virtual experience may not, but wow: a student can learn a very great deal about starfish on a website like this one where there is even a video of a starfish dissection.

In what follows, I am committing the highest level of pedagogical heresy:

I do not understand why the Gates folks pour their support into this bottom line (from the page where the picture of the girl above appears):
“We believe that all students should graduate from high school prepared to succeed in college, career, and life.”

My italics in the sentence above capture the new trend: Do what it takes for all students to graduate from high school and then college. How long will this take! Obama has set the goal for 2020 — ten years from now.

Why not first get a smart phone to every student so they each can read the world’s poetry and virtually dissect starfish? Some of the students equipped and trained do that may miss the assessment credits pedagogues think they need to receive high school and college diplomas. But if youngsters now in school can learn online — not waiting for the halcyon days when all kids succeed in school — far more of them will be prepared to succeed in career and life.

Cheat-proof online testing will allow equal and uniform testing


Posted on 30th March 2010 by Judy Breck in Equality | Mobiles | Testing and assessment

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The most equal opportunity for a student to be tested would be for that student to take the same test as everyone else, under equal conditions. Handschooling can accomplish exactly that by allowing each student in literally the whole world to take a specific test when it is convenient for that student using his or her individual device connected to the internet. Test-takers would be in different locations and circumstances, but they would be treated absolutely equally by the test as they interact with it online. A preppy in London, a student attending a “failing school” in Chicago, a slum kid in Mumbai, and a herder in Peru would be able to pass or fail the identical calculus test.

They will cheat! That is the knee jerk reaction to a global testing taken individually. Yet what is dismissed by the jerking knee is the kind of testing that would remove the quality of schools from the equation and allow universal uniform assessment of individual students. Because it is now assumed that cheating will happen unless there is human oversight, generally testing is done in person in a variety of locales, with hovering human monitors. The expense is huge, kids are tested by groups and classes, and equality is damaged. Cheating still happens in testing locations that are not perfectly monitored.

But it turns out that cheat-proof online testing might be very practical and far more foolproof than human live monitoring. Take the example of Professor Pritchard’s work in identifying homework cheaters. The use of computer algorithm monitoring and similar programed detection systems should/could naturally follow from the approach he has used, as described here from the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Enter David E. Pritchard, a physics professor who teaches introductory courses at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (when he’s not in his laboratory devising new ways to use lasers to reveal the curious behavior of supercooled atoms) [as shown in the photo at left].

Mr. Pritchard did detective work on his students worthy of a CSI episode. Because he uses an online homework system in his courses, he realized he could add a detection system to look for unusual behavior patterns. If a student took less than a minute to answer each of several complex questions and got them all right, for instance, the system flagged that as likely cheating. “Since one minute is insufficient time to read the problem and enter the several answers typically required, we infer that the quick-solver group is copying the answer from somewhere,” he wrote in a paper last month in the free online journal Physical Review Special Topics—Physics Education Research. . . .