Now with a laptop and an internet connection, a student can start taking courses from edX at MIT or a Coursera course with Stanford . It raises some really interesting questions about how we, as an education system, are going to recognize that experience and how we are going to award credit for it. Also, what does it mean for a teacher in terms of being able to build on that? It raises a lot of questions and we think technology is going to provide some of the answers. In the past, that was just asking way to much for a teacher to try and manage all that learning. Now you have a lot of different types of technology systems that can help manage a portfolio of activities for students. Again, through the data mining and through some of the personalized learning logarithms, technology can help sort of flag for teachers where students need some help. It can offer teachers some additional suggestions like saying the student maybe needs these types of activities. It’s not about replacing teaching. We think it’s very much about empowering and really amplifying what teachers and good teaching is all about.
Dr. Rod: One area that I’ve not heard discussed today at The National Summit on Education Reform , and maybe they will throughout the evening and tomorrow, is actual curriculum and the content. I think the education system in this country has been driven by very large publishing houses that have developed and shaped curriculum. In our own education experiences, that’s just what we had and what we knew. Those books went with us and our siblings read the same books. Now that we have, in essence, the world at our fingertips, how is the digital world looking at content and evaluating good content, and how can we trust it as we try to reform our educational system?
John: It’s not just trusting content, it’s also the scope and sequence. By that I mean asking, “What is the path you go through the content?” In the past you were faced, without technology, of having to educate millions of students in our country. Then the old publishing model made a lot of sense. You wanted to get a lot of really good experts who could curate some form of content. Then put that into a book that was building skills in a linear type of way. It may not work for all kids, but it worked for most of them. You had sort of the bell curve with most of the kids in the middle. It worked relatively well. What we’re finding, when you go and talk to the great folks at Khan Academy , or the people at Wireless Generation , is that if you take all the different elements of a curriculum that a student needs to know and personalize it, you can do very different paths of learning. They are discovering all these different types of paths that some students learn through, that defy the path that most research has said students go through. We think that’s good. We think that this is a change to make sure that students get a path that is customized to their needs, at that particular moment, at their own pace. In this way, the data helps inform instruction and evaluates the content itself.
We’re fascinated by this one experiment that’s going on with Western Governors University , and I think McGraw Hill Education , with a new performance model. We used to pay for performance models with online courses where we said, “If the student took and completed the course, there is some sort of bonus payment paid.” They’re doing that with content. So let’s say at Western Governors University you use a particular piece of McGraw Hill content and pass the course at the end. Not only does the university pay for that piece of content, but they also pay a slight performance bonus too. You can now start measuring the quality of not just a curriculum, but also of the content down to the text and object level, and start seeing that maybe it doesn’t work with all students. Maybe it just works for Hispanic female students. That’s great to know, and it provides the kind of content that we should keep serving up to that segment of students works for. This is all about meeting students where they are and giving them the right tools and content, in the right way, at the right time. You could never do that in the past models, but you can do that today thanks to the personalized learning that we have.
Dr. Rod: John, I’ll close with this. I’d be remise if I didn’t talk a little about your experience in Washington in the White House. Take us inside. What is it like to be part of discussions when you’re looking at the federal government, and the states, along with all these concerns we’ve got around education? What is it like to sit there and have those conversations, at such a level, and really try to guide this country in a reform movement?
John: I’ve had those conversations at two different levels. One at the governor’s office level, when I was in Pennsylvania, and then one at the White House. In both situations, there are incredibly invigorating conversations and debates. Regardless of party, you have incredibly wicked smart people in the room, debating very complex issues. These are complex issues that have escaped easy answers. If they’re easy answers they don’t end up at the White House and before the President’s desk. They also don’t end up in the State Capital before the Governors. With the debate comes a fair amount of argument and passion, and that was encouraged. We were encouraged to disagree. We were encouraged to bring in different perspectives. The thought was that different perspectives are the only way you’re going to help find at least the right set of answers that could potentially be pursued or tried. At the White House, it’s a little bit more difficult because you have to think through more than just the federally policy levers that could be pulled to help create the incentives or enact the reform. You also had to think through what the right level of balance, and how do we push decision making down to the lowest level possible, in a way that’s not going to give up on accountability or quality. How do we push most of the decision making down as close to the student as we can? Often times that’s down to governors, from governors to state chiefs, from state chiefs down to superintendents, superintendents down to the principals. In the past, it was always sort of thinking through a lot of that conventional leadership hierarchy.
I think now, because of the internet, it allows for a much more sort of networked type of solutions. You could do crowd sourcing. The current administration has done some pretty fantastic work, it’s sort of taking big challenges, turning it out to the community to come up with some really interesting, innovative, and out of the box ideas. Then they’re running with that instead of turning to the normal experts. The network technologies allow you to reach parents and teachers in a way that you could never do before. The debates were always difficult and challenging, but it was still some of the best experiences I’ve ever had.
Dr. Rod: I like that we’re in Boston and you used the phrase “wicked smart.”
John: (Laughs)…But without an attempt at the accent which could have offended Bostonians everywhere!
Dr. Rod: (Laughs)…Agreed. Well, we want to thank John Bailey, Director of Digital Learning Now!