Video, Media & Empowerment in the Classroom

Television and video have an undistinguished track record in public education, as either a baby sitter or a security measure. But things have changed in recent years, and the future is certainly getting interesting.

I cannot begin to count the number of times I have seen darkened classrooms full of kids watching some video or other. Sometimes it seemed to be relevant; other times it was clearly filler, an uninspired teacher killing time or ‘rewarding’ his students by letting them watch a movie.

Of course, some teachers have used video brilliantly to bring to life what otherwise might be words on a page. Far better to experience, say, Olivier’s Hamlet on the screen while also reading the play. (When I was a high school English teacher in the late 60’s, I used some wonderful Caedmon LP’s of Shakespeare’s play to bring Macbeth’s power and passion to life.)

Lots of schools use video cameras for security purposes. I’ve been in schools where every hallway is wired and someone sits in the main office watching multiple screens. Creepy. Other reporters tell me about schools where classrooms have cameras, allowing the principal to monitor activity.

However, in recent years we’ve seen videos of teachers losing it in class, thanks to hidden cameras or cell phones.

I wouldn’t be surprised if some teachers were now turning the tables, whipping out their cell phones to video kids who are misbehaving.

But this use is negative to the max and reflects how unhealthy the atmosphere is in some schools. Continue reading

Game-changing innovation

Those of you who look at these posts with any regularity know that innovation is an interest of mine. I’m a fan of Clay Christensen’s observations about innovation being far more likely to succeed on the margins (where few are paying attention), but these days the margins in education are wide—because only math and English matter to the bean counters!

Innovation is education’s only hope. Even if more stimulus dollars become available, that will only put off the day of reckoning, unless educators wake up and act.

Happily, some are. Here are three examples. Continue reading

Thinking out loud about remedial education

I’m in Seattle, where about 250 people, mostly grantees of the Gates Foundation, have gathered to talk about increasing the rate of success in higher education, especially among low-income students. My role is to lead a conversation with three individuals who represent three different slices of the industry: public community colleges, for-profit institutions, and on-line universities.

The Foundation was kind enough to suggest some opening questions, such as “How can we serve more low-income students better, faster and cheaper?” and “What do each of your institutions have to offer?” and “What will higher education look like 5-10 years from now?”

Maybe it’s because I am still medicated after my recent knee replacement surgery, but I find my mind wandering to other, perhaps more provocative questions. Continue reading

What’s Innovation? Clear Goals, Training & Accountability Are a Good Start

I’ve just returned from Doha, Qatar for the first-ever WISE, the World Innovation Summit for Education. For three days we talked about innovation. Is technology an essential component of innovation? I found myself wondering what produces innovation in education—in teaching actually. And it occurs to me that, unless one happens to be sadistic or off the charts antisocial, all of us are, on certain occasions, innovative teachers. At those moments, we are wonderful role models of what our education system ought to be striving to emulate. And our motivation is a combination of self-interest and basic human decency.

Driving DirectionsYou’re not a teacher, you say? OK, neither am I by profession, but sometimes we are put in that role. Imagine you’re walking in your neighborhood when a stranger stops her car, rolls down the window, and asks for directions to a local restaurant. You know the place she’s asking about, so you immediately begin figuring out how to explain it to her.

You are, for the moment, her teacher, she your pupil. Continue reading

Better Late than Never: WISE Awards Report Back

**We ran into some snafus with live posting, so some of my report backs didn’t make it up.  I think you’ll enjoy them anyway, so here’s one from the WISE Awards ceremony held on the second day of the conference.**

Here in Doha at WISE, the World Innovation Summit for Education, six groups were recognized for innovation, sustainability or pluralism. I managed to snag interviews with five winners.  Martin Burt’s project in Paraguay, ‘the Self Sufficient School,’ seeks to enable the poor to make a living while living on the land. As he told me, “Experts talk about ‘eliminating poverty,’ but that’s too abstract. I’m talking about putting money in the hands of the poor, money they have earned.”

I had a lively conversation with Joyce Dongotey-Padi of Ghana, whose project, known as WANE (Widows Alliance Network), aims to emancipate Ghanaian widows from the social, cultural and economic deprivation brought about by the prejudices they face because of their status. Ms. Dongotey-Padi is not a widow herself but was moved to act when a neighbor and friend became widowed and found herself virtually helpless and penniless.

I also talked with the Executive Director of Curriki, Dr. Barbara (Bobbi) Kurshan, and soon will put up an interview with her colleague Peter Levy.  Curriki’s name comes from ‘Curriculum’ and Wikipedia’ and is meant to suggest free, user generated curriculum for teachers.  Pretty neat stuff that is deservedly catching on and now has about 100,000 participants, almost all of them teachers.

The project to educate girls and women in India, Nanhi Kali, caught my attention.  It began in 1996 but didn’t really take off until recently.  It now reaches 52,000 girls across 8 states in India, up from just 1700 girls in 2002.  Its stated goal is to reach 100,000 girls by the end of this year, but its real goal is to change the social attitudes that devalue girls and women.  Ms. Sheetal Mehta was at WISE representing the project, and her energy and optimism jump off the screen.

Unfortunately I did not get to talk with representatives of the two other projects but both are worth your attention.  Escuela Nueva in rural Colombia uses collaborative learning to transform the traditional classroom and promote entrepreneurial skills. It was initiated in 1975 in rural Colombia in response to endemic educational problems like high dropout rates, weak school-community relationships, ineffective teacher training and the lack of children’s learning materials.

The second one I missed is a successful distance learning project in the Amazon forest, where many small towns and villages are accessible only by boat.  It was launched in 2007 by the Secretariat of Education and Learning Quality of Amazonas State and today transmits live classes via a two-way videoconference link to 25,000 students in 300 secondary schools and 700 classrooms, throughout the 62 county districts. A teacher is also located in each classroom to support local activities.

The awards were formally presented at the gala Tuesday night by Her Royal Highness Sheika Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned.  Each project received $20,000.   The first WISE Awards attracted 500 entries, and I was told that the judges could have honored many more projects than they did, so expect an even bigger splash next year.

In Qatar: Interview with WISE Chairman, Dr. Abdulla bin Ali Al-Thani

Dr. Abdulla bin Ali Al-Thani is the Chairman of WISE and Vice President for Education of the Qatar Foundation.  Dr. Abdulla knows the United States well, having gone to graduate school at Colorado State University. I spent a few minutes with this soft-spoken, focused and optimistic leader on the first day of WISE.  He was very clear about his high hopes for the event.

Not on the tape but revealing: When Dr. Abdulla learned that I live in California, his face lit up.  He told me with great excitement about the time he and a cousin rented motorcycles, took a 1-hour driving lesson, and then drove down our Route One from Big Sur down to Santa Barbara.  He told his parents, he confessed, only after the trip had concluded successfully.

Better Late Than Never: Report Back from Day 1 in Qatar

**We ran into some snafus with live posting, so some of my report backs didn’t make it up.  I think you’ll enjoy them anyway, so here’s one from the first day of the conference.**

About 1000 delegates from more than 120 countries are represented here in Doha, Qatar, at WISE, the World Innovation Summit for Education. Plans are to make this an annual event, and it’s backed by the Qatar Foundation and the prestige of Her Royal Highness, Sheika Mozah, the wife of the Emir. She opened the 3-day meeting with a rousing call for innovation in education.

WISEShe reminded us that more than 75 million school-age children are not in school and that nearly 800 million adults cannot read or write. And she sounded a theme that is of profound importance: the education gender gap is wide and growing, because discrimination against women and girls is deeply entrenched.

The need for innovation is clear, because business as usual means accepting severe teacher shortages, funding deficits and low completion rates. Can this conference energize at least some of the participants to work for significant change?

For this stranger,a lesson on arrival had to do with pronunciation of Qatar. I’ve always said ‘ka-TAR’ but they say ‘cotter’, as in cotter pin. The second lesson: This is a new country intent on leaping into the 21st century: Construction cranes everywhere, and what they have already put up is impressive. Google ‘Education City, Qatar’ and see for yourself.

About 50 journalists are here, and the organizers have ‘quarantined’ us at a hotel miles and miles from the meeting hotel, the Ritz. We are downtown, where life happens, and we have a 30-40 minute bus ride morning and night that gives us a chance to see some of Doha. Those ensconced at the Ritz are out on a peninsula, miles from anything else. They do get the famous Ritz chocolate chip cookies, however.

After Sheika Mozah’s speech, we were talked at, about the importance of innovation in education. Why is it that the pedagogy never changes? Does someone believe that’s the best way to communicate?

Off to Qatar for WISE

I’m headed to the first World Innovation Summit on Education in Doha, Qatar. Hundreds of education innovators, policy makers and experts will be gathering there and I plan on recording video, audio interviews and filling you in on what’s happening there as it unfolds. This week, expect a post a day from me until Thursday, when I return.

To learn more about the WISE conference, visit their website:

Technology in Schools: Problems & Possibilities

First, a disclaimer: I am a huge fan of technology and a true believer in its potential to fundamentally change how schools are run. Emerging technologies, often called ‘social media,’ are changing how many young people communicate and learn, how they approach learning, and how they process information.

But I think there are three reasons to worry.  Reason one, the technology will be unevenly distributed, meaning that the gap between rich and poor will actually widen.  Two, schools won’t respond to the creative potential of technology in positive ways.  And, three, they will respond uncritically.

TechnologyFirst, the technology gap (which I wrote about on this blog a few weeks back). This issue is major, because in most of history the rich have gotten richer, and there’s no reason to expect things to be different this time around.  Creating special programs to put technology into schools with poor children won’t work unless those programs are accompanied by serious professional development, because most teachers I know are uncomfortable with computers and even more uncomfortable with the notion that kids know more than they do.

What do poor kids get when schools are their main source of advance technology?  Not much!  As teacher Esther Wojcicki of Palo Alto notes, kids in school are forced into what she calls ‘the airplane mode.’ “They’re told to sit down, strap in and face straight ahead for the duration of the flight.”

Right now, well off children have access to technology at home, meaning that they will find it easier to cope with the ‘powering down’ that happens when they walk into their schools.  Not so for poor kids, who end up suffering through a lot of drill.

My second fear is that schools will resist innovation and become irrelevant. A tsunami, a huge wave of technology in the hands of young people, is approaching, but many educators seem unaware that their students swim in a sea of technology outside the school. They want to continue to use computers and other tools to control students and to manage information, and that’s about it.

Because they fear technology in the hands of kids, they look for ways to keep it out of schools. Continue reading