Theories of Change
You need to have a good theory of how your technology will improve education. There's a lot of money to be made in record keeping and ERP-type applications. But the things that interest me and I hope interest you are those that directly improve student learning. And you need to be specific about the expected improvement. Do you want students to learn more in the same amount of time or take less time to learn a skill? Are you seeking better comprehension and retention? What about "deeper learning" – getting beyond recall and demonstrating the ability to apply concepts or solve problems.
Most ed tech theories of change start with Bloom's Two Sigma Problem. In a 1984 paper, Benjamin Bloom discussed how they had achieved two standard deviations improvement in student learning through a combination of Mastery Learning and one-on-one tutoring. Noting that 1:1 student-teacher ratios are impractical, Bloom's challenge is to find scalable ways to achieve the same results.
The following resources should stimulate your theoretical juices:
- The 2 Sigma Problem: The Search for Methods of Group Instruction as Effective as One-to-One Tutoring. Benjamin Bloom's 1984 Two Sigma Paper. Here's an earlier introduction I wrote earlier on this blog.
- A 2011 Metastudy by Kurt VanLehn gives a progress report of Intelligent Tutoring Systems and an update on progress toward Bloom's Two Sigma Problem. In particular, see page 210 (the 15th of the paper) in which VanLehn explains that about half of Bloom's two sigma gains were due to changes in Mastery Learning parameters.
- Personalized Learning is "instruction that is paced to learning needs, tailored to learning preferences, and tailored to the specific interests of different learners. In an environment that is fully personalized, the learning objectives and content as well as the method and pace may all vary." This definition is from the National Education Technology Plan which is an excellent read so long as you skip the executive summary.
- Higher Ed Disruption, Not So New. Alexandra Logue gives a history of Personalized Learning theories dating back to the early 20th century.
- Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. The ultimate meta analysis, John Hattie reports the effect size of 138 factors on student learning along with nuance explanations of the what is known about each factor. I summarized some of the high points in a recent blog post. You should seriously check this book first before running with some theory of educational improvement.
- Let's Use Video to Reinvent Education. Salman Khan speaking at TED. Notably, at 14:30 he talks about measuring individual teacher-student time as opposed to teacher to student ratios. He also introduces the flipped classroom concept.
- As We May Teach. My own essay from a couple of years back in which I apply the IT principles of Business Process Automation to teaching.
- Curing Baumol’s Disease: In Search of Productivity Gains in K-12 Schooling. Paul Hill and Marguerite Roza discuss the long delay from the introduction of automation to industry and measurable productivity gains. Then they apply the concepts to public education.
- Changing the Rules to the Game of School. My presentation at VSS 2011. Games are composed of a goal, rules, feedback and voluntary participation. So is school. What can we learn from this?
- Cognitive scientists talk about the Zone of Proximal Development. Game designers talk about Gameplay Progression. They are similar concepts and they both involve motivation and increasing skill levels. In fact, the motivational reward from this form of gameplay is achievement of greater skill.
- Feedback loops are an essential component of Personalized Learning. (From an earlier post in this blog.)
- Blended Learning, using a combination of online and in-person learning, is a prominent thread thread of research. That's based on studies (such as this one by the Open Learning Initiative) that show online and conventional teaching to be roughly equal but blended learning to be superior to both. An open question is which model to use when blending? My colleague, Scott Benson posts a periodic list of blended learning resources.
- The Puzzle of Motivation: Dan Pink explains the growing science of motivation without which, even the best instruction may fail.
A number of organizations including the federal government, technology standards groups, associations and foundations have assembled building blocks to support innovative education technology. Some of these can improve time-to-delivery, some help interoperability between applications and some ensure that your application is based on tested learning theories:
- The Personalized Learning Model is a framework that some of us at the Gates Foundation have used to talk about how key components in a learning system work together. It's very similar to frameworks used by others in the community.
- The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are a common set of learning objectives that have been adopted by 45 states and DC. For primary and secondary education this gives a framework to which learning resources and assessments can be aligned. Recently, the CCSS have been published in machine-readable form with canonical identifiers.
- The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) are two multi-state consortia developing standardized assessments for the Common Core. As with the CCSS, these are expected to be a generational improvement on existing assessment practice.
- Common Education Data Standards (CEDS) is a coordinated effort to define a Data Dictionary and Logical Data Model for the education industry. The standards span primary, secondary and postsecondary education. Version 3, presently in public comment, adds early childhood, workforce and adult learning to the mix. The Four Layer Framework for Data Standards helps understand where CEDS fits into the mix of other standards.
- The Learning Resource Metadata Initiative is a metadata schema for identifying learning resources (text, video, virtual labs, assessments, etc.) and aligning them to education standards like the Common Core.
- The Learning Registry is a system for sharing metadata about learning resources. It's synergistic with LRMI and other metadata formats.
- MyData Button is a federal government initiative to allow students or their parents to download their student data so that it can be used by other systems.
- The Schools Information Framework (SIF) is a standard protocol for exchanging educational data among applications and institutions. SIF recently announced plans to incorporate all of the CEDS standard into SIF v3.
- The Postsecondary Electronic Standards Council (PESC) defines data models and protocols for exchanging data among postsecondary institutions. PESC standards cover admissions applications, test score reporting, student aid applications and reporting, digital transcripts and more.
- IMS Global defines educational content standards (where SIF and PESC concentrate on student and institutional data). IMS standards like QTI and Common Cartridge define how to package assessment items and courseware for exchange between systems. My favorite IMS standard is Learning Tools Interoperability which is a protocol that allows rich, custom learning tools to be integrated into other learning environments.
- Ed-Fi is a data model and set of tools to support teacher and student dashboards indicating student progress.
- The Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC) "is an alliance of states, foundations, educators, content providers, developers and vendors who are passionate about using technology to improve education." It's an ambitious multistate project that leverages many of the technologies listed above into a coherent whole. Vendor outreach programs are at dev.slcedu.org
- Student Information Systems (SIS) maintain student records including admissions, current enrollment and historical achievement. For K-12 attendance information is also maintained. Newer systems include a gradebook – at least for current enrollments. Examples include PowerSchool (K-12), Ellucian (Postsecondary), PeopleSoft Campus Solutions (Postsecondary) and Kuali (Open Source).
- Learning Management Systems (LMS) manage class interactions such as syllabus, assignments, learning materials, quizzes, forums, gradebook and so forth. While LMSs are capable of delivering a rich online learning experience, most deployments are supplementary to conventional classroom learning and only a fraction of their capabilities are used. Well-known examples include BlackBoard, Desire2Learn, Moodle, eCollege, Sakai, BrainHoney and Canvas but there are numerous others.
- Instructional Improvement Systems are an emerging concept. Like an LMS, an IIS manages student learning. However, an IIS uses accumulated student data as well as effectiveness data about learning resources to customize the learning experience to individual student needs. To support continuous improvement, the IIS should place equal emphasis on data collection and data use. Most action in the IIS space is being driven by state-level RFPs often with Race to the Top funding.
- Learning Object Repositories (LOR) are collections of learning resources. They come in many forms. Some incorporate a Content Management System (CMS) to support authoring and curation of learning resources. Some, like CK12 or Khan Academy, are composed of internally authored components. Others, like Curriki or TheGateway collect user-generated content. Commercial vendors like Learning.com and NetTrekker build custom-curated repositories for schools, districts and states. Khan Academy augments their LOR with assessments and learning management. An Open Educational Resource (OER) Repository is a LOR that exclusively includes open-licensed resources. Prominent OER Repositories include Connexions, Hippocampus, Curriki, Merlot, OERCommons, CK12, TheGateway and Khan Academy. Commercial efforts include Learning.com, NetTrekker, TeachersPayTeachers and xpLOR. CoreSpring is an emerging OER repository for assessment items.
- Public Education Datasets are available from the National Center for Education Statistics and other federal and state education agencies. The Digest of Education Statistics is a compilation of many government and privately-sourced datasets. Other public datasets include EdFacts and IPEDS. There some interesting opportunities to consuming existing public data and analyzing it in new ways.