Of That

Brandt Redd on Education, Technology, Energy, and Trust

31 October 2011

Quote of the Day: Bill James on Trust

"We have a better society when we can trust one another. And wherever and whenever there’s an evaporation of systems based on trust I think there’s a loss to society. I also think that one evaporation of trust in society tends to feed another, and that we would have a better society if we could, rather than promoting fear and working to reduce the places where terrible things happen, if we could promote trust and work on building societies in which people are more trustworthy. I think we’re all better off in a million different ways if and when we can do that."
- Bill James, being interviewed by Freakonomics (quote appears at the very end of the podcast. Transcript here)

27 October 2011

The Personalized Learning Model

The first two parts of this series discussed the Tyranny of the Bell Curve and a strategy for Tackling Bloom's Two Sigma Problem. In this third and last part I describe the Personalized Learning Model that many of us are using to guide investments in education technology.

The diagram to the right is similar to those used by other education technology organizations so it's not unique to the Gates Foundation. The key components in most any Adaptive Learning System or Instructional Improvement System are Student Data, Educational Content and Assessments. We use precise definitions of these:

  • Learning Objectives are specific competencies to be learned in a particular subject domain. Most courses, both online and legacy media, start with a set of learning objectives. However, if data, content and assessment systems are to interoperate, a common set of objectives must be shared among them.
  • Student Data is a collection of  evidence of what competencies or skills a student has achieved. On a scale of weak to strong evidence, it includes presence information (the student attended a class), activity information (the student viewed a particular video or performed a lab) and assessment results.
  • Learning Content includes reading materials, textbooks, interactive activities, lesson plans, exercises and any other content that's intended to teach about a subject.
  • Assessments are student activities that are instrumented in such a way that we can measure competence in knowledge or skills. You can think of multiple choice and true/false as activities that are deliberately simplified to make them easier to instrument. However, assessment technology is advancing in ways that make it possible to instrument more realistic activities.
The Feedback Loop describes the process of learning, from determining what a student doesn't know, to teaching the subject, to assessing competency. For the feedback loop to work effectively, it must cycle frequently supplying rich and accurate feedback to students and educators.

Most of our education technology investments involve some combination of improving the state of practice in these areas and improving interoperability among systems. Future posts in this blog will profile some of the most important initiatives we and others are working on.

Posts in this series:
Breaking the Tyranny of the Bell Curve
Tackling Bloom's Two Sigma Problem
The Personalized Learning Model

14 October 2011

On Track for 50% of High School Courses Online by 2019

In the 2008 book, Disrupting Class, Clayton Christensen applied his theories of disruptive innovation to education. By that time, disruptive innovation had been studied well enough that Christensen and his colleagues could predict the adoption curve of such an innovation. It's an impressive feat -- telling us how soon something new is going to impact our lives.

They predicted that by 2014, 25% of high school courses would be taken online and that by 2019 fully half of them will be taught that way. When Christensen and his colleagues talk about online education, they include blended or hybrid formats in that bucket. This is important because the evidence shows that it's a blend of online materials and personal attention that results in superior learning outcomes.

In a recent Washington Post Column, Christensen and co-author Michael Horn offer an update citing emerging examples like Khan Academy in Los Altos and Rocketship Education. "In the year 2000, roughly 45,000 K-12 students took an online course. In 2010, roughly 4 million did." Then they reassert their prediction of 50% of high school courses online by 2019.

Three years into the prediction, we seem to be on track.

06 October 2011

Steve Jobs: How to Live Before You Die

As a teenager I learned to program on an Apple ][. First BASIC and then Pascal and assembly language. I played computer games, hacked them and then wrote my own. I have fond memories of those times. But none of that, nor the careers that followed for me and countless others would have happened without Steve Jobs. There's hardly a person in the world whose life hasn't been impacted in some way by his vision and drive to see it realized.

I join many others in recommending the following speech he made at the 2005 Stanford University Commencement. Fittingly titled, "How to Live Before You Die":

May he rest in peace.