Is It Worth Doing? Ask yourself . . .

Is It Worth Doing? Ask yourself . . .

  • What is the best-case outcome of this project? The worst? The most likely?
  • How much time and money will this require?
  • What would be the signs that the project is failing and you should cut your losses?
  • How dependable/competent/trustworthy are your partners?
  • Would it be a problem to delay the project?
  • What would you need to sacrifice in your other projects to complete this one

Know the Vital Players in Your Career

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Analytics, Algorithms, and Aptitude – Adaptive Learning is a Big Opportunity for Education

Analytics, Algorithms, and Aptitude – Adaptive Learning is a Big Opportunity for Education

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I love Pandora (and Spotify, and iTunes radio). All of them respond to my listening history to introduce me to new music by new artists while rolling in familiar songs that I still love. They do this by converging hard data and personal taste. It’s really fun and the commercial use is obvious (people who bought this, also bought that. . .) but the potential for serious outcomes geared to the greater good is enormous.

Darwin spoke of survival of the fittest with his theory of evolution built around one’s ability to adapt. Today we talk about grit and resilience as major differentiators in student success. We know that one’s ability to land on one’s feet in times of change separates those that thrive from the rest of the pack. We also know that teaching these fuzzy attributes is difficult and demands coaching, modelling, trial and error, the opportunity to fail, trust, and faith – outcomes we don’t usually find on a course syllabus.

We also know that different people learn in different ways at different speeds – and that those modalities are also fuzzy and inconsistent depending on a multitude of factors. Yet, for the most part, our schools are still structured around rigid schedules with lock-step learning routines often shaped by textbooks instead of people. Differentiated teaching is tough. One teacher responding to all the variables associated with course content, school culture, and classroom behavior can be overwhelming on a good day. One of the best things to come out of the digital disruption is adaptive e-Learning platforms.

Dreambox Learning, one of the stars of this innovative space, has wonderful information about the benefits of adaptive learning. Other key players include: Knewton (in partnership with Pearson, Cambridge University Press, and Macmillan), Smart Sparrow, Desire2Learn, and John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Money is an object, particularly for struggling school systems. But these models are very scalable and still very new. I hope with time and a more substantial track record, we can get these tools in every teacher’s hand so that every student can realize their super power to learn. It’s about more than opportunity, it’s about survival of the fittest.

The Quantified Self – Hack your way to better health

The Quantified Self – Hack your way to better health

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We are fortunate to live at a time when technology is enabling the exploration of solutions because of expanded connectivity. Digital technologies connect us to each other and to information at an ever increasing rate. One of the interesting fields that is gaining quick traction in this space is called the Quantified Self Movement. It is essentially self-knowledge through self-tracking.

This is not new. Benjamin Franklin famously tracked 13 personal virtues in a daily journal to push himself toward moral perfection. Not sure how well that worked, but our curiosity and capacity for self-scrutiny remains intact. If anything, our house of mirrors has gained momentum with new gadgets that make data collection cheaper and more convenient.

Big data and wearable tech allow us to quantify biometrics we never knew existed. Want to know your insulin or cortisol levels, or sequence your DNA, or learn what microbial cells inhabit your body? There’s an app for that. Apple’s app store’s medical category has more than 13,000 individual apps for download. The mobile health industry is estimated to be worth $400 million by 2016, according to ABI Research. Last year, mobile users downloaded 247 million health-related apps, according to market research company Research2Guidance.

Pew Research points out that about 69% of US adults track at least one health metric. Here are some of the more popular tools in use today:

  1. Want to lose weight? Keep a food log. Use MyFitnessPal, pen and paper, or just take a picture. Tracking your food intake will lead to interesting insights about your diet and health. A 2008 study also showed that the act of tracking food further facilitates weight loss.
  2. Searching for happiness? Track your mood. AskMeEvery tracks your mood for 3 months and might add insight to your personal and professional barometer readings. Other good apps include MercuryApp and TrackYourHappiness. We often are not mindful of our changing moods or the factors that affect them. Tracking them daily keeps us self-aware.
  3. Need to move more? Track your activity. There are tons of great tools including Fitbit, Nike Fuelband, Jawbone UP, Basis, Omron, Moves, and more. Your iPhone can also track your activity.

Why do people go to the trouble of tracking health data for themselves or for loved ones? Some say they get results:

  • 46% of trackers say that this activity has changed their overall approach to maintaining their health or the health of someone for whom they provide care.
  • 40% of trackers say it has led them to ask a doctor new questions or to get a second opinion from another doctor.
  • 34% of trackers say it has affected a decision about how to treat an illness or condition.

Track your way to health and happiness? Beats wasting time looking at cute kitten videos on uTube . . .

Romancing the Rosetta Stone, Love is Blind

Romancing the Rosetta Stone, Love is Blind

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I’m taking a MOOC. I already said that, but, there’s homework . . . The gist of the class so far is about the advent of digital technology as a tool for growth – grow your brain, grow your network, grow your idea. Change your mind, change the world. We keep reading these essays from far-sighted people who were articulating a world of artificial intelligence and personal computers in the early days of Dick Tracy. Reading about these utopian uses of technology in the antiquated syntax of the 50s and 60s on my smart phone makes me feel like I’ve been transported to a galaxy far, far away. The 60s wasn’t really that long ago, but it seems like we’re behind the eight ball if we’re only now getting to their ideas about machine aided learning.

Why can’t we adapt more quickly to innovative concepts in education? What prevents the best ideas from bubbling to the surface in the service of the people? (And I do not believe corporations are people). If education were a capitalist system and human empowerment the currency, we’d see more varied solutions, more competition – a real race to the top. It’s easy to criticize capitalism for the way it pits the winners against the losers, but our school systems are doing just that without the benefit of incremental improvement that competition spawns.

This week’s reading assignment, Ted Nelson’s Computer Lib / Dream Machines has some stinging commentary about how schools kill creativity (me thinks Sir Ken Robinson has read this).

The author argues for a technology designed as a creative process to be undertaken with the audience (users) in mind. He sees technology as our ecosystem, claiming we “live in media, as fish live in water.” This was written in 1974. Nelson argues that technology will allow people the right to explore at their own pace and whim and he believes that right outweighs any administrative advantages of creating and enforcing “subjects” and curriculum sequences. We’re beginning to believe him. The Kahn Academy broke one of our molds with the flipped classroom, recognizing that not all students are going to grasp a concept because it was presented in a classroom lecture once.

Here is a list pulled from the reading. It hurts me to hear some of these words, I am a teacher. It pains me to see how much of this still applies forty years later.

1. The human mind is born free, yet everywhere it is in chains. The educational system serves mainly to destroy for most people, in varying degrees, intelligence, curiosity, enthusiasm, and intellectual initiative and self-confidence. We are born with these. They are gone or severely diminished when we leave school.

2. Everything is interesting, until ruined for us. Nothing in the universe is intrinsically uninteresting. Schooling systematically ruins things for us, wiping out these interests; the last thing to be ruined determines your profession.

3. There are no “subjects.” The division of the universe into “subjects” for teaching is a matter of tradition and administrative convenience.

4. There is no natural or necessary order of learning. Teaching sequences are arbitrary, explanatory hierarchies philosophically spurious. “Prerequisites” are a fiction spawned by the division of the world into “subjects;” and maintained by not providing summaries, introductions or orientational materials except to those arriving through a certain door.

5. Anyone retaining his natural mental facilities can learn anything practically on his own, given encouragement and resources.

6. Most teachers mean well, but they are so concerned with promoting their images, attitudes and style of order that very little else can be communicated in the time remaining, and almost none of it attractively.

What is the role of “the teacher” in this new information economy? How can we smooth the transition of this massive technological disruption so fewer teachers and support staff feel attacked instead of inspired? I welcome your ideas.