Open Education reconsidered

What a great article in Sunday’s New York Times about East Mooresville Intermediate School.

A bunch of quotes from the article that stood out to me. First, about the program’s success:

Overwhelmed by requests to view the programs in action, the district now herds visitors into groups of 60 for monthly demonstrations; the waiting list stretches to April.

Impressive.  And:

Mooresville ranks 100th out of 115 districts in North Carolina in terms of dollars spent per student — $7,415.89 a year — but it is now third in test scores and second in graduation rates.

How are they doing it? Every kid gets a laptop. (One Laptop Per Child, one might even say.) And how are those laptops being used?

The difference, teachers and administrators here said, is that they value computers not for the newest content they can deliver, but for how they tap into the oldest of student emotions — curiosity, boredom, embarrassment, angst — and help educators deliver what only people can.

With a curious new method:

Many classrooms have moved from lecture to lattice, where students collaborate in small groups with the teacher swooping in for consultation.

That looks a lot like methods familiar to old hands from the open source world:

Ms. Higgins had the more outgoing students make presentations on the Declaration of Independence, while shy ones discussed it in an online chat room, which she monitored. “I’m not a very social person, but I have no problem typing on a keyboard,” said one of those shy ones, Chase Wilson. “It connected me with other students — opened me up and helped me with talking in public.”

And finally, a great quote epitomizing the nature of the success.

“This is not about the technology,” Mark Edwards, superintendent of Mooresville Graded School District, would tell the visitors later over lunch. “It’s not about the box. It’s about changing the culture of instruction.”

Reminds me of someone who once said: “it’s not a laptop project; it’s an education project.”  Hmm.

Once upon a time, I believed that open source software was the key to improving education.

Then I believed that open source content was the key to improving education.

I now believe that open source practice is the key to improving education — which is the hardest and most important change of all. Thanks to Mooresville for showing us how that might be done.

Open Education reconsidered

11 thoughts on “Open Education reconsidered

  1. Jef Spaleta says:

    Now if we can just find the right stick to poke people in the eye with…

    Or to put it more gently.

    So up until now, open source as a set of best practises has been created through a very messy evolution of workflows. A beaucracy adverse evolution. For open practises, unnecessary beaucracy is essentially routed around as damage in the network.

    Many existing education structures are beaucracy heavy (heavily damaged.) How do we inject the culture of self-repair and damage rerouting in that dominant education structure, wihout having the self-repairing aspects of the new practises identify the entire education structure as damage to be rerouted around?

    What’s special about this school’s beaucracy that allows the new practises to take hold? And how do we start looking for that bit of special in new administration hires for more schools and school systems?

    1. Well, a big part of it is investing in the right tool — i.e. a laptop that every kid has, all the time.

      The old saw that went around the OLPC offices: “if you had a ‘pencil lab’ twice a week, would you ever have learned how to write?”

      Mooresville made the choice to invest in technology at the expense of other things. Including teachers. They did it by changing the notion of what a “class” should be, and allowing classrooms of 30+. Those are changes that are hard to enact at the individual classroom level.

      I think the best we can do, for now, is to celebrate the successes. Hey, 1-to-1 computing advocates, looking for a success case to justify your funding push? Use this one!

      But it’s political. Education always is.

      1. Actually, I would say that the laptop is probably the smallest part. A laptop does absolutely no good if the curriculum stays the way it always has been which, unfortunately, is how computers are traditionally added to classrooms. It seems that in this case, rather than simply giving everyone a laptop they have instead completely transformed the curriculum. The article is sadly short on specifics but reading it I can’t help but be reminded of Kahn Academy. I would be interested to know more about their entire curriculum.

        This is of special importance to my wife and I right now since for the past month or so we’ve been actively visiting and applying to middle schools. My son’s normal school is one of the lowest performing in our county and it’s main distinction at the moment is that every kid gets an iPad. That does not encourage us. Have an iPad or a laptop just by itself, we believe, hurts rather than hinders. You really need to change how everything works. My son has been in a project based learning school for the past 6 years (K-5) and that has worked VERY well for him. Kids help pick a project to work on and the teacher makes sure that by doing the project all the needed subjects (reading, writing, math, etc…) get covered as part of the project.

      2. The laptop is, of course, not at all important — *once everyone has it*.

        It’s a truly laughable notion that every kid doesn’t have a computer. There is no knowledge worker that I know — not one — who doesn’t have a computer assigned to them by their employer for their use.

        A laptop is clearly not sufficient — but it is absolutely necessary.

  2. Mmm, I think open source practice would not work, or at least not nearly as well, without the foundation of open source software. So the question is whether it’s possible to develop efficient and effective open education practice without the underlying foundations being solid open education content and software?

    At the same time, let’s not forget that today many teachers are freely sharing and distributing their content and collaborating with others to develop new materials. It just doesn’t happen on a large enough scale yet which does strike me as similar to the early days of open source software (and before that term even existed) when people were freely sharing source code.

    Anyway, good food for thought… 🙂

  3. Bob Jones says:

    Thats funny the NY Times supports, encourages and helps elect leaders who will do nothing but throw more money at making the broken more so. On a daily basis across thier paper they advocate for central planning and more of the useless top down autoritarian entites like the Department of Ed, when most of us have known for a long time that the individual free to collaberate and contribute in their own ways = success for all.

    Yet just this week many of us read the reports of the Federal Agents thanks to the first lady monitoring what our kids bring for lunch and in North Carolina there was an incident where a child was told her packed lunch was unacceptable. Now call me a cynic but I somehow doubt the same people who want to regulate the lunch you pack for you’re child would every allow open process to take over the classrooms. After all we would not want to breed soo many dangerous free thinkers would we. And we would never want to help everyone find their own way of accomplising things would we?

    On top of all that do any of you really think these people who depend on teachers union money are going to allow that many students in one room which means less teachers to collect union dues from ?

    Also with open process there is NO way to regulate, legislate and approve of the curriculum being taught, do you thing the central planners in DC would ever allow that either ?

    Finally someone knows this might lead to Open source software in our public schools, do you think Microsoft and their army of lobbyists would every allow this to happen with all the politicians they buy off each year ?

    However this is great news and is just more proof that individual in each unique classroom is far more successful when left alone to decide what is best for them and thier classroom.

    1. Be fair, now. Arne Duncan has pushed hard to expand charter schools across the country, and part of the Department of Education’s current mission is to figure out how to replicate successes exactly like this one — and it costs money to build a school like this, whether you like it or not.

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