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

Insert your favorite “Wrath of Khan” joke blog title here

For any agent of change, there’s no measurement of success so sure as the steady accumulation of vocal critics — and Sal Khan is finding all kinds of critics as he continues to press forward.

What’s most notable is that he’s finding many of his most vocal critics among professional educators who are eager to point out that he’s Doing It Wrong, and that their own methods are clearly superior.

They’re absolutely right, too — but they are right about points that no reasonable person disputes.

Of course a motivated, talented teacher with a strong pedagogical background, years of experience, and an excellent relationship with his or her students is going to provide a superior learning experience to a website on the internet.

But here’s the thing, Highly Effective Teacher: not every kid has access to the Wonder That Is You.  Right?  So what can we offer to those kids?

Something is always better than Nothing, and there are still way too many kids in this world (and adults, for that matter) who are closer to that Nothing side of the continuum.  Khan Academy, and the projects that came before it like One Laptop Per Child and Sugar Labs, and the many projects that will surely come after, are all trying to solve that Nothing problem.  Why are so many teachers threatened by that?

Working with ISKME and OER Commons over the past year has been eye-opening for me, in a lot of ways.  Full of a-ha moments.  One of the critical a-ha moments: doing reverse DNS lookups for server logs for OER Commons, and seeing how many of those hits come from India and Pakistan, where the Nothing problem is acute.  And many of those users who search for open educational resources, and find them at our site, describe themselves in their online profiles as Learners.

Learners exist outside of the classroom.  All over the world.  And those learners are finding the internet, and searching it desperately for knowledge that can improve their lives.  Sal Khan is trying to serve their needs, and near as I can tell, he’s doing a better job in his particular problem space than anyone before him ever has.  Of course he’s not doing it exactly right.  He’s making mistakes, just like every innovator does.  That’s how it works.

So you mind your students, Highly Effective Teachers of the world, and let Sal mind his.

Insert your favorite “Wrath of Khan” joke blog title here