Sep. 6, 2012: edX and VUE, Kapiolani CC, Manchester Study, Lake Park-Audubon HS

MOOCs Are Growing Up Quickly
A sign that MOOCs are evolving into viable credit courses is today’s edX announcement that students will soon be able to take “a course final exam at one of over 450 Pearson VUE test centers in more than 110 countries.” Students will be charged “a modest fee for the proctoring service.”[1] Perhaps a natural consequence of the need for onground proctoring for open online courses will be the emergence of public and school libraries as well as schools and colleges around the world as providers of walk-in proctoring services. Proctors and sites could be certified and monitored by a nonprofit international board for a small fee. For most everyone, a library, school, or college is within easy commute. For some, proctoring could provide a small profit. However, in-person proctoring services may be a transitional solution for an issue that will probably disappear as online testing technology advances.

Dropping Enrollment at Kapi’olani CC — Implications?
This may just be a fluke, but for the second consecutive term, enrollment has dropped at KCC while it has gone up on other campuses[2]. The numbers are small so this may not be indicative of a significant trend. Still, after years of recording among the highest enrollments in the University of Hawaii system, this drop is worrisome. The emphasis at KCC in the past few years has been on campus-based strategies to raise retention and program completion rates. Perhaps it’s time to focus on infrastructure, instruction, and service improvements that rely on the latest personal communication technologies such as smartphones and pads. Already in the hands of students and potential students, these devices downplay location and spotlight anytime-anywhere access to services and instruction. With online technology increasingly dominating the college experience, KCC may be seeing the beginnings of a beautiful campus with expensive concrete ‘n’ glass facilities evolving into a dead zone, i.e., classrooms, labs, library, and campus standing open but empty.

In a comprehensive study, by a team from the University of Manchester (UK), of “more than 13,000 11- to 16-year-olds at 40 secondaries across the country,” researchers found that the traditional high transmission approach to teaching math, characterized by a “tendency towards a more conventional, teacher-centred mode of teaching, with knowledge meant to be transmitted from teacher to pupil,” is less effective than student-centered, interactive approaches. In short, lecturing “can turn pupils off maths.”[3] Midway through 2012, I have to wonder why money is being spent to reiterate the obvious.

Millions on New Buildings and Outdated Technology?
Lake Park-Audubon High School (Minnesota) is celebrating the spending of millions of dollars on the construction of a new campus and new technology defined, in part, as “four computer labs with 25 to 30 computers each,” a “media center,” and “laptop computers and carrying bags … issued to the 180 students in grades 10 through 12.”[4] With the trend toward personal pads and smartphones as well as online instruction and services, one has to wonder if the district has made the best decisions. The “campus-wide Wi-Fi” with double the bandwidth, flipped classrooms, and movement toward ebooks are wonderful. However, these as well as the physical education and athletics facilities notwithstanding, the question remains: Is this the wisest use of education dollars? Laptops are going the way of the dinosaur, but when placed in the hands of all students, the need for computer-equipped labs or even labs seems redundant. iPhones and iPads can easily turn any room or environment into a “lab.” Furthermore, the construction of classroom buildings at a time when the trend is toward anytime-anywhere access seems, at least to me, counter-intuitive.

1. “EdX Announces Option of Proctored Exam Testing Through Collaboration with Pearson VUE,” Daily Markets, 9.6.12.

2. “University of Hawaii Enrollment Reaches Record,” AP/Star-Advertiser, 9.6.12.

3. “Traditional Teaching Methods Still Dominant in Maths Classrooms,” University of Manchester, UK, 9.6.12.

4. Helmut Schmidt, “LP-A’s $17.5 Million High School Open for Learning,” DL-Online, 9.5.12.

One Response

  1. WRT laptops, it’s not so clear. With many tablets costing more than laptops, the cost is not the issue. Tablets do not perform well as writing implements while laptops do. Tablets still do not support much of the more advanced (e.g. grades 10-12) learning software.

    The ideal computer-based learning platform is still evolving. Tablets were not intended for this use. Phones certainly were not. It’s nice that they can be adapted somewhat to use for learning and will help to point the way to better devices for learning.

    What should such a device have? Until really good dictation software comes, it should have a tactile keyboard. It should also have a pointing device capable of pixel precision, not just a fingertip. Laptops have these. It should also be rugged, light, and inexpensive to acquire and to operate. It also should run the enormous libraries of educational software currently available. Why expect vendors to invest millions in converting software to today’s latest fad in hardware?

    There is no real barrier to having tablets run Flash or Java. It’s just the prejudices of the manufacturers and their desire to force software vendors to make platform-specific applications. WORA will come back, and, when it does, developers of serious applications will be happy if they resisted the trend.

    Why have classrooms with computers? So that students have them available for use. Too many students still do not have computers or Internet at home. If the school makes these facilities available after school hours, then their value increases.

    I do not agree that “laptops are going the way of the dinosaur,” at least as the remark was intended. Dinosaurs came about 245 million years ago and lasted until 65 millions years ago when they were wiped out by an external event. Without that asteroid, mammals would have remained tiny, and dinosaurs would still rule here. We would not be having this discussion. During their 180 million-year rule, dinosaurs evolved just as computers (including laptops) are doing now. Indeed, tablets may be considered a hybrid of the laptop and the smart phone, an evolutionary step.

    I cannot predict with any certainty what the next steps will be. Just as with the evolution of life, expect experiments that fail, experiments that fit into small niches, and experiments that succeed briefly and then fade as the next species takes over.

    Will entirely audio submissions of essays to instructors become the norm? If so, then the keyboard will fade away. Would you prefer to be listening to this essay rather than reading it? I wouldn’t for the simple reason that I can read faster than I can listen, and I can skim written material but not audio. However, you never know. I may be the dinosaur here. Perhaps, dictation software will become so good that we can eat our cake and have it too. Until keyboards become superfluous, tablets cannot take over.

    Pointing devices pose a similar challenge. Many applications require precision in pointing. Yes, games are readily designed to avoid this issue. Much of testing does not require it. However, image editing would be impossible without it. My own software requires it too, which makes me more sensitive to this issue than many are. Until precision pointing devices become superfluous, tablets would have to be equipped with them in order to render laptops obsolete.

    We are in a period of intense ferment in educational technology. As an evolutionary metaphor, it’s akin to the Cambrian explosion. So many new species of devices! It’s hardly time to pronounce a final verdict on the death of a particular device. (Remember when portable computers were called “luggables”? Now, they’re called laptops.) Flippable laptops had a brief period of excitement. Was that an evolutionary dead end? Probably, but it could presage a marriage of keyboard/touchpad with tablets.

    To repeat the primary point here, we just don’t know, as fun as it may be to speculate, and I am as much as fault in taking part in this joy as any other. I must always, however, precede my predictions with a caveat that it’s just my opinion.

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