Monday, October 15, 2012

Capacity focus, 68: As teachers in Montserrat take a break for a seminar, notes on Apple's iPad and Intel's Studybook reference Tablet PC and the digital technology teaching-learning-curriculum revolution in the classroom

(Two Sigma/Digital learning transformation series
  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 , CF 66 on tabs)

This week, here in Montserrat, High School teachers are doing a one-week in-service capacity-building seminar during the half-term break. 

A good idea, especially as 400 or so laptops are about to be brought into the school and we need to do some serious thinking about how they can and should be used in the system.

(And, just as a bonus, let me link a find, a teacher's prep book from Purdue University. Though targetting the College level, it strongly overlaps with what High School teachers need by way of a basic primer/ reminder/ refresher on key education themes.)

OLPC's XO-3 tablet
While laptops are of course being emphasised in the Caribbean as a key technology for education, I want to argue that though this can be a good answer, the true revolutionary sweet spot is actually somewhere else. The tablet.

Lighter, adequate in performance, able to store textbooks or readers, library resources, able to browse and do light office productivity at the level students will need to do, also serves as a Web access device and can serve as a lab or field instrument. And more.

Of course, as recent studies underscore, throwing technology at education problems is no more likely to be a solution than throwing money at such. 

What we want instead is well-grounded transformation of the curriculum approach; in a digital age. 

The tablet PC offers much by way of resources for such, of course, but I am going to argue below that the real key is to recognise the potential of a more interactive, resource-rich approach to learning and mastery of both content and skills. Which points the way to education transformation with an emphasis on a new vision for the curriculum. Which will entail serious capacity building for educators, and a major intervention to support developing the new resources.

Just as an aside, Montserrat happens to be a Caribbean UK overseas territory, thus it lives at the intersection of many streams of culture and possibilities. Why not use the conveniently demo project scale Montserrat education system as a test bed for developing a new digital age approach to eduction that emphasises mastery? 

Could we not partner with the UK Department for International Development, a couple of good UK Universities and a manufacturer or two as well as some software houses, and multimedia developers, to create a powerful new way forward?

The potential is definitely there.

For instance, as Intel notes:
The move to affordable connectivity for schools is driving a parallel shift for tablets, from companion devices to primary devices. Key tablet features:
  • Enable anytime, anywhere access to information, tools for learning and productivity, and custom applications
  • Ideal for reference materials and research, as well as tools for fieldwork
  • Transforms education across the curriculum:
    • Language arts: all grade levels can take notes, highlight and annotate reading assignments and worksheets
    • Mathematics and science: students can create graphs and diagrams, predict trends, record observations in class or in the field 
  • Support improved retention, organization, capture of video/audio while taking notes, collaboration, and peer review
The tablet PC revolution, unsurprisingly, is therefore hitting the high school (and beyond that, the elementary) classroom bigtime, and is beginning to overtake the laptop. 

Studybook Tablet in theclassroom
 Apple's US$400+ iPad (which is unfortunately a locked-down technology from a firm that has often yielded to the temptation of monopolistic practices) has been leading the way, but other possibilities have been catching up. 

For instance, the 7" diagonal, Android OS, Intel Studybook reference Tablet is an Elementary and/or High School level educational tablet, projected as salable at perhaps US$ 200, with hopes of $100 in about two years.

Notice, how Chris Dawson of ZDNet Education remarks on the Studybook in an April 10th 2012 article:
When I first heard that Intel was planning a tablet iteration of its Learning Series Classmate PCs, I was incredibly skeptical. Intel had always maintained that a keyboard was important to ensure that students could be content creators as well as consumers. A tablet, then, would have to represent the ultimate market-driven, me-too sellout, right? Some hands-on time with their new Studybook tablet last week, however, convinced me that I was dead wrong. 

The Studybook, announced today, is no iPad killer. It isn't meant to be. It is, however, the first purpose-built educational tablet that would be as valuable in the developing market as in mature markets and as at home in a high school student's backpack as on a 2nd-grader's desktop. Instead of fearfully watching primary school kids trucking around classrooms with iPads and their teachers wondering just what they should be doing with the $4-500 consumer devices, the Studybook comes loaded with a software stack and ecosystem for which even the least progressive of teachers could imagine a few uses. [Go here for more, well worth the read . . .]
Now, too, an Aug 3, 2012 US News and World Report article -- "Tablets Trump Laptops in High School Classrooms"  -- notes:
During its quarterly earnings call on July 24, Apple announced that it sold 500,000 MacBook laptops to schools during the previous quarter—an all-time high for the tech company. It also announced that it had sold 1 million iPads to high schools and colleges, doubling its iPad sales to schools during the same quarter a year ago.
"Education tends to be a conservative institution, but we're not seeing that at all on the iPad," Apple CEO Tim Cook said on a call with investors. "The adoption of the iPad in education is something I've never seen in any technology."
That sort of explosive growth is driven by a match between a need and a technology that is close to filling it: printed textbooks are a 500 year old, largely passive -- read that "boring" -- technology, but humans naturally are interactive and active creatures, who typically learn best by doing, seeing, discussing, collaborating and reflecting, not by passively hearing or passing eyes over seas of text, mind all too often being disengaged. 

This programme-length discussion from India on the potential of tablet PCs as a leading edge of the digital, interactive revolution in learning technologies, curricula and approaches, is therefore well worth the pause to view it:

It is well worth the pause to watch a promo on the Studybook, which has many hints on possible ways the technology can be effectively integrated into education:

(Note also the videos here; which I would have preferred but embed seems to have been blocked. Notice, too, how something as easy to use as a Blog and insertion of multimedia elements in posts could be used in an education context. Observe the draft theology course here as an example of what is possible with such relatively simple approaches.)

In addition, as this blog has been noting recently, Bloom's two-sigma effect whereby highly interactive tutorial-style learning approaches have the reliable capacity to transform C-grade performance into A-grade performance, and to move 98% of students to acceptable performance levels on topics, utterly transforming the performance of education systems:

How highly interactive tutorial-style learning approaches can transform learning

 Hitherto, the 1:1 tutoring approach has been prohibitively expensive, but a disaggregation of contributing factors shows why interactive digital technologies and  have great promise. Wiki, in its article on the two-sigma issue, has an apt, pointed summary:
Considering the significant outcomes of these studies on student performance, educational researchers can make a number of implications and conjectures for follow-up studies. Among them:
  • Labeling students as low achievers is less relevant, since altering one or two variables can have significant positive effects on the average learner.
  • Technology may simulate tutoring affects without the high cost of providing a live tutor for each student.
  • Social aspects present in one-to-one tutoring may imply a larger role for consideration of sociality in (or the social nature of) learning.
Now, I went on to note how:

>> . . .  the astonishing potential impact of 1:1 tutoring is not so much in that itself, but in what it naturally promotes, a highly interactive, personalised, rapidly responsive, high-feedback and adjustment learning environment. (And BTW, I want to suggest that for certain strategic interventions, we need to have 1:1 or small group tutoring on the plate as key interventions. This also points out one of the reasons why cell groups and small work teams can be very effective, i.e. the high interactivity promotes effectiveness.) 

So, let us now look at a table of useful interventions investigated by Bloom et al, as presented by Vockell of Perdue, redoing the table highlights to better reveal a pattern:
Bloom proposes the impressive but possibly attainable goal of trying to make group instruction as effective as individual tutoring. Bloom identifies several alterable variables that have been shown to provide a partial "solution" to this two-sigma problem.
Note that this emphasis on the two-sigma problem does not contradict the importance of academic learning time [--> ALT, aka "Time on Task"] discussed earlier in this chapter. Indeed, the main reason these strategies have such impact is because they promote the effective use of academic learning time.
Table 2.7 lists modifiable factors that Bloom found to be related to enhanced learning. Note that on Bloom's scale a score of 2.0 indicates the level of improvement that would occur under individualized tutoring. This is Bloom's "ideal" score, and other pedagogical strategies can be regarded as effective to the extent that they approach this ideal. For example, when teachers assign homework, there is an average effect size of .30 compared to similar classes in which there is no homework assigned. When teachers not only assign but also grade homework, there is an effect size of .80 compared to similar classes in which homework is not assigned.

Table 2.7. Selected Alterable Variables That Influence Student Achievement
Effect Size
Tutorial instruction
Corrective feedback
Cues and explanations
Student classroom participation
Student time-on-task
Improved reading / study skills
Cooperative learning
Homework (graded)
 Classroom morale
Initial cognitive prerequisites
Home environment intervention
Peer and cross-age remedial tutoring
Homework (assigned)
Higher order questions
New science and math curricula
Teacher expectancy
Peer group influence
Advance organizers
Socioeconomic status (Included for contrast - SES is not easily alterable by teachers.)
*The percentile indicates the percentile at which the "average" student would typically score if he/she received this treatment instead of "traditional" instruction. (Ordinarily, the "average" student would score at the 50th percentile.)
(Adapted from Walberg, 1984)
 Vockell (1994) has reversed Bloom's logic and has discussed the "minus two-sigma problem." He reasons that if teachers teach really incompetently, they will lower students' performance by an effect size of 2.0. (Having no teacher at all could be perceived as the opposite of having an individual tutor.) He suggests that various activities in which teachers sometimes engage hurt student performance to the extent that they approximate a truly do-nothing teacher.
Plainly, nothing can replace the impact of the highly interactive small group or especially one on one tutoring.  
However, a combination of interventions that promote interactive, active learning, that diagnoses and addresses gaps in required base, as well as responds to the diverse ways people learn, can make a big cumulative difference. We should not overlook the impact of time on task, graded homework (which motivates effort and provides hopefully rapid feedback) and enhanced reading and study skills. 

This last may help explain a puzzling experience I had in teaching High School physics: one of the most effective learning interventions I made was to spend time in the classroom simply reading the textbook with students in rounds, paragraph by paragraph -- randomising who reads next -- and then pausing to discuss what we were reading and to work through examples interactively.

I now think that one factor at work was that students probably often find reading the textbook on their own a dreary, boring and often puzzling exercise that therefore naturally gets postponed again and again [until the "cram before the exam" rush which drastically shifts degree of motivation . . . ], reducing the book to a repository of homework problems. Which then became much more difficult challenges.

Interactive group work with people one likes probably dramatically enhances enjoyability, and it also sets up interaction, feedback, and mutual support and accountability. Video, animated computer simulations and multimedia would multiply that effect. However, I have more than enough experience of student project and study groups where one or two of the students seemed to be carrying a circle of free-loaders with them to think that small groups are a cure-all.

Can I plug for the homework notebook that can form a point of step by step accountability over work assigned and done, at home and school alike?

Similarly, can I point out the advantages of the three-ring binder file folder with well-divided sections as a way to organise work, notes etc? (If one is worried about students losing pages, if spiral notebooks are inserted you can get the best of both worlds, or one can punch three holes in manilla file jackets and affix folder sheets using treasury tags. That forms a sort of flexible notebook in a file jacket. Cf. here. Another trick is to use shoelaces or the like and cut and punched cornflake boxes to stack and tie together clusters of folder sheets or three-hole punched computer printouts into simple, mechanically bound "books." That gives a handy permanently bound reference book, on the cheap.)

I also plug for one to two page diagram-heavy handouts that students can work through and read.>>

So, there are many possibilities. 

I should note, too that I think core education is going to need to look like:
A second modern language

Basic science and preferably at least one focal area
Computer literacy and Digital productivity (programming and multimedia authoring)
Civics, including some understanding of history and the nature of democratic self-governance
Personal orientation, life skills and core civilisational values
At least one technical/vocational skill
If you will pardon a links list as enrichment, here are some links from my own ongoing initiattive to create a web based microcampus centre delivered Associate Degree in our region, with a bridging studies component for those needing to round our or fill in holes in their secondary studies:

Capacity Development -- the AACCS

So, why can't we rethink and transform education, for the digital age? END