CIRCL perspectives offer a window into the different worlds of various stakeholders in the cyberlearning community — what drives their work, what they need to be successful, and what they think the community should be doing. Share your perspective.
You’re experienced in this industry…what would you say is the biggest change you’ve seen and where do you see Cyberlearning going in the future?
Access to technology on the consumer side has become more ubiquitous, and while there is more access now to technology in school, it is often used in tangential ways and doesn’t change practice or affect learning a great deal. Part of what slows the rate of change are the checks and balances built into the educational system. The community is one of those checks, so involving the community to help them understand what is possible with technology is essential to making change. A community that doesn’t understand the changing nature of school and education will resist change from occurring. Working to educate people to help them gain new understanding and perspective in education takes time, but is a necessary part of the process.
In the future I see technology as a piece of the puzzle in creating sustainable and systemic change. We are beginning to understand the nature of learning, and I think we’re going to see technology becoming more central. Technology is a tool to enable the learner to take greater ownership of their learning and engage with concepts that might otherwise be inaccessible. We need teachers to guide the learning process — technology can not replace a teacher who is passionate about the topic and intuitive about how best to support and excite the learner.
What has been one of your biggest obstacles?
I have seen many over the years, and I’ll list three challenges. In terms of educational change, I believe that researchers and industry are exceptional at providing vision for change and even backing that up with information about techical and pedagogical efficacy, however, we have challenges in bridging from vision to practice. For instance, I think we underestimate the importance of educating school boards. School boards are tasked to represent the public’s interest in their local schools and setting policy in those schools. As part of that process they should also be responsible to engage and educate the community so they can provide informed feedback. The community needs this engagement to learn about school-related issues such as assessments, instructional technology, and curriculum development in light of changes since they were last in school and to gain a larger perspective informed by what is happening in other schools. If the research community and education industry worked more closely with school boards they could really help make an impact, and help ease school systems and the communities they serve prepared to embrace and even demand change.
Another barrier to making lasting change lies in the lack of synchronization between educational and political cycles. ACOT and several research programs since show that it takes about 5-7 years for an educational system to adopt, implement, and show measurable improvement from a large scale intervention. However, our political cycles are 2-4 years. As a result, educational innovations that require large scale change and accommodation are forced to show efficacy before we would expect to be able to do so. Schools are either forced to compromise the fidelity of implementation or risk losing funding. Existing political leadership must show improvement to retain their political seat which results in either compromised implementation, premature reporting of outcomes, or change in leadership. With new leadership come different new programs and so the cycle continues. The cycles of political leadership and those required for showing educational effectiveness are not in sync. We can never expect to make progress as long as education remains bound to our relatively short political cycles.
On the industry end of things, we have more and more people coming into the field without a background in education beyond their years as a student. They’ve never taught before and don’t have any understanding of educational theory or the dynamics that go into the decision-making process in schools. We want those serving pK-12 to understand the needs and dynamics of pK-12. We need to educate these individuals about the issues and emerging strategies outside their community so they can provide thoughtful and informed input rather than deferring to their personal experiences and hearsay.
What do you think the cyberlearning community should be doing?
I believe that infrastructure, a system of communication and information sharing beyond academic publications, would accelerate the community’s ability to move forward. Working with existing infrastructure and increasing communication that will facilitate the process will accelerate our progress toward sustainable solutions. We need to assess our current position, create a vision, and then determine how best to move ahead in light of existing economic, political, and other parameters. This path may not be the most direct route. It will need to be a path that, keeping the end destination in mind, will have detailed, measurable goals and rewards along the way. By taking successive steps, we remain in touch with the needs of today’s classroom and learner while setting the stage for the next innovation. Just as evolutionary theory shows that every improvement needs to be a successful intermediary so, too, does the incremental changes we make in how we teach and support student learning.
What would you like policy makers to know?
For over two years I have worked on the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LRMI), to make it easier to publish, discover, and access education resources on the web. These metadata are key to educators making instructionally informed decisions about which resources they use and the strategies with which they use them. All developers of instructional resources including members of the research community, should be required to ‘tag’ the assets they create with metadata, particularly that which describes its instructional relevance. Many different groups have begun using these metadata including traditional publishers, digital resource developers, professional development providers, and many others. The LRMI and related metadata schema are a great way to describe and catalog instructional resources that are actively deployed as well as those that are part of a research program. Where one can inform the other, these metadata provide a means by which one can inform the other. This, in turn, can increase awareness of new resources and methods and provide insight about the outcomes from their implementation with students and educators. No instructional asset should be released into the wild without first having been tagged with metadata.