Help students evaluate schools

Requiring schools to burden the work of getting approval in every state they serve online students and to meet the needs of each individual state requirements for licensure just adds to the bloat if administration costs that increase tuition. 

Another idea: the DOE should make an online course that empowers students with knowledge and skills needed to assess an online course and seek out what their state requires for licensure. Imagine giving students the power to assess the programs themselves. 

its another way to give the power of learning back to students. They need to be involved in their education more than they are.

Learning Insights

Marie Norman graciously consolidated a list of 7 key insights about learning from recent research. You can read through the first three HERE and the other four HERE.
The snapshot version:

  1. Opportunity for students to test their knowledge frequently leads to better learning.
  2. Just the right level of difficulty leads to better retention.
  3. Interleaving – the practice of moving from topic to topic while maintaining a sense of continuity or while keeping hold of the common thread – leads to deeper learning.
  4. Spacing learning across time versus cramming it into a condensed injection leads to better retention and thinking.
  5. Collaborative testing improves student learning.
  6. Determination and resilience are indicators of how successful a student will be. (So, why don’t we teach students those skills?)

Go forth and do something great.

Growth of Coding Schools

David Hoffmeister, wrote a relatively objective piece on the proliferation of coding schools. The driving question of the article is how should higher education institutes react to these new and growing coding bootcamp academies? Having been designed curriculum and instructional for traditional high education models and now helping direct the curriculum and instructional model of Mobile Makers Academy, I can only have one answer: celebrate them.

Education isn’t The Highlander – there can be more than one [model]. Deep, meaningful learning doesn’t occur only in a classroom – it’s happening everywhere, across a life-time. A new mother doesn’t retreat to a classroom to figure out how to soothe her crying baby: she relies on learning from other mothers (mentors), support groups (peer learning), online blogs (self-directed learning), and her doctor (expert practioners). I encourage all higher education institutes to reflect: are you so ready to say, definitively, that people can learn only in your model? Are you really ready to look a plumber, who went through the local union’s apprentice program – which typically lasts 4 – 5 years with formal training – that her time spent doesn’t count as learning?

This isn’t about a new and radical form of education emerging, it’s about society embracing diversity of learning – in this case, training. The growth of these academies means that there are more and different opportunities for people to grow as humans and become productive citizens. If you’re against that, then I urge you to reflect upon what you believe education is.

Here’s a few myths of these academies debunked:

People aren’t getting a quality education

The educational model is apprenticeship-based, often rooted in constructivist and collaborative learning – which mimics the life-long learning that occurs within the field of software development. Gina Trapani, a programmer, says that “Good coders are a special breed of persistent problem-solvers who are addicted to the small victories that come along a long path of trial and error.” Thus, when students leave these academies, they are not only competent in the skills but also they have the know-how to be successful as a life-long learner in their field.

The model is structured around students practicing the trade, mastering the tools, and learning the theory as they go. This works in the field of software engineering because right now, it’s a vocation. The model is perfect for the need of that trade.

People aren’t getting a thorough, well-rounded education (aka the liberal arts and cultural literacy that comes with a four year degree)

We all want our citizens to be well-rounded, thoughtful humans. But I will ask: does this only happen in a four year degree? If you believe it does, what does this say about the role of art museums and cultural centers? If “culture” is only taught in a classroom, then why do such museums and cultural centers exist? I really encourage all of us in education to think about reconstructing our assumptions and see the integration of learning in the day-to-day as a victory of our field and as a way to explore new ways to teach “liberal arts”.

This model of education is a fad

This model has proven itself in the United States since the mid 1600’s. So…

The companies teach only those who can demonstrate a propensity to coding

Yes. That’s the whole point: find people who can learn the skills, who want to learn the skills, and then teach them those skills. With the demand for developers so high, the options – as a marketplace – are either to train current populations in these skill sets or to outsource. The academies focus on identifying those who want to become developers and who can become developers to build out the workforce that’s needed.

So, returning to the question: how should higher education institutes react these new and growing coding bootcamp academies? The workforce needs workers and traditional education isn’t providing them. So, the field hacked the system by adopting a tried-and-true method to the new needs of today. We should celebrate the fact that the field of education is growing to meet the needs of this society. We – as educators – can’t grow without diversity of models and changing demands. Without them, we would stagnate. So I say, cheers. Welcome to the field.

Moral of the Story: Education is a life-long, life-deep, and life-wide affair that we have with ourselves. We cannot possibly assume that all critical forms of education can fit in the box of a classroom, bootcamp, workshop, or book. We must embrace and embody the mindset that learning is ever-present, and comes in many forms.

Implementing Carl Rogers in the Classroom

After pulling together some resources for our instructors here at work, I came across a great article that outlines Carl Roger’s theories on psychology, which align themselves with educational theories. Rogers is often associated with taking Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to the next level, and often leaves a bit to be wanted when it comes to implementation in a learning environment. How can one construct a learning environment that simultaneously elicits strong self-worth while also building ideal self? Here’s how. According to Rogers, a fully-functioning person is one who is open to new experience, lives in the moment without judgement, trusts their feelings, involves creativity, and lives a fulfilled life. All these things are vital to a successful learning environment, so it’s fitting that we architect an environment to strengthen and elicit these notions.

Open to Experience

As this involves the acceptance of life circumstances and emotions that come with it, a learning environment can do the following.

  • Encourage failure, so as to see failure as a positive opportunity to learn – debunking the myth that to fail is the same as to be defeated.
  • Incorporate choice in assignments, lessons, and learning. Feed the inner explorer to help foster curiosity.
  • Build a safe environment, where students aren’t punished for unique thinking. This encourages risk taking.

Existential Living

This means to live without preconceived notions of what will happen. It encourages living in the moment, and a learning environment can do that through the following.

  • Journal writing – allows students to think about where they are, being mindful of their learning and how they got there.
  • Encouraging emotion recognition during the learning process. Ask students – how do you feel right now? Being emotionally aware will help students live in the moment; it gets the noise out of the way so they can just be.
  • Conduct talk-alouds to demonstrate mindfulness in action. No one is natural aware of themselves in a situation – it’s a skill that needs to be taught. Talk-alouds help learners see how the “experts” do it. Even if we don’t always get it right – it’s part of being human.

Trust Feelings

Western cultures are horrible at emotional intelligence. We don’t include a lesson about how to be angry, sad, or joyful. We don’t teach it. But we should. Here’s how a classroom can encourage that.

  • Provide space for students to react and be emotional. Let them get angry and walk away for a bit.
  • Journal writing – just as it allows students to be mindful of their learning, it gives space and validation to their “guts” and feelings. In a world that values data and facts, having a space to validate the passion that makes us human goes a long way.
  • Model. Just like talk-alouds above help, articulate what you’re doing when you trust your feelings and why. Again, it goes back to modeling that behavior and showing students how the “experts” do it.


This should be the most familiar. Fostering creativity in a classroom is something many strive for, so I won’t pretend to have the best ideas. Here are others who have much better ideas than me:

Fulfilled Life

To me, this is a combination of all the above. A fulfilled life is when a learner is interested in taking risks, feels confident and comfortable, and wants to explore more about the world and themselves. It also means feeling important to the group. Many of the same techniques can apply here, but this can also include peer teaching, peer advocacy, and committee membership. Any time you can provide student voice to the classroom, the stronger the classroom.

Happy teaching!

Humanities makes us better humans

Standford’s article The humanities and medicine (April 6, 2014) poignantly captures the value of humanities education.

For the fan of hard evidence

Education in the humanities also provides us with unique and powerful opportunities to hone our skills of critical analysis and develop clarity of thought and expression. In every pursuit and profession, the expression of ideas is inextricably linked to the formulation of ideas. It is through written and spoken communication that we shape and refine our thoughts.

Translation: humanities force us to practice critical thinking and analysis, and practice makes perfect.

For the fan of pontification

Examining differences in values and reasoning enables us to reflect thoughtfully on the normative framework we have as individuals and as members of a society. The humanities challenge us to question our assumptions, examine our beliefs and develop new ways of thinking about “conventional” wisdom. This appreciation for other modes of thought enables us to see complexity and uncertainty as key elements in the process toward discovering new truths. When viewed in this context, the journey we travel becomes as important as the destinations we reach.

Translation: humanities makes us better people.

Student loans: Their purpose

The government is scared of being accused of making university education the preserve of an economic elite, but it’s coming close to mis-selling student loans as a result. Loans are there to ensure that no one is stopped from going to university by their financial situation. It’s the government’s duty to impress this upon students: student debt is a last resort, not a default. If your family can help with either fees now or your first mortgage later, you shouldn’t assume that the second is the better choice. ~ Carola Binney

An interesting concept. I think many see student loans not as the last option, but as the only option. If student loans are meant to be the last resort, then that means the majority of students shouldn’t need or use them. However, that’s not the case – more than 60% of the students who attend post-secondary education take out loans and 57% graduate with debt. Even more interesting is that the majority (70%) of people who struggle to pay back the loans say it’s because it’s harder to make ends meet over the past four years.

I don’t think it’s enough to lower the cost of college. We need to address this from multiple fronts: it’s going to need a cultural shift, not just a financial shift, to sooth this ailment.

Learner-centered and assessment-based education measurement

[T]he long-used proxies for quality in higher education—seat time, faculty profile, institutional reputation, tradition, even endowment size ― all of these indicators are insufficient, even invalid. What really matters—fundamentally, the only measure of educational quality that matters ― is learning; that is, what students know, and what they can do with what they know.
Of course, as assessment experts, you made this connection long ago. You know better than anyone that any viable definition of quality must be firmly rooted in results, in specific learning outcomes.

~ Jamie P. Merisotis, President & CEO, Lumina Foundation

The Lumina Foundation is actively working toward building new ways to measure quality in higher education, and thank goodness for that. I agree: the use of seat time is not a strong indicator of rigor, success, or even of learning. The industry is moving more and more to demonstrative means of learning – see competency-based education models, for example. More emphasis will focus on how are your students proving they have gained the learning outcomes. My favorite example is that from  psychometric expert Thomas Zane: don’t ask students to explain how to change a tire, ask them to change it.

So, if your school doesn’t have strong, measurable learning outcomes, now might be a good time for program revision.


SXSWEdu: Students in Higher Ed: New Student Normal

Provost Robert Groves from Georgetown explained that Georgetown puts strong value behind a brick and mortar, physical face-to-face with faculty type instruction. Good news: there will always be a percentage of the student body and of the marketplace that needs this type of education. Other good news: our student population and marketplace needs are diversifying, and we have an opportunity to diversify our education support all students wanting to learn.
Thankfully, we have some clarity around how our student types are diversifying. There are three main elements that help us understand student needs, which can help us better architect learning to support them: student learning goals; student psycho-social goals; and factors that influence student lifestyle.

1. Student Learning Goals

George Tang, Make Milliron, Parimender Jassel, and Ray Martinez outlined the typical student learning goals in their panel Students in Higher Education: the New Student Normal:

  • Students looking to sustain: keep themselves relevant in their fields.
  • Students looking to advance: want to challenge themselves into new roles/ways, but within the same fields.
  • Students looking to change careers: those who want new direction in different fields. (This includes those students coming in directly from high school – they are looking to enter a different field.)
  • [I add “Renaissance” students who want to change their SELF: the rare bird who is looking to learn from a more humanistic standpoint; think Joseph Campbell. As these are the rarest type – and some argue that such motivation should be built into all students – I’ll focus on the first three.]

2. Student Psycho-Social Goals

The panel continued to outline two psycho-social goals of students – an important element that is too often overlooked, but equally important to understanding students. Although the two goals often blur, one is typically a larger driving force than the other:

  • To be part of the community: the emphasis here is on the process of learning
  • To have the degree: the emphasis here is on the product

3. Factors that Influence Student Lifestyle

Finally, external factors that directly pull or push our students (i.e. family needs, physical location, etc.). These factors are unique to each student, but we can see common themes:

  • Time frame – aka Time to Degree. How long students are willing to spend longterm for the education.
  • Assembly of time – How the time students can dedicate to the classroom is assembled or distributed within their life.
  • Resources – This includes everything from technology to emotional support. The environment in which students life will always influence their success.
  • Demands – How education fits into their priorities.

The intersections of those three things provide a foundation to help an institution architect the delivery of the educational experience. Given such variance, we find new needs for educational delivery arising.

This is where I think it’s foolish of us to assume that what works for any one university will work for every institution. For some students, the physical face-to-face, 4 year full-time on campus is exactly what the student needs. However, the percentage of students who fall into that contingency is no longer the majority. It’s important to find what’s right for your institution, your student population, and the market you serve.

Blending Industry & Education

Back in the Industrial Revolution, workers were hired into a shop, learned the technical skill sets needed on the job, and worked – all at the same time. Many scholars are calling the time we’re in the Information Age, and the need for skilled workers to do things like write and edit code is akin to the sudden need the Industrial Revolution had for skilled workers. Although we’ve gotten better about working conditions, child labor laws, and other such things, we haven’t seemed to figure out that maybe we’re back to the need of apprenticeship in our culture.
James E. Zull, a Professor of Biology, Biochemistry, and Cognitive Science at Cast Western Reserve University, points out that we have an unneeded wall between education and the workplace. He argues that in order to really teach the needed skills of the world, students need to be exposed to specialists while in the field:

[Students] need models…If this were so, schools would be viewed as ‘boundary-free.’ They would be less of a place and more a range of opportunities. The entire community should be available for discovering what experts actually do, what they care about, and how they work and learn. Apprenticeships and co-op activities might be the norm rather than the exception.  ~ From brain to mind; Using neuroscience to guide change in education. (2011). pp 43-44.

Not every skill can be learned on the job and there is definitely a place for college-based education, but there is a loud cry for people to execute work that doesn’t require a 4 year degree. For example, the number of software developers  needed in the field is expected to grow 22% between now and 2022, which is about 14% faster than the average job growth (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013), and more and more companies are hiring based on the programming experience over the weight of the degree. It’s why so many new avenues to learning code have cropped up. Just see Code Academy, Dev Boot camp, and Mobile Makers. People have figured out how to gain the training needed outside the price tag of a 4 year degree.

The information industry is hungry for workers, and I think apprenticeships are necessary in some of these fields. However, I think three things need to happen in order for us, as a society, to meet this demand:

  1. A separation between tactical skills and strategic competencies needs to be established in the educational structure. Many colleges and universities are struggling because they often teach theory and high-level strategy skill sets for an industry that may really need builders. If everyone’s a manager, who’s actually building the product?
  2. Additionally, we need to let go of the belief that a full-time 4 year degree education is the necessary step after high school. Why do the theory and managerial skills have to come directly after high school? Why can’t someone work in a field and then go back to gain the theory and managerial skills when s/he is ready to move into that role? The better approach would to get our young citizens working, and integrate education into the right times of their careers. If we preach life-long learners, we need to accept that education occurs at injected points throughout life, not lumped together into isolated years after high school.
  3. Students need to be willing to start as executors, and we need to celebrate those values. Many people dream of leadership roles, but that doesn’t mean everyone should start as a manager.  There is much to be celebrated as one who executes the work and builds the product; we as a society should celebrate those values again. Not everyone can or wants to be a leader, and that’s okay.

For industries that need workers and executors, a suggested path would be:

  • Student graduates high school and becomes an apprentice.
  • Apprentice simultaneously learns and works on the job. Direct, tactical skills to build or execute. Grows to become strong worker and moves up the ranks.
  • When worker is ready – or when company deems it – worker integrates theory and strategic competency education (usually via part-time degree program) to either increase skill set, get promotion, or is just generally ready/curious.

Regardless, the separation between education and industry needs to be re-evaluated – as there are many fields in which the 4 year full-time degree programs are not providing the industry with the needed workers. We need a new path to get students what they need and the industry the workers.


Social media: Blinders won’t help

The myth about social media in the classroom is that if you use it, kids will be Tweeting, Facebooking and Snapchatting while you’re trying to teach. We still have to focus on the task at hand. Don’t mistake social media for socializing. They’re different — just as kids talking as they work in groups or talking while hanging out are different.

– Viki Davis

We cannot put blinders on this issue. We HAVE to teach social media skills: it’s a key component to being a digital citizen.

Perhaps we fear teaching social media in the classroom because it’s a non-Newtonian medium: it’s a solid fluid, hard to create clearly parameters around it. However, that shouldn’t stop us from using it and teaching our students about it. If we don’t help collaborate with our students to learn about this medium together, they will be happy to define it without our input and then we will be the ones who are lost. I’d venture so far to say that we may already be in that position.

Regardless, here’s Viki Davis’ entire article.