Teacher Shock

Flickr Photo by Noah Darnell Here

Browsing through some blogs the other day, I ran across this one (What are we Doing?) from Mike Meechin, a Florida social studies teacher. Meechin tells of a high school junior in his class, who asked a question, “about the pilgrims (U.S. History early 17th century) using the automobile.”

Now, as a former social studies teacher, I am disappointed that Meechin’s (or anyone’s) students seem to understand so little about geography and history. But I’m not surprised. There are two reasons for this generation’s lack of understanding about their world — in my opinion. First of all, we do not value this kind of knowledge ourselves. Ask most of your adult friends when the automobile was invented. Plus, I do not see how we can so emphasize the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) to the degree that we have, without devaluing, (in) our students eyes, history, geography, and sociology. Social science is one of several essential keys for enabling future prosperity. Yet, scanning through an education journal, while sitting on the tarmac, I ran across an article entitled, “Competing in the Global Economy,” subtitled, “Factors Impacting Science Achievement.” Don’t get me wrong, STEM is critical. But so too is understanding the social, cultural, and historic contexts of the world we are working and playing in.

The second reason gives me even more concern. I’ve often said that I consider myself lucky to have grown up during the golden age of Television. This new and compelling form of communication availed us the power to share ourselves, or worlds, and our stories in ways that had never been possible before. When taking my son to the University of North Texas a few years ago, to audition for their school of music, we took a drive through the country side. There, I was flabbergasted that he did not know what a long horn steer was. He gasped by the sight, and I immediately realized that he never watched Rawhide. I watched TV that, with the exception of Saturday mornings, was geared for a general population, across ages, that was experiencing this phenomena together.

My children have spent their time on Nickelodeon. Don’t get me wrong. I think that Nick has some wonderful and thoughtful programming. But it is still contrived to appeal to children by entertaining them on their terms. Their video games are similarly designed to entertain, and the culture of their social networking is almost entirely evolved out of what children want to do. This, too, is not bad. I have deep respect for what our children have made of today’s information environment. But they have missed so much, and I do not know how to fill this gap.

Because of how our children learn, I do not believe that we can teach it to them. I do not believe that we can or should expect them to learn history, geography, or sociology (or anything else for that mater) by telling them to, or worse yet, “Because it’s going to be on the test.” That worked for us, but I won’t for them.

What they learn well, they learn because it helps them. Knowledge and skills are tools for them, which they learn to use to accomplish goals. Their goals are to reach some level in the video game of the day, or to generate conversation through their social networking. To me, the question should be, “How do we infect these information ecosystems with the knowledge and skills that we know will be essential to their future.

Finally, and this is turning into a long blog because this is a two hour flight, I think that part of the problem is ours. How often do we, as educators, look at what we are teaching, and ask ourselves, “Is this really important?” As Meechin asks, “What are we doing?” How important is it for them to know that precisely where the invention of the automobile and early European settlement of North America fall in relation to each other on a timeline — well 300 years difference is a bit much to swallow.

I remember one instance, in my early days with computers in the classroom, where I asked this question. We were helping our students learn the states of the US, using flash cards. Each card included the name of the state, the geographic outline of the state, and its capital. I asked myself, why should students learn the shapes of the states. Of course it was an association thing to help students remember the states. But there were other things about the states that I thought it was important to learn, and using flash cards seemed an unnecessarily tedious way of doing it. So I wrote a game for our Radio Shack Model III computers.

The game placed a map of the U.S. on the screen — no small task for a TRS-80. Then the learner was informed of the state he was currently in, a commodoty to be delivered, and the state it was to be delivered to. Sitting by each computer was an almanac. Students had to find which state produced the commodoty, and then drive his truck to that state by typing in the name of each state to be driven through to reach the supplyer, spelling each state correctly. Then they drove to the target state. There was a counter running, so your payment for each trip depended on how fast you got there. In no time, the students were working without ever picking up the reference books.

It seemed that using the information as a means for achieving something, was a much better way of learning it, than simply memorizing from flash cards.

The bottom line of this ramble is that students armed with answers about science, technology, engineering, and math will not be able to compete or contribute to a global economy. It will be students who can can observe their environment, understand it, and inventively find ways to participate and contribute.

” E N G A G E ! “

“Engage!” from like-titled blog post on SS Glim

An article in EduTopia’s August 26 newsletter reminded me of a conversation I had the other evening with Doug Peterson, in Windsor.  The article is How to Keep Kids Engaged in Class, and it describes ten tips to increase class participation.  Examples include:

  • Start Class with a mind warm-up,
  • Use movement to get kids focused,
  • Run a tight ship when giving instructions,

Sounds rather dry, but the explanations are certainly worth your reading.

What caught my attention was the word, engage.  It’s a good word, hard edged with both guttural and the pleasant sibilant  consonant sounds of G.  It’s an action word that implies energy, yet it is broad enough to be used as often and in as many contexts as needed. 

Jean Luc Picard used the word in every episode of Star Trek (NG) — so it’s got to be a great word.  

But in education-speak, it has always bothered me, to the point that I try to avoid it.  There are so many terms that we use that simply do not paint pictures.

It occurred to me the other night with Doug, over his Steak and my Chicken Creole, that what bothers me about the word is who is usually doing it.  Much of the time, and most of the time in the EduTopia article, it is the teacher who is trying to engage the students.  Although it’s not a bad thing to do, and the suggestions in the article are quite good, I think that the most appropriate and efficient engagement in education is when the learner is doing it.  The learner learns by engaging something — doing something to something and learning from what it does back.

This might be

  • Reading a chapter in a textbook, answering questions, and receiving a grade — probably not the most efficient harnessing of engage energy
  • It might also be the learning that is done by interacting within a digital simulation and discovering concepts of physics by building an engine utilizing the energy of some virtual wind. 
  • It might be the math language learned by playing with wooden blocks and talking about why you are making these stacks to solve this problem. 
  • It might be the engagement involved in writing a blog entry, knowing that your classmates will be reading it and responding to it, or
  • Interacting with a local writer via Skype, or
  • Struggling with the plan for a presentation with two other students standing at the white board.

If, in our conversation, I am seeing student action, when I hear the word engage, then I believe that I am going to be thinking about learning — not the teaching.

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What is 21st Century Learning?

I’ll be working with directors and superintendents this afternoon, from the Greater Essex County School Board, here in Windsor, Ontario. The theme of the entire conference is Vision to Practice, with a little dreaming, believing, and achieving thrown in. One of the agenda’d questions I’ll be asked is, “What is the difference between 20th century learning and 21st century learning?”

It’s one of those sweat questions that you’d love to sink your teeth into, until it’s time to actually munch. I’m going to take a stab at it here, ask you to comment, and hopefully use this blog post as a resource.

One of the hesitations I have about answering this sort of question — especially in front of such a descerning audience, you — is that education is complex. You can’t talk about learning, especially in a single blog post, without some fairly gross generalization. So, with your permission, I’m going to grossly generalize.

First of all, I would characterize formal learning, in the pre-digital/industrial time as:

  • listening,
  • watching,
  • remembering

In a time of information scarcity, when our futures were fairly predictably, being educated was characterised by what you know.

In the digital age, where information is abundant (overwhelming) and the future is always a BIG question, I think that learning expands out of listening, watching, and remembering to include:

  • questioning your learning experience,
  • engaging your information environment,
  • proving (and disproving) what you find,
  • Constructing (inventing) new learning and knowledge [added later]
  • teaching others what you have learned
  • being respected for the power of your learning, and
  • being responsible for your learning and its outcomes [added later]
    [All were reworded 25 aug 2009 mostly as result of comments]

I’ve had to work on the engaging part. It’s a term that I usually do not like to hear. But talking with Doug Peterson last night, over supper, I concluded that when I usually hear the term engage the students, it appears to be a verb that list linked to the teacher — that the teacher’s job is to engage the students. What I like better is to attach the verb to the students. The students will engage with their information environment (textbook, whiteboard, Internet) to learn through questioning, experimentation, discovery, and construction).

So, what do you think?

This is Not about YouTube

From the video, United Breaks Guitars

From the video, United Breaks Guitars
I’m pretty sure that it was in Pittsburgh last week, that a young man came up just after my address, to tell me the story of “United Breaks Guitars.”  It was my first exposure to the story, as I’ve not been paying enough attention to my RSS reader lately.

It appears that after landing in Chicago for a connect to Nebraska, Dave Carroll and band, Sons of Maxwell, were alerted when another passenger exclaimed, “My god they’re throwing guitars out there.”

Here’s a short version, from Carroll’s web site says…

In the spring of 2008, Sons of Maxwell were traveling to Nebraska for a one-week tour and my Taylor guitar was witnessed being thrown by United Airlines baggage handlers in Chicago. I discovered later that the $3500 guitar was severely damaged. They didn’t deny the experience occurred but for nine months the various people I communicated with put the responsibility for dealing with the damage on everyone other than themselves and finally said they would do nothing to compensate me for my loss. So I promised the last person to finally say “no” to compensation (Ms. Irlweg) that I would write and produce three songs about my experience with United Airlines and make videos for each to be viewed online by anyone in the world. United: Song 1 is the first of those songs. United: Song 2 has been written and video production is underway. United: Song 3 is coming. I promise.

You can read a longer version of the story on the same page

Between July 6 and my finding of the video (Aug 23), the first song (United Breaks Guitars) had been seen 5,129,955 times.  As a result of the viral penetration of the video and the apparent uproar aimed at United Airlines, United offered compensation, as indicated by this statement, YouTube’d by Carroll four days later (July 10).

The second song was posed on August 17, where the band pokes more fun at the whole affair.

There are two elements of this whole story that dovetail into my standard threads of conversation.  First of all, we are experiencing and participating with a new information landscape where the message — the spin — is no longer issued exclusively by the few who can afford the spin-mongers and media outlets.  We all have a voice today.

But just having a voice is not nearly enough.  Secondly, a video on YouTube did not make this story.  It was a young man, his band, and a very clever and well-performed song that made it.  They communicated their message compellingly with charm, humor, and bite — and they got the attention and response of a giant.

This is why teaching writing is not nearly enough for our children to be fully empowered members of their society.  It’s not that everyone will produce viral videos for YouTube.  But, because of YouTube and the avalanche of information that characterizes our society, messages must compete for attention to earn audience, customers, collaborators, etc. — and this means that beyond learning to write well, students must learn to communicate with images, sound, video, and animation.  They must have a command of the entire spectrum of content.

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Nutrition and Web 2.0

Flickr Photo by MacKensie Cornelius

Ann Flynn, of the NSBA, asked me about K-12 Nutrition Staff who are using Web 2.0 tools to communicate with students or parents.  Are your schools Twittering menus, soliciting comments on the quality of their meals through blogging, offering social bookmark links or RSS feeds for nutrition related sites, adding resources to the school’s Facebook network, or soliciting contributions to the cafeteria’s policies via a wiki?

How do you think K-12 nutrition staff might use the collaborative web to improve their services?

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About My New Header

Personas sifts through references and through a natural language process, characterizes netizens with your name.

I pulled it out of a Twitter message that linked to Personas, a project of the MIT Media Lab.

Personas is a component of the Metropath(ologies) exhibit, currently on display at the MIT Museum by the Sociable Media Group from the MIT Media Lab. It uses sophisticated natural language processing and the Internet to create a data portrait of one’s aggregated online identity. In short, Personas shows you how the Internet sees you.

The header is, in a sense, the DNA of my network foot print.  It’s not foolproof, by any means.  When I type in “David Warlick,” it sniffs out all reachable references to any David Warlick.  So I had to take a little time to digitally delete all indications of outstanding felony warrants and references to that black sheep branch of the family who were loyalists during that unpleasantness between the colony of North Carolina and Great Britain.

As Personas reports…

In a world where fortunes are sought through data-mining vast information repositories, the computer is our indispensable but far from infallible assistant. Personas demonstrates the computer’s uncanny insights and its inadvertent errors, such as the mischaracterizations caused by the inability to separate data from multiple owners of the same name. It is meant for the viewer to reflect on our current and future world, where digital histories are as important if not more important than oral histories, and computational methods of condensing our digital traces are opaque and socially ignorant.

Added on April 8, 2010

I recomputed my persona today, copied it as an image, replaced “david warlick” with “david warlick” in a font I could replicated, added in “2¢ Worth” in the same font, and then installed it as the new header of my blog, with absolutely no other refinements or deletions.  This is my digital networked foot print combined with everyone else out there who used “david warlick” as their name.  The networked world is messy, because we are messy — because we like it that way…

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Where Obama is Getting Education “Wrong”

The caption under this Storybook Rabbit (Amber) Flickr photo was, “Never sit on the left side of the room when you have a right-handed teacher. This was like sitting behind a column at a baseball game. Except much less exciting.”

I would add that the teacher is thinking, “I have the data and I know that this is the scribble my students need to be looking at right now.”

The reason that I can not get eight hours of sleep is that I am haunted.  I become possessed by conversations I’ve had in my waking hours.  I am drawn from my sleep by cold boney fingers reaching out from the graves of past presentations — by the insightful, but initially unrealized, comments made by participants and those questions that I wish I’d answered better.

Yesterday, at Saint Marys, a private girls school here in Raleigh, I was asked, “Although I agree with your call to better prepare our children for the future with more authentic assignments, does that help us in our mission to prepare girls for college?”  Then the librarian asked, (and these questions are grossly paraphrased) “I know that Wikipedia and Google are invaluable tools — but what is the place for the online databases that we subscribe to?”

The ghost of workshops past that I must exorcise right now, was something that the Dean of Faculty said to me after the presentation.  He related a conversation he’d just had with a math teacher of many decades who told him that she started to “get it,” when the presenter suggested that we need to be asking ourselves,

What kind of questions will we ask on our tests, when our students walk into the classroom with Google in their pockets?

And then he (I) asked the audience to consider calculators — how, for years, we resisted the new devices because it wasn’t math.  It didn’t look like the math instruction we traditionally provided, and so we almost demonized the things.  But now that calculators have become a critical part of many mathematics classes, have they changed the questions we ask?  Have they changed the problems we ask our students to solve?  Has it changed the nature of math instruction?

The answer, of course, is, “Yes!”  Calculators empower learners to work numbers to an end.  They force students to transend paper and pencil, to truly utilize the language of numbers to solve problems, answer questions, accomplish goals — to learn new things.  I maintain that we should expect learning in the classroom to be the same as learning in the “real world” — that it is about ubiquitous access to the global flow of information and the tools that empower us to work that information.

It’s where the Obama Administration has it completely wrong.  According to Secretary Arne Duncan’s July 24 Washington Post op-ed, “The president starts from the understanding that maintaining the status quo in our schools is unacceptable.” (( Duncan. Arne. “Education Reform’s Moon Shot,” The Washington Post 24 Jul 2009. Web.18 Aug 2009. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/23/AR2009072302634.html>. ))  Yet, it appears to me that the status quo is exactly where we are staying.  Like the former failed administration, the answer seems to be do the same thing, just do it more, do it harder, do it longer, and our children will gain the skills they will need to “compete in the global economy.”  This is wrong on so many levels that I just want to throw up my hands give up.

  • Adopting internationally-benchmarked standards and assessments that prepare students for success in college and the workplace;
  • Recruiting, developing, retaining, and rewarding effective teachers and principals;
  • Building data systems that measure student success and inform teachers and principals how they can improve their practices; and
  • Turning around our lowest-performing schools. ((United States Government. Education Department. Race to the Top Fund — Executive Summary. Washington: GPO, 2009. Web/PDF. <http://www.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop/executive-summary.pdf>. ))

So back to my haunt.  What interests me about the connection made by the math teacher between the calculator and the Google’d cell phone is that they are both about empower learning.  Of the four (entirely unoriginal) education reform areas (see left) being targeted by the administrations dangled carrot ($4.3 billion), the one that irks me the most is number three — data.

Now I love data.  I love what you can do with data.  Data visualization is one of my favorite themes to follow on Twitter.  But what’s wrong with “Building data systems that measure student success and inform teachers and principals..” and wrong with so much of the prevailing conversations about education reform, is that it’s about empowering teaching and schooling.  It’s designed to help us do our jobs better as educators — when we need to be figuring out how to empower our students to do their jobs better as learners.

Obama, through Duncan, wants us to use data to measure student learning — and by result, to further limit what we teach to that which can be measured.  What we should be doing is helping our students to use data, so that they can measure their world and better understand their relationship with that world — what can’t be measured.

The bottom line, in my opinion, is that we are continuing down the same dumb path of thinking that we need high school and college graduates who know the answers to old questions.  This is wrong!

It’s new questions that will define our future.  Today, we need graduates who can invent answers to the “new questions.”

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Interesting and Predictable Article on Standardized Testing in Alberta Canada

Flickr Photo by Lauren Brown

This one caught my eye because I’ve done a good deal of work in Alberta lately — but also because of part of the title, Who can Unlearnall the Facts That I’ve Learned?.  It’s an article from VUE Weekly, an independent newspaper from Edmonton.  From my experience, standardized testing does seem to be a central part of education in the Province.  But I’ve also talked with educators there, who have a keen interest in what’s going on with education in Finland.

The article mostly refers to statements by Dr. Pasi Sahlberg, an education specialist at the European Training Foundation (ETF).  There’s nothing really new here for those who have questioned my country’s growing and continued reliance on standardized testing as an avenue to education reform.  But I found interesting, his explanation of the growth of the movement and the response by Finland.

From the article, Sahlberg says,

Sahlberg says that the reliance of standardized testing to judge the success of student performance started in England in the 1980s and quickly spread to North America, Australia and other developed nations. Sahlberg’s home country of Finland, on the other hand, was not swept up in trying out the new approach. 
“Scandinavian countries were not convinced that through competition education would be improved. Instead an idea of equality is pervasive—that every child needs to be provided with equal opportunity through good education,” he explains.
This perspective means schools in his country look different than those in countries that embraced standardized testing.
“For example, schools in England have only two or three core subjects in the curriculum, whereas in Finnish schools there is more of a broad focus that includes the social arts, based on the belief that the success of individuals is not solely achieved through the instruction of only math and sciences. The whole education system in Finland, from kindergarten to Grade 12, has no high-stakes external testing system,” he explains. (( Couture. Xanthe. “Standardized Testing: Who can Unlearn all the Facts that I’ve Learned?,” VUE Weekly 5 Marth 2009. Web.16 Aug 2009. <http://www.vueweekly.com/article.php?id=11228>. ))

Offering a U.S. perspective, Dr. David Berliner, of Arizona State University, defends standardized testing under certain specific situations.  “I would not want a pilot flying a plane unless he has passed all his pilot exams.”  He then continues,

..when high-stakes testing is applied to kids and can mean that they will not graduate and that teachers can get fired, this is a different situation all together.

There are problems with relying heavily on test data.

When you value an indicator too much you can predict that there will be corruption in the numbers because the people who administer the evaluation will corrupt the figures. This scenario has been found to occur in high-stakes testing in US public schools. There are documented cases of teachers keeping some students at home on test days, along with other measures, to get the best results possible.

I would suggest that over-emphasizing tested subjects or tested standards within a subject, at the expense of softer and less measurable elements of learning is another way that the data and our education system are being corrupted.

Reading through this, I was compelled to find some data on international comparisons of student achievement, finding this American Institutes for Research study (Chance Favors the Prepared Mind: Mathematics and Science Indicators for Comparing States and Nations [pdf]), reported in a November 15, 2007 Times Story (Study compares American students with other countries’).  NY Times said,

The study equated standardized test scores of eighth-grade students in each of the 50 states with those of their peers in 45 countries. Experts said it was the first such effort to link standardized test scores, state by state, with scores from other nations. (( Dillon. Sam. “Study Compares American Students with other Countries’,” The New York Times 15 Nov 2007. Web.16 Aug 2009. <http://xrl.in/2xdi>. ))

Here is the graph that shows my own state, North Carolina, with other nations, putting us fairly near the top in Math, bested by Singapore, Hong Kong, south Korea, Taipei, Japan, Belgium, Netherlands, Hungary, and Estonia.  We fair less well in Science, closer to the middle of the list.

Click the image to expand

So, I’m left with two questions.

Is this why we do what we do? Or is this why we do what we do?
Supposed to convey happy successful people
Flickr Photo by Mariëlle


Does a
on this..
lead to
Supposed to convey happy successful people
Flickr Photo by Mariëlle

What do you think?

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Smart Curriculum

I’m not sure why this Jared Zimmerman Flickr Photo seemed ideal for this post — but here it is.

On Sunday (Aug 9) I wrote about a recent THE Journal article about the decline of computer science classes in U.S. schools.  It was based on a survey conducted by the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA). The post enjoyed a number of thoughtful responses. 

I was especially taken by Dave Winter’s comment,

Computer Science is in between a rock and a hard place as far as curriculum is concerned. The half life of knowledge in this area is so small. We need quickly changing curriculi to match the pace of change in this field. We look to building capacity in teaching and all organisations trying to develop.

Dave then transends, I believe, the computer science issue, when he says,

The world is in need of smart people and therefore smart curriculums.

This is what got me thinking. 

     What is a smart curriculum?

          What does it look like?

               How is it different from a dumb or slow curriculum? 

What is curriculum?  I remember our conversations about the definition of curriculum in one of my first education classes at Western Carolina University (“Go Catamounts”).  Drawing from memory and from a quick review of web-based definitions, curriculum seems to be the “what” and the “how” of teaching/learning — the content and the method.

In recent years, the federal government (here in the U.S.) has placed the determination of the “what” in the hands of state departments of education, and the “how” in the hands of the research community.  Is this “smart curriculum?”  You may honestly believe that it is — and I respect that. 

But I have to wonder, are our state departments of education — staffed by smart, knowledgeable, experienced, and dedicated educators — capable of keeping up with a rapidly changing world through 5-year updates.  Can the research community keep up with a rapidly changing information environment, with new tools emerging almost every day, that might be re-purposed by inventive teachers into powerful learning experiences?

Can smart curriculum come from centralized education institutions, or can it only come from empowered classroom teachers?  I vote for the teachers.

Dave closes with,

What would we start to include? html5, xna etc ipod apps android.

I’d rather leave it up to the teacher — or better yet, up to the student.  You have an iPod.  Teach yourself to code for the iPod and finish the year with an app that makes it to the iTunes store.  Enjoy playing video games?  Learn to use XNA’s tool box, create a video game, and get reviews from at least five gamers.

Of course, this sorta throws standardized tests out the window. 

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Flashing Lights and “Hacking” Education

Richard Ludlow is modeling his startup on Hulu. | Photograph by Robyn Twomey

I’m a half-hour from boarding a small jet for St. Louis.  A bit of excitement occured a half-hour ago when lights throughout the airport started flashing and an announcer came on saying that an emergency had been delcared, to stand by.  Then it came back that there was a fire, and to please evacuate the airport.  Lots of people started strolling down the concorse, untill some one (a teenager I think) came back against the flow saying, “False Alarm.”  We all turned to reclaim our seats at the gates.  Something wrong with this, though it appears that the alarm was false.  The buzzers only just now stopped blaring (except for the ringing in my ears), but the lights continue to flash.

Anyway, I’ve also gotten through, by way of the Kept-Up Academic Librarian, a fairly good general overview article (How Web-Savvy Edupunks Are Transforming American Higher Education) about education reform movement that most of us hear about in small tidbits in our aggregators.  The Fast Company article focuses on higher ed, but it’s a fairly good one-stop shop to send folks to.

Is a college education really like a string quartet? Back in 1966, that was the assertion of economists William Bowen, later president of Princeton, and William Baumol. In a seminal study, Bowen and Baumol used the analogy to show why universities can’t easily improve efficiency.

If you want to perform a proper string quartet, they noted, you can’t cut out the cellist nor can you squeeze in more performances by playing the music faster. But that was then — before MP3s and iPods proved just how freely music could flow. Before Google scanned and digitized 7 million books and Wikipedia users created the world’s largest encyclopedia. Before YouTube Edu and iTunes U made video and audio lectures by the best professors in the country available for free, and before college students built Facebook into the world’s largest social network, changing the way we all share information. Suddenly, it is possible to imagine a new model of education using online resources to serve more students, more cheaply than ever before.

Time to board.