The Next Killer App?

A Conversation (unconference) session at the
2009 EduBloggerCon

2009 was the year that my 4th of July lasted for 42 hours, at least that’s the best I could calculate it at the end of the day.  Much of the day was in Auckland, New Zealand, then the flight to San Francisco, a four hour layover, and then five more hours across North America.  A bit ragged this morning.

I’ve been been reflecting, though, about my NECC experience — especially the conversations at the Leadership Symposium and a couple of the conversations I had at the EduBloggerCon.  The idea is starting to jell in my mind that the next big…  Hmmmm!

As I wrote yesterday, it seems that everytime we sit down and talk about education reform, there seems to be something in the way, preventing us from what we want to do right now.  We can’t move that tile in the puzzle, until the one next to it is out of the way, which we can’t move until another one has been shifted, etc. etc.  There is only one open space in the old Cracker Jack puzzle game, and often only two tiles that can be shifted to make room.  In our particular game of education reform, it seems to me that there is only one tile that can be moved into one empty space.  But when that one is shifted, a domino affect may result, leaving room for a sudden and complete overhaul of education.

That tile is how we assess the quality of education for the sake of accountability — namely the high-stakes government issued tests.  No surprise here.  We’ve all had this conversation.  And we are starting to feel that there is a new spirit for doing things differently. 

by Aamnesiak1978TM

However, accountability continues to be a focused part of conversations, especially in the monologs coming from the Education Department — and I don’t think we should hold our breaths for any proclaimations of a different kind of assessment coming from Washington.

So what might spark the change.  What might the catalyst be.  What’s going to jolt us to a new level.  I’m wondering if the next killer app, at least for education, might be a highly innovation new eportfolio platform.  It will be something that we all get so excited about, that we’ll all want to use it.  We’ll want our communities to be excited about it.  We’ll want to switch to eportfolio assessment, because we’ll want to use this new thing. 

Here are a few features that would excite me:

  • It won’t be just a digital folder.  The killer eportfolio app will be about much more than assessment.
  • It will be used all year long, not just at assessment time at the end of the year.
  • It will be a work platform, not just an archive for assessment.
  • It will have elements of social networking, featuring personal profiles and a variety of communication devices, such as blogging, micro-blogging, discussion forums, and commenting.
  • It will easily and invitingly accept multimedia products.
  • All products will be critiqueable with commenting or threaded discussion, by educators, fellow students, and the verifiable community.
  • It will also have components of a course management system.  There will be curriculum structures within the platform so that work can be aligned, at least implicitly, with instructional objectives.
  • There will be a facility to critique work based beyond mere foundational standards.  Work will also be judged on inventiveness, collaboration, quality of communication, compellingness, value to an authentic audience.
  • “Standards” will play a minimal roll in this product. 
  • It will facility portability, so that students can carry their portfolios with them to the next grade and/or as a standalone product on CD or other networked platform.
  • It will not merely be classroom-friendly.  It will be user-friendly, regardless of the location of the learning.
  • Students will want to spend time here.  They will have a strong voice and hand in what it looks like and how it operates.
  • Students will be able to enter products that are not necessarily curriculum related, such as personal video and machinima creations, art work, game scores, business ventures, and products of personal and passionate interest.
  • The work will belong to the students.
  • Students, teachers, and parents will participate in selecting the work that is assessed.
  • Assessment will be school-based, government-based, and community-based. 
  • It will preferably be open source, but not necessarily so.
  • The social aspects will be reasonably open.  Students (and teachers) will be able to collaborate across classroom and school (and even national) boundaries.
  • Assessment will be based on content, quality & compellingness of the communication, and value.
  • All learning products will include an element of reflection by its producer.
  • It will become the talk of the town.

Please suggest your own features.  I would love to see this happen before the next NECC.

An Afternoon in Auckland & NECC Reflections

Enjoying a Cappuccino While it Rained Outside

I’ve started my afternoon of walking in Auckland, New Zealand.  Check out was 11:00 – graciously extended to 14:00.  But my flight isn’t until 19:30.  So I headed over to the Auckland Museum, only to be caught in the rain.  I’ve sought sanctuary through a near endless choice of coffee shops, skipping all of the Starbucks for a local establishment with modern decor and lots of patrons.  I ordered a cappuccino — also a bit out of character for me.

I’m usually fairly energized by a new and exotic place, but right now I just want to go home.  Brenda’s trying to find a way to get me home sooner, and it may work out.  Right now, I fly to San Francisco, then on the Washington, where I spend the night.  Then the return train trip back down to Raleigh.  That would be OK, since I do not have any gigs for a few days.  But home is home and it’s where I want to be.

I spent some time on Twitter this morning, scanning the NECC blogs and all of the post-conference reflection posts.  No conclusions for me, especially since I left early, Even thought I do not feel any closure, I still feel that it was a successful experience for me.  I had many opportunities to talk with people who are smarter than me — though the the reprise that constantly rang through my head was, “This is the place of unfinished conversations.”

The bloggers’ cafe was the hot spot of the conference.  I’m not sure why I was not drawn to the spot last year.  There seemed to be a contentiousness there while the cafe was entirely friendly, jovial, and everyone was looking for help or to help.

Although the the EduBloggerCon was a huge hit and hugely helpful, I think that the high point for me was the Leadership Symposium.  It was a highly structured gathering, designed to generate some ideas for the development of a new National Technology Plan.  It wasn’t easy.  At my table, there were officials from state education agencies and outspoken independents, like me.  There was a lot of tug-of-war, and the time constraints for our various tasks were extremely frustrating.  If asked, I would suggest that next time, our tasks be fewer and simpler, so that we have time to delve more deeply into eachother’s ideas and perspectives.

One of the things that frustrates me about these quick conversations is the need to rely on buzz terms.  We all know what they mean and mostly agree with their direction.  But what is needed right now is a richer description of exactly what project-based learning, student-centered instruction, and authentic assessment look like.  It frustrates me because I feel that the time has come to move forward.  But we will only be able to move with clearly described vision, not mutually agreed-upon neologisms.

Some of the most powerful ideas I came away with from the presenters and the conversation:

  • Leaning today must be more than conceptual.  Textbooks and lectures are conceptual.  Students must work their knowledge using literacy skills as tools.
  • Professional development must involved “doing.”
  • Teachers/educators need time to keep up.  It needs to be part of the workday.
  • Students may not want to use the technology the way we want them to — and this may not be a bad thing.
  • Teachers need permission and encouragement to take risks.

Someone at our table reminded us of the little picture puzzles that, as I recall, use to show up in Cracker Jack boxes.  You had to arrange the tiles so that they made a single picture, but there was only room to move one of two tiles into a single empty position at a time.  Nothing else could move until this last tile moved first.

As we discussed the various barriers to retooling education, it seemed that the steps that needed to be taken were always blocked by some other tile.  What’s the one barrier that needs to move first, before we can address the others?  I would suggest that it is assessment.  Nearly everything else comes down to assessment.  How we hold ourselves (how the government holds us) accountable is the giant stone in the way of change.  It all comes down to, “but its the tests that drive what we teach and how we teach it.”

My group was assigned to look for ways to make learning more engaging.  So what would engaging assessment look like.  What kind of accountability scheme might we grow into, that is fun to participate in, both for students and for teachers?  How might we make assessment and accountability an integral part of the formal learning process — a learning process that comprises fun and engaging hard work?

I’m looking forward to the NECC where the big new thing, the new buzz, is a style of portfolio assessment that integrates into the teaching, learning, classroom, school, and community cultures.