Tag Archives: education

A story about iPad-schools in the Netherlands

Quite often you can see hurray-news being spread virally when discussing technology in education, when things go wrong or turn out less successful than planned news suddenly seem to go much less viral although you will always be able to find people who like a dig at technology-driven reform. I do think that sharing stories about reform-attempts that didn’t go so well is important. Not to say ‘haha’ or ‘duh’, but to learn from those cases. Think of it as a kind of air crash investigation, maybe we should have make such a team.

This weekend Dutch newspaper Het Parool brought a reconstruction how a new school ‘De Ontplooiing’ in Amsterdam went horribly wrong. This school has become famous as one of the very first Steve Jobs schools in the Netherlands, a school vision that heavily relied on the iPad. People from all over the world came to visit this flagship school and one of the people behind this O4NT-vision still sells this story around the globe.

But… this school is in bad shape. Het Parool describes a couple of things:

  • One element has nothing to do with the school in itself: some of the children who were brought to the school were children who were having trouble already in their original schools. This is difficult for any new school to handle.
  • There was strong vision on personalized learning, but… to much freedom, combined with floating hours, made it very difficult for children to learn. In the newspaper there are testimonies how children leaving this school who go back to ‘normal’ schools are way behind in math and reading as it was not that important.
  • Over the half of the other Steve Jobs schools in the Netherlands have left the original vision. Often not because they didn’t like the vision or because it didn’t work, but because it became to expensive to use the software and the vision of the organization.

When you look at the first element, this is something the school or the O4NT-vision couldn’t help, but the second and third element is something different. A air crash investigation team would mention probably how some of the school leaders involved were lacking experience. They would maybe also mention that the for profit-idea in education maybe didn’t help. “Lack of vision” wouldn’t be mentioned as there was truly a vision that was more than ‘use an iPad’. Some of the educational scientists in the team would point out that parts of this vision was doomed from the start, but this would probably remain a discussion, as it has been for over decades – long before the iPad was made. There are more school approaches with a lot of freedom, with strong defenders and as strong opponents.

The sad thing is – as Paul Kirschner pointed out on Twitter – that this has been experiment that went wrong for a lot of children. An experiment that never would have been possible if it were a real scientific experiment as it would never would have passed an ethical committee. Maybe the air crash investigation team could write up what not to do when trying new experiments like this. Not to make experimenting impossible, but just to make sure the changes for a next plain crashing (think Altschool, think Carpe Diem) would diminish.

(I’ve written quite a lot about these schools in the past, but most of it in Dutch. Check here and here. There is a translate button on the blog).

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Review study warns for using measures of students’ ‘non-cognitive’ skills for teacher evaluation, school accountability, or student diagnosis

Non-cognitive functions, or personal qualities are getting more attention in education, but are the existing measures ok? According to a review by Angela L. Duckworth and David Scott Yeager published in Educational Researcher, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association, caution is needed!

From the press release:

Personal skills are generally considered to be characteristics that facilitate goal-directed effort, healthy social relationships, and sound judgment and decision making. Basic scientific research reliably shows that measures of these characteristics predict success in school, work, and life. Just a few survey questions, or one session of observing whether a child can delay gratification, can predict educational attainment, income, crime, and happiness months or years later. But these measures are generally not ready for educational use.

“Given the intense visibility and enthusiasm around growth mindset, grit, and other personal skills, it is important for school leaders and policymakers to realize that while there is great benefit to studying and assessing these attributes, the measures should not, currently, be used for broader accountability purposes,” said Duckworth, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

“Adapting and using these measures to decide whether a program is working for a school; how to promote or hire or fire teachers, principals, or staff; or how an institution can continually improve its practice and outcomes, are all different from what the measures were developed for,” said Yeager, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. “Measures developed for very good research purposes do not necessarily translate into these very important educational purposes.”

Duckworth and Yeager noted that:

  • Measurement of personal qualities for school accountability purposes is a major topic in current conversations on Capitol Hill related to reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. “There are policy questions about whether states should be required or even encouraged to compare schools on their levels of these qualities,” said Yeager. “Our review says there is little or no scientific evidence that this should be done, and much evidence that it would yield misleading results.”
  • Major federal education funders, like the Institute of Education Sciences and the Investing in Innovation Fund at the Department of Education, have included non-cognitive programs in their calls for proposals, requiring that program evaluation be carried out in many cases by examining changes in personal measures. “Our review provides direct guidance on how common measures will be misleading, and what kinds of measures will be better,” said Yeager. “This has direct application for the validity of the scientific database regarding personal characteristics and for the quality of education science.”
  • School administrators are increasingly interested in using growth mindset measures for hiring or promoting teachers. “Such measures cannot yet be used reliably for the assessment of educators, nor are they suitable for between-school accountability judgments,” said Duckworth.

In their review, Duckworth and Yeager discussed the limitations and advantages of three common approaches to measuring personal qualities: self-report questionnaires administered to students, questionnaires administered to teachers about their students, and observation of student behavior on performance tasks.

“There really is no perfect measure for any aspect of personal skills. What we have are measures that have their distinct advantages and limitations. Developing better measures, and understanding which currently available measures are appropriate for which uses, are top priorities we should have as an education community,” said Duckworth.

“We advise practitioners and policymakers to seek out the most valid measure for their intended purpose(s),” wrote the authors. “Whenever possible, we recommend using a plurality of measurement approaches. While time and money are never as ample as would be ideal, a multi-method approach to measurement can dramatically increase reliability and validity.”

The authors encouraged further innovation in measurement development, including several “promising approaches” such as creating a suite of web-based, free, scalable “marshmallow test” tasks, or mining students’ online learning behavior or written communication in real time for meaningful patterns of behavior. With the right investments in research and development, Duckworth and Yeager suggested that personal measures could become valuable tools for purposes of program evaluation and educators’ improvement of classroom practices.

Abstract of the study:

This article systematically reviews what is known empirically about the association between executive function and student achievement in both reading and math and critically assesses the evidence for a causal association between the two. Using meta-analytic techniques, the review finds that there is a moderate unconditional association between executive function and achievement that does not differ by executive function construct, age, or measurement type but finds no compelling evidence that a causal association between the two exists.

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ResearchEd-presentation by Dorothy Bishop on educational neuroscience (video)

Slides for this talk are available here and do check her blog here.

Oh, I sure like her suggestion for kidney-based learning ;).

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Filed under Education, Myths, Research, Review

My review of ‘Brain Gain’, the new book by Marc Prenzky + his response!

I was asked by Louis Hilgers to write a review on this new book. It was first published on ictnieuws.nl together with a response of Marc Prenzky to my comments, do check it beneath the Dutch version of this review. The response is in English.

Brain Gain - Marc PrenskySome people may think it is strange for me to review the new book by Marc Prensky, because for the past years I have been quite critical about one of the main concepts he coined the digital natives.

But it is not because a concept is refuted, it wasn’t interesting by conception. Don’t expect a ‘rotten tomatoes’-review, en contraire, I have read the book in a benevolent way, despite the title ‘Brain gain’.

Actually the title sets you off on the wrong foot, the book has little or nothing to do with neurology, in the contrary.  Prensky duly notes that we have seen many new discoveries in this field of science, but any neurologist will tell you that we only have touched the surface. He warns us also for going too fast to conclusions and stays away from neurology.

The brain gain Prensky wants to talk about is how technology can facilitate our life and how it can be a natural extension of our thinking and abilities. The central question for the author is how can we optimally combine humans and technology.

The book wants to be an antidote for the negative press technology received during the past years, example given Nicholas Carr telling us how internet is dumbing us down or Sherry Turkle who describes how internet is making us lonelier.

The central concept in the book is ‘digital wisdom’. It would be a mistake to see this word as synonym for media literacy. To wisely handle media is a part of digital wisdom, but now we are developing bionic eyes and ears, Prensky wants to take things further than dealing with Internet or social media.

Digital wisdom has in his vision always 2 components: both how to use technology in a smart way and how to get smarter through technology.

Like in many of his earlier works, Prensky devotes a lot of attention to education and asks a question I also think crucial: he gives a plea for a renewed discussion on the ‘what’ in education. While we often concentrate on the question how technology can change or improve our education, we seldom discuss the influence on the content of the curriculum.

The suggestions Prensky gives will probably provoke a lot of people, such as do children still have to learn how to write or do we still need those old math theorems in an age in which we rather should learn how to code.

I think he takes it too far and is forgetting the task of conserving education still has. To stand on the shoulders of giants, we still need to know those giants. I read in an interview that Presnsky is now working on a book or article on a zero based curriculum. What do we need to learn, when everything can be found on the Internet? By doing this he seems to ignore everything we now know about learning and digital skills, namely that, maybe ironically, need more knowledge for those 21st century skills. In this chapter Prensky shows himself as an anti-Furedi. Still they both think the teacher as most important with technology in a supporting role.

An often-read complaint about Prensky is that he sometimes simplify things to much. Actually, I discovered many nuances in his story, although I sometimes had the feeling he did some cherry picking in his sources. A point of criticism I have is that that Prensky becomes a bit too insistent in the first, more theoretical part through the plenty examples and repetitions.

The questions he raises about the future deliver an excellent starting point for further thinking. Too me, this is an important merit.

Oh, btw, just one more thing. In this book Prensky abandons the metaphor of the digital natives himself. He acknowledges the many research and criticism the concept received and thinks of this concept less useful in present day. I also agree with him on this point ;).

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