When Coursera begins providing "massively open online courses" focused on teacher professional development this year, the Web-based offerings on the menu will be supplied not only by schools of education, but also by a number of the country's best-known museums.
Museums have been involved in professional development for years, and so in one sense their connection to the Coursera "MOOC" project is not surprising. If anything, it's a reminder of the breadth of sources of PD out there for teachers, options that can be offered by districts, commercial providers, nonprofit organizations, and other sources—and a reminder that schools of education are hardly the only players.
In addition to seven schools of education partnering with Coursera, the company listed three museums as joining in that effort: the American Museum of Natural History, and the Museum of Modern Art, both in New York City, and the Exploratorium, in San Francisco.
I wrote about the Coursera project recently but wasn't able to include information from an interview with Lisa Gugenheim, the senior vice-president for instituional advancement, strategic planning, and education at the American Museum of Natural History, who spoke about why the institution signed on to the program, and what she expects ahead.
The museum sees its partnership with Coursera as a continuation of the science content it offers K-12 educators, Gugenheim explained. The museum currently provides a mix of online for-credit courses and non-credit professional development, as well as courses offered on site at the museum's facilities. (The credit is granted by higher education institutions that partner with the museum.) It also recently created a master's of arts in teaching program, which is being piloted and supported with money from the National Science Foundation and the New York State Department of Education.
"We've been looking to broaden our work in PD," Gugenheim said. "We see ourselves as a content-provider. ...What we've heard from the field is that there's an enormous need for science content."
About 4,000 educators enrolled in either online or on-site profesional development programs at the museum during the most recent year. The average course costs $495, museum officials said.
Through Coursera, the museum plans to initially offer three online classes, each of which is four weeks in duration. Their titles: Genetics and Society, the Dynamic Earth—focused on the planet's geologic history and related topics&mdash, and Evolution.
Coursera's intention is to charge online users of its courses a fee in order to receive a certificate stating that they have completed the course, the co-founder of the company, Andrew Ng, told Education Week in a recent interview. An official from one school of education told me that his school does not plan on accepting revenues through that model, but museum officials say they plan to receive revenue through the certificate model.
As with many higher education institutions that have jumped into the MOOC game, it remains unclear whether Coursera's venture into K-12 teacher education will provide a steady flow of revenue to the participating colleges and museums any time soon. Gugenheim said her institution recognizes that uncertainty.
But ultimately, museum officials hope the partnership with Coursera will help resolve an important financial question, she said: "What is the market for the content we have?"
One of the two major consortia designing tests to match the Common Core State Standards has hired a technology director to try to make sure the ambitious online testing rollout and implementation goes as planned.
Brandt Redd was recently named chief technology officer of Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which along with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, is moving ahead with plans to establish online exams in 2014-2015.
Redd comes from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—a major backer of the common-core standards—where he served as a senior technology officer for education programs.
He joins Smarter Balanced as states and districts face major questions about their technological capacity to handle the common tests. A recent string of meltdowns in online state assessments has increased the anxiety among policymakers and others.
Redd's hiring was made in partnership with the State Educational Technology Directors Association, the consortium said in a statement, as part of an "ongoing effort to address the technology readiness needs of states for next-generation assessments."
His bio includes having co-founded Folio Corporation, an electronic publishing software company, and Agilix Labs, described as a developer of learning solutions.
In the statement from the Smarter Balanced group, he emphasized the consortium's intent to focus on interim and formative assessments—generally defined as practices designed to determine how well students are learning and to provide feedback to teachers and students.
Redd said his goal is to ensure that the testing system "informs every teacher and student about their progress sufficiently early so that teachers can adapt the learning experience to the needs of each individual."
When the E-rate program was launched in the 1990s, just 14 percent of schools were connected to the Internet. Today, there's near-universal access, new technologies are constantly being introduced in classrooms, and demand for Web access for students and teachers is rising. And the E-rate is not keeping up, many school and tech advocates say.
In a story this week, my colleague Alyson Klein examines the current state of the E-rate—a pool of money drawn from telecommunications fees and directed toward schools—why so many people say it is not meeting demand, and what options are available for increasing schools' E-rate funding.
One of the reasons the issue is important is because state and district needs for reliable connectivity come into intense focus in 2014-2015, when states begin giving online assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards. But there's also the overall strain put on schools' tech systems by rising Web usage.
There are several potential fixes, though their political viability is unclear, as Alyson explains. The Federal Communications Commission, which oversees the program, can increase the flow of money to the E-rate, though that might mean taking that money from another program. The commission could limit the number of services currently targeted for discounts under the E-rate. It could redirect savings from another Universal Service Fund program, Lifeline, which supports telephone service for low-income individuals. (Recent audits have resulted in savings from that program.) Or federal officials could make a one-time invstment of federal dollars to help school districts improve their tech infrastructure—which could cost more than $7 billion, by one estimate.
Backers of overhauling or tinkering with the E-rate have one thing going for them: Many of the proposed fixes that interest them could be approved by the FCC, and not have to go through a hyperpartisan Congress.
Middle school students, most of them digital natives, are pretty comfortable using online video chatting. Usually, though, they aren't engaging with elephants.
At East Side Middle School in New York City, science students have the opportunity to participate in a program in which they video chat with an elephant conservation camp in Thailand via Skype. During the chats, the students observe the elephants' behavior, ask questions, and design and conduct experiments.
"When it comes to Skyping directly with the elephants it's really a treat for the students," Josh Plotnik, the founder of Think Elephants International, said in a Skype interview. "We bring the elephants literally right up to the camera and it gives kids the opportunity to ask us direct questions."
The program also seeks to get students actually involved with the research. Recently, the East Side students who participated in the program contributed to a published paper exploring the ways in which elephants communicate and receive cues.
Plotnik, who is currently living and researching at a Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation camp in Thailand, founded Think Elephants International as a way to get students around the world involved in conservation research and education projects. When he started the Skype classroom program, he reached out to longtime friend David Getz, the principal of East Side Middle School.
Getz and Plotnik met when Plotnik was eight and Getz was writing children's books.
"I mentioned in the dedication to one of my books that I had a hamster," Gets said. "He wrote me a letter saying he read the book and also had a hamster. I had my hamster write back to his hamster and we kept in touch as he grew up and became more involved in animal science."
Plotnik moved from hamsters to elephants and upgraded from writing letters to Skype and began looking for ways to bring his research into classrooms. He found that Skyping with the elephants is a great way to generate student interest and passion about conservation.
"The elephants will always be the conduit for attracting children into the program and engaging children in conservation, but we want students to realize that even in their local communities there are important programs going on," Plotnik said.
The program also retains student interest by making them a part of the research and giving them real experience as opposed to simulation.
"The kids love elephants and it sounds like so much fun, so they're drawn in that way," Getz said. "Then they stay and keep coming back I think because of the authenticity and the respect they get."
Although Think Elephants was the first Skype-based project at East Side Middle School, the school has since used Skype for various other purposes. The school holds weekly Skype conferences with its sister school in Kibera, Kenya, and recently used Skype to allow students to interview a World War II veteran.
For Plotnik, Think Elephants is part of a larger effort to get students more involved with their science work, and specifically with conservation and environmental efforts.
"It's a way to educate the next generation on how important conservation is through research," he said. "In the long term, I want to have an impact on how science is taught in school to a more project-based approach."
A pair of national school organizations have released a guide meant to help teachers and adminstrators conquer an important yet often confusing task: how to make wise use of the reams of educational data flowing through the K-12 system.
The American Association of School Administrators and the Consortium for School Networking, along with Gartner, Inc., a tech research and advisory company, say the guide, "Closing the Gap Professional Development Toolkit," will provide a "step-by-step curriculum and cadre of professional-development resources" to help district and school leaders train employees on how to use data.
Why aren't educators and adminstrators more adept at using data? One reason is that few states require an understanding of assessment issues for principal or teacher certification, according to the authors. And once teachers enter the classroom, there's relatively little PD on the topic, the report contends.
The toolkit is meant to close that gap. It offers videos, case studies, references to reading tools, and specific teaching tools for educators. The report offers a PD curriculum that is divided into five sections:
• Building a culture on how to use data effectively;
• Creating professional learning communities, which can be defined different ways, but which the report calls "structures in which teachers engage in the regular habit of working together to deepen the learning of their craft to support the goal of student academic success";
• Evidence-based practices for supporting the use of educational data;
• Analyzing data; and,
• Technologies that enable the use of educational data.
The toolkit can be used across districts, as well as by schools, teams of educators, or individuals, the report says. For background on school officials' frustrations in figuring out how to make use of data, see my colleague Katie Ash's story from last year, "Data Evangelists See People Power as Top Priority." It describes how many school officials believe the tech foundation for good data use is now in place in states and districts, but what's lacking is expertise among all kinds of school officials is guidance on how to make sense of all the information. Will the new document help?
Lawmakers in Florida, long a hospitable setting for virtual education, are on the verge of opening the door further to online providers, while also encouraging "MOOCs" in K-12.
A measure sponsored by state Rep. Manny Diaz, a Republican, which recently cleared the legislature, would loosen requirements for the experience required for virtual providers, according to the most recent draft of the legislation.
Normally, online providers in Florida need to have shown "prior, successful experience offering online courses" in elementary, middle, or high schools, to operate in the state. But the bill changes that, stating that providers without prior experience may be conditionally approved by the Florida Department of Education, which would review their records after a year.
The measure would also expand the pool of eligible applicants who could offer online courses to include massively open online courses, or "MOOCs." To date MOOCs have resided primarily in higher education environments, though there are some signs of a shift into K-12 settings. The MOOC provider Coursera, for instance, recently announced a partnership with teacher colleges and other institutions to offer online professional development for educators.
To date, the biggest and best-known provider of online education in the Sunshine State is the Florida Virtual School, which has seen the number of course completions by students rise fairly dramatically, to 314,593 today. Other, private providers also operate throughout the state, including K12, whose operations have come under criticism from some local officials recently.
The Miami Herald reports that the legislation would clear the way for other private companies providing virtual education to do business in the state. During the legislative session, backers of the new legislation depicted it as a way to break up the "semi-monopoly" of the Florida Virtual School, in the words of one lobbyist making that argument.
But the passage of the measure in the waning hours of the legislative session, not to mention the bill's overall content, provoked a major fight on the floor of the Florida Senate, according to the Herald.
The newspaper quoted one lawmaker, Sen. Darren Soto, an Orlando Democrat, as blasting the bill as "another way to privatize our public schools."
But Rep. Diaz argued that his bills was "not about private business."
"What we're doing here is not replacing Florida Virtual, by any stretch of the imagination," he said. "We're trying to provide more access to our students, especially those students who advanced and learn better by this modality."
Join us tomorrow at 2 p.m. ET as Education Week hosts a webinar on colleges and universities creating programs and courses designed to spawn entrepreneurship in K-12 education, a growing area of focus on campuses nationwide.
You can register for the event, "Producing the Next Generation of K-12 Enterpreneurs," and submit questions, through Education Week's website. The topic is one that has a lot of relevance today, as K-12 and higher education officials and business leaders look for ways to make school systems more innovative, academically and financially.
Our guests will be Andrea Hodge, the executive director of Rice University's Education Entrepreneurship Program, located within the Jones Graduate School of Business; and Kendra Hearn, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Michigan school of education who helped design a new course on educational entrepreneurship. I'll be moderating.
You can see my recent Ed Week story for background on the issue, as well as an item I wrote on the University of Pennsylvania creating a new center designed to give enterpreneurs and startups access to academic scholars and advice on research and other issues.
Maine officials have announced that Hewlett-Packard will be the state's preferred vendor in providing laptop technology through the next iteration of the its one student, one computing device program, which is one of the most ambitious ed-tech efforts in the nation.
HP's designation was announced in a statement from the office of Republican Gov. Paul LePage. Despite conferring that status on HP, the governor's office said that local school officials will still be able to choose from any one of five proposals originally selected by the state, which came from three companies: HP, Apple, and CTL. Maine's previous contract had been with Apple.
I'm playing a bit of catch-up here, because LePage's announcement was made a couple weeks ago. But any developments in Maine, which was a pioneer among the states in launching its 1-to-1 effort about a decade ago, are worth watching. We reported earlier this year on Maine joining with two other states, Hawaii and Vermont, to make an unusual, multi-state purchase of educational technology and sevices. The states worked together in putting together a solicitation for bids from companies.
Companies were not only asked by the states to provide devices, such as iPads, tablets, and laptops, for teachers and students, but a relatively broad range of products and services, including wireless tech, professional development for educators, and the ability to support and repair of devices.
Maine's decision to choose HP as a preferred vendor will have no direct effect on the others states, which still have the right to make their own decisions about vendors under the parameters of the states' original compact, said Jeff Mao, the learning-technology policy director for Maine's department of education, who has helped coordinate the project.
In a statement explaining the decision, LePage suggested that the selection of HP's ProBook 4440 laptop, running Windows 7 software, was made in part because it reflects the kinds of tech tools students would be using outside of school.
"It is important that our students are using technology that they will see and use in the workplace," LePage said. The laptops "will provide students with the opportunity to enhance their learning and give them experience on the same technology and software the will see in their future careers."
Middle schools in Maine will be able to choose any of the five proposals awarded, the governor's office said in that statement, at a cost up to the amount of the HP proposal.
One advantage to having multiple companies working in Maine is that state officials will be able to better compare and judge how effectively different kinds of technologies, including laptops and tablets, are working in different districts.
In that sense, "it'll be informative and useful to have different platforms," Mao said.
We'll be following the implementation of HP and other platforms in Maine in the time ahead.
We reported last week on the news that Coursera, a big name in the world of "massively open online courses," is moving into K-12 by partnering with teacher colleges and other institutions to offer ongoing professional development to educators.
Teachers typically face requirements to update their professional training regularly, and they end up doing so through a variety of sources. So Coursera could presumably be tapping into a major area of need, while also connecting colleges to an audience—practicing educators—they're eager to reach with offers of high-quality PD.
In fact, Coursera's co-founder, Andrew Ng, told Education Week that the initial courses offered by the schools of education and other institutions are not meant to be taken for credit, but rather to serve as continuing education for teachers who have requirements to fulfill, or for educators and others who are otherwise interested in honing a skill.
So what MOOCs are initially being offered to K-12 teachers and others through Coursera? It's an eclectic list of 28 courses, in some cases delving into specific content, in others focused on strengthening educators' overall classroom skills.
Here's a taste of the course lineup:
• The New Teacher Center has a course designed to help first-year teachers, focused on building sound relationships with students, creating positive classroom environments, setting behavior expectations, and using instructional time wisely.
• New York's Museum of Modern Art is offering a course on how teachers can blend lessons on works of art into their classes using "inquiry-based" teaching originally designed for education occurring in museum galleries.
• The University of Virginia's Curry School of Education has included a course on how to improve early-childhood teachers' knowledge of teacher-child interactions that promote children's development, a longstanding area of focus at the university.
• One offering from Johns Hopkins' school of education focuses on "brain-targeted teaching," or helping educators apply what's known about neuro and cognitive sciences into their teaching in practical ways.
• The American Museum of Natural History, in New York, is offering a free online course to help educators discuss evolutionary science in their classroom lessons.
The courses vary in length, and they have different start dates. Their initial popularity, and the extent to which a business model evolves out of this, will probably go a long way to determining whether whether this new model of MOOC takes hold.
Interest in "massively open online courses," or MOOCs, continues to grow at colleges and universities, and Coursera's recent announcement that it plans to apply that model to K-12 teacher professional development would only seem to lend to the on-campus momentum.
But it turns out there's skepticism in the administrative wing of the ivory tower.
A recently released Gallup poll finds that only a slight fraction of university presidents—3 percent—strongly agree that MOOCs will improve student learning, while a much larger portion, 28 percent, are adamant that the courses would not bring that benefit.
University presidents were just as skeptical that MOOCs would solve higher education institutions' financial problems, though more of the campus leaders believed that the open, online courses were capable of "fostering creative pedagogical strategies." You can see the full results below. Respondents were asked to evaluate MOOCs potential on a scale of 1-5, from "strongly disagree" to "strongly agree."
Several colleges and universities, including elite ones, have embraced MOOCs and are offering faculty-taught course over the web. But MOOCs have drawn a more skeptical response, and in some cases outright resistance, from those who question the quality of online offerings, and wonder why universities would want to give away the content of their courses, among other concerns.
Last week, the MOOC provider Coursera unveiled plans to partner with a number of university schools of education to put teacher professional-development content online. That content is not being offered for credit, but rather as continuing education for teachers, aspiring teachers, and others, Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng told Education Week recently.
Gallup's results were based on 889 web surveys conducted in March of college and university presidents from two- and four-year schools. They were taken from a total initial, overall sample population of 4,500 higher education officials. For the results based on the web surveys, the margin of error was about 3 percent.
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