Hacking the Economic Future of Educational Markets

According to Michelle R. Weise and Clayton Christensen, modular competency-based learning is bringing about “tectonic shifts” in higher education. If so, what are the implications for K12 to remain relevant to contemporary learners? What will be the impact on teacher preparation?

In an earlier post, I examined the lessons that K12 could learn from MIT’s report The Future of MIT Education. Outlined in the report’s seventh recommendation was the growing importance of curriculum designed in modules, which the report defines as “breaking a subject into learning units or modules, which can be studied in sequence or separately.”  The modular design provides a foundation for online competency-based models that are aligned to meet workforce needs.

In Hire Education: Mastery, Modularization, and the Workforce Revolution, Michelle R. Weise and Clayton Christensen observe that post-secondary is “structurally incapable” of adjusting to student needs in learning new skills necessary for “jobs emerging on a day-to-day basis” forcing the consumer to question the return on college investment.

Weise and Christensen contend that modular design, coupled with online competency-based approaches, will become the more valued option for targeted skill attainment that employers are seeking. They write:

An examination of online competency-based education unveils the tectonic shifts to come to higher education. Over time, the industry-validated experiences that emerge from the strong partnership between online competency-based providers and employers will ultimately have the power to override the importance of college rankings and accreditation.

While this economic trend of “purchase for skills” (not degrees, courses or classes) may seem applicable only to higher education, think again. K12 public and private education has some skin in the game. I’ve written before about how an Educational Debit Card will provide learners (and families) more choice and the popular rise of micro-credentials (badges) to acknowledge informal but powerful learning. As modular competency-based education catches on in higher education and the demand for post-secondary diminishes, K12 must revamp the curriculum and experiences for students by providing more pathways for learners to access passion and interests.

K12 must revamp the curriculum and experiences for students as the demand for post-secondary diminishes, giving way to passion and interests of learners.

In coming posts, I will examine the impact of modular competency-based education on teacher preparation, liberal arts, and cities of learning. Meanwhile, how is your learning organization revamping curriculum and pedagogical designs to meet the needs of contemporary learners? How can your learning organization prepare to compete in an expanding market of educational choices?

Running the Digital River of Learning with You,

Emily Vickery

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MIT Report Provides Lessons for K12

What lessons does the report The Future of MIT Education hold for K12 learning organizations? Quite a bit, it seems.

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Over at Educating Modern Learners, Audrey Watters posted a reflection on the report The Future of MIT Education (free registration required). As I read her post and reviewed the report, which offers 16 recommendations, it struck me that K12 learning organizations could take a few lessons from MIT on examining today’s realities to realign mission with the goal of remaining relevant to contemporary learners in an ever-changing learning ecosystem.

The report acknowledges MIT’s progressive work in Open Courseware, MOOCs, and edX; yet, it also reflects fundamental shifts in remixing and re-imagining learning beyond these successful undertakings.  While the report is rich in lessons for K12, only three are highlighted below.

Lesson One: The Process

One of the first lessons for K12 was the process: community engagement, a realistic timeline to undertake such in-depth work, framework questions to consider, and working group structure. This orchestration reflects a commitment to undertake a serious self-examination, while also establishing further work for each group to continue forward-thinking progress. In other words, the report and its recommendations avoid stagnation by remaining dynamic in scope and benchmark assessments in ongoing work.

Forward-Thinking Preserved – This orchestration reflects a commitment to undertake a serious self-examination, while also establishing further work for each group to continue forward-thinking progress.

Lesson Two: Use of Space

Recommendation 15:  “The Task Force can envision academic villages that provide environments for enhanced interactions to occur both inside and outside of the classroom and laboratory settings. The Task Force can also imagine a system of maker spaces strategically located around campus, further enhancing the experiential learning so integral to an MIT education. These maker spaces would complement the state-of-the-art maker space facility now being planned to support innovation and entrepreneurship activities.”

Why This Matters: I’ve written about how the use of space can transform traditional learning approaches, revamping curriculum to more relevant and integrated offerings. And maker spaces play a critical role in instructional and curriculum shifts, making an impact not only within K12 schools but libraries and museums, as the work of co-authors Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager attests in Invent to Learn.

Maker spaces play a critical role in
instructional and curriculum shifts.

Lesson Three: Pedagogical Shifts

Recommendation 7: “The Task Force recommends that this commitment to pedagogical innovation for the residential campus be extended to the world to set the tone for a new generation of learners, teachers, and institutions.”

While problem-based learning, game-based learning and blended learning are addressed in Recommendation 7, these are not new concepts in K12. What is an important lesson for K12 is the need for curriculum designed in modules, which the report defines as “breaking a subject into learning units or modules, which can be studied in sequence or separately.”  The recommendation also recognizes that the “very notion of a ‘class’ may be outdated.”

Why This Matters: As a new learning ecology unfolds, “classes” will unbundle, forming more module designs to support Do It Yourself (DIY) learners mining content to take away knowledge and skills important to them. Perhaps modules are designed to honor what students already know and not the time spent in seats, allowing them to master new skills, modified but akin to the competency-based model in place at Western Governors’ University for “almost 20 years.” As I’ve written before, it will be commonplace for edupunks to learn from leaders in the field and bundle learning for customized, passion-based learning playlists, where seat time and courses have little meaning.

As a new learning ecology unfolds, “classes” will unbundle, forming more module designs to support Do It Yourself (DIY) learners mining content to take away knowledge and skills important to them.

How is your learning organization adjusting to modular curriculum design? How is your learning organization designing learning experiences to serve contemporary learners? How are you preparing for the unbundling of traditional classes? Please share your story.

Running the Digital River of Learning with You,

Emily Vickery

The Relationship of Space and Learning

Shouldn’t schools approach the use of space differently? What happens when schools “rethink” the use of space – shifting from traditional approaches to participatory spaces?


As noted in previous posts – here and here, schools are rethinking the use of space. Digital Strategist and Designer David Jakes, in his post Towards a Consideration of Space, wrote:

I’m wondering why the spaces that students inhabit for learning haven’t received more attention in the conversation surrounding 1:1 implementations. Can you really have a 1:1 implementation without asking questions of what learning spaces should now become?  Can you afford to miss the potential catalyst that 1:1 computing can be for rethinking spaces?  Are you satisfied by placing that capacity into a classroom that has a decades old collection and arrangement of furniture and space?

Can you afford to miss the potential catalyst that 1:1 computing can be for rethinking spaces?
– David Jakes

Jakes’ observation is supported by UNC Charlotte’s The Center for Teaching and Learning in Collaborative Learning Spaces, in which the following is noted:

Research shows that student learning styles have changed, therefore we need learning spaces to accommodate a new generation who:
•    Prefer multitasking and quick, non linear access to information information,
•    Are visually‐ oriented,
•    Are highly networked, interactive and social,
•    Are increasingly mobile,
•    Have a low tolerance for lecture style teaching,
•    Prefer active learning rather than passive learning, and
•    Rely heavily on communications technologies to access information and to carry out social and professional interactions.

To meet the principles of contemporary learning, new and refurbished spaces need to be:
•    Flexible,
•    Connected,
•    Collaborative,
•    Multisensory, and
•    Graphic.
•    The new spaces need to be a blend of physical and virtual environments.

As Jakes noted, “Can you afford to miss the potential catalyst that 1:1 computing can be for rethinking spaces?” Shouldn’t 1:1 schools consider The Center for Teaching and Learning’s research? 1:1 schools are provided the opportunity to rethink space so as not to layer technology on top of traditional pedagogy, curriculum, assessment, and use of time.

Redesigned spaces can quickly be rearranged to suit various collaborative and instructional scenarios that meet contemporary student learning styles.

Shekou International School did just that. Watch the video of their journey in creating participatory learning spaces. (You can follow them at hashtag #SISrocks.)

While resources to assist you in “rethinking” space for relevant learning are growing, including how to undertake your redesign on a shoestring budget, here are a few to get you started:

How is your learning organization redesigning space for today’s learners? Are you “hacking” your space to empower learning? Please share your stories.

Running the Digital River of Learning with You,

Emily Vickery
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If Coding is the New Literacy, How Do We Close the Opportunity Gap?

Learning to code is a new literacy – as important as reading, writing, and math – but, how do we close the opportunity gap between those who have access and those who don’t?


In the 1983 Education Leadership article Equity in Computer Education, John P. Lipkin shed light on how “microcomputers are widening the gap between rich schools and poor ones.” He wrote:

One of the outstanding implications of the new information technology is that poor people are the last to receives its benefits, and those who lack the prerequisite skills of reading, writing, and computation are handicapped in attaining computer literacy. Thus, the economically and educationally disadvantaged are prime candidates to join the ranks of this new category of disadvantaged—the computer nonliterate.

Lipkin points out the findings of Daniel Watt in Education for Citizenship in Computer-Based Society:

Affluent students are thus learning to tell the computer what to do while less affluent students are learning to do what the computer tells them.

And, over 20 years later, things haven’t changed. Harold Wenglinsky’s research findings in Using Technology Wisely: The Keys to Success in Schools confirmed Watt’s earlier observation:

Students of color and low socioeconomic status predominately use technology for drill and practice and not for higher order thinking skills.

And, yet – again – things haven’t changed in 2014 in regards to how children of color and less affluent students interact with technology. Advanced Placement (AP) computer science courses “‘are more prevalent in suburban and private schools than in urban, poor schools,'” according to Barbara Ericson, the director of computing outreach and a senior research scientist at Georgia Institute for Technology, in an interview with Education Week. In Mississippi alone, where the African American population is 37%, there was no African-American AP computer science test-taker.

Students of color and low socioeconomic status predominately use technology for drill and practice and not for higher order thinking skills.
Research findings of Harold Wenglinsky

Mother Jones reports in We Can Code It! Why Computer Literacy is Key to Winning the 21st Century that “the children of the privileged” are learning to code and employing computational thinking. This thirst to code has prompted some parents to hire coding tutors, as Mark Zuckerberg’s parents did when he was in middle school. The demand for coding tutors has increased, with New York City alone seeing a doubling “each of the past two year[s].”

scratch-image

An example of playing and coding with Scratch.

According to Mark Guzdial, a professor of interactive computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology, “Coding is absolutely a question of literacy. Those who don’t have access to this kind of education are going to be missing a core skill.”

And, Mitchel Resnick, MIT Professor of Learning Research and head of the Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten group, agrees: “Coding is the new literacy. Just as writing helps you organize your thinking and express your ideas, the same is true for coding.”

Today, coding and computer programming are considered necessary skills for everyone. Even Harvard Business School has caught the coding bug for plans are underway to add a computer science elective as the “changing nature of the workforce” includes coding for MBAs.

But, if coding is the new literacy, what happens to children of color and those from low socioeconomic status if, as mentioned above, they are exposed to only responding to a “drill and kill” (lower order critical thinking) use of technology instead of creating and coding (higher order critical thinking)?

How can these children prepare for the 1.4 million jobs to be created by 2020, with more than 70 percent involving computing? What initiatives must be undertaken to increase more children of color to take computer science AP courses? How can this opportunity gap be closed?

Fortunately, there are some forward-thinking programs and organizations to increase access to the new literacy of coding as schools, libraries, and community organizations offer coding camps, certifications, and hackathons.

Listed below are only a few of many resources to advance coding skills and computational thinking. For a much more exhaustive list (300+), see the Kapor Center for Social Impact report Coding Nation and its companion, Coding Landscape Database, to keep abreast of happenings in your area and online.

  • Digital Youth Network  “is a project that supports organizations, educators and researchers in learning best practices to help develop our youths’ technical, creative, and analytical skills.”
  • Black Girls CODE ”introduces computer-coding lessons to young girls from underrepresented communities in programming languages such as Scratch or Ruby on Rails.”
  • Level Playing Field is “committed to eliminating the barriers faced by unrepresented people of color.”
  • CompuGirls is a “culturally relevant technology program for adolescent (grades 8-12) girls from under-resourced school districts in the Greater Phoenix area and in Colorado.”
  • GirlDevelop provides “affordable and accessible programs to women who want to learn software development through mentorship and hands-on instruction.”
  • The Code-to-Learn Foundation “promotes computational fluency for everyone..and supports projects that engage young people in learning through coding, enabling them to develop as creative thinkers, designers, and innovators.”

What is happening in your school and community to close the opportunity gap in learning the new literacy of coding? How are your school principals, district administrators, and policymakers assuring that all students learn this new literacy? Please share your thoughts and stories.

Oh, and, if you would like to learn more about what coding is all about, watch Dr. Mitchel Resnick’s engaging TEDTalk below.

Running the Digital River of Learning with You,

Emily Vickery

“Coding isn’t just for computer whizzes, says Mitch Resnick of MIT Media Lab — it’s for everyone. In a fun, demo-filled talk Resnick outlines the benefits of teaching kids to code, so they can do more than just ‘read’ new technologies — but also create them.”

Emerging Trends in Today’s Libraries

Librarians lead the way in maker programs, coding, robotics, and 3D printing.


As noted in this earlier post, the roles of librarians are shifting by creating, among other things, participatory learning spaces, maker programs, and 3D printing access.

The American Library Association’s (ALA) 2014 Digital Inclusion Survey documents these changing roles, as reflected in the following emerging trends as libraries expand services:

  • STEM maker spaces (16.8 percent)
  • Social media training (45.8 percent)
  • Wireless printing (33 percent)
  • 3D printing (2 percent)
  • Hosting hackathons (2 percent)
  • Hosting coding and application development events (2 percent)

In a ALA press release, it was noted:

Creation and making activities already are transforming what is possible for communities through libraries. At the Johnson County Library in Kansas, for instance, a library patron printed a mechanical hand for a family friend. High school student Mason Wilde loaded needed blueprints onto library computers and used the library’s 3D printer to create the necessary parts. Wilde then decided to start a nonprofit to make 3D prosthetics for other children, and he is now considering a career in the biomedical field.

“‘Creating is becoming a new digital competency, and libraries are building and expanding their programs and services to meet these changing community needs,’” said Ann Joslin, President of the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies. Joslin also is the state librarian in Idaho, which currently has a pilot program underway to support library maker activities and encourage the use of new technologies and tools.

“Creating is becoming a new digital competency.”
Ann Joslin, President of the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies

In the School Library Journal, read about the growth of maker spaces in Meet the Makers: Can a DIY Movement Revolutionize How We Learn?; Not Your Mama’s Library Program; and Low Tech, High Gains: Starting a Maker Program Is Easier Than You Think. These articles attest to how librarians lead students in undertaking tinkering, making, coding, and robotics in participatory learning spaces.

How is your library supporting the maker movement, coding, and robotics? What tips would you provide to someone beginning a maker movement in her library?

Running the Digital River of Learning with You,

Emily