Tag Archives: school reform

Open Thread 1: Your Dreams of Alternative Schools?

sotto la sua volonta’ by …utopiacere… on Flickr

It’s 12 minutes from 2008 here in Seoul. It’s also 12 minutes from the One Year Anniversary of Beyond School. So it shouldn’t surprise you that I’m spending New Year’s Eve with my beloved B.S. ;-) (I do have an uncharacteristic glass of wine next to me as I write.)

I want to steal a trick from my favorite political video blog, Crooks and Liars (whose link to my “Truly Critical: Thinking about Science, Religion, and Goodness” post last week opened this blog to readership beyond edubloggers – to the tune of almost 1,000 visits to that post – in what I hope becomes a wedding of educational and political blogging, and another escape, like Students 2.0, from the echo chamber), by creating a regular “Open Thread” feature.

The idea of an Open Thread is to pose an issue, and then let the comments come. The thread – and that means the conversations in the comments – is the thing, not the post. It’s crowd wisdom – it’s blogging – at its best.

The question I propose for this thread comes in response to the following recent posts in the ‘sphere:

And the question is this:

If you dream of starting a new school, what are the reasons you don’t try?

If you’d prefer a positive framing of the question, how about:

How would your dream school look, and how would you make it a reality?

or, to get really outside the box:

If you believe it’s time for schools to end, how would you replace them?

Happy New Year, everybody. Since realities begin in dreams, maybe this thread will make it really happy.

(Stay tuned for the next thread: “What are the biggest obstacles to education reform that you would like to campaign against?” – But again, that’s next time. Just priming the pump.)

Photo credit: …utopiacere… on Flickr

Calling Out the College Board and ETS: An Educators’ Campaign for 2008?

In my last post, I made a couple sins of omission when giving thanks and measuring the success of Students 2.0.

Sin 1: Thanks to Stephen Downes for supporting the launch by featuring it in his (very influential, and rightfully so) OLDaily.

Sin 2: I didn’t mention what is, to me, the most valuable aspect of the Students 2.0 blog: the comments. Without them, we’d have a handful of students writing to the void. With them, we have the type of peer-to-peer, “student” to “adult” conversation on equal footing, that I dreamed would happen if this thing was done right. One more comparative stat:

  • Number of posts:comments ratio: Students 2.0: 13 posts: 310 comments = 1:23 ratio. Beyond School: 424 posts: 995 comments = 1:2.3 ratio.

(–it’s enough to make me simultaneously weep with joy and gnash my envious teeth. It says so much for the educators who are leaving their own soapboxes to converse in the s2oh comment salons. Gives me hope, really.)

A delicious postscript / tempting call to action

I’m learning so much simply browsing my RSS feed for s2oh comments.

I’m also gaining occasional inspiration. To wit: Bill Fitzgerald‘s idea about taking on the College Board for its hijacking of education and perverting it into a competition for points on SATs, AP Exams, and so forth. Here’s Bill’s comment, in response to Lindsea’s “One Sweet Dream” post:

The test prep companies drive a lot of the hype behind college pressure, as their profits depend on your parents getting worried enough to shell out mucho greenbacks so you can sit through classes designed to get you extra points on the SATs/APs.

(As an aside, I would love to see an entire high school class, nationwide, boycott the SATs/APs. The Educational Testing Service would suffer an enormous loss of revenue, as they would not take in the testing fees from a few million students (aka, the captive audience, aka, you). If enough students boycotted the exam to affect the statistical significance of the test, colleges would need to find a different way to evaluate students — and colleges would find a way to evaluate and admit students, because, while they also don’t want you to know this, colleges need you — and your tuition dollars — to continue to exist.)

Whether the specific tactic Bill envisions is the most effective is secondary to the idea of simply putting pressure on the College Board and the educational system to change. We’ve seen what an educators’ Twitter – del.icio.us marketing blitz could do with s2oh. Why stop there? Why not “man the tweets” again?

Anybody want to play with this idea? It could be powerful, seems to me.

A Belated Reflection on the Students 2.0 Experience

If you haven’t read Ryan Bretag‘s and Steve Hargadon‘s posts on TechLearning about Students 2.0, they’re worth a read. And Steve’s podcast interview with Kevin, Sean, and Lindsey shows them at their wonderful best, in terms of both intelligence and personality.

I haven’t really written any reflections here since launching Students 2.0 back on December 8 – those of you in my Twitterverse may have noticed I’m feeling a bit burned out right now – so I want to do that now.

I’ll start with saying thank you to the educators out there who helped it happen: Scott Schwister and Scott McLeod for simple moral and conceptual support back when I was blogging about the idea in June; Diane Cordell, Chris Watson, Carolyn Foote, Sylvia Martinez, and Elizabeth Helfant for answering my twitter request for good student bloggers out there; Christian Long and Steve Hargadon for blogging about Sean “The Bassplayer” and Arthus Erea (that’s how I learned about these two s2oh contributors); and Mr. Winton for turning Sean on to learning 2.0 in his Scotland classroom.

Then there’s everybody who helped with the marketing. Thanks to Arthus for the idea (and creation) of the splash page, and for creating the countdown badge with his coding skills; thanks to Sean the Bassplayer and the entire s2oh team for creating the promotional YouTube video and original soundtrack; thanks to readers of this blog for playing along with the request to push the launch onto the del.icio.us hotlist, for blogging about the project and embedding the badge, and for the concerted Twitter-burst of del.icio.us bookmarks that pushed s2oh onto the hotlist in less than three hours.

Re: that Twitter marketing campaign, I said it then and I’ll say it again: it was fairly spontaneous, it unapologetically manipulated del.icio.us for a good cause, and it worked. It showed the power of a network of educators who can bother to take a couple of minutes of action to create a fairly impressive marketing sensation. For the skeptics and naysayers about this move, the question I ask is: Without this audience and this buzz, how excited and motivated would the s20h writers be to deliver a quality product and make this project a success?

Let me illustrate how effective this collaborative effort of everyone above was by comparing some basic stats about Students 2.0 – after only three weeks – with my own blog’s stats after one year:

  • Del.icio.us bookmarks: Students 2.0: 450; Beyond School, 65 (for the main page only; I don’t know how to get a total that includes permalink pages);
  • Technorati ranking (links from individual blogs): Students 2.0 150; Beyond School, 85 (new site, since Oct. 20) + 70 (old site, Jan. 1 – Oct. 20) = 155;
  • RSS Subscribers: Students 2.0: 405; Beyond School: 401;
  • Unique Visits for December: Students 2.0: over 12,500 unique visits (since December 8); Beyond School: 5,069.

Kevin Walter playfully accuses me of being a “stats whore” when I talk about readership, and I always reply that self-publishing is still publishing, and to publishers, readership matters.

So what am I trying to say here? I’ll quote from a comment I left on Steve Hargadon’s post on TechLearning:

[It all points to] the need to create more authentic publication spaces, with more authentic audiences for students that, like Students 2.0, require quality to reach that audience.

There are obviously other possibilities for such spaces, besides a student edublog, that might motivate students to “embrace the revolution” in their own education.

Music, film, photography, and writings on a broader range of subjects than education are a case in point.

In my own senior classroom, I’ve been pursuing an “authentic blogging pedagogy” that throws out prescribed curriculum altogether, and requires only that my students identify a passion-based path of inquiry and/or production, and pursue that through connective reading-and-writing, and through showcasing their own creative pursuits on their blogs.

After a few frustrating months of watching them flounder, I’m finally seeing signs that give me hope. One student had a “mission moment” in which he identified that his blog would henceforth be the space in which he published and discussed his own musical compositions, with the aim of producing a full CD by the end of the senior year.

Others have similarly chosen photography and design as their missions, and are advancing down their own paths in those directions.

I started Students 2.0 out of frustration with all the excuses we read for not pushing authentic learning with web 2.0 forward in education. Sean’s old English teacher in Scotland, “Mr. Winton,” put his finger on my ultimate hope for this enterprise when he wrote,

“This attempt to give students a genuine forum where they can give an end-users view of Education2.0 is, I hope, the thin end of the wedge.”

The “thin end of the wedge” indeed. We can, all of us, create more spaces that students want to earn their way into. The less “schooly” and egalitarian, the better – because maybe those unmotivated students Diane mentions are not motivated precisely because the types of publication they are offered online, in the end, still feel as inauthentic as the hallway displays of yore.

Thanks for taking these young people seriously, and not just giving them a pat on the head. I know I’ve been snarky on a couple occasions in comments on other posts about s2oh, but it’s precisely because those posts seemed to both miss the weight of the moment, and to coopt the revolution by taming it into a lower level of status in the edublogging caste system. It’s nice to see you and Ryan Bretag (he wrote about s2oh on TL first, as far as I know) avoiding that tone.

It’s early days for s2oh, and they have a learning curve ahead of them, but trust me: for engagement and motivation, and care for their work, they get an A+ for their work so far.

Or would, if this had anything at all to do with grades. The amazing thing, of course, is that it doesn’t.

To sum up, a few propositions:

1. We can create more spaces like this, with similar visibility to motivate quality, through similar means. You come up with the idea, and I’ll certainly return the favor you’ve given s2oh by blogging about it, helping you push it to del.ico.us’ hotlist, etc.

2. It doesn’t take a lot of work to make things happen. It does take doing, though.

3. We shouldn’t forget what this whole enterprise taught about the power of network marketing for education.

Thanks again to everyone. I’m pooped, so I’m signing off.

On Leaving Teaching to Become a Teacher

More and more I wonder: is school a good place for teachers who want to make a difference in the lives of their students, and to the future of the world? Is there a way to leave the daily farce of gradebooks, attendance sheets, tests, corporate and nationalist curriculum, homework assignments, grade-licking college careerist “students” (and parents), fear of parents and administrators, and fear of inconvenient socio-political truths – and at the same time, to make a far more meaningful impact on the lives of the young?

I’m thinking yes. I’m thinking, moreover, obviously. I’m not sure how much longer I want to work for schools. I’d so much rather teach.