State of the EdLab 2012
As I sat down to watch President Obama deliver the State of the Union Address last night, my all-too-cynical mind predicted that this election-year speech would focus more on political showmanship and less on policy initiatives. To the contrary, I was pleasantly surprised by a speech that's being received as something between an aggressive call to action and a vague laundry list of idealistic initiatives. But even as I saw my future as a political pundit vanish like the American middle class, I saw some opportunities for the lab. The following is a list of some of the missions outlined by President Obama for the coming year, followed by the ways I believe these initiatives can inform our work at the lab.
“Join me in a national commitment to train two million Americans with skills that will lead directly to a job… Now you need to give more community colleges the resources they need to become community career centers — places that teach people skills … from data management to high-tech manufacturing.“
Opportunities are arising in education from outside the traditional model of schooling. It's become increasingly apparent that in the modern world, learning is a lifelong commitment. The Lab is no stranger to nontraditional learning models, but we must also recognize that our initiatives to create new learning opportunities should be at least partly to create new advancement opportunities as well. If the mSchool is to be a crowd-sourced solution in online learning, then it should encourage the sort of learning that successfully develops relevant and demonstrable skills. Our tools should be as goal-oriented as the people who use them. If we're in the business of communicating skills, so too must we be in the business of communicating ways to develop, demonstrate, and leverage those skills.
“And I want to cut through the maze of confusing training programs… one website, and one place to go for all the information and help they need.”
Though I sincerely doubt that the president had any of EdLab's websites in mind when he described this initiative, it does provide us with some guidance on how we might structure any of our instructional web applications. Instruction on the mSchool and Vialogues should strive to be more than just another narrow corridor in the labyrinth of online learning. One way to help unify our instruction with the rest of the Web is to augment every bit of direction offered by our tools with quality links to further reading, opportunities for practice, or relevant projects.
“We've convinced nearly every State in the country to raise their standards for teaching and learning — the first time that's happened in a generation.”
Standards may be rising, but they're still based on the same scales that they have been for decades. EdLab aspires to disrupt the status quo of education, so let's challenge what it means for a student to be successful. Perhaps the mSchool should make it a goal to act as a tool that enables assessment through teaching? Maybe Vialogues can serve as a platform for hosting content students produce in order to demonstrate understanding?
“Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let's offer schools a deal… grant schools flexibility: To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test.”
With more flexibility in the classroom, ambitious teachers will assuredly be looking for new teaching tools that can expand their capabilities. Teachers know what they need, let's listen to them. What if we leveraged Survey Sidekick in a very visible way to poll teachers worldwide on their classroom needs? We could help to let necessity drive our development efforts, while simultaneously promoting one of our tools.
“…colleges and universities have to do their part by working to keep costs down… some schools re-design courses to help students finish more quickly. Some use better technology.”
Universities have lots of money. So much so that they'd be more than willing to invest in new products that could help drive their operating costs down. What can EdLab research tell us about the major operating costs of a University? Which costs can we hope to attenuate with new development efforts? Which of our existing tools can we market to universities a cost-minimizers?
Though I've no patriotic schmaltz with which to conclude my little soliloquy, I would very much like to hear your opinions on EdLab initiatives in the new year. Gallup has Congress with a job approval rating of 13% right now — what do you think we should do to stay a step above that?