Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Common Education Data Standards v2 released!

The Common Education Data Standards v2 release today marks one of many interconnected milestones for 2012 that I think will have far-reaching impact on the U.S. education system.  Data standards are not going to revolutionize education...but CEDS is a catalyst.  It is serving as a bridge between many other initiatives that collectively have a shot at tipping the scales toward a system of education focused on individual learners rather than groups.  This release comes at a time when the "common vocabulary" of common data standards could determine the scale of success for these other technology-enabled game-changes such as SLC/SLI, EdFi, P20W data systems, and the innovations being developed/tested in Race to the Top states.  Instead of competing standards of the past, CEDS v2 has carved out common ground.  CEDS is just one catalyst for these separate initiatives to pull in a common direction and transform the ecosystem into one in which it is possible to meet the needs of every learner.  Here is the official announcement:
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is pleased to announce the Version 2 release of the Common Education Data Standards (CEDS).  The CEDS project is a national, collaborative effort to develop voluntary data standards to streamline the exchange, comparison, and understanding of data within and across P-20 (early learning through postsecondary) institutions and sectors.  CEDS Version 2 includes a broad scope of elements spanning much of the P-20 spectrum and provides greater context for understanding the standards' interrelationships and practical utility.  Specifically, Version 2 of CEDS focuses on elements and modeling in the Early Learning, K12, and Postsecondary sectors and includes domains, entities, elements, options sets, and related use cases.
Version 2 of CEDS can be found at the CEDS website:  ( <http://ceds.ed.gov>http://ceds.ed.gov).  This website includes three ways to view and interact with CEDS:
1.      By Element - Via the CEDS elements page, users can access a searchable catalog of the CEDS "vocabulary"; 2.      By Relationship - Through the CEDS Data Model, users can explore the relationships that exist among entities and elements; 3.      By Comparison - The CEDS Data Alignment Tool allows users to load their organization's data dictionary and compare it, in detail, to CEDS and the data dictionaries of other users.
Educators and policymakers need accurate, timely, and consistent information about students and schools to inform decisionmaking-from planning effective learning experiences, to improving schools, reducing costs, and allocating resources-and states need to streamline federal data reporting. When common education data standards are in place, education stakeholders, from early childhood educators through postsecondary administrators, legislators, and researchers, can more efficiently work together toward ensuring student success, using consistent and comparable data throughout all education levels and sectors.
While numerous data standards have been used in the field for decades, there has not emerged a universal language that can serve basic information needs across all sites, levels, and sectors throughout the P-20 environment. By identifying, compiling, and building consensus around the basic, commonly used elements across P-20, CEDS will meet this critical need.
The standards are being developed by NCES with the assistance of a CEDS Stakeholder Group that includes representatives from states, districts, institutions of higher education, state higher education agencies, early childhood organizations, federal program offices, interoperability standards organizations, and key education associations and non-profit organizations. In a parallel effort a group of non-government interested parties with shared goals, including CCSSO, SHEEO, DQC, SIF, and PESC, has come together as a Consortium with foundation support to encourage the effort and assist with communications and adoption of the standards.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Is the U.S. ready to empower learners with data?

Last week, when I attended the Data Quality Campaign's National Data Summit, I was caught off guard by a subtle but dramatic shift in advocacy for use of data in education. It was no surprise that the event last week would focus on data use. DQC has shifted its emphasis over the past couple of years from promoting quality in state longitudinal data systems to promoting effective use of the data collected in such systems. Aimee Guidera and the DQC staff deserve credit for moving the agenda forward at each step of the way.

 It may not have been obvious to many, but last week's meeting took a next step. I expected to hear about expanded uses of educational data, beyond school accountability, and more about uses of data that more directly impact student learning. I expected to hear about the changing role of state data systems from accountability (reporting up), to supporting local decision-making (reporting down) to the school district, school, and classroom. I expected to hear discussions about how these changing roles require different kinds of data and services provided to teachers. I expected to hear about data for improving instructional and the teaching profession. 

What I was surprised about was discussion about giving students access to data to inform their own learning. Of course this is being done and is nothing new.  I was not surprised by the concept, only in that it was discussed at a DQC event with the U.S. Secretary of Education, a State Commissioner of Education, and others on the national stage.

 It is not a new idea to focus on learning and to empower students to become life-long learners. It is new, however, to discuss on the national stage about giving data to students. It is new to have a discussion about the learning that students might do on their own or outside of the traditional public school setting.  Long-held unwritten and unspoken turf rules, institutionalized as core to our educational system have made certain conversations about data use off-limits. For example, "local control" has been an excuse for some states to focus on collecting accountability data, not on data systems that support student learning. And until recently the classroom was off limits, even to other teachers, as the place for the private practice of a teacher's "art". Professional learning communities are changing that.

Education is too often perceived as something teachers do to students. Teachers "educate" students, principals and LEAs "manage" schools, state education agencies "fund, regulate, and hold accountable" schools and districts, and the federal education agency uses funding and federal policy as levels to hold states and school districts accountable. The institutional culture is preserved as long as everyone stays on their own turf. The unfortunate reality is that student learning is the core purpose for all of these actors. 

Because of the institutional turf culture, the national agenda for educational data use has until recently left out the most important participant, the learner. We collect a lot of data about students, but we don't provide students with the data that could optimize their learning experience.

The traditional classroom model of student learning doesn't always promote student ownership, but emerging blended learning models make the student a more active participant. A cultural shift is beginning to changed attitudes and behaviors, as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, "Our goal here is not data, our goal is to change behavior and get better outcomes." Better outcomes may require shifts in attitudes from "doing my job" (in the context of established turf) to "doing my part to support students learning."

I've been connected with some "disruptive" innovations already being used to empower students with data, multi-state efforts to develop a "shared learning infrastructure" and teaching and learning systems, and experiments in blended learning that shift the data needs from teacher-centric to learner-centric.

A long time friend and life-long teacher was once asked by a student, "Why do you not think I'm not important enough to let me in on what I'm supposed to be learning, and tell me how well I'm learning it?" The conversation at the DQC event last week asked a similar question to the data community. While there will continue to be turf issues, as well as positive aspects of local vs. national boundaries, I saw the conversation last week as another milestone toward a system able to meet the needs of all learners.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Insights on Blended Learning

Interesting observations are in this report from a blended learning pilot study that used the Khan Academy platform and had teachers spend more time one-on-one supporting student learning and less time on grading, instructional planning, and group instruction. 

One thing that may surprise some people is that when students were allowed to choose how they spent time on the Khan site, they chose not to view the videos that established Khan Academy in the first place.  They preferred to spend time "taking tests" than watching videos...yes you read that correctly.  This is in stark contrast to the outcry from educational professionals that there should be "less testing".  

What the less-testing crowd doesn't understand is the process of "Assessment AS Learning," the continuous feedback and challenge provided by the online experience both supports and motivates learning.  Assessment of individual competencies is embedded in a "gaming" context, that provides an achievable short term goal. Working to get to the "next level" is fulfilling, even addicting (in a good way). And like with online games, individualized blended learning promotes students helping students in ways not found in a traditional competitive classroom environment.   

The best computer/online games don't get in the way or provide too much help, it is often trial an error for the user trying to develop the skill needed to reach the next level, and that is part of what makes games addicting..."I'll stop just as soon as I figure out how to finish this level."  The thrill of learning is in discovering something new or beating the challenge of a new skill.  Games designed so that all users eventually succeed might monitor the user behavior and provide some redirection when absolutely needed, just before the user would give up.   But most often, when games don't have 'intelligent tutors', the user will ask a peer, "How do you beat this level?"

Blended learning has an advantage over software-only-self-paced-learning, that a teacher has access to the data from each learner's online experience and can provide targeted one-on-one help that goes beyond what is built into the online platform.  However, this is a new kind of professional practice in its infancy.  Best practices must be defined and teacher proficiency developed in those practices.  In the same way, online learning platforms can be improved over time by adding logic that knows when to step in with a suggestion such as, "You've tried that problem set 10 times.  You may be more equipped to conquer this level if you watch this video," what video segment or activity to recommend, and when to trigger an alert to a teacher to intervene, diagnose, and prescribe an alternative learning path.