Will Richardson. The first post I read was a reflection of the time he spent at the recent Educon conference in Philadelphia. The conference is where people come together to discuss the future of schools. He shared a couple of narratives about reform in our schools, and what bold schools might do to get there. First he touched on the ischool in NYC, and about 2 sessions presented by teachers and principles that made a great case for inquiry/challenge based learning. The students participated in a video "Disastercamp" where they attempted to answer the question "How can first responders use social media to improve communication and coordination for disaster relief?" They also looked at the question "What does it mean to be 16?" In the "16module" students used skype to connect with classrooms in Europe, Australia, and the United States. They used flip cameras to document their lives, and edited the footage in imovie. This let them get a glimpse of what being 16 is like around the globe.
He talked about what he thought was the best part (and I agree) that when prepping for the NY state Regents Tests students have access to self-paced, online test prep courses they work through in their own time. As he points out "if were going to be stuck with the test, why not just offload it to technology and spend our time in more valuable learning pursuits." While at the conference he had a conversation with Chris Walsh, the director of Innovation and Design for the "New Tech Network" of schools. New Tech Network is a nonprofit organization that works with school districts and communities to implement innovative public high schools. They've either started or refashioned 86 schools across the country and have plans for 30 or more schools next year. Funding for these schools comes from the community through fund raisers, donations, ect. The community invests in the change happening at the school, which helps those changes weather problems such as leaders leaving or pressure from the state government. Then he touches on the great thing about Educon is the sincerity from everyone in the building trying to figure out what is best for kids in terms of learning and schools.
The second post I read was The Sorry State of Standardized Writing, about the Hewlett Foundation and it's 100,000 contest to create automated essay scoring software. The Hewlett Foundation feels that software like this will do a better job of assessing student writing than human graders can do. While he points out there are problems with the current grading system, will computers really be better? Will gives his opinion that this is more about money than about serving kids well, and points out that machines don't have the advantage of emotion like human graders do. He assesses this will result in us teaching kids how to write what the machines want instead of focusing on the uniqueness of human communication. I agree with him. One of the main concepts of writing is reaching your audience. That's more than just proper grammar, sentence structure, or knowing how to write a 5 paragraph essay. It's being able to write something compelling and unique...something that people want to read. That is something technology can't teach us, knowing how to write is a long messy process. A process that can't happen without human interaction. What good is it to teach proper essay structure, if we aren't teaching kids how to write something that people want to read?