07/27/2009

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What is cheating? I recently found myself re-reading this article from eSchoolNews about how students don’t see using technology to answer questions as cheating. When the article came out on June 18, 2009, many bloggers, including Teach42, ConcreteClassroom, and an excellent article on The Future of Education is Here, further examined the issue with their own posts. Almost all, including those who commented, questioned: if a student can look something up, is it worth memorizing? If the question can be answered with a quick Google search, how deep of a test question could it really be? ReadWriteWeb made a similar point in their post about Wolfram Alpha, the “computational knowledge engine” that came out early this summer, including various points of view from an earlier article on Chronicle.com. ReadWriteWeb asserted: “…it's clear that Wolfram|Alpha and similar computational software will force the education system to adapt and change. Students now have a new (and certainly easier to use, as it's on the Web) platform on which to compute things. There's no point in the education system pretending it doesn't exist.” In reading these many posts and responses, I was reminded of Daniel Pink’s three crucial questions for the success of any business: 1. Can a computer do it faster? 2. Is what I'm offering in demand in an age of abundance? 3. Can someone overseas do it cheaper? Many of the facts we ask students to memorize and skills that we assess would be a resounding “YES” to #1 and #3 and a firm...
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Why don't people and systems change -- even when the writing is on the wall? I recently read a book that has caused me to look deeper at the actions of some educators I have come into contact with over the past few years in multiple contexts – both as a McREL consultant and a parent. The book is called Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior, Ori and Rom Brafman (2008) and as the title indicates, it focuses on looking deeply at the “why” of irrational human behavior. Now, before you start to characterize me as somebody who views the glass as being half empty, please know that I see much more that is positive in my roles, but I am still troubled by this notion of rational and intelligent people engaging in irrational decisions. Here is a real-life example I will apply to the concepts in the book. For obvious reasons, this has to be anonymous since I am highlighting irrational behavior: Over the past three years, I have watched a school district fall from being one of the best district’s in a particular state to one that is now below average as measured by student achievement, property values, community support, employee satisfaction, and compensation. I know what you are thinking now is probably the usual “suspects” that we often believe as educators cause such rapid declines in school systems – demographic changes, budget cuts, mass teacher turnover or retirements, etc. This example, however, does not include these “suspects” except for the economic downturn that is currently affecting all school systems in the...

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