A third of the people here at the iNACOL conference (#VSS11) are new to online learning and excited about the potential but struggling to understand the options. The third of attendees that have been at this for a while wonder what took so long. Online and blended learning is now front and center of the U.S. education agenda.
We’re at an awkward stage where there are reliable but uninspiring first gen products and lots of wizbang products that don’t yet stitch together into a coherent offering. One reason is the lack of data infrastructure. With more digital devices and content arriving at schools, there a rising tide of data from which we are unprepared to derive full benefit.
I’m scrambling to understand a list of initiatives attempting to solve this problem:
- Common Education Data Standards, from NCES, a voluntary effort to coordinate output from state longitudinal data systems
- Learning Registry, a Department of Education project, to capture, share, and analyze learning resources
- Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LRMI), a Creative Commons effort to create a common framework for tagging and organizing learning resources
- EdFi, a Dell Foundation funded universal data standard that permits interoperation among student data systems
- Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC), a Gates Foundation funded project building a common datastore with districts in five states.
Folks from the Gates Foundation conducted a couple sessions at #VSS11 this week. They described the sort of user experience and platform vision that we’ve been writing about for a couple years: engaging and adaptive content, comprehensive learner profiles, smart recommendation engine, social learning communities, and aligned services and tools.—in other words, personalized learning around a learning map with a good GPS.
They pointed to key problems being address: edtech components don’t work well together, ad hoc approaches lack access to data, and stuff costs too much. The next gen platform being developed for state partners includes an API (application programming interface), secure multi-tenant data story, LRMI metadata schema as well as learning map, dashboard, recommendation engine, and lots of third party apps.
However, it’s not clear that state representatives getting ready to issue Instructional Improvement System RFPs with Race the Top funding embrace the same vision. When we can compare a Shared Learning Collaborative website with an IIS RFP from RttT states like North Carolina we’ll all have a better sense of how this is actually going to play out. (Here’s an SIIA presentation on SLC.) The phase one states include CO, IL, MA, NY, and NC. Pilot projects will begin in these states in 2013. Phase two states will include DE, GA, KY, LA. SLC hopes that states will develop implementation roadmap after pilot.
If you’re a regular reader, you know I’m excited about the potential of Big Data but concerned about sector capacity to benefit from the tsunami of keystroke data headed our way. It’s good to know the SLC team has Big Data experience (e.g., watch this metaweb video).
One thing that is becoming clear is that Common Core State Standards, adopted by 44 states, are different and higher than most state standards. An iNACOL director said, “Most states are in for a rude awakening” as they come to grips with the new reading and writing expectations. A technologist said that after digging into the Core, “The standards blew my mind” and “ripples will be felt for years to come.”
Personal digital learning will helping more students achieve higher standards. The shift will require prepared teachers, effective communications, smart tools–and really good plumbing. The initiatives mentioned above are helping to create the data infrastructure for smarter education options. But for adult learners like you and me it often feels like drinking from a fire hose.