I’ve noted elsewhere some exciting developments in online education (most interestingly, this year, the opening of MITx, which is worth checking out). This recent article about educational badges available online helps me to formulate, a bit more, a thought that has been gelling in my mind: If lower information-sharing costs help to make distributed systems more realizable in finance, scientific research (see here, too), hardware design and development, etc., etc., then why not in education?
A key quotation:
Employers might prefer a world of badges to the current system. After all, traditional college diplomas look elegant when hung on the wall, but they contain very little detail about what the recipient learned. Students using Mozilla’s proposed badge system might display dozens or even hundreds of merit badges on their online résumés detailing what they studied. And students could start showing off the badges as they earn them, rather than waiting four years to earn a diploma.
The current university system’s great asset is that it concentrates people in a learning environment. But it also, as the quotation above implies, limits visibility to the student’s actual learning, limits student flexibility with regard to learning goals, defers recognition of achievement for several years, and does not lend itself easily to synchronous immersion in the professional world. I’m interested to hear other’s thoughts on the viability of the model suggested in the article.
A friend forwarded me an article about the Texas textbook market that validates some of the observations/predictions I made in March. Specifically, it highlights trends that could be undermining Texas’ influence on the textbook market (while also questioning the validity of the theory to begin with).
1) Texas’ actions re: curricular content could be giving rise to opposition in other states.
“The debates in Texas only heighten the sensitivity” in states and districts elsewhere to review those materials more closely before signing off, Mr. Diskey [executive director of the school division of the Association of American Publishers] added.
2) Texas is participating in breaking up its own influence by responding to incentives to provide for digital instructional materials.
In any case, amid concerns about the high cost of printed textbooks and the rapidity with which they become outdated, the Texas market for instructional materials is poised for a potential sea change. The recent legislation is expected to provide districts with new sources of digital textbooks and other electronic classroom materials.
“Now we have all of these new ways of acquiring instructional materials in addition to the traditional process,” said Anita G. Givens, an associate commissioner at the Texas Education Agency.
For instance, the state education commissioner was given authority to approve a list of digital textbooks that districts may buy with state textbook aid, providing them with new options beyond the materials adopted by the state board. Also, districts for the first time will be able to use a portion of that aid to pay for hardware, such as laptop computers, to access digital content.
“That is a big shift,” Ms. Givens said, “because one of the cost drivers in terms of whether electronic [material] makes sense is whether [schools] have the infrastructure and the access points.”
A friend today summed up the new economy: “It’s about information and networks.” Changes in how instructional content is delivered remain one of the best symbols of this evolution.
You may have read about the recent textbook revisions proposed in Texas (I include both a link to The Economist‘s take and a link to the detail-full, though more partisan take of The Huffington Post.). While The Economist, The New York Times, and others highlight the economic weight of textbook-related decisions by the State of Texas, I would argue that a more dramatic outcome may eventually involve the relative dimunition of Texas’ influence. Namely: Texas’ potential decision creates a perfect storm to increase interest in electronic and/or open source textbooks, which do not require economies of scale as large as does the current publishing regime.
Electronic innovators and open source writers tend to be (much more often than not) precisely the sort of folks who would most object to the Texas Board of Education recommendations. I would not be surprised to see an “alternative textbooks movement” take root in the short-term (and a less-covered Texas controversy took place on this front in recent months); I would, however, be quite surprised if such a movement does not materialize in the mid-term.