Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Purpose of Education

I've been following the discussion/call to action on the site. Started by Doug Belshaw and Andy Stewart the idea is to get educators and others to write 500 word on this question,
"What is the purpose of education?"

I've started a post in response to this questions a number of times thinking it would be an easy question to address. After all, as a father, teacher and learner I spend a large portion of my time immersed in its trimmings, the purpose of all of it should leap fully formed from my brow, right? But, every time I started a post it seemed I was making a laundry list to be checked off:
  • Education provides experiences they might not have otherwise.
  • Education develops skills students can use later.
  • Education builds productive, involved citizens.
  • Education [Fill in your favorite edu-cliche here].
I was disappointed in my uninspired responses to this simple question expecting something more meaningful. So I did what I usually do, I asked the kids. I asked about a dozen 14-16 year olds what was the purpose of their education. This thing that they've spent an inordinate amount of their lives in, but probably was never asked, to what ends. I did get a couple, "Nothin'. " responses, but most were thoughtful, reasoned, and sounded like something we might say,

Their responses were are as varied as the students giving them and generally reflected thoughts similar to many of the educators addressing the same question. So, after going back and forth I decided that my response to the purpose of education (not in any formalized brick and mortar sort of way) is to set up the individual to be able to build an answer that question for him or herself.

For me the purpose of education . . .
. . . as a father is to model the ability to achieve happiness, whatever tat might look like to them .
. . . as a teacher is to get students reflecting on themselves as learners and develop the skill and willingness to teach themselves what's needed in the pursuit of their own 'happiness.'
. . . as an educational institution is to steward the well being of these children, allowing for mistakes and providing opportunities otherwise not possible.
. . . as a society is to impress upon kids an appreciation of their community, develop a desire to give back and ultimately value each other.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Google Apps as an Educational Platform

The following is the layout R.S.U. #19 uses for its Google Apps for Education implementation. We are a K-12 district of 8 schools and about 3,000 students. We've incorporated GAE throughout the district and as we work through some of the best practices we've found for using this tool, I thought it worthwhile to share some examples.

There are some technical and educational assumptions necessary for an implementation like this. First, access to quality 1 to 1 hardware for teachers. Not necessarily everyday, but often enough to make the time teachers put into this worthwhile. (I say quality hardware because there are so many possible devices that apply from desktops, tablets, smartphones etc.) Second, because GAE is web based, it's crucial that Internet access and ample bandwidth are not limitations of its use.

The educational assumptions are, of course, far more important (and therefore can be more difficult) to work through. One acknowledgement that we've made is that students should have ownership of their work. This is a seemingly obvious assumption, but one that many Learning Management Systems ignore. I'm not claiming GAE is a LMS, but if an educational management system is top down, then students will treat it as such. They use the tool because it's expected of them, without ownership of why they are using it. Alternatively, students create the work in Google Apps, have control and can refer to their own work. We as educators look at it can give feedback and make suggestions, but ultimately the work is in the students hands.
Another assumption is that the work they complete there will build their digital portfolio into something they can take with them when they leave high school. The district gifts each senior their own web domain name, like that they can use as their 21st century business card. The site that comes up should showcase the work they have done for the previous 12 years.

The outline is split into three sections, Administration, Teacher and Student. It goes through the processes an Administrator would complete to set up a Domain and manage the GAE. It also has templates and samples teachers could use and student examples as well. It's setup to be chronological from the top to bottom and as there will be more tutorials added as we come up with them.