Education's changing role

William Butler Yeats said: "Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire." That may be more true today than ever before.

The reason of course is the explosion of high quality, free lessons online. Nearly anything you want to learn is there waiting to be accessed by anyone with an interest in trying to absorb it. These aren't just courses by random bloggers, either. Stanford, Yale, Harvard, Berkeley and MIT all have classes available free to the general public. As repositories of knowledge, most of us are woefully outmatched.

Paradoxically, most students aren't sure how to leverage the internet to squeeze the greatest amount of good out of this endless bounty. That, I believe, is where we can serve as guides. By daily teaching critical thinking, study habits and organizational skills we can help students gain the mental agility to glean the fruits of the internet. Our role is changing from someone who helps build up a knowledge base to a trainer for thinking skills.


Data Driven Classroom

I was recently talking with a teacher about the common formative assessments her department uses to gage learning in the classroom. Most teachers, she told me are using paper based methods. That can be a very effective way to find out what the students are understanding from your lesson. They come in a variety of forms including bellwork and exit tickets. Unfortunately, these assessments are often hard to grade just because there is so much physical paper to sort through and record. After all, teachers are notoriously stretched for time and energy.

An alternative to using paper would be to use a clicker system or other electronic data collection tool. Clicker technology has been around for quite some time and includes systems such as Promethean and CPS. Both of these products are great by themselves. However, you need to be careful not to have both programs on your computer at the same time. They don't play well together.

Some other methods of electronic assessment involve the internet. Free online testing websites have exploded over the past 6 months as institutions such as Blackboard, Pearson and Google have invested in what is known as open course technology. The idea is that companies stand to gain big bucks if you use the free testing material, since you'll be more likely to buy their other products.

My favorite (free) online testing sites are:
Blackboard's coursesites
Google forms (part of Google docs)