Monday, August 31, 2020

Most Educators Were Not Prepared for Online instruction When the Pandemic Arrived

In my blog entry of 4/19/18,  "A Possible Solution for Making-up Missed School Days" I made a plea for providing all students with a laptop for use at school and at home. One use of this arrangement would be the provision of online instruction when normal school is canceled by inclement weather or other interruptions. Who knew back then that a pandemic would arise and most public schools in the U.S would be forced to close? Unfortunately, few districts sought to implement this plan. Now, many are hurriedly seeking to provide all students with a laptop and a home internet connection; all while trying to train teachers in the implementation of the program. Many educators were ill-prepared for online instruction. The blame for this quandary rests with the school administrators who failed to recognize the vital need to utilize computers for training staff and ultimately to provide students with a vital tool for research and learning.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Report Cards Should be Replaced with Moving Averages.

Traditionally, report cards have been issued two to four times per year in K-12 schools. Would it not be better if students (and parents) could be made aware of their average at any time? The solution can be provided using a statistical procedure called the moving average. Transition to this marking procedure can be facilitated via the use of computer technology. The result would be a student being made aware of his progress at any time or place. The grade received on a recent test or a project would automatically adjust his average for the course as soon as it is entered into the system. Another benefit is that teachers would no longer have to calculate final grades as the computer would accomplish this task automatically and immediately. Teachers could still make grade adjustments by entering a subjective value, like a mark for effort or good behavior. Parents may be kept informed of their child's progress if their email address is entered into the system.

Certain preconditions are required to make the system work: (1) provide each teacher with a computer that contains the system. (2) each teacher must determine the number of measures used to assess student progress (quizzes, exams, reports, projects, etc.), (3) each teacher must determine the weight assigned to each measure; for example, the final exam may count for a weight of 25% of the final grade, a term paper would count 10%, etc.. The total of the weights must equal 100%. The only responsibility teachers would have is to enter marks for each measure into their computer. This would be much less effort than having to determine averages using a calculator. Grade books may be eliminated as all measures are stored in a computer. Backup may be provided by automatic posting to a remote computer. (4) ideally, each student should be provided with a laptop that contains the system.

The formulas required would be created in a one-time effort by a statistician. Teachers would be trained in its use and provided with support as needed. The formula should be made available to teachers as well as students. For example, a student may have a grade of 88% in an English class before taking the final exam. He or she could enter possible marks into their computer in order to determine what would be needed to make their final grade reach a 90.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Moving Community Colleges Online Can Reduce Costs for Students and the State

Connecticut has 12 community colleges. Recently, there has been discussion about
consolidating them into one administrative unit.  Assumedly, one of the motivations
for this is a reduction in cost. Unfortunately, the State has missed a major avenue of
cost reduction: the conversion of community colleges to online institutions. Many
accredited colleges throughout the U.S. provide online options, some are fully online.
Required are (1) giving every student a laptop computer if they do not currently
own one, (2) the provision of a home internet connection where one is not available,
and (3) the training of faculty in the development and delivery of online courses. 


Online courses can be delivered in real-time (synchronously) where instruction is provided
by a professor at a specified time to all students in a class or asynchronously where students
individually can access course content at any time that is most convenient to them. The latter
does not require the full participation of an instructor as course content is developed
in advance, saved on the internet, and made accessible to students from anywhere at any
time. However, instructors will still be needed to grade assignments, provide for testing, and
assist needy students.

The potential savings of transitioning to an online model are substantial due to:
(1) the closing of some campus buildings, and (2) a reduction in staff, especially
those involved in building maintenance and the provision of food services. 

There are many advantages for students and faculty when classes are moved online:
* Learning modules can be developed by faculty in advance and saved permanently on the
Internet.
* These learning modules can be accessed asynchronously by students at any time from
any location.
* The need for students and faculty to travel to and from college is minimized as most
learning is completed at home (or from anywhere with an internet connection.)
* Students can take courses that accommodate their schedules. Part-time students
who have jobs can more easily continue working when course modules are
provided online asynchronously.
* Students can enroll in colleges that are too distant for traveling from their homes.
* All course materials can be made available to all students when posted online.
* Completed assignments can be delivered to professors via the internet. The use of
paper is eliminated, Graded work can be transmitted back to students via the internet.
* Faculty can have more time for research and writing periodicals, especially when
learning modules are provided to students asynchronously.
* Faculty will have more time to communicate with their students at any time. Office
hours are eliminated.
* The need for expensive textbooks can be minimized when free, curated internet resources
are utilized.
* Class size is no longer limited by classroom capacity when students are instructed online.
* Lab exercises can be provided online when virtual reality is incorporated.
* Some activities like graduation, social gatherings, class projects, and some labs can
continue on campus.

Colleges can be totally online or a combination of online and on-campus instruction.
Closed buildings can be leased to businesses or used as hotels or apartment units adding
a source of income for the State. Alternatively, vacated dormitories can be used to house
the homeless.


The economies and convenience realized from an online learning model are too
enormous to ignore:
(1) Savings can be passed to students by reducing the cost of tuition as college operating
expenses decline. (2) The State can save money as the cost of operating
online community colleges declines.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Movement to a Universal Basic Income Progresses

In my Blog of 9/11/2012, "Some Predictions on the Impact of Technology on Society",  (https://www.blogger.com/blog/post/edit/6920421876322952450/6003207495393219375)
I predicted that governments would seek to tax manufacturers according to the number of jobs replaced by automation. The use of robots will only accelerate since they work 24/7, are not paid, and never complain. The taxes collected will be used in part to provide a source of income for displaced workers. This income has recently been labeled, Universal Basic Income (UBI.) 
Progress in the direction of UBI is described in a recent article (Click below), 



Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Many Connecticut School Districts are Struggling to Implement Distance Learning

With the advent of the Coronavirus, many school districts are seeking to initiate distant learning (DL) by providing a laptop for each student. They are also seeking to verify that an internet connection is available in their home. Schools must install one where one is not available. Finally, teachers must be trained in the delivery of lessons in real-time over the internet. The problem appears to be most acute in the largest districts, like Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport.

I have a number of concerns. First, is the availability of laptops, like the popular, low cost, highly reliable Chromebook. These are being purchased by the thousands by districts throughout Connecticut and elsewhere. I suspect, there will be a shortage, at least initially. The high demand may result in price increases and delayed delivery.  Another concern is teacher preparation. They are being called on to instruct using a system that is foreign to most educators. And, they are expected to implement DL within a short timeframe.

Another concern is the response of students. DL puts the responsibility of lesson participation directly on the student as oversight by an adult may be absent. Hopefully, parents will take a more active role in seeing that each child participates faithfully. Consequently, a DL transition should include a parent briefing.

A third concern is logistics. Computers must be distributed to students and staff. Some may need training in the use and care of laptops in a DL setting. Laptops must be modified to prevent students from accessing certain sites, like pornographic. The homes of all students must have an internet connection. Personnel may be needed to assure that school and home connections are operating efficiently. Also, each computer must contain applications needed to complete assignments. Fortunately, Chromebooks have these preinstalled. However, students and teachers must be familiar with the use of applications, like word processing.

Obviously, initiating DL is a challenging order for all involved, especially in districts that have been slow in the use of computers for instruction.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Distance Learning in PK-12 Education, A Transformative Event

Distance learning in PK-12 Education, A Transformative Event

Ronald L. Abate
April 12, 2020
The current pandemic has resulted in public school closings throughout the
Nation. Districts have been hastily assembling distance learning (DL) programs
in order to provide continuity to every student’s education and avoid conducting
school during summer vacation. Distance learning has been successful at the
college level; some institutions are totally online. Three conditions are required
for a PK-12 transition: (1) a laptop for every student (1:1 distribution), (2) a home
internet connection, and (3) teacher preparation. The high cost of computers
has been a barrier to DL. Fortunately, the arrival of low-cost, cloud-based
laptops, like those with the Chrome operating system, have made 1:1
distribution more common. Many homes today have an internet connection, but
districts must provide one for homes that do not.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Distance Learning

Some educators erroneously see DL as a temporary fix with many limitations, but
there are many possible advantages. These and the disadvantages are
summarized below:

Advantages:

(1)   Instruction (learning) modules, once prepared by teachers can be saved in
the cloud and used repeatedly by students at any time and from any place. 
(2)  Students may rerun modules as often as needed for improved
comprehension.
(3)  Learning modules can be improved and refined continuously as feedback
is provided by student progress.
(4)  Instruction delivered at a prescribed time (synchronously) for a class can be
provided online with full-class interaction between students and teachers. Teachers
may work from home or other locations.
(5)  Problems with disruptive student behavior that occurs during in-school
classes can be minimized resulting in less time lost to disciplinary actions.
(6)  The cost of building maintenance can be reduced when students learn at
home.
(7)  Parents can be encouraged to take a more active role in their child’s education.*
(8) Improved communication between teachers and parents can be done online
individually or en-masse. 
(9)  More capable students could have the option of accelerating their learning
by moving faster through the curriculum via learning modules provided 24/7.
They may earn their diploma sooner.
(10)  Students who are homebound will have more time to continue their schooling
at their own pace.
(11)  Through the use of technology, instruction can be more personalized
according to the needs of the student.
(12)  The use of virtual and augmented reality can be used to reduce the need for
field trips and school laboratories.
(13) Classroom guest speakers may present online rather than in-person making
them more prone to participate in supplementing instruction.
(14)  The need for school buses may be reduced as schools use DL.
(15)  Student assessment may be performed more expeditiously online.
(16)  DL instruction may continue when schools close due to weather or
other interruptions.
(17)  Faculty meetings and in-service training may be delivered online.

Disadvantages:

(1)  Less face-to-face contact between students and between teachers and
students.
(2)  Less student home supervision, especially in households where both
parents work.
(3)  Disruption of meal programs provided by school cafeterias.
(4)  Problems associated with subjects that require student group projects.
(5)  On-line testing needed to determine final grades or State and National
assessments will need monitoring.
(6)  The added cost of purchasing and maintaining laptops can be significant.
(7)  Efforts must be made to prevent students from visiting inappropriate sites.

Some of these problems could be reduced with a “blended” schedule where
students receive a combination of instruction online and in their school building.

Cost Savings Provided by Distance Learning

Significant economies can be realized by:
(1) reducing the need for textbooks as school districts provide online learning
modules. Textbooks can be expensive, become outdated, worn out, lost, or
abused. Further savings can be gained when districts share modules and utilize
free online resources. Learning modules, being an online resource, will last
indefinitely but will need to be revised periodically.
(2) The need for school laboratories and the equipment required can be replaced by
modules utilizing virtual and augmented reality.
(3) A reduction in staff as schools transition to a blended schedule reducing
the number of days per week that school is in session.
(4) An additional reduction in staff can be realized when motivated students graduate
earlier as they progress through the curriculum at an accelerated pace.
(5) The closure of some school buildings as districts transition to an online or
blended schedule. The transition could be gradual as teachers retire. Alternatively,
more teachers can become available to assist needy students.

I foresee distance learning as a transformative event that will continue long
after the Coronavirus subsides. It will probably take the form of blended
learning where the best of both online and in school learning thrive.

*Checkout Soliday's excellent article, "6 things no one tells you about teaching online."

(Mr. Abate, now retired, served in public education as a teacher, psychologist, and
district computer coordinator.
Also, served as a research associate at Yale University and a computer instructor at
Briarwood College.)

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Machine Vision has the Potential to Improve Vehicular Traffic Flow

Often cars must stop for a red traffic signal even when there is no traffic coming from the opposing side of the intersection. This results in time lost, aggravation, decreased gas mileage, increased air pollution due to idling cars and can even limit the life of most cars. Technology can be applied to improve traffic flow if signals can interactively respond to changes in traffic flow through intersections. The application of machine vision can regulate the timing of signals in response to the traffic volume approaching an intersection from all directions. One way is to have cameras used to count cars and transmit data to computers that can actively adjust the timing of signals to maximally improve the flow of traffic.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Cultured Meat: Economic and Environmental Implications

There are many reasons for supporting a decline in human meat consumption. Included, is the need to reduce the production of greenhouse gases produced by animals, reduce water consumption, and the morally questionable killing of animals. Efforts have been underway to produce plant-based meat substitutes with mixed success. Of greater significance is the development of cultured meat. This source is derived from the use of cells extracted from animals. The specimens are treated in a lab and grown into meat that is biologically indistinguishable from the donor animal. The slaughtering of animals is completely eliminated. Similarly, the same process can be used to produce dairy products; cows not needed.

A number of ramifications are to be anticipated assuming that animals will no longer be required as a food source. The economic impact on animal farmers would be severe as their livelihood and that of employed workers would be substantially eliminated. A huge amount of land will no longer be required for grazing and the harvesting of animal feed. Then there is the problem of what to do with the millions of cows, hogs, chickens, and sheep. Ideally, the transition to animal-free food production will be gradual allowing for a natural die-off of existing herds. The slaughtering industry will be largely eliminated. Slaughterhouses will be replaced by labs. The need for butchers will decline, but the need for lab personnel will increase. There would be a need to preserve some of the animal stock in order to prevent the extinction of species. The transportation of animals will be impacted as the movement of cultured meat is far less demanding as is the transportation of livestock.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Using Open Educational Resources (OER) in K-12 schools

K-12 school districts can spend large sums of money for the purchase of textbooks. These can become outdated, can wear out, abused, and even lost by students. Also, they add significant weight to a student's backpack. An alternative is using Open Educational Resources  (OER) as a replacement for textbooks. Each student would need a laptop or tablet and an internet connection to make this plan workable.

OERs have many advantages over traditional textbooks:
1.  Are free of cost.
2.  Are immediately available for downloading onto student devices.
3.  Can be edited and updated to meet the needs of each class.
4.  Can be shared with other classes, schools, or districts.
5.  Being stored in the cloud, are always available to students 24/7, from any location.

Faculty would have to screen OER resources before adoption to make certain curriculum goals are supported.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Why Did the Cheshire, CT School District Discontinue the Summit Learning Program?

The Summit Learning initiative is a personalized learning program sponsored
by Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. 380 school districts throughout the U.S are
currently participating. Cheshire, CT schools opted-in for grades 5 through 8 but
withdrew from the program after about three months. The reasons given included:


  • Flaws in the organization of the program, including assessments where students
found ways of cheating by finding the answer page.
  • Student dissatisfaction with the time spent on computers minimizing interaction
with their teachers.
  • Parent dissatisfaction.
  • The appearance of inappropriate images when students went to third-party
websites for reading assignments.


While not all students and parents expressed dissatisfaction, those that did became very
vocal leading to the superintendent’s termination of the program. Failure could have been
minimized had the district undertaken better preparation, including:

  • Requiring the provider to activate a full-proof filtering system that would block
inappropriate content.
  • Requiring each teacher to take all lessons as if they were a student prior to
class implementation.
  • Giving students and parents the option of participating in the program.
  • Consider a program that increases student-teacher dialogue; e.g. online
instruction followed by class discussion and student interaction.
  • More involvement of parents by having them experience first-hand how the
program works.