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

The current pandemic has resulted in school closings throughout Connecticut and 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 is long overdue. Three conditions are required: (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 1:1 distribution. Fortunately, the arrival of
low-cost, cloud-based laptops, like the Chromebook, has made this more common. Many
homes today have an internet connection, but some districts will have to 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 modules, prepared by teachers can be saved in the cloud
and used repeatedly by students at any time and place. 
(2)  Students may rerun modules as often as needed for improved comprehension.
These everlasting resources would be available 24/7 to any location. 
(3)  Instruction modules can be improved and refined continuously as feedback is
provided by student progress.
(4)  Instruction delivered at a prescribed time for a class can be provided
online with full-class interaction between students and teachers. Teachers
may work from home or at any other location.
(5)  Problems with disruptive student behavior that occurs during
in-school classes are eliminated resulting in less time lost to
disciplinary actions.
(6)  The cost of building maintenance can be reduced as students remain 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 by mastering instructional modules provided 24/7.
They may earn their diploma sooner.
(10)  Students who are homebound will have unlimited 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)  The need for school buses may be reduced as schools use DL.
(13)  Student assessment may be performed more expeditiously online.
(14)  DL instruction may continue when schools close due to weather or
other interruptions.
(15)  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) Cost of Laptop maintenance. The frequent transport of laptops by students will result in wear; abuse,
some students may abuse their instruments.
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
Economies can be realized by reducing the need for textbooks and science
labs as school districts provide online instructional modules. Textbooks can be
quite expensive, become outdated, worn out, lost, or abused. Further savings
can be gained when districts share modules and utilize free online resources.
These alternatives will be much less expensive, and will last indefinitely but
will need to be revised periodically. The need for school laboratories and the
equipment required can be replaced by modules utilizing virtual and
augmented reality.
Another cost-saving measure is a reduction in staff as motivated students
graduate earlier as they progress through the curriculum at an accelerated
pace. Alternatively, more teachers can become available to assist needy
students.
Finally, if blended learning becomes the norm, school attendance may be
reduced to two or three days per week. Some school buildings may be closed.

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.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Online K-12 Schooling, Advantages/Disadvantages

There is the possibility of closing schools as an effort to thwart the spread of the Corona Virus. The use of online schooling, (aka Distance Learning or DL) could mean that instruction may continue in each student's home via the use of online delivery, i.e. instruction provided on computers over the internet. School districts must make certain that all students have access to a laptop and have a home internet connection. DL can be provided in real-time (Synchronous DL) or anytime delivery (Asynchronous DL). The latter means that students may logon to lessons whenever they wish. Synchronous DL would require all students to logon at a specified time when their online class is scheduled.

There are advantages and disadvantages to online instruction.


Advantages:

(1)   Instruction modules, once prepared by teachers can be saved and used repeatedly for Asynchronous delivery. The need for costly textbooks will be reduced.
(2)  Students may repeat Asynchronous lessons as needed for improved comprehension.
(3)  Asynchronous Modules may be accessed at any time from any location.
(4)  Synchronous instruction can be delivered online in real-time with full-class interaction between students and teachers.
(5)  Problems with student deportment as often occur with in-school classes can be minimized resulting in less time lost to disciplinary actions.
(6)  The cost of building maintenance can be reduced as students learn at home.
(7)  Parents can be encouraged to take a more active role in their child's education. Communication between teachers and parents can be done online.
(8)  More capable students could have the option of accelerating their learning by moving faster through the curriculum via learning modules delivered asynchronously.
(9)  Students who are homebound due to illness or infirmity will have more opportunities to continue their schooling at their own pace.
(10) Student assessment may be performed online.
(11) DL instruction may continue during school building closures due to weather or other interruptions.
(12) The need for school buses may be reduced as schools use DL.
(13) Faculty meetings and in-service training may be delivered online.

Disadvantages:

(1)  Less socializing between students.
(2)  Less student supervision, especially in households where both parents work.
(3)  Loss of meals provided by school cafeterias.
(4)  Problems associated with subjects that require lab participation or student group projects.
(5)  On-line assessment may need monitoring.
Some of these problems could be reduced with a "blended" schedule (Hybrid DL) where students receive a combination of instruction online and in their school building.

Economies can be realized by reducing the need for textbooks and science labs as school districts provide online learning modules. Textbooks can be quite expensive, become outdated, worn out, lost, or abused. Further savings can be gained when districts share modules and utilize free online resources. These alternatives will be much less expensive, and will last indefinitely but will need to be revised periodically. The need for school laboratories and the equipment required can be replaced by modules utilizing virtual and augmented reality.

Another cost-saving measure is a reduction in staff as motivated students graduate earlier as they progress through the curriculum at an accelerated pace. Alternatively, more teachers can become available to assist needy students.
Finally, if blended learning becomes the norm, school attendance may be reduced to two or three days per week. Some schools may be closed.


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.

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.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Benefits of On-line Newspapers

Recently, an article appeared in The Hartford Courant critical of reading online, especially newspapers. Yes, a physical newspaper is larger than a computer screen, but the online variety has many advantages: (1) less expensive, (2) more timely delivery, (3) the need for paper is reduced (many trees will be spared), and (4) you can access it from anywhere as long as you have an internet connection. I have subscribed to the online edition of the Hartford Courant for many years. I read it daily on my laptop; I do not miss the paper edition. Admittedly, I do not like reading a newspaper on a smartphone, as I find the screen too small for my eyes.

The person who wrote the article is an English teacher in the Haddam-Killingworth School district in Connecticut. As a retired educator, I become annoyed when a member of my profession becomes critical of education technology. Also, I believe that K-12 education has been too slow in incorporating technology into the curriculum. Too many educators feel threatened by technology and have actively resisted its implementation. Kudos to those who have eagerly accepted its introduction. Fortunately, the younger breed of educators is more comfortable with technology, having been introduced to it at a young age.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Needed: Encouraging Parents and Children Living in Poverty to Value Education


More needs to be done to help those in poverty to become financially independent. Education is a major route to achieving this goal. Unfortunately, too many impoverished parents do not value schooling. These attitudes are intrinsically adopted by their children; they are unaware that this is occurring. Often, these students are the ones who become disciplinary problems; they attend school only because it is required. So, what can be done? Programs like Head-Start can help, but can it modify a student’s attitude toward education? Dedicated and caring teachers are essential. Some struggle to motivate their students by seeking to make learning rewarding. Some succeed by finding the “hook” that captivates their class. A more ideal solution is to find ways to to get students to value education before they enroll in school.


Value systems begin early in life and are often related to the values of the parents.
Consequently, we need to find a way to encourage parents to hold education in higher
esteem. They should be engaged in a program that stresses the long term advantages
of a good education. This means providing inducements for parents to learn the value of
education and, more importantly, transmit it to their offspring. Allied with this is getting
parents to play a more active interest in their child’s academic progress. When accomplished,
the student receives the message that education is important; and most children want to please
their parents.


Some programs can begin when the child is one year old. Invite parents to attend “seminars”
that include viewing videos of children who, through education, have succeeded in escaping
the poverty of their upbringing. Better yet, invite speakers to describe their transformation in
person. Getting parents to attend may need inducements such as free dinners, babysitting,
health care, and giving away prizes.

A second effort would be the use of parent surrogates who provide in-home, age-appropriate
educational games. Parents should be included where possible. An example of this is the
Parent-Child Home Program (PCHP) where  an early-learning specialist visits pre-school
children twice a week to provide educational activities. Evaluations of this program have been
encouraging. (Click link below for more details.) Programs like PCHP need to be expanded to
all areas where the disadvantaged live.


All the activities described should promote a positive attitude toward learning. Hopefully,
this will provide an avenue of opportunity for future generations to break from the cycle of
poverty.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Congratulations, General Motors (GM)

GM recently announced a massive workforce reduction and cancelation of a number of their car models. But, the real news is their recently announced focus on electric and autonomous vehicles (AVs). Transitioning to electric motors will likely result in a significant reduction in CO2 emissions. This is especially probable if solar energy is used to generate the electricity needed to power autos. The advent of AVs will have a major impact on transportation. The need for every home to own one or two cars may decline significantly. An AV can be summoned when needed and arrive at your home to transport you to your destination; similar to Uber's system, but minus the driver. AVs can be used for short and long trips, reducing the need for public transportation. Costs would be offset by no longer needing to purchase and maintain a car. Car accidents could be reduced as AVs would abide by all safety laws. Traffic flow will improve as AVs will be aware of other vehicles and pedestrians and take needed measures to avoid accidents. The need for parking lots and garages may also decline as AVs will be available 24/7.