Friday, November 30, 2012

Preserving Collaborative Learning in the Future of Education

By Sean Scarpiello

A couple weeks ago, I was emailed a link to an article entitled “Facilitating Collaborative Learning: 20 Things You Need to Know from the Pros,”and I was intrigued. As education progresses, we can expect to see more technology becoming integrated into the learning process, but less personal interaction. Essentially, this means that education could be done cheaply and effectively using technology, but without collaboration among students in the learning process. However, as we move forward, we can see that this should not be the case. One of the main purposes of receiving a quality education is to obtain a good job. Almost every job on the market requires some degree of team collaboration and working with others, so it imperative that we keep collaboration within the learning process.

The article on collaborative learning and implementing it effectively listed 20 ideas to keep in mind when implementing collaborative learning in classrooms and online. Among the 20 ideas, there was much overlap; however, the majority of the ideas could be lumped into three main goals. These three goals include staying motivated, incorporating diversity, and keeping the group challenged. In the real world, each of these aspects are plentiful in effective teams of workers. But now we ask, how we can ensure these traits make it into the future of education and technology.

The answer to this is simple. When online learning program curricula are designed they need to take into account certain degrees of collaboration. In our digital world, it is easy to let technology isolate us from each other, so we need to remedy this by simply creating teams of students to work on group projects together. These groups of students will need to be 4 to 5 people in size and have a rich diversity of ideas. In our online world, this would be easy, as we are able to connect to people on the other side of the planet with just a few clicks of our mouse. Also by creating collaboration groups online, instructors or educational programs can easily find ways to keep challenging the group so that debate and discussion are used to best solve problems. This type of education is important because although everyone can read the material found in a textbook, different people bring different experiences and their own strategies for solving problems. It is on these online collaboration sessions where students are offered the opportunities to learn from listening and teaching others.

Through this collaboration, students benefit from this type of learning because society is quickly moving towards a state where it is just as important to apply knowledge as a group as it is to learn information. In our current and more traditional school setting, collaborative learning is easy to implement, as students are all readily available to work together. Now, as education professionals are designing online programs that are quick and efficient through the learning process, it is easy to forget about the importance of collaboration. This holds especially true when the course load is packed full of material and educational programs are trying to get information from textbooks into the students’ heads. If these new programs are not designed with collaboration in mind, one’s knowledge would be shallow in the subject matter. In classes like foreign language, math, English, and science, concepts mean nothing if they cannot be applied, analyzed, and questioned by students. Therefore, we cannot approach the future of education in a way that pumps out a lot of students that can memorize a list of physics equations but cannot apply them to solve challenging problems.

Overall, we have seen the importance of collaborative learning in schools today, so now we must ensure that this same style of learning makes it to future of education which is on the horizon. If we do not implement these advanced learning processes, students will have a poor understanding of the material and a difficult time solving problems collaboratively as a team or group.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Effective and Efficient High School Spending

By Sean Scarpiello

There was recently an article in Philadelphia Magazine which ranked the top 100 high schools in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas. Along with each rank, the article listed other statistics, such as number of students, the percent of students that move onto college, and the amount of spending that each school spends per student. Upon reading the article, I began to look for my high school along with my friends’ high schools to see how they ranked. Overall, there were a few surprising trends and facts about the different schools.

One of the first and most unexpected trends I noticed was that the top ranked schools did not spend the most money on each student. In fact, the correlation between rank and money spent was nearly random. This shows that it is not important how much money that is spent, but rather how the money is spent. For example, the top ranked school spent less than $7,000 per pupil. Compared to the other schools, this was much less that the majority of other schools. In fact, the majority of the lower ranked schools spent well above $8,000. One even more astonishing trend among some of the higher ranked schools was that not only did they spend less per student, but they also had a lower number of students enrolled in the school. At first, one may think that lower enrollments means more individualized attention in the classroom. However, if the school is smaller this means that the school is spending money even more efficiently. This is because in a large school, learning resources can be brought to more students at lower costs. This makes a lot of sense because whenever a business purchases resources in bulk, each unit is cheaper than buying a few of the same resources. In effect, it would make sense that a large school should be spending less on each student, whereas, in theory, a small school should be spending more per student.

This essentially shows us that it is possible to provide high quality education to students at very low costs. The key to this goal all boils down to effective spending and efficient teaching. When comparing some of the smaller schools to the larger ones, I was again surprised with a similar trend. One way that large high schools can improve is by trying to lower costs wherever they can. Since these large schools are educating thousands of students, even decreasing the amount spent per student by $100 can save the schools hundreds of thousands of dollars.

It would next be logical to ask about different ways that small schools act to decrease costs. This can be done in a number of ways. By collaborating with other schools, administrators can learn about other methods schools in adjacent areas are using to cut costs. This may be a difficult task because all schools have a very different makeup of students. Also, there are several other factors that administrators would be unable to change, such as parental involvement in school and the life of students outside the classroom. Even though this is a daunting task, we can often learn from those around us and benefit off of each other’s advancements and mistakes.

Overall, we know that it is possible for schools to provide high quality education to students simply by ensuring money is being spent and utilized effectively and efficiently. It is surprising that small schools can pull off such as feat, where numbers and costs are working against this idea. Therefore, if larger schools can look to others and even reduce costs by a few hundred dollars per student, schools will see a massive amount of savings.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Allowing Parental Access to Grades in School

By Sean Scarpiello

As technology is advancing at such a rapid rate schools are always looking for new ways to implement new technologies. One innovative way to do this is by allowing parents access to every grade their children receive through an online system. Some schools have been doing this for the past few years, but overall not enough schools are taking advantage of this opportunity. There are several benefits to this idea for the students, parents, and teachers.

When I was a young student, my teachers would always try to keep our parents involved in the learning process. They did this by requiring us to have our daily assignment book signed by a parent and by having parents sign our graded tests. At the time, students had dreaded taking home a bad test grade, so some students would try forging signatures. Some students would even try turning the big red F on the top of the test to a B, in hopes of avoiding trouble with mom and dad. As I got older, we began to hear about programs online that would give our parent full access to all of our grades in class. We all dreaded the idea that this would be implemented and luckily for us, the technology was too expensive at the time. At this point in time, technology is further along and this option would be a cheap and effective way to get parents involved in their children’s education.

In college, we have a program that allows us to access our grades as tests and projects as they are graded. We are also able to view our participation grade and any other comments our teachers have for us in class. By implementing an online program where parents can log in and check up on their children’s progress, parents will be able to keep an eye on their children. This idea in and of itself is extremely important. Studies show that students with parents that are actively engaged in the learning process are more likely to succeed in school. A program such as this would offer parents and easy way to stay involved with school. This allows parents to keep their children on track with any readings or projects, along with any special questions or comments from the teacher. It also allows parents to ask their children how school was each day without the typical “nothing” response from their children. Plus, if parents place importance on school, then the student will also, thus ensuring success.

From the teacher’s perspective, students will succeed because parents are involved in their children’s schooling. This will also make it easier for parents to communicate with teachers for all sorts of reasons, whether it is good, bad, big, or small. When I went to school, a phone call home was always a bad thing. Now, with a program such as this, teachers will be able to give positive and negative reinforcement. These sorts of online programs also act as an electronic grade book, where teachers can update their grades and weigh different assignments in different ways. Many of these programs are so well designed that they completely eliminate the need for attendance sheets, progress reports, and more. By allowing running progress reports for parents and students, everyone can stay involved.

In all, there are a variety of different programs that schools can choose from to allow parental involvement in schools. By giving parents access to updated grades, comments, questions, and concerns from the teacher, there is a greater level of communication between school and home. This makes it easier for parents to stay actively engaged in their children’s class so that success in school is inevitable.