One of the case study students wants to study Arabic, but it isn’t offered at her school. Luckily, the principal offers her a chance to participate in an online Arabic course.
This chapter discusses how computer-based learning is likely to disrupt U.S. schooling. Like all disruptive innovations, it will begin by competing against nonconsumption. These settings might include AP courses, credit recovery, special tutoring, prekindergarten–anything that is not generally available to all students. In small, rural schools, urban secondary schools, and homeschooling situations, there are often learning experiences that would be nice to have, but, due to lack of resources, are not always available. Computer-based learning would be a welcome solution in these situations where the alternative is to forgo offering that subject altogether. By providing options in these moments of nonconsumption, computer-based learning will gain a foothold in the market. “Disruptive innovation requires…focus[ing] on courses that the pubic schools would be relieved not to have to teach, but do feel the need to offer” (p. 103). Teachers unions and funding models that penalize per-pupil funding for schools when students take online courses may impede this disruption, but the authors suggest that this kind of impediment will likely not be sufficient to prevent the shift to computer-based learning. They also mention that the lack of a free market will not prevent the disruption either. Continue reading “Disrupting Class: Chapter 4: Disruptively Deploying Computers”
The continuation of the beginning-of-the-chapters case reflects on how little schools have changed, despite massive technological and social shifts. Why do digital natives experience the same kind of teaching that their parents had at their age? Why has having computers in the classroom not changed the way schools work? The answer: Schools use computers as a sustaining innovation rather than a disruptive one. They try to make new technology work within their existing model, essentially competing against teachers, instead of competing against nonconsumption. The authors call this “cramming,” hence the chapter title: We cram computers into classrooms and use them within existing structures. This results in slow, expensive, and marginal improvement–students use computers to do more or less the same things students have always done. Continue reading “Disrupting Class: Chapter 3: Crammed Classroom Computers”
The case at the beginning of this chapter centers on the Chemistry teacher, Mr. Alvera, and his reflections about how school has changed since he first started teaching. As he increasingly hears comments about achievement, he wonders, “When did society start expecting schools to ensure achievement and not merely access to education?”
This chapter introduces the theory of disruptive innovation and begins to apply it to schools. In the business world, “disruptive innovations” contrast with “sustaining innovations.” Big companies generally (and rightly) try to improve the products they make for their best customers in order to make better profits by meeting these high-paying customer’s needs. This kind of innovation is a sustaining innovation. A disruptive innovation, on the other hand, does not serve current customers, but caters to “nonconsumers”–people who don’t have access to or use for the high-end products. Companies engaged in sustaining innovation generally don’t try to compete with disruptive innovations because their current clients don’t need what is being offered by these smaller companies. However, as disruptive innovations improve as they continue to do business with previous nonconsumers, they eventually become capable of doing many of the things the sustaining companies’ products could do. Continue reading “Disrupting Class: Chapter 2: Making the Shift: Schools Meet Society’s Needs”
Like good business professors, the authors begin this chapter with a case: The school’s star forward is struggling in chemistry class, while others around him seem to get it. His teacher, unable to cater to the needs of every student, attempts triage by presenting the material as best he can so that most students will pass; unfortunately, not every student will catch on. At home, the struggling soccer player’s father teachers the material in a new way, and this time it clicks. This case illustrates the main ideas of this chapter: Schools have a hard time customizing learning for each student, even though we all know intuitively that people learn differently.
To discuss how people “learn differently,” the authors draw on Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, although they admit that there is some debate in the field of education about this and similar ideas. So while they don’t necessarily have a stake in whether or not this is the best theory for explaining differences in learning, they consider it a useful lens. Recognizing that people have different intelligences, different learning styles (which might change with the content being learning), different paces of learning, and different starting places for learning, it is obvious that we cannot possibly teach every student effectively in exactly the same way. When we should customize, we standardize. Why? Continue reading “Disrupting Class: Chapter 1: Why Schools Struggle to Teach Differently When Each Student Learns Differently”
The introduction begins with a simple listing of the purpose and aspiration of schools. Schools should prepare people to 1. maximize their potential, 2. join the workforce, 3. participate in civic processes, and 4. appreciate diversity. This vision is largely unrealized, but why? The authors quickly list and debunk a series of common answers: Schools are underfunded, they lack appropriate technology, students and their families are not engaged, teachers’ pedagogy is ineffective, teacher unions prevent improvement, some combination of the above, and/or we use flawed metrics to measure school success. Each of these possibilities, though perhaps occasionally true, fails to provide a definitive answer to why schools are not better. Furthermore, Americans are often being replaced by high-achieving Israelis, Indians, and Chinese in competitive fields (they cite Silicon Valley jobs), so the proof is in the pudding: other countries are outperforming us.
The reason, according to these authors, has to do with motivation. In a healthy and prosperous economy like America’s, there is not a lot of extrinsic motivation to study difficult subjects in order to gain access to guaranteed high-paying jobs, and the way those subjects are taught is not intrinsically motivating. Other countries with less robust or promising economies tend to have students who are more highly motivated to get STEM degrees, even though their teaching may not be any more intrinsically motivating. Without the extrinsic motivation, unsurprisingly, American students tend to be somewhat unmotivated to learn in schools that are not intrinsically motivating. And with that, the stage is set for the rest of the book: How can schools help students learn in an intrinsically motivating way? Continue reading “Disrupting Class: Introduction”