Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Random Thoughts--Microsoft and Pearson

Who ever heard of Nokia?  Kenya has

How soon we forget in the digital age.  Nokia was a pioneer in the spread of cell phones only a few years ago.  Now it has nearly disappeared from the smartphone kiosks in the local shopping centre.  It fell behind in the iPhone age.

But they haven't disappeared.  In fact, Microsoft recently bought their handset division and Nokia produces smartphones  using the Windows OS.  And they have been working on education projects in several African countries.  They use Nokia phones that feed material through a cellular connection that can be hooked up to a TV monitor.  Only a few schools are in the project initially, but the potential is great.

In countries where textbooks are expensive and scarce, jumping over the age of hard copy print may open possibilities for much more extensive access to learning resources.  In Kenya, many banking transactions are already carried out over relatively inexpensive cell phones.

Digital is the workhorse of education globalization

Textbook companies are trying to figure out where the future lies.  They have had monopoly positions with schools and individual students having to purchase them.  Prices have grown beyond any other aspect of the book business.  But that age is coming to an end.

"Open resources" are the buzz.  In British Columbia, the province has put free, open source texts online for 15 first-year courses offered in multiple post-secondary institutions.  Tools that make it easy to produce your own books are appearing online. 

The big guys in the textbook business are turning to digital products and projects to capture future profits.  Pearson, in particular, is building a global digital business that includes everything from tests to "analytics."  Digital is making it possible to globally "harmonize," presenting a challenge to maintaining the local and national as central to the education process.  If there is hope, it is that open source offers a future where the direction of education does not rest just with global corporations.

But Pearson is even trying to capture open source as a market.  The run their own "open" educational resources, building on the work that teachers contribute.  And Pearson officials say they "hear customer demand from teachers for us to help them make sense of open educational resources."

Gates dreams on

Bill Gates has spent billions from his foundation on grants to change education.  He is now focused on  teacher evaluation and has decided that teachers have to be involved in the process.  He hardly needed to spend billions to find that out.

Now he wants to bring "accountability" to higher education.  He wants to get students through their programs faster by using technology and "competency-based learning, according to a Washington Post story.  This is to come, in his dreams and everyone else's nightmare, with an accountability system based on testing of post-secondary students.

Second-hand distraction

Multi-tasking does not just affect the student doing it during a class, but the students around them as well, according to a study by McMaster researchers Faria Sana and Tina Weston.

The study was based on students attending a university lecture and then completing a multiple-choice quiz.  Half the students were asked to multi-task on a number of activities and students were seated around them without computers.  They expected the multi-takers to do less well in the test than those not multi-tasking, and that was the result.

However, it turned out that the students surrounded by multi-taskers also did poorly on the test.  They reported that they were not distracted, but the test results indicated that they had been.

Classic essay topic no longer works

A cartoon.  First day of school and the teacher gives a classic assignment:  "Write about 'what I did last summer.'"  Student says, "weren't you following me on Twitter?"

Originally published in the Fall 2013 issue of Our Schools, Our Selves, the education journal of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

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