Innovation In Education: Changing The Pace

from the it's-coming dept

This post is part of an Intel-sponsored series of posts we’ll be doing here at Techdirt on the topic of innovation. The series consists of a video interview of myself (which you’ll see below), the post, and another video interview with an Intel representative and others. That second video, obviously, is content from Intel, but my video and what I’ve written here was done with complete and total editorial independence. We hope you enjoy the content and take part in the overall discussion.

I was excited to talk about innovation in the education space, because I actually think it’s an area that is ripe for tremendous innovation and disruption — which is really amazingly well needed. And yet, it’s also a space that still doesn’t get as much attention, and which I haven’t had that much time to discuss, outside of occasional posts about cool things like Khan Academy. First up, here’s the brief video of me discussing some of my views on innovation in the education field:

What that video touches on briefly is how technology in the classroom is just starting to create massive education-changing disruptions that I don’t think many people realize are already beginning. I talk a little bit about how if you set up education as being about solving a challenge, rather than just about “education,” you have the ability to change how many students view education. When there’s a real goal behind what they’re doing, rather than just education for the sake of education, it can become more interesting and compelling.

But it goes much further than that. Already greater use of technology in classrooms can allow for a much more effective education system that lets students work at different paces. One of the problems with the system today is a basic operations problem, in that it seeks to move all kids through in ~20 to ~30 (or more!) student chunks, one year at a time. But students learn in different ways and at different paces, and nothing in the current system really allows for that. You have some options for gifted kids that let them jump slightly ahead. And many schools have some extra programs for a few kids who fall behind, but the system does very little to make sure that most, if not all, of the kids really master certain subjects.

Technology will never make the system perfect, but it’s reaching a point that it can have a massive impact. The role of the teacher can begin to shift from the talking head at the front of the classroom to someone who can help customize the experience for every student — while also providing access to alternative explanations. That is, students can start to learn the basics not just from a teacher standing at the front of the room, but also from other teachers online or from a fun software program. Or even from another student. And the role of the teacher in the classroom can change, such that they have more time to work individually with certain students or in small groups to make sure that students really are mastering the subject, and not just getting by enough to “pass.”

And the ability to learn alternative explanations of things shouldn’t be discounted. All too often, we’re taught only one (sometimes formulaic) way of doing something, when it’s not the only way. A few months back, we wrote about how the way students are taught to multiply has been changing lately — but there’s no reason why students can’t be taught multiple methods to further cement the understanding. I know that when I taught (college-level) statistics, one of the most useful things was sometimes going “off-textbook” to explain a different way of coming to the same conclusion, and seeing how students would then understand the original method, which had been more confusing at first.

One of the other lessons I learned in teaching (and in tutoring before that) was that the best way to truly master a subject is to teach it yourself, and have people asking you to explain it back to them. This is why I’m not joking up above when I talk about the possibilities of having certain subjects taught by other students as well. You might think you fully understand a subject, but just wait until people start asking questions (similarly, despite quite a bit of study in the subject, my full “understanding” of certain aspects of information economics didn’t become really clear until I had to explain them repeatedly via this blog). And, of course, it need not be students teaching students — but you could have software designed to act like a “learning” student, where the student has to “teach” the software.

If done correctly (more on that in a moment), some of the classic debates on education can change as well. Without the “single talking head at the front of the room” model, the debate over “class sizes” becomes slightly different. Not that bigger class sizes is necessarily a good idea, but “class size” has really always just been a (sometimes weak) proxy for making sure students could get personalized attention. If you can create an environment where students get the customized and personalized attention they need, class size is not the issue any more.

Of course, all of this is dependent on the execution and implementation of the technology — and there will be plenty of mistakes. I remember in the early days of PCs becoming “standard” in the workplace, there were a bunch of studies that came out saying that net productivity had gone down, which some used to argue that computers on office desks were bad for productivity. What those studies failed to understand was that the big problem was that many companies were implementing the technology poorly. That could mean the wrong tools for the wrong jobs, or (more commonly) just not enough or improper training. In those situations, productivity was hindered, but for those who did it right, the productivity gains were unquestionable. Over time, as more people understood this, and more people were familiar with computers and software in general, the trend shifted, and we don’t see those kinds of studies any more. I imagine the same thing is likely to happen in education (and it’s started already, in some cases). There will be some reports of failures, but the success stories will become more and more common as people see how much technology and innovation can really change education for the better.

Below you can see a video of Intel helping to enable just that kind of education in one particular school district

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Comments on “Innovation In Education: Changing The Pace”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 paid informercial, starring Mike Masnick

I can read. Most normal sites put the word “ADVERTISEMENT” in clear lettering above paid posts, and often featuring them in a different color background.

Putting a small amount of disclaimer in the body of the article really isn’t much disclosure. There is no difference between the content and advertising, which can lead to consumer confusion.

Jay (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“I am just surprised that none of you can spot what is effectively “paid informercial, starring Mike Masnick”.

Does the term “sold out” mean anything to you?”

So wait…

You come to the blog for free…
You post anonymously for free…
You can add commentary on the site for free…
Choose to give Mike money for articles for free…
And when he does have commentary on these paid infomercials, you want to say he “sold out”?

When he’s specifically given people multiple platforms to express themselves such as all open comments here on TD as well as Step2 for discussing business models?

I’m pretty sure he has control of the types of “infomercials” he wants to be a part of.

Quite frankly, I don’t think that phrase means what you think it means.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Jay, the phrase means exactly what it means. Mike is getting paid to whore out his blog posts to advertisers, rather than just writing his opinion. The post was made not because it is a subject that came up in the news, it is a post made because Intel paid for it.

Sold out.

My visiting “for free” is a meaningless distraction for any number of reasons, including the advertising on the page that makes my visit anything but free.

Mike has all the control. He chose to take the money, and violate the trust of the readers by trying to stuff a paid topic into the “discussion” rather than just running ads.

out_of_the_blue says:

Same boiler-plate I've heard for 30 years!

“What that video touches on briefly is how technology in the classroom is just starting to create massive education-changing disruptions that I don’t think many people realize are already beginning.”

That’s just one bit: MOST of the rest is the “gee-whiz computers are great gonna revolutionize self-paced education” blab.

Fact is that every year kids come out knowing less, spelling worse, ill-mannered, impractical, get all their “science” off Star-Trek, and so on, even though they’re told that they’re the best educated, smartest, most bestest and brightest ever. — The schools just LIE to you, kids.

Back to Mike for a gem: “Over time, as more people understood this, and more people were familiar with computers and software in general, the trend shifted, and we don’t see those kinds of studies any more.”

Exactly! The studies are /disappeared/ by those who don’t /want/ to compare! Obama’s Education Dept has just recently done away with Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” program, which was itself instended to bury the facts.

ahow628 (profile) says:

Nice to see this

My mom and I are planning on starting a school in my neighborhood sometime next year. The basis will be the videos and materials the Khan Academy other institutions provide.

Anyway, I feel like grades (1st grade, 2nd grade, etc) are just a terrible way of putting things. Get motivated students, motivated supervision, and some good material and you’ve got a successful school.

Thankfully Indiana’s only requirement for non-accredited schools is that you keep attendance and students attend 180 days. Done.

Anonymous Coward says:

There are so many problems with education in this country no program no matter how well-intended will solve all of the problems. In my opinion these are just a few of the biggest problems:

Children are never taught how to learn. Specifically, they are not taught how to research, reason, and rationalize.

A huge chasm exists in the level of education provided throughout this country.

There are children being homeschooled by parents who only have a junior high level education themselves.

In so many states where performance testing dictates school funding, children are coached to pass tests, rather than educated.

Funding has lead many schools to eliminate more experienced teachers and hire less qualified replacements at a lower pay scale.

Private education is expensisve and is not always a better option. Too often, private education is based on cultural or religious exclusivity which provides children with little exposure to social diversity. I’m not saying I want my child in school with gang bangers or future drug dealers, but I want her to respect other cultures and differing opinions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Children are never taught how to learn. Specifically, they are not taught how to research, reason, and rationalize.”

Very broad statement. I assume you researched it and found this is 100% true. However I do remember the mandatory how to think class I had to take as a college freshman and watching the majority of the classes brains freeze when presented with logical fallacies.

“There are children being homeschooled by parents who only have a junior high level education themselves.”

Citation needed. Then again if they can pass the standardized tests needed to advance them in grade levels that either says something about how smart this “uneducated parent is” or more about how flawed our grading rubic is.

“In so many states where performance testing dictates school funding, children are coached to pass tests, rather than educated.”

Very very unfortunate and true, only its not a state issue its a national one thanks to good old no child left behind.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Very broad statement. I assume you researched it and found this is 100% true.”

This was obviously a generalization. Unfortunately, far too many young adults enter higher education with no clue where to find information, how to organize information, how to digest the information they have, and no clue how to draw conclusions. If you can teach a child those things, they can find the answer to anything.

“Citation needed. Then again if they can pass the standardized tests needed to advance them in grade levels that either says something about how smart this “uneducated parent is” or more about how flawed our grading rubic is.”

Standardized tests? What standardized tests? Homeschooled children in my area are not subjected to these tests of which you speak. As for your “citation needed” comment, unfortunately, the case I can cite is an acquaintance with an 8th grade education who is instructing her 4 children who are aged 4 – 16. She does at least make an effort to reach out to homeschooling resources. However, given the fact that there is no accountability, the results of her tutelage are unknown.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“If you can teach a child those things, they can find the answer to anything.”

Agreed 100% Teach a man to fish and all that.

“Standardized tests? What standardized tests?”

I was under the impression all states had something like this:
or at the very least required kids to test out when they supposedly past 8th grade and high school through homeschool. Some quick google research shows me I am wrong.

Anecdotal evidence is not indicative of a greater problem. Though I don’t doubt that his happens other places I wouldn’t think this is a widespread issue. It certainly is odd to learn that they is no accountability for homeschooling (though a lot of states are real uptight about attendance but could care less as to what the kids learn, which is odd), but I can see the other sides argument that they should get to choose what their kids learn. However bad parents deciding to handicap their kids is a problem with bad parents and not the education system (which is riddled with its own problems)

ahow628 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Yeah, generally homeschooling falls into two categories: Those fully invested in their children’s well-being (with a side of religion/conservatism) and those who aren’t.

The “those who aren’t” are a varied bunch: flexibility due to odd work schedules, paranoia about ‘the man’, drug use, general laziness.

The group of homeschooler I associated with were of the first group. All of the students were heavily focused on math, science, and reading for academics plus heavily involved in sports, church, and community service. Additionally, with the added flexibility, I was able to propose and get hired as the “waste consultant” at my dad’s office, emptying the trash twice a week. I also mowed lawns and raked leaves in the spring and fall with other kids my age were stuck in a classroom.

As for standardized testing, there was none, however, when I arrived at public school in 9th grade, I was easily two levels ahead in math and science, however, my essay writing skills were atrocious, but I was getting A’s by the second semester, mostly due to the discovery/learning/organization skills I had learned.

ahow628 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“There are children being homeschooled by parents who only have a junior high level education themselves.”

I was homeschooled by my mom from 3rd thru 8th grade. Part of the reason I decided to go back to public school was because I had hit my mom’s upper limit on what she could teach me (what she could remember and what she had learned). I need some guidance from someone who had the knowledge I needed. Had my mom not graduated from high school, I think I would have hit that peak in her knowledge much sooner.

“Private education is expensisve and is not always a better option.”

A big issue you run into with private schools is that they want to be accredited. By being accredited they can had out diplomas and receive state money (vouchers in Indiana). The drawback is that they have to conform to the education requirements of the State which basically pushes them back in line with public schools.

Personally, I don’t see accreditation as being a big deal. Since I am familiar with people that were properly homeschooled, I can attest to the fact that they were accepted to great colleges based on far more important information than their high school transcripts.

ECA (profile) says:


Innovation and advancement mean doing something better..

Teaching kids a REASON and a WAY to do something will make things STICK better.
NOT just teaching, SHOWING how/why something is used.
Such as 3’x4’x5′ triangle, can prove a TRUE angle of 90degrees. how this is used in construction, and can be used in other places.(Iv seen students that couldnt count change)
SHOW them, that taking a string, and making a 1′ circle, MEASURES 3.14?? feet, can fill in TONS of math.
While in job corp, I became a teachers assistant. in math.
I found that those students with Problems, tended to have missed 1 step in math. I took D students and raised their ability to B, with just a few steps.

AS a worker. I do the same thing each day, and try to find better ways to do them. to IMPROVE the environment or the process. do you think a person should write 1 song and be paid for it, all their life?? at least the corp gets the money.

Anonymous Coward says:

Hopeful but not holding my breath

Growing up in the 80’s 90’s, my school just threw PC’s in the classroom and was surprised that it didn’t pan out well. We had the few basic programming classes. But there was no effort to complement the lesson plans with the technology at that time. Not that the technology could do much to begin with. So I’m always a little skeptical when schools look to the tech industry to make the next big thing in education. However, I do believe there is a call for improvement.

I do like the goal/project model. But used to reinforce what the kids have already learned. Without the basic information in whatever field of study a project covers, the kids will be forced to reinvent the wheel over and over again. Even though they may have access to the information without that basic footing, they won’t even know to look for it let alone tie it together.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I do have to admit, if it was an attempt to look as uncool and unconnected to the real world as possible, it certainly has worked. The haircut and the shirt combine to make Mike look more like a frustrated prison inmate with a chip on his shoulder than anything else.

Even funnier in the end is that this is one of those “infomercials” that Mike has threatened to put on Techdirt for a while, where we are suppose to “swallow” the advertising and then discuss it. It’s blatant and bad, and very likely a big waste of Intel’s money. I hope they get a tax write off for spending it!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I do have to admit, if it was an attempt to look as uncool and unconnected to the real world as possible, it certainly has worked. The haircut and the shirt combine to make Mike look more like a frustrated prison inmate with a chip on his shoulder than anything else.

Mike is rapidly balding from front to back and has not yet mastered the forward comb-over. It tickles me no end to know he’ll soon have the same hairdo as Bozo The Clown.

I disagree on the prisoner analogy. He looks more like a Walmart greeter whose mother still lays out his clothes.

Tom Pritchard (user link) says:

Engaging students with worthwhile projects

I completely agree with what Mike’s saying about making teaching not so much about the learning. It’s about engaging students more in-class, showing them the applications of what they are learning rather than chucking facts at their face. Also, Problem-Based learning (PBL) is a great way to enhance the learning experience by making the teacher the facilitator of learning rather than the center of knowledge.

And I agree with the others in the comments about how technology is often mindlessly forced into schools with the blind faith that it will improve grades – It wont, unless it is properly integrated into the learning environment; not overused, but used wisely. But I think even though it is a Intel sponsored post, Mike did a good job at not focusing on just the technology, but what the technology can enable. Innovative teaching methods such as Anchored Instruction, PBL, Design-Based Learning and Project-Based Science can be enhanced by technology. The problems occur when the technology gets in the way, or the focus from the teaching material is taken because the kids like playing with their shiny iPads.

I’m actually just starting a PhD on using techniques such as PBL to help teach designers how to prototype electronics and interfaces. Now allow me to shamelessly plug my blog where I talk about it.

Tom Pritchard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Engaging students with worthwhile projects

As far as i can see, Mike’s opinion has not been influenced by Intel. There are two sides to this story; how lessons are structured to improve learning, and how technology is used to help achieve it. Mike focuses on the former, while Intel is about the latter.

Has it taken anything away from the discussion? No. If anything it’s polarised it, as people are now talking about the real influence technology has in the classroom.

I’m sorry if you feel you’re being brainwashed by reading this sponsored article, but you aren’t forced to. It’s your problem you seemingly cant tell the difference between what is obviously Mike’s opinion and whats Intel’s marketing. Read another post, hell, go to a different blog if you have to. Frankly, the ‘discussion’ is fine without you complaining about the ways Techdirt tries to make money from these FREE, interesting, informative articles. Just be grateful you haven’t got a flashing pop up banner in your face.

Phuzzy (profile) says:


This ties in very well with the concept of ‘Gamification’ and how it can be used to deeply invest students in their own learning experiences. Basically, the idea is to use all of the lessons learned by video game designers over the past decades to turn education into an interactive and engaging experience. In its most ideal form, students can almost be tricked into forgetting that the ultimate purpose of the activities they’re engaging in is education.

The guys over at ExtraCreditz do a masterful job of introducing it:

Chris ODonnell (profile) says:

//I wonder… Is it possible to teach children through Khan Academy and a home schooling regimen? It seems a lot more could be learned by giving parents more choices in how their children study rather than governmental interference.//

Well, my son, who has never been to school, just got a near six figure college scholarship offer, He did most of prep for the math part of the SAT via Kahn, and this semester he is learning Statistics via Khan, Python via MIT, and Macroeconomics via Utah State. The fact that I suck at 2 out 3 of those means nothing when he has access to such a wealth of resources online. Other than the ‘3 Rs,” which are mandatory, we pretty much let him study whatever he wants. It’s working just as well for his sister too.

Just John (profile) says:

Not all people get it...

You know, a funny story.

One of the school board members tried to push for more computers in classrooms, and a change to the traditional teaching model that forced kids to learn about computers and also learn on computers.

Part of his plan was a certain amount of credits required through online learning, because in the current generation, computers will pretty much be at almost every stage of your life.

The ironic part? Parents had such a fit about this that they tried to have him removed from the board. Guess not everyone understands or believes in actually being modern…

Stephan Kinsella (profile) says:


Mike, great post. Some of the problems you identify with conventional schooling are absent in the Montessori approach, which I discuss in Montessori, Peace, and Libertarianism. I think a growing number of homeschooling approaches, and growing interest in the Montessori method, combined with the increased use of technology and open education (iTunes U, iPads, open source works, and so on) can help transform education.

jsf (profile) says:

My dad was a teacher(high school and middle school level) for 30+ years. So I have seen the inside workings of the primary education system in the US.

Other then the internet based stuff, many of the ideas Mike talks about have been around for a long time. Things like individual pacing, students teaching students, etc. were being done in a town of 14,000 when I was in grade school 40 years ago.

The biggest issue facing primary education in the US is a lack of resources and funding. All the advancements that technology can bring are great IF you can afford to do them. It’s not just about the cost of some computers either. You also need the network infrastructure and the IT staff to support things.

Particularly on the IT side of things the pay is much lower than if you were to work in IT for any other business. So it can be very difficult to attract and retain really good support people. You will never get the best people because very few schools can pay what Microsoft, Google, etc. can pay for IT talent.

Sam Hight (profile) says:

There are a couple of important factors missing from the equation. One is that kids go through various developmental stages and technology is more useful for some of those than for others. Another is that the role of teachers/parents/adults is to train character aspects in education. This is not something that technology can be used as a magic bullet for.

Developmental stages for younger kids are mostly focused on memory development and knowledge acquisition. During this developmental stage the tech is really just information delivery. Once they reach aged 7 or 8 kids start questioning in a more meaningful way, noticing patterns and links – this is where tech starts to get really useful. Around when puberty hits, kids start to realise the world is pretty complex and this is where the “higher dimensional” capabilities of technology really kick in as useful. Communication really starts…

Those learning habits and other aspects which are more about character than learning skills must be communicated and modelled. The communication part is pretty good, but until the tech is as good as being with a person for real, it won’t be quite up there. There is nothing that can substitute for mum helping you learn to sew or dad teaching you to swing a hammer in person.

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