Guest Appearance - 20 Questions Tuesday

I cannot believe that I did not get this up here earlier. Throughout the first portion of 2015 I slowly answered questions posed to me by the wonderful Scott Ryan-Hart. We talked about podcasting, travel, and life in general. Go take a look.

Scott was also a guest on an All of the Above episode about voice as a user interface. You can find that episode here.

The Education Industrial Complex

There has always been an education industrial complex. The education industry is over six hundred billion dollars a year in terms of the amount of money that is spent by all the school districts in the country on private contracts, and consultants, and textbooks, and testing. And you know, it’s just, it’s a huge, huge business. But what I found interesting about the education reform movement is that they also have their education industrial complex. So when somebody who is very friendly to the education reform movement becomes a leader of the school district…all of these consultants just suddenly appear.

Dale Russakoff recently spoke about her new book on NPR. The whole episode is worth a listen, but the brief discussion of what Russakoff calls the Education Industrial Complex is especially interesting. I am passionate about improving education in the US and the world, but have always had a bit of an internal conflict over the reform movement. Russakoff hits on part of the reason for that internal conflict when she points out that the reform movement is not devoid of its own industrial complex. 

Classroom for Github

Thousands of teachers use GitHub in their courses every day. They distribute starter repositories, give feedback on pull requests, and collect assignments. In addition to helping teachers provide a better learning experience, teaching with GitHub gives students early exposure to software development best practices like version control, issue tracking, and code review.

Classroom for GitHub makes typically tedious administrative tasks (like creating repositories and managing access for large courses) simple and streamlined.

Last month I mentioned Duolingo releasing a platform for schools. Today my dear friend, an incredible software engineer, showed me Classroom for Github. This could prove to be an incredible tool for teachers working with students on software development and engineering. It's free, open source, and definitely worth a look.

Duolingo for Schools


Whenever I am getting to know newly hired employees during a training, one of the questions I ask them is what superpower they wish they could have. While the two most dominant answers are flight and invisibility, some of the other answers can tell you a surprising amount about your student. My answer to that question has always been to be fluent in every language. But alas, this is not a reality, and I am stuck having to learn languages. During my time as an undergrad at OSU I minored in Russian and not a day goes by that I wish I had more opportunities to practice the language and learn others. Fortunately, as the field of educational technology continues to advance, a wide range of tools now exist for learning languages.

One of the more interesting tools that has come to market for learning a langauge is Duolingo. This free platform offers a gamified approach to learning a multitude of languages on a variety of mobile and web-based platforms. In their own words there is “gamification poured into every lesson” and they seem to believe this approach leads to meaningful learning. [1]

Recently they introduced Duolingo for Schools, which will open up the ability for teachers to track student progress on the platform. The idea is that this should aid teachers in establishing a blended learning approach to their curriculum. Research on blended learning has shown that it can offer incredible improvements in education. Admittedly, most of the work I have read on the subject is centered around adult learners, but it seems to be of great value for K–12 as well.

To aid with the implementation of this approach Duolingo has also developed a lesson plan for teachers to use. Additionally there is not a financial burden for a school to implement this approach. According to Duolingo this tool is “currently 100% free” and while that will never change they may introduce advanced tracking features at a cost in the future.

I mention this here as it is interesting to see Duolingo make a move into the K–12 and higher education markets, and it could be of value to langauge teachers. It will be interesting to see what progress they make in bringing on new users and what the monetization strategies are. For those interested in learning more about the program I recommend visiting their FAQ.

However, before I can close out this post I want to hit on two more points. First is the independent research that Duolingo references in their copy, which can be found here. Their copy suggests 34 hours of Duolingo use is equivalent to 1 university semester. I strongly recommend reading the research article they link to instead of just taking this at face value. The 34 hours is an average and the research considers only adult learners. It would be worth researching the impact on various K–12 groups and seeing if similar growth is accomplished there. Furthermore, there are some interesting points around motivation in the research and how that affected performance.

Finally, the last point I want to hit on relates to my concerns around the assumed socio-economic conditions of students. Duolingo requires access to either a mobile or desktop device with internet access. While it can often be difficult for many of us to admit, there are still many households and areas in which students do not have this kind of access. Teachers implementing these types of tools need to ensure their students are equipped with the necessary tools before implementing such a program.

  1. Gamification is an entire topic in its own right and one that I may do a brief All of the Above episode on in the future.  ↩

Ex Tempore

Ex Tempore

In the introductory note to Kierkegaard’s1 For Self Examination he writes about the trial of Socrates. In particular, he focuses on Socrates’ refusal to accept a defense speech made for him by an orator. Socrates tells the orator that he does not need to come with a prepared speech as he will be able to speak at trial in the same way he would speak to a street-side merchant. Kierkegaard suggests that living this way, in a manner that is ex tempore, is perhaps the most appropriate way to approach life.

Kierkegaard goes on to say that this approach to living does not mean that you come unprepared. He argues that it is your experiences and journey through life that has prepared you to speak at any given moment. I find this notion fitting for several reasons. As a person who has come to identify strongly with the views expressed in a specific branch of Quakerism, the idea of an unprepared meeting is important to me. Within a gathering such as this nobody comes prepared with a speech or sermon and no one person leads. I feel that this idea would be wonderfully beneficial outside of the religious context that Quaker’s put it in.

All too often we come to a discussion or a meeting prepared to uphold and defend all sorts of views and ideas. Sometimes this preparedness keeps us from being able to listen and contemplate and grow. The concept as presented by Quakers is that you should not come prepared to speak or prepared to stay silent. You should come to be present.

  1. Fair warning, but you will probably see me reference Kierkegaard a lot here.

Kierkegaard & Silence

Over the past couple of months I have launched a podcast with my friends. This means that at least once a week I get to have the pleasure of an in depth discussion with two of my dear friends on subjects that we are passionate about. In these discussions we have spent time considering the importance of writing regularly. During all of this time talking and writing we have never mentioned the benefits of maintaining silence. This seems to make since considering our decision to enter an auditory medium. However, there are points in which silence can be incredibly important.

There is a quote that is often attributed to my favorite philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard. While I doubt the legitimacy of the quote as it is never cited and I have never run across it in my readings of his works, it carries a poetic strength worth sharing. The quote states:

”If I were allowed to prescribe only one remedy for all the ills of the modern world, I would prescribe silence…Therefore, create silence.”

The context in which Søren is quoted as saying this is in discussion of religion. However, a lot can be said to this idea outside of that context. We are in a constantly connected world with an unbelievable amount of noise. I feel we could benefit greatly from a bit of silence.