Tuesday, March 19, 2013

iCue Testing: big beauracracy's bad business model but correct approach to education reform

technology review | Two iconic institutions. Six capital letters. One bittersweet tale. A new book from MIT Press recounts how MIT and NBC partnered up to revolutionize education and ended up learning some lessons of their own.

The More We Know: NBC News, Educational Innovation, and Learning from Failure describes the life and (slow) death of a product called iCue. The book is written by two people who worked on iCue, Eric ­Klopfer and Jason Haas. Klopfer is a professor of science education at MIT and director of the Scheller Teacher Education Program. Haas is a graduate student in the Media Lab. iCue was a—well, it defies easy description, and that was maybe part of the problem.

Simply, iCue was an attempt, born in 2005, to teach history, politics, literature, and more online through archival material. The main unit of content was a short video—typically a broadcast news clip—that appeared on a flippable "CueCard." The back of this virtual card held data and room for the user’s notes. The site featured course syllabi, test questions, games, and social networking.

Alex Chisholm and colleagues from MIT’s Department of Comparative Media Studies outlined the project and eventually partnered with NBC, which had the content, the money, and the audience. "It was a chance to try to get out into the world some of the ideas we had around games and media and education," ­Klopfer says. They wanted to influence learning and collect data on student behavior. Meanwhile, NBC wanted an in with a younger generation, and it eventually came to share the researchers’ passion for education as an end in itself.

The team realized it couldn’t capture much of the home test-prep market, and schools were a hard sell, too. Teachers couldn’t easily fit this collaborative and self-directed educational tool into their top-down teaching methods. NBC also watered down or eliminated games, social networking, and user-generated content, in part because of privacy concerns. Released free on the Web in 2008, iCue was shut down in 2011 after attracting only a few thousand users, mostly adults. Tens of millions of dollars had been spent. "This was a product to be proud of," Klopfer and Haas write, "but ultimately not the product that anyone at NBC News or MIT would have preferred to see make it to market."

The book offers lessons for academics, educational entrepreneurs, and established media companies eager to participate in massive open online course (MOOC) initiatives such as edX. One takeaway is that the educational system is built on strict standards that need to change before it can accommodate new models of interaction. Another is that media companies have a lot to offer but benefit from the guidance of academia. A third is that new educational products require patient incubation.

"Our goal," Haas says, "was to provide an accessible narrative as a way into the things we really care about."


umbrarchist said...

I suspect institutions are going to have a problem with what education is. Their objective is going to be to make money and then tell the students that education is what helps them make money.

Another problem is that EVERYONE believes in jobs. But I recently learned that in 1930 John Maynard Keynes was talking about a 15 hour work week by the year 2030. We are now a lot closer to 2030 than 1930. Why don't we have a 3-day work week already? Why don't most Americans have their homes paid for by now?

Because our educational system never decided that education meant everyone understanding accounting and concentrating on NET WORTH. In 1930 what did Keynes know about planned obsolescence and economists ignoring Demand Side Depreciation for the last 80 years?

Can we now put a complete curriculum from kindergarten through 12th grade on 4 or 5 microSd cards? Complete education via tablet as fast as a kid wants and can handle?

CNu said...

Yes, you can put a comprehensive curriculum online or on media with links to interactive, tutorial, and assessment functions and make it available to a kid as fast as he or she wants and can handle. Given telephonic access to a "guide on the side" teacher/facilitator who monitors progress and provides minimal support or assistance once or twice a day - that's pretty much all you need. Add social media and collaborative capabilities which enable students to interact with one another (much the way they already do on facebook) and voila - you have a comprehensive education renovation capability.

It was precisely in that last functionality that NBC evidently got cold feet and knocked this iCue project off its otherwise well-founded rails. Along these selfsame lines, there is an online content management system called learn.com which does all of the first part of what we're discussing, and which is trying to figure out how to enable the collaborative social media last part of that equation without too forcefully stepping on institutional toes.

The key to unlocking technologies promise to revolutionize education is focusing on making learning interesting and fun, (and that doesn't mean video games or other distractions) - and getting obstructionist teachers and administrators still stuck on that 19th century model out of the way, and finally, breaking down some of the incumbent and highly profitable value-chains (textbook publishing) which have a chokehold on the business of education.

Tom said...

"Professor of Science Education," "Comparative Media Studies," and the Media Lab itself are all composed of 99 44/100 % pure bullshit. It seems unnecessary to the point of idiocy to bother with any post-mortem beyond that point.

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