Monthly Archives: August 2020

Education: The Foundation Of Everything

As learning is the basis of knowledge, education is the structure from which knowledge flows.

Accumulating information is like having a marble connection, what do you do with it once you have it? The byproducts of education – awareness of varying concepts, appreciation for ideas, understanding divergent philosophies – all are powerful foundations for growth and change.

Intelligence contains within itself the ability to listen and reason, the knowledge to act within reason and the power to create. From education comes wisdom and from that wisdom, solutions are born that propel us forward, whether constructing a building or nurturing an idea.

With Knowledge Comes Responsibility

True knowledge is fearless, made strong by the absence of doubt and fortified by pillars of information. Cultivating it simply requires an open mind and a desire to learn. Channeling knowledge towards meaningful expression is always the challenge.

As William S. Burroughs, American writer and visual artist, once stated, “The aim of education is the knowledge, not of facts, but of values.”

Every physical structure, every scientific achievement, every philosophical advancement, all have one thing in common; they were brought into existence by educated opinions based on knowledge. The evolutionary path of civilization would have been dramatically different had experiments and new ideas been based on ‘guessing’ or ‘gut feelings’, rather than analytical observation.

Scientific Facts Shape Our Future

A great example of education-based evolution is Darwin’s well-known Theory of Evolution. It is one of the most substantiated theories in the history of science. Hard to imagine such a ground-breaking and historical hypothesis being put forth without the benefit of informed analysis from knowledgeable professionals.

During the beginning of his research, Darwin was much more an observer than a geneticist. He could document the pattern of evolution, but did not possess the scientific training to understand and subsequently translate his observations. Without the corroborative knowledge to support his theory, it would have proven difficult to answer the inherent questions of ‘how’ or ‘why’ it happened.

Evidence gathered from various scientific disciplines, including paleontology, developmental biology, geology, and genetics, enabled scientists to advance Darwin’s stream of ‘theoretical consciousness’ into mainstream discussion. Questions were raised and explanations were given. It is easy to imagine Darwin’s groundbreaking theory never becoming more than coffee-table talk in the absence of fact-based science.

Where Learning Leads… Wisdom Follows

The dictionary defines ‘foundation’ as the basis or groundwork of anything. Education is defined as the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge (in conjunction with) developing the powers of reasoning and judgment. Together, they form the bedrock of learning-based understanding… the path to wisdom.

Wisdom is the grand enabler. With it, all is possible. Without it, nothing is achievable. Wisdom created the pyramids and thrust us into space. It taught us to fly and how to come back down to Earth safely. Wisdom is the evolution of education and architect of our reality.

As a child learns and develops a foundation for life, so too, does learning bring forth the knowledge needed to explore the foundation of the universe. Step by step and lesson by lesson, studying the various aspects of life in all its natural and man-made grandeur, establishes a base of knowledge impervious to self-doubt and distraction.

The infrastructure of human existence will forever depend on the strength and wisdom forged from our educational structure.

Influence of Internet on the Education System

The Information highway or the Internet has changed the way the world goes about doing things. It is one more point in a long continuum of inventions that is set to revolutionize lifestyles. One is inclined to ask, how does the ability of computers to talk to each other improve the learning process in the classroom? How does it make a difference in study of epics like the Odyssey and the Iliad? These questions and more will be answered in the following passages. The Internet has a more pervasive effect than other electronic media and is the modern engine of progress; it is the new form of thinking that will show a fresh approach to online education.

Personal computers and the Information Superhighway are rapidly transforming America. Already, the Internet is making large amounts of information available at unprecedented speeds. When this revolution makes itself fully felt in schools, teachers and students will have virtually instantaneous access to vast amounts of information and a wide range of learning tools. If we guide the information revolution wisely, these resources will be available not only to affluent suburban schools but also to rural school districts and inner-city schools. Broad access can reduce differences in the quality of online education and give children in all areas new opportunities to learn. Used well, this transforming technology can play a major role in school reform.

The new technology will enable students to acquire the skills that are essential to succeed in modern society. Exposure to computer technology in school will permit students to become familiar with the necessary tools at an early age. By using the technology well, they will also acquire better thinking skills to help them become informed citizens and active community members.

The drive to integrate technology into our nation’s schools goes far beyond the Internet. If the Internet didn’t exist, advanced technology would still have so many valuable educational uses distance learning applications, collaborative learning, and so forth that far larger investments than are being contemplated would be justified.

Web resources are excellent tools for researches. Let’s not kid ourselves, however. Even if policymakers, practitioners, and parents did decide what their goals were and even if the research findings supported one of several configurations of hardware and software, deciding when, how, or if to use technology (or any other reform) in the classroom is not likely to be determined solely on these bases. Many other factors–ranging from parental pressure to superintendents wanting to leave their fingerprints on the district to technology corporations promoting their products–shape decisions to buy and allocate technologies to schools.

The Internet is an incredible information resource and a powerful communication tool. The ability to use new technologies is becoming a more important factor in career options, and the future success of today’s students will be more affected by their understanding of and ability to access and use electronic information. The increased use of on-line services in the home by children adds to the impetus for schools to take a more active role in family education regarding their use.

Schools have the potential to be access points and online educational centers for exploring Internet resources. Increased involvement of parents in school education programs can help address community concerns and can improve their children’s overall academic performance. If educators assume responsibility for helping students master the use of technology and educating them about potential risks, students will become more empowered to make intelligent choices.

Multicultural education relates to education and instruction designed for the cultures of several different races in an educational system. This approach to teaching and learning is based upon consensus building, respect, and fostering cultural pluralism within racial societies. Multicultural education acknowledges and incorporates positive racial idiosyncrasies into classroom atmospheres.

The concept of learning styles is rooted in the classification of psychological types. The different ways of doing so are generally classified as: Concrete and abstract perceivers and Active and reflective processors.

There are many academic and psychological issues do minority students encounter such as: low single head of household, low socioeconomic status, low minority group status, limited English proficiency, low-educational attainment of parents, mobility, and psychosocial factors.

Not only do school programs and practices have a direct impact upon student success, but the school and community contexts in which these programs and practices occur also affect success rates. “Context” is comprised of numerous factors. Some contextual variables can have a positive impact upon students, while others work against student success.

The call for total school reform strongly suggests that existing conceptions of education are inadequate for promoting multicultural equity. Unfortunately, these same conceptions have shaped the schooling of prospective teachers. Their education likely has been characterized by tracking (the process of assigning students to different groups, classes, or programs based on measures of intelligence, achievement, or aptitude), traditional instruction that appeals to a narrow range of learning styles, and curricula that exclude the contributions of women and people of diverse cultures. Competition drives this factory model of schooling, in which students tend to be viewed as products coming off an assembly line.

Education is a fundamental human process; it is a matter of values and action. The cluster of technologies called the Internet has the ability to complement, to reinforce, and to enhance the educational process. It will take the focus of education from the institution to the student. The Internet has come to befriend, dwell with, and live beyond, both, the teacher and the student. African wisdom says, “It takes an entire village to raise a child”.

My personal conclusion is that all students, regardless of race, ethnic group, gender, socioeconomic status, geographic location, age, language, or disability, deserve equitable access to challenging and meaningful learning and achievement. This concept has profound implications for teaching and learning throughout the school community. It suggests that ensuring equity and excellence must be at the core of systemic reform efforts in education as a whole.

Talking Avatars in Education – The Virtual Teacher Comes of Age!

Avatars, Talking Web Characters and Virtual representatives are growing in popularity for one critical reason … “they work”!

With Broadband becoming the standard access to the Internet in all four corners of the world, the benefits and possibilities of utilizing rich media and interactivity in marketing are starting to become a reality if not the norm. One of the most active areas is in the so-called Animated Avatars know by many names such as: Talking Web Characters, Virtual Representatives, Virtual Characters and Web Compares. Their popularity growing every day, it’s not by accident, one critical reason is… “they work” , but when it comes to using them to deliver training, presentations or integrated into CBT and education the Virtual Teacher rises eminently to the challenge. 

Assisted Education Delivery using the ubiquitous Virtual Tutor comes of age.

Virtual Teachers, educational presenters and tutor can have a new face, available 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year, with the same happy disposition, virtual, animated, automated lip-syncing and compelling content combined with contextual delivery. We know that retention is improved, we know that “lean back” education can be effortlessly absorbed and we know that there is nothing more powerful when it comes to delivering complex ideas or facts than the spoken word. Virtual Teachers can be available in different forms, ages, sexes and even fantasy. The flexibility is endless. Education creators can concentrate on the subject matter and choose the ideal Virtual Tutor to assist in the process. Literature assignment can be delivered in context and even brain teasing science and math education can become more precise when you have the help of a virtual tutor that has the power of “voice”. Un-attended education across the web or operated locally makes virtual education delivery highly effective and manageable. CBT has a new face, interactive courses can have virtual assistants and guides. Many training and formal educational environment incorporate media within their presentations and educational content, and it’s not by accident, why? because it works! The ability to concentrate on content and its compelling and memorable delivery is the reason that Virtual Teachers and Tutors are common place in establishment high in the corporate stratosphere and junior schools alike, they both have something in common, the recognition that compelling animated virtual teachers can give results in a planned and precise manner, where achievements can be accelerated at all learning levels. This is no accident, its technology at its best, with a face and a purpose. Take a PowerPoint presentation, graphs, facts, figures and images, nice enough, add a virtual full animated teacher into the mix and you now have a new breed of educational delivery.

In an educational setting it’s a proven fact that information retention and concentration is enhanced when faced with compelling content. So what should you look for in your animated talking character.

1: The Avatar Look

Is your talking animated character “attractive”, or does it look as though it has fallen out of the ugly tree, is it well crafted and generally compelling, or amateurish and poorly animated. Does it suit your image and delivery requirements… is the quality something you are comfortable associating with.

2: Automated Lip-Syncing

Is the avatar lip-sync accurate? there is nothing worse than watching a virtual representative that resembles a badly dubbed movie, it is critical, our brains react in micro-seconds when faced with something that doesn’t look right! It seems bizarre but most animated talking character offerings have less than convincing lip-syncing to say the least. Simple tests include; Does the virtual tutors lips stop moving when silent? Does it shape the phonemes correctly or is it just a random selection of gibberish?

3: Virtual Teachers Ambient animation, Less is more.

Animations during the narration should be kept to a minimum and be subtle, almost invisible. When watching a news broadcast you would feel uncomfortable is the compares eyes rolled from side to side and they exhibited strange and seemingly un controllable head movements. It is the content being delivered by the speaking avatar that is important, and all animations should be kept to a minimum to avoid distraction. Less is definitely more.

4: Virtual Tutor – The Voice

Text to speech may seem convenient but it has a tendency to sound really bad. Remember! this is a virtual representative, your own animated web or media compare it is an extension of your image, unless you sound like a robot steer clear of synthesized voices. Use your own voice, or a friends, or shell out for a professional voice over artist, they are not as expensive as you think! In the future TTS will probably improve but at the present it should only be used if you have no other option.

5: Tailoring your Virtual Character

Some offerings give you loads of tailoring options, they even allow the visitor to play with the character during its narration. Generally you should try and restrict tailoring to clothing and backgrounds for the best effect. You want your visitors and users to build a rapport with your virtual teacher, so changing its looks continually does not offer continuity to the visitor or student. Having a Virtual tutor that the visitor can mess with only detracts from their message.

6: Integration and Hosting your Virtual Teacher

Consider that many education delivery requirements may be remotely across the internet. Give a great deal of thought to this area as its rife with potential additional charges and risks. If you are on a Pay-for-view contract, a contract that charges you a monthly fee for so many streams, the risk is your growth in visitation, you end up with one of two potential problems; you have to pay more because you had a higher visitation as your site grows in popularity, or, you can’t afford to pay more, so your talking avatar disappears and leaves a block with the suppliers logo in place. The same goes for supplier hosting, you have no control over their hosting facility, if you rely on your web compare and your service suppliers servers go down you have lost your “voice”. If you own internet service goes down at least the whole site is no longer visible. Always try and use a solution that will give you total control, create your composition in your time, generate industry standard output (Flash, Flash Video or conventional Video ) and have total flexibility when it comes to integration.

7: Flexibility gives your choice.

Is flexibility important, would it be nice to have access to the native output of your efforts in an industry standard format such as Flash, Flash Video, AVI etc so you could integrate your work into other environments such as Powerpoint, Camtasia, youTube etc. Are there any other services that can assist you from the supplier such as Voice-Overs, integration and bespoke services. Can your composition work off-line, can you create them off-line. Flexibility adds to the return on your investment.

Summary

Doing any job badly is not a good idea, many people grab hold of a new technology and throw it at their audience with little thought. Implementing a bad Animated Virtual Representative is detrimental and could reflect on your business and/or educational requirements, take your time in the creation and don’t settle for second best.

Do Special Education Success Stories Exist – And How Do I Obtain This for My Child?

As a parent and advocate for over 25 years, I often become frustrated by how long it takes to successfully advocate for one child (even my own children)! Sometimes it seems like I am banging my head against a wall (giving myself a concussion), with little to no outcome. I was recently reminded that advocacy is difficult by its very nature, but even when it seems like I have not done much or the parent has not done much—the child can really benefit!

1. I was helping parents in another state with their high school son’s education. Things had gotten very bad at school for the young man, and the school wanted to send him to an alternative school. I immediately began working with the mother and educating her on IDEA 2004 and discipline laws. I read letters, helped her write letters, worked on a settlement with the school, and encouraged her to keep fighting despite how bad things were. The situation worsened, and the young man left school-which was frustrating for his parents and me! Imagine my surprise when a few months later I received an E-mail from his mother with a picture of his high school diploma! I am so excited for the young man, and I realized that if his parents and I had not fought for him, he probably never would have graduated! Great outcome!

2. I advocated for a child with autism for over a year. The young man could not read, was delayed in all academic areas, and had developed school phobia. In my advocacy, I had to do a lot of educating of the school staff about dyslexia; research based instruction, as well as extended school year services. Another issue is that the school district insisted on bringing their attorney to all IEP meetings; even after giving them a copy of the OSEP policy letter to Clinton discouraging this practice. After a year, we had made some inroads, and the parents (and I) decided they would try on their own (with me helping them by phone etc.). After I stopped coming to meetings the school district stopped having their attorney attend IEP meetings—and the treatment of the parents is somewhat better. The young man is learning academically and no longer has school phobia-awesome!

There are success stories in special education advocacy; and here is what you can do to increase the chance of success for your child:

1. Assertive and persistent advocacy for as long as it takes. Sometimes advocacy is like a long journey, rather than a short one! Hang in there and you will be glad you did!

2. If your child is having difficulty with reading it is critical that you find accurate information on dyslexia, to use in your advocacy, and research based ways to deal with the disability. Try this link to the International Dyslexia Association ( http://www.interdys.org/ ).

3. Learn about best practices in special education for your child’s disability, and advocate for them. For example: ABA is still considered best practice for children with autism.

4. Call your states PTIC and ask about free or low cost advocacy trainings. You will not only learn lots, but you will be able to connect with other parents!

5. Consider the use of a qualified experienced advocate-this can often go a long way in advocacy success! Make sure that the advocate has experience with your states dispute resolution processes.

6. If the school continues to deny and/or delay needed services consider using the dispute resolution processes (due process, mediation, and state complaints).

Advocacy success stories to exist and this article has given you a few examples. You have also learned some dragon slaying tips to work toward your own child’s success story! Good luck!

Leadership In Education

Leadership in education has so many different dimensions and definitional issues that it’s very elusive, and has become more complicated since the involvement of business and political communities. Principals had for a long time served as managers of schools, but in the last 10 or 15 years there’s been a sea change in their responsibilities. Now, at long last, the focus is on instructional leadership. But the problem facing principals is that their preparatory institutions did not offer courses in curriculum programs until the mid-1980s, and many principals are not prepared for this new role; they need crash programs in instructional leadership. They now also are being asked to make contacts with community leaders and even in some cases state legislators to garner support for schools and programs. It is impossible for principals, as well as superintendents, to handle adequately the managerial, instructional, and political dimensions of the job. It is not surprising that these multiple demands are creating a shortage of educational leaders. It now takes 8-14 months to fill superintendency positions, as opposed to 3-5 months in decades past; and 85% of principals are scheduled to retire within a decade.

So what do we do? We have to find new kinds of team approaches to the job. We need to rethink the role and rethink who is best equipped to provide certain kinds of leadership. It is important to remember that while change occurs from the top down-business and political leaders are pushing change-it also has to come from the bottom up. Unless the teachers, principals, and frontline people “buy in,” not very much will happen. So one of the challenges is to build connecting mechanisms from top to bottom. Leadership will span these boundaries.

The issues of authority and accountability need to be addressed by schools seeking to restructure. To be successful, school-based decision making too must be characterized by coherence in its authority structure and accountability system.

Citizen accountability facilitates the accountability of educators and students. And authority for change must include students, must focus on them as vehicles for change, not just objects of change. Educators and parents need to acknowledge that students have a role in change and should even be on the board for school-based decision making. Establishing coherence is the key to leadership throughout an educational structure; it creates a system of checks and balances, with the community and state united in working towards a common goal: the students’ academic success. All the vision in the world won’t lead to much without coherence. Furthermore, before restructuring can begin, educators must be keenly aware of two principles: Cooperation and collaboration are necessary because they are key to establishing coherence in an educational system; and all students can learn at higher levels. Finally, schools need to focus on beliefs, standards, assessment, and accountability and have a system of change, incorporating in a coherent way all of these factors that are valued. After all, in the end, successful education systems are about values. Schools just need the courage to move and lead.

Education reform now involves high-stakes accountability. If schools are asked to have accountability to this degree, then the schools should be in charge. School accountability involves schools having the power to implement their own policies, which means school-based decision making. Stability in the schoolhouse is critical, and the principal is the agent for change-but in that comes no security. Yet, the principal is charged to rally teachers, who have total security and who have little reason to attend to the vision of a person who holds a tenuous appointment. The principals are finding that the illusion of power is worse than no power at all. Successful school reform necessitates an ingenious interweaving of responsibility, accountability, and authority. Intrusive behavior is a board member’s act of interfering with a school administrator’s assigned operational task(s) that exceeds the board of education’s delegated responsibility. Intrusive behavior can substantially hinder consistency in leadership, which is extremely important to organizational health. The problem with such intrusive behavior is that people in the educational framework become confused and wonder, “Who’s the boss?” and “Who do I listen to?” resulting in a monumental problem with role conflict and role ambiguity. This confusion wastes valuable time that could be spent on matters related to educating children. Instead of inspecting school facilities or instructing superintendents and principals on how to perform their duties, boards of education need to focus on student achievement.

Too often, board members do not have a clear understanding of their role and how they are to enact it unless they are specifically educated about that role. In short, the training of board of education members before they sit on a board should be mandated, and they should be contractually educated, not just taught. The time spent on training should be measured not in hours per year, but in numbers of issues covered in the training.

In a new survey, superintendents indicated principal shortages in all types of districts; there were simply not many applicants for the positions available. Reasons cited for this principal shortage included the following:

– Compensation is not enough.

– Too much time is required.

– Board interference makes the job too stressful.

Since 2004, the principal’s role has changed dramatically. Now, the scope of the principal’s role is exploding, and principals are expected to take on many new responsibilities. Principals have been taught to be managers rather than instructional leaders, but they are now being asked to fulfill that duty as well-along with increased involvement in litigation, in special education, and in preventing school violence.

A Bondage of Education

From a very early age I can remember my parents, teachers, and friends discussing this idea of education. What it is, what it should be, what it could be, but more importantly how I would use it to “further” my life. I had this notion that education was going to school, memorizing what the teacher said, applying it to a test, and repeating the routine for the next twelve years. The term “career ready” is not only what gave me the desire to have straight A’s in high school, but what brought me to a university. I came with hope to finally break away from the restraint that I believed was only a result of what a high school education could do to an individual’s mind, but quickly came to realize that a “liberal education” from college was not that different. Liberal education was designed to free individuals from the bonds that society placed upon them, but present-day education is what holds those bonds together.

I will never forget the first time I failed a test. It was in fifth with one of my favorite teachers. I remember receiving the test back with a zero on the front and instantly covering the test up so no one could not see the sign of failure. The teacher must have seen my shock because I was told to stay after class. She explained to me how I had made a 100 but I did not “take the test right” which is what resulted in the zero. From then on, I developed what college students call “test anxiety.” I worked to follow directions, to be structured, and to never ask a question that could possibly be wrong. I made straight A’s, participated in school organizations, was president of my class, and lived to fill the resume that would be sent to potential colleges. I did what students are expected to do. When I came to college I was excited because I could finally learn outside the perimeters of standardized tests. What I did not expect was to hear phrases from professors such as, “don’t worry this will not be on the test,” or having to spend thirty minutes of class listening to students ask how many questions will be on the exam. Teachers from my high school always told us, “college will not be like this, so enjoy it while you can,” but it was all the same. Listen, take notes, memorize, take test, repeat.

I began to realize that maybe this was what education was intended to be. A system that engrains students with the idea that to conform and restrain one’s mind to standardization is what makes us “successful.” David Brooks discusses how college students are “goal-orientated… a means for self-improvement, resume-building, and enrichment. College is just one step on the continual stairway of advancement and they are always aware that they must get to the next step.” Students go through elementary, junior high, high school, and now even universities not to “free our minds” or truly educating ourselves, but to climb the ladder of social order. One can relate education to Plato’s cave allegory, “they are in it from childhood with their legs and necks in bonds so that they are fixed, seeing only in front of them unable because of the bond to turn their heads.” This system of education that parents, professors, politicians, employers, and even students talk so highly about is not about producing the world’s next great minds, it is about producing the world’s next source of capital. Society has taken a liberal education and twisted it to where it will fit students into its workplace.

Everyone says that your first semester of college is the hardest. You move away from home, meet new people, and are thrown into a whole new environment. I knew it would be tough, but never thought I would be the student that curled onto her dorm room rug and cried over a seventy-eight on a couple of tests. I had made back-to-back “failing grades” in my mind and had the mindset that I could never recover. What could I accomplish without a 4.0 GPA and four years on the Deans List? To make matters worse, I received a zero for a homework assignment. Believing that there must have been something wrong, I made my way to my TAs office hours where he proceeded to tell me that I did great on the assignment but had to give me a zero based on a small technicality. That is when I had the realization that a modern-day college education has nothing to do with a liberal education. From then on, every test I would take and grade that followed would no longer determine how I would go about learning. I decided that in order to receive a true liberal education I had to throw away every concept of what I thought education was. In Plato’s book I was reminded that “education is not what the professions of certain men assert it to be” and when I decided to make my way out of ‘the cave’ of education I was thankful for the realization that I had broken the bonds that society tried so hard to place tightly around me. Leo Strauss said that a “liberal education supplies us with experience in things beautiful,” and that is when an individual is truly free.

I sometimes think about where I would be if I had the mindset that I do now about education when I received that zero if fifth grade. Would I have waved it in the air as a badge of pride representing how I refused to conform to the institution instead of hiding it from my friends in shame or would I had done it all the same? A true liberal education is what enables individuals to achieve, admire, and model greatness. So, when I hear a professor repeat the phrase “don’t worry, this won’t be on the test,” a part of me wonders if even they have given up on helping break the bonds placed upon us.