Since the voluntary use of Internet technologies entered education, several waves of innovation have occurred; I would argue we are now at Wave Number 5 — personalized learning records or what I call universal transcripts.
We increasingly live in a world where work involves significant amounts of change and re-learning. These growth opportunities often occur in diverse settings and programs such as in-school and out-of-school learning, training, apprenticeships, fellowships and internships. The argument for universal transcripts is that the recording and verification of such heterogeneous learning — school transcripts and other credentials — must live in a single, authoritative record. Since these records comprise more than just the school experience, students and their support systems are the only logical manager of the transcripts. This ownership helps students take partial control over their learning curriculum, yet allows multiple entry points for mentors and others to assist those students in constructing and staying on their personalized learning pathway.
To illustrate the potential I see in universal transcripts, I’ve made up two case studies. Though fictitious, critical components of the technologies I write about are already under development.
Katie is a 10th grader. She uses a Personal Learning Manager product approved by her school and the state. The secure, cloud-based application, called Athena, functions as a transcription and verification service and is part digital assistant, part scorekeeper and part academic and skills planner.
Athena’s designers know patterns of communication, calendar issues and other life factors important in a female student’s life. Unlike basic universal transcript solutions, this product takes the state’s universal transcription service for publicly-funded education options and officially accredited options and adds levels of additional options.
Athena receives Katie’s grades and assignments via a program that links it with the school’s grade book application. Because it is standards-based, Athena is able to communicate with programs used by publishers, open resource publishers, study guide organizations and others. Katie, with her parents’ and school’s permission, has opted-in for outside help from the Khan Academy for math and to a history program offered by a university extension system. Both of these systems send results and planning targets to Athena.
Athena generates reports and charts of Katie’s successes, slacking off or worse. Through an agreement with the school, Katie’s teachers can see what she is doing in school and out and what effect it is having on her grades and comprehension. Athena knows Katie’s work and play cycles and can tell Katie when she is off track. This is not so much artificial intelligence, but rather more intelligent use of data accumulated and available. Athena calculates and reminds Katie how much work she needs to do at the Kahn Academy over spring break and what she is likely to need to do over the summer if she wants to keep a “B” as she moves from Algebra II to Pre-Calc in 11th grade.
Ernie is a 9th grader from a single parent home and is helped along by a grandparent. He is not particularly engaged in school; however, he is beginning water polo and enjoys it. When he is not at water polo practice, he attends an after-school program that assists English language learners with academic tutoring. Ernie actually does very well in math and likes the subject. Unlike Katie, Ernie’s mentor at school uses the standard universal transcript service provided by his school. This solution, called Matador, was created by a former high school principal, someone from an ed-tech company, and a group of advisors that included parents, students, teachers and administrators.
Ernie and his counselor set targets and goals in each subject area and even in other areas of interest to Ernie such as water polo videos and possible technical careers where math is important. The system automatically pulls in material within Ernie’s interests, including videos and quizzes. Some of these learning resources come from www.GooruLearning.org, which is fully functional today.
Matador not only manages grades, progress and interest beyond the school grade book, it rates Ernie according to factors he and his counselor have chosen. Through his after-school program, which also logs his time and work into Matador, Ernie found out about a career and technical education pathway that will prepare him for a career in machining for precision parts.
As I mentioned, while hypothetical, the ideas behind these universal transcription solutions are already underway. One company, www.Parchment.com, is already deeply involved in the verification of learning from multiple sources. Their solution powers the verification within www.Naviance.com, a common career and college planning system.
The nonprofit I created and run is working with a number of providers to stimulate the creation of products like the hypothetical Athena and Matador. We feel the only way to make education relevant, worthwhile and survivable for greater numbers of students, is not to take control away from schools, but to have students and families share control of the management of learning.
About Gordon Freedman
Gordon Freedman is president of the nonprofit National Laboratory for Education Transformation (www.nlet.org) and a past fellow with MVLRI. Freedman, who grew up in Charlevoix and attended MSU, was the vice president for global education strategy at Blackboard, Inc., where he started and was executive director of the Blackboard Institute.