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Learnist: The Educational Pinterest

Posted on Jan 25, 2013

Pieces of paper pointing at a brain.For me, the shift toward online learning has been a strange one. I went to a school that required us to do longhand math and tuck in our collared shirts and write in cursive up until the sixth grade – we were traditional to say the least. Go Panthers.

So when I see people replacing novels with eReaders or (paper) notebooks with tablets, I find myself resisting the shift. Why? Because I am an in-betweener: amazed at the splendor of the technological age, but nostalgic for a time when things were more hands-on, more straightforward.

My nieces and nephews can already operate an iPad or an iPhone and the youngest of them is three years old. What we’re working toward right now is for classrooms to become more technologically grounded, not necessarily for the in-betweeners like myself, but for the kids who are born into this world of such technology. We’re trying to familiarize the unfamiliar and utilize the already digitalized.

The matter is complicated by policy (or lack thereof), deficient funding, knowledge of the advantages and disadvantages of online learning, supposed “best practices,” and the overall public’s willingness to embrace change. These concerns make it hard for people to see how interactive and direct online learning really is.

This situation reminds me of Faulkner’s last novel, “The Reivers.” The entrance of an automobile into the fictional setting was the disruptive innovation for the main character and his family, who owned a livery stable. It is a story of growing up and adjusting to the harsh realities of time and progress, among other less simply put things.

Faulkner did an amazing job at capturing this time in between. The dust is spurred up between the horses of the agricultural age and the cars of the industrial age. The characters are just trying to sift their way through the haze and understand what is taking place – our current state with online education.

Much like the automobile, online learning is dynamic enough to adapt to both the in-betweeners and the kids born into this digital age. To help put each little granule and speck where it belongs, some sites, such as Learnist, the “educational Pinterest,” are helping organize the seemingly endless amount of online learning resources out there for use.

Now, much like Pinterest, just about anyone can post to this site saying just about anything. Obviously a certain amount of caution should be exercised when using this site for educational purposes, but this is a pretty good segue toward fishing out some of the gems from this ocean of knowledge.

The overall emphasis of Learnist in the school setting is more on the student creating their own, personalized “learningboard,” where they can post their own content for others to learn from, rather than simply pinning the content they discover. Teachers can use the site to brainstorm or to contribute the successes they’ve had in their own experience with an online learning tool.

With the ability to do these things from a smartphone or tablet, it is quickly growing in popularity. For more information on Learnist and how you can help settle the dust, click here or here.

Kyle Vineyard is a senior majoring in English at the University of Kansas. He has a passion for the written word and a soft spot for rural America.

K12 Under Fire

Posted on Jan 24, 2013

Colin Woodard, writing for the Portland Press Herald, recently reported that K12 Inc., a company known for operating online schools, has come under fire in the states of Colorado and Maine.

The Colorado Virtual Academy, which has been in operation for ten years, “received a damning report which recommended that the school’s operating charter not be renewed.” Concerns regarding the school’s performance and administration were the main reasoning for recommending a denial of renewal. It was found that the Colorado Virtual Academy “has ranked in the bottom tenth of Colorado schools for three years running” and that there exists a “lack of independence of the local board, which is supposed to govern the school.”

The primary concern was said to be poor performance, but the body reviewing the academy also felt that K12 Inc. had an inappropriate ability to influence local board members to the extent that the board could potentially not be independent from the company, complicating the board’s ability to effectively govern the school.

In Maine, K12 Inc.’s application to operate a Maine Virtual Academy was also recently denied because, as in Colorado, there were concerns that the board that would oversee the schools is not actually independent from the company K12 Inc.

The Maine Department of Education and Governor Paul LePage both expressed dissatisfaction with the decisions to reject charters. David Connerty-Marin, speaking for the Maine Department of Education, expressed that the schools applying for a charter were probably not ready for approval, but given the chance, could make adjustments in order to gain approval. Connerty-Marin also argued that charter schools offered an advantage over public schools to the extent that “you can close them when they are underperforming, something that is much harder to do with public schools.”

On the one hand, it is problematic that companys running charter schools could be too involved in the boards meant to oversee the schools, especially when one considers that “a charter school is entrusted with millions of public dollars and the education, health, and safety of other people’s children.” On the other hand, how can it truly be known if a charter school is operating at a reasonable level? The Colorado Virtual Academy was criticized for underperforming, but have extenuating circumstances been considered? It could very well be the case that students end up enrolled in online charter schools because their experiences in traditional academic settings have been poor, a trend that could take time to be reversed in an online setting. With all this in mind, distinctions should be made between denying charters for political reasons or for performance-related reasons.

Josh Luthi is a computer science student at the University of Kansas and has a penchant for politics.