Affinity spaces: How young people live and learn online and out of school

The online world has given new life to older traditions of interest-driven, out-of-school learning.

By James Paul Gee

The internet can be a minefield of misinformation, misbehavior, divisiveness, and risk, but it is also the scene of an extraordinary revolution in out-of-school teaching and learning. Increasingly, young people’s most powerful learning opportunities can be found online, in experiences and environments created by people working outside the K-12 school system and featuring educational practices rarely seen in traditional schools.

Competency-Based Education, Put to the Test

Competency-Based Education, Put to the Test

Kassidy Fann clears off the table in the tidy kitchen of the wooden triple-decker north of Boston that she shares with her husband and a pair of inquisitive cats.

Fann takes a seat and opens her laptop. There’s no sound but the creaking of the pipes and the rain against the windows. Then a disembodied voice with a slight southern accent says hello.

“I will be your proctor today,” says the voice, which belongs to a woman named Leigh Ann Majerik, who’s in an office in Hoover, Alabama. Majerik will supervise as Fann takes a test—called, in this case, an assessment—to gauge her progress toward the master’s degree she’s pursuing in science education and physics from the online Western Governors University.

Fann holds up her driver’s license and looks into a fisheye webcam so the proctor can confirm her identity and see that there are no unauthorized parties in the room other than one of the cats. After a few more clicks, the test pops up on Fann’s laptop screen, along with a countdown clock in the upper-right-hand corner.

“Start when you’re ready,” says the proctor.

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Letter Grades Deserve an 'F'

Letter Grades Deserve an 'F'

Letter grades are a tradition in our educational system, and we accept them as fair and objective measures of academic success. However, if the purpose of academic grading is to communicate accurate and specific information about learning, letter, or points-based grades, are a woefully blunt and inadequate instrument. Worse, points-based grading undermines learning and creativity, rewards cheating, damages students' peer relationships and trust in their teachers, encourages students to avoid challenging work, and teaches students to value grades over knowledge.

Colleges Want Students with Character, But Can’t Measure It

Colleges Want Students with Character, But Can’t Measure It

Jon Boeckenstedt devours data. As DePaul University’s associate vice president for enrollment management, he studies how the institution’s 16,000 undergraduates are doing, trying to forecast their performance. Many in his position would turn to standardized tests like the SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) and the ACT (American College Testing). But Boeckenstedt believes the tests carry too much weight in college admissions. “We know there are students for whom the tests don’t represent their true ability,” he says. Today more than 800 four-year colleges and universities in the United States no longer require standardized tests as part of their admissions process—that’s about 20 percent of the total. In 2011, DePaul became the largest private nonprofit among these.

What should 21st Century classrooms look like? Here's what education experts think.

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"We asked prominent voices in education—from policy makers and teachers to activists and parents—to look beyond laws, politics, and funding and imagine a utopian system of learning. They went back to the drawing board—and the chalkboard—to build an educational Garden of Eden. We’re publishing their answers to one question each day this week. Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Today’s assignment: The Space. Describe the perfect classroom."

What is the ideal for school calendar and schedule? See what various education experts say.

 What is the ideal for school calendar and schedule? See what various education experts say.

What is the ideal for school calendar and schedule? See what various education experts say.

Read the entire article here. Excerpt below.

"Nothing is perfect, but what if it could be?

Back-to-school season is in full swing, and despite the crispness of new notebook paper and the allure of Friday night lights, it’s hard to ignore the serious inequities, debates, and issues currently hampering America’s education system. Students will walk down hallways they haven’t seen since June with questions of segregation raging around them. Teachers will greet their pupils as public-school systems around the country are flailing. And administrators will continue on as innovative ideas about how best to reach learners emerge. And so, it’s no surprise that many are entering the school year with both aspiration and trepidation.   

With that in mind, we asked a variety of prominent voices in education—from policy makers and teachers to activists and parents—what their vision of a perfect school system would be. We asked them to look beyond laws, politics, and funding to imagine a utopian system of learning. We wanted to know how these men and women would critically examine the most macro and micro aspects of school and reform these elements in a perfect world. They went back to the drawing board—and the chalkboard—to build their educational Garden of Eden. We’ll be publishing their answers to one question every day this week. The responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length."