The Student, The Teacher, and Zoom

John McCumber

John McCumber

John McCumber is a cybersecurity executive, retired US Air Force officer, and former Cryptologic Fellow of the National Security Agency. In addition to his professional activities, John is a former Professorial Lecturer in Information Security at The George Washington University in Washington, DC and is currently a technical editor and columnist for Security Technology Executive magazine. John is the author of the textbook Assessing and Managing Security Risk in IT Systems: a Structured Methodology

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25 Responses

  1. Avatar DensityDuck
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    says:

    It seems to be pretty firmly established that school’s social aspects far outweight its educational aspects.

    What surprised me was how nobody anywhere suggested that the teachers should go virtual; have the kids all go to class (or half of them on alternate days, or whatever) and have the teacher be on a Zoom call, only the teacher on a big TV at the front of the class. And then if someone gets sick, they can stay home and call into that Zoom chat and still be At School — and, moreover, the kid’s parents can claim it as Family Medical Leave, which we already have a legal and corporate framework for, rather than Hybrid School Or Something, which is totally new.Report

    • Bryan O'Nolan Bryan O'Nolan in reply to DensityDuck
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      says:

      I get what you’re saying, but as a teacher you still need an adult in the room for behavior etc. and you’d loose a lot of the one-on-one interactions with students.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Bryan O'Nolan
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        says:

        *lose

        And I don’t mean there’s no adult in the room. Just that the adult in the room is no longer the teacher, that the person responsible for transmitting knowledge is not also responsible for discipline and classroom management. I’m pretty sure that there are plenty of young people out there who’d be willing to take on, basically, a child-care activity for eight hours a day, where your whole job is encouraging kids to sit quietly and watch TV…Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to DensityDuck
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          says:

          The other issue is that many places believe that if you’re doing ANYTHING other than Working when you’re on the clock, then you’re Stealing…and that the only way to guarantee you’re Working is to have you in the office where they can keep an eye on you, make sure you aren’t walking the dog, doing laundry, having a snack, having a wank, watching TV, making sure your own kid is actually paying attention to his Zoom School, etcetera.

          This is more common than just teaching; many places have contractually-mandated requirements to track time spent working down to six-minute intervals, and those mandates are backed up with legal consequences.

          Another issue is that, from a family friend’s scuttlebutt, teachers are notorious for drinking, and the way that some of them control this is to go to school where there’s no alcohol, and if they stay at home where there’s alcohol they’ll drink it and show up to Zoom School drunk…Report

  2. Avatar y10nerd
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    says:

    So this is literally my life’s work (development of school models and curriculum) and there’s a couple of things here that stood out to me:

    1) This line ” Our children could be taking their algebra class from one of the top ten instructors in the country with local resources as learning aids” is a pretty common way that folks think about online education, but it doesn’t really work that way. I mean, people think of this as the college MOOC model – brilliant scholars teach on the topics they know well. But one of the big differences between your typical MOOC or even college course and K-12 education is that we really do set the bar at ‘everybody should learn this stuff’. And that changes stuff.

    Donald Kagan is a great scholar of Ancient Greek History. And his class presupposes you can read on college level, decipher difficult texts, and can pay attention to multiple themes in stories within 24 1.5 hour lectures. And he’s not really interested in giving you anything other than. Sure, there can be other versions of this – but I think the idea that there’s a ‘top ten instructor’ in a subject that’s good at teaching it would be really hard to do – and is not a realistic way of how folks actually learn. (Here’s a link to Kagan’s lectures – they are great! https://oyc.yale.edu/classics/clcv-205)

    A lot of math class is already introducing content material through video – but the part that gets people paid is knowing what sequences, how your current class’s aptitude and work impacts how they’ll learn future material, modifying and differentiating, the works. It turns out trying to guarantee ALL of the kids learn this stuff requires a ton more work than simply putting the best content-lecturers and having some local support. The content-lecture is probably the least important bit of it (though can be very important in a context where you have very weak teachers that don’t know their content).

    2) We are finding out that the society we’ve constructed is one where the vast majority of children need care during the day. Unless we are willing to unpend this model (and it’s going to happen from the work side first), there isn’t much to do about the physical plant.

    3) All educational debates, I have found in my years in the work, come down to this: what does a good education look like. Debates amass here and one of the quirks of the US’s largely decentralized system is that different communities and different levels of communities come up with radically different answers that are incompatible with each other. I was having a very interesting conversation with a principal who was resistant to an AP Calc class being brought into her school because it was going to skew the way they thought of math sequencing and resource prioritization and who gets to be labeled ‘smart’ – because within her local context, she saw school as a way to make folks productive fits into their small town culture. Now, she might be wrong about the impact of Calc into this – but that certainly does look like a different vision than your hyper-competitive suburban high school.

    This was a great read though – I do think we have an opportunity to rethink what education means. I just don’t know if we have the capacity to do so and who the ‘we’ is in all of these discussions is can be complicated.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to y10nerd
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      says:

      I was one of those students who could have learned how to factor polynomials by watching a fun youtube about it.

      And I think about education policy all the time!

      Therefore, the best education policy is what would have worked for me. Q.E.D.

      I’ve asked the question before (a couple of times) for “What is the point?”

      And I came to the conclusion that different parts of town had different answers to what the point was. For some, it was day care. For others, it was demonstrate employability. Getting to the Middle Classes, we’re getting into College Prep.

      The pandemic taught me that, no, it’s *ALL* day care. It’s just that the lower classes only get day care. The middle classes also get college prep.

      One thing Bill Gates said a million years ago was that Every Student in the country should get a College Prep Education.

      While I see what he’s going for, I guess, we’re still in a place where… here, let me copy and paste this

      Nationwide, a little more than a third of eighth graders are proficient in reading and math. About a third of fourth graders are proficient in reading, while more than 40% of fourth graders are proficient in math.

      *HOLY SHIT*.

      And studies have been pointing to a decline in literacy not only among high school students but among college students. COLLEGE STUDENTS.

      Bill Gates is talking about what color the car ought to be when we can’t make frames that don’t fall apart.

      If there’s a solution, in the short term, it’s in acknowledging that what we’re doing isn’t working and in comparing what we’re doing now to what we were doing when numbers were better… and maybe move back to what we were doing when numbers were better.Report

      • Avatar y10nerd in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        So one of my actual pet peeves is that we actually continuously change the bar for proficiency all the time and don’t communicate that. And the standard for proficiency today is significantly higher than it was in a couple of decades ago.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to y10nerd
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          says:

          I’d like to see the bars compared side by side. Check this out here, it’s a government report on “health literacy”.

          I’m jumping down to Figure 1-1 “Difficulty of Selected Health Literacy Tasks”

          The very, very bottom one is the ability to get a hospital appointment slip and circle the date on it. That’s it. The top of “below basic” is be able to read a clearly-written pamphlet that discusses medical tests and can figure out how often a person should have a particular test based on the information in the pamphlet.

          Intermediate Literacy is the ability to figure out the age a kid should get a particular vaccine based on a chart that talks about the ages that kids should get particular vaccines.

          Proficient includes the ability to find the information required to define a medical term by searching through a complex document.

          I like that chart. It does a good job of giving examples from the absolute bare minimum to some fairly complex stuff.

          Anyway, I’d like to see charts that compare the standards for today to the standards from the heady days of the Clinton Presidency.Report

          • Avatar y10nerd in reply to Jaybird
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            says:

            Right. Like, look, I know in social studies – in the last ten years, the text that we put in front of kids are just more complex (the big jump from secondary to primary sources) and we are asking them to do with those documents.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to y10nerd
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              says:

              How much of a difference do you think that accounts for?

              Like, if we jump back to 2002 and put those documents in front of these same kids, how high will the numbers jump without changing anything else?Report

              • Avatar y10nerd in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                I think if we put in front of 2002 the documents I out in front of kids and ask them do those academic tasks, it would be sort of incomprehensible.

                I just ask folks to look at the difference between the short answer on the regents exams in 2002 and 2019. Incorporating point of view, author’s realiability, historical context and the fact that they are primary sources…students in 02 would have no practice or expectation they could do those things.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to y10nerd
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                says:

                Okay, fair enough. Let’s not get the documents they used back then, but the exact same tests for literacy.

                How high will the numbers jump without changing anything else?Report

              • Avatar y10nerd in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                I think they’d go up quite a bit. Our kids would get perfect scores on the old tests in the document analysis section – and they well, they would not do that in the new ones.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to y10nerd
                Ignored
                says:

                Okay, cool.

                Then that is definitely something that needs to be pointed out (and, heck, if we could demonstrate it somewhat, it’d be even better… maybe a random sampling of schools get old tests sprinkled in).

                Show that, hey, apples to apples, we’re as good as we were back in 2003. We just have tougher standards now.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                “Show that, hey, apples to apples, we’re as good as we were back in 2003. We just have tougher standards now.”

                It’s interesting how well this maps to the healthcare debate.

                Because we point to how cheap healthcare was Back In The Day and how great that was, and nobody seems to want to talk about how if we wanted the kind of healthcare we got Back In The Day it would be just as cheap.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to DensityDuck
                Ignored
                says:

                I have family in Flint Michigan and I visited them 10 years ago or so. They lived in a house that had about 1200 square feet. Two adults and two kids were raised in that house. Three bedrooms, two baths.

                Hey, this one has a garage!

                And looky there. $59,900.

                Walking distance to everything from Arby’s to booze, and if you’re willing to get in your Buick, you’ve got a quick commute to downtown Flint.

                Highway 23’s right there! Go up to Saginaw, go down to Ann Arbor!

                A lifestyle like they enjoyed in 1975 is just $60k!Report

      • Avatar Swami in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        “And studies have been pointing to a decline in literacy not only among high school students but among college students.”

        I don’t understand why independent firms can’t enter the market to create reliable certificates of minimal college (or high school) level thinking.

        This would serve employers by allowing them to select better, would reward parents and prospective students by giving feedback on which schools are worth a dang, and create an environment which facilitates positive rewards for accomplishment.Report

  3. Avatar Swami
    Ignored
    says:

    I just Duck-Duck-Go’d High School Graduation rates and the number that comes up is 85% and that it is the highest ever. Are we referring to different numbers?

    https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_coi.asp

    That said, I agree we could do a lot to leverage technology to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of schools.Report

    • Avatar Philip H in reply to Swami
      Ignored
      says:

      That only works if you have the technological infrastructure to make it happen. Broadband internet is not actually readily available in many rural parts of the US, and even when it is, many rural school districts are ill equipped to take advantage of it. Case in point – of the money Mississippi got from the CARES Act way back in March for technology enhancement to deliver virtual school content, most districts couldn’t spend it before the end of the last school year and the ones that have successfully spent it to fund laptop and hot spot purchases have only taken delivery in the last six weeks or so – even though we are already almost to the half way point of our school year. Many rural districts had to by cell-phone based broadband hotspots precisely because they don’t have other options for their students, and those hotspots now need to be funded out of recurring school expenses in shrinking budgets. Mississippi is not alone in this quandary.Report

  4. Avatar Michael Cain
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    says:

    It’s an important topic. 27 years ago now — geez, where did all the years go? — I was doing leading-edge research on real-time multi-party multi-media communications over internet protocols. Education was clearly supposed to be one of the killer apps. Because of personal interest, and who I could get to be free test subjects, my emphasis was on math/science/engineering. One of the things that came out of the work was that it desperately needed something I called “shared smart paper.” That is, an I/O device that integrated a real display and a stylus for writing at a size and resolution that approximated an 8.5×11″ pad of paper. We’re just starting to see such devices that are affordable, and I understand that the lag on them is still a problem.Report

  5. Avatar Oscar Gordon
    Ignored
    says:

    Having a third grader, this whole issue is keen to me. Especially since my third grader hates being stuck home alone doing school. He is very much his mother’s son in that he craves social interaction with other kids. We struck a compromise where (we pay for this, BTW) he goes to school 3 days a week, sits at a lunch table all by himself for the Zoom call, but at ‘recess’ he can mask up and go play with kids on the playground.

    So he’s getting the social bit, now.

    But the school bit… sigh. Luckily his mother and I can cover the gaps.

    Speaking of school, earlier this fall, I tried an online Master’s program. For $1500 a class, I got to watch pre-recorded lectures on computer science, complete multiple choice assignments and quizzes, and suffer through multiple choice exams worth the vast majority (90%) of the grade. Of course, the lectures were poorly scripted, taught by a professor with a heavy accent who tended to wander off topic, and my only contact was with a TA who had close to 200 online students (you weren’t supposed to contact the person conducting the lectures). And while this was a program billed for working professionals, “office hours” was only done during my work day (as in, 3 days a week at 1PM my time).

    Another fun thing was how much the lecture notes mirrored almost exactly the notes from other universities. For example, I found the lecture and notes on Dykstra’s Algorithm to be insufficient to answer a homework question, so I went digging for more clarity, and damn near every set of slides I found on Dykstra was only differentiated by the PowerPoint Style Sheet. Obviously I didn’t use such as a resource, and I dug deeper, but it made me wonder if those slides were really the best way to explain Dykstra, or just the easiest one for faculty to copy and paste. Call it my criticism of the “One great teacher” model, one great teacher for who?

    BTW, about those exams. They were proctored online. That means I had to install what amounts to spyware on my laptop and allow someone to watch me and my screen for two hours while I took the exam. Plus I was only allowed one sheet of typed notes. As someone with a nasty case of test anxiety and who is IT security conscious (I wiped that laptop after the exam), that doesn’t work for me, but again, not details that were advertised up front, since such things are “up to the instructor”.

    For $1500, I expected more. And not everything should be up to the instructor, because faculty are not always very bright on such things.

    I’ve done online classes that were awesome. I took a class about the kinematics of robotics and it was all pre-recorded lectures, but both the TA and the instructor were available via email and had rolling office hours. And while there was a midterm and a final, they were both un-proctored, 24 hour exams. The exam itself took about 8 hours to complete, and even though the internet was pretty robust by that point, even today there would be no way to “cheat” the exam just by looking things up. You had to work the problem (you were basically setting up all the transformation matrices for robot motion). Small variations in the operational limits would result in different matrices, so no cheating. Had to show your work as well. If you wrote code to do it, you had to include your code.Report

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