Issue Number 253 March 15, 2019

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is edited by Dave Moursund and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education (IAE) and Advancement of Globally Appropriate Technology and Education (AGATE) publications.

All back issues of the newsletter and subscription information are available online. In addition, seven free books based on the newsletters are available: Joy of Learning; Validity and Credibility of Information; Education for Students’ Futures; Understanding and Mastering Complexity; Consciousness and Morality: Recent Research Developments; Creating an Appropriate 21st Century Education; and Common Core State Standards for Education in America.

Dave Moursund’s newly revised and updated book, The Fourth R (Second Edition), is now available in both English and Spanish (Moursund, 2018c). The unifying theme of the book is that the 4th R of Reasoning/Computational Thinking is fundamental to empowering today’s students and their teachers throughout the K-12 curriculum. The first edition was published in December, 2016, the second edition in August, 2018, and the Spanish translation of the second edition in September, 2018. The three books have now had a combined total of more than 35,000 page-views and downloads.

Dave Moursund’s newly revised and updated book, The Fourth R (Second Edition), is now available in both English and Spanish (Moursund, 2018, link). The unifying theme of the book is that the 4th R of Reasoning/Computational Thinking is fundamental to empowering today’s students and their teachers throughout the K-12 curriculum. The first edition was published in December, 2016, the second edition in August, 2018, and the Spanish translation of the second edition in September, 2018. The three books have now had a combined total of more than 35,000 page-views and downloads.

Note to readers: The ongoing series on ICT Tools and the Future of Education will be continued in IAE Newsletter #254.

Digital Transformation in For-profit Businesses
and in Public Schools

David Moursund
Professor Emeritus, College of Education
University of Oregon


Public schools are not a for-profit business. However, people often compare public schools with for-profit businesses, and ask why public schools can’t be more like them. While I believe that our public educational systems can be substantially improved, I also believe that there is a huge difference between running a for-profit business and serving the public’s needs via public schools.

I recently read an interesting business article, The Recipe for Digital Transformation Success (DXC Technology, 2/21/2019, link. Here is a quote from the first part of the article:

Across every industry, companies are integrating digital technologies into their operations to produce better business value and outcomes. Yet digital transformations involve much more than replacing systems. Leading enterprises understand success also means enterprise-wide transformation—technologically, culturally and operationally—to become information-centric with the right digital tools and talent to succeed, compete and grow.

Today, almost every company has a set of digital projects that are underway. And some are now taking the next step, taking those solutions and scaling them on an enterprise-wide basis to satisfy the expectations of information consumers. And to transform effectively, you need to implement and integrate these digital solutions and capabilities [to] scale across the enterprise. [Bold added for emphasis.]

As I read this article, I thought about the extent to which these ideas might be applicable to public education. Might precollege public education—with its combined federal, state, school district, individual school, and classroom structure—be substantially improved by merely adopting ideas from business? Maybe all that is needed is a digital transformation of its components, down to the level of individual schools and classrooms?

This IAE Newsletter provides some of my insights into precollege education versus large for-profit businesses. For-profit businesses and public education are very different entities. However, there are a number of aspects of digital transformation that are applicable to our public school system and have the potential to improve this system.

Digital Transformation in a Large Business

To help you better understand digital transformation, let’s first look at Amazon, a very large for-profit business that is making considerable progress in digital transformation. Amazon sells a wide range of goods and services (Retail TouchPoints, 2019, link):

Like everything else about Amazon, its product count is massive—even if you don't count the enormous contributions of the 185,000+ sellers on the [Amazon] Marketplace. Amazon sells more than 12 million products, not including books, media, wine, and services. When Amazon Marketplace sellers are factored in, the total product count balloons to more than 353 million. [Amazon Marketplace is the platform that facilitates anyone to sell directly to the end-user or online customer. Amazon takes a referral fee from each sale. The seller takes on merchandising responsibilities and manages their prices.]

Worldwide, Amazon has more than 300 million active customers. Its total revenue in 2018 was about $218 billion, and it has about 500 thousand employees. Keeping records on 300 million active customer accounts, 353 million items for sale, and a half million employees requires a huge amount of compute power. I cannot begin to imagine how such a business could exist without the aid of computers.

The cost of a given amount of computation has decreased substantially over the years, and continues to do so. This is one aspect of a digital transformation that benefits Amazon. Another aspect is gathering data about customer purchasing habits, time spent looking at items not purchased, and other data that can be gathered about customers and/or potential customers. The science of big data (collecting and analyzing huge amounts of data) is making considerable progress (Acciona, 3/3/2017, link).

Think about how computer technology (including robots) can make warehouse operation and shipping more cost effective. I am very impressed by Amazon’s automated warehouse and shipping facilities (Wingfield, 9/10/2017, link). A robot does not need to be particularly “smart” to roll on its wheels to a particular spot in the warehouse, pluck an item off the shelf designed for robot access, place it in its cart, go on to the next item to be selected, and eventually take the cart of items back to a packing/shipping line. As such item storage and picking systems continue to improve, the cost per item stored and picked decreases. And, of course, there is an economy of scale in buying items to be sold and a large number of such storage and picking systems.

Right now, many human workers at Amazon still pack items into boxes. Of course, the shipping labels are prepared by computers. Eventually, fewer and fewer human workers will be needed in doing the packing. Also, there is an economy of scale in shipping, since a large shipper can get price reductions because it has so much to ship.

Comparing Amazon with the U.S. Public K-12 School System

I find it interesting to compare the size of Amazon’s business with the size of the public school systems in the U.S. For the school year 2018-2019, public schools in the U.S. had about 50 million students and 3.2 million full-time equivalent teachers. The total support staff in schools is roughly the same number of FTE as the teaching staff (Loeb, 1/14/2016, link). The estimated 2018-2019 total public school expenditures is about $650 billion.

The U.S. public school system has about 12 times the number of FTE employees as Amazon and a budget that is about three times Amazon’s current yearly revenue. Public schools are very labor intensive, with approximately one FTE employee (teachers plus support staff) per eight students served.

Public Education and For-profit Businesses are Quite Different

A for-profit business has a clear-cut goal of making a profit. It does this by meeting the product and/or service needs of customers at a cost that is acceptable to its individual customers. It is easy for a successful company such as Amazon to measure and to compare profits from year to year. It can also measure its annual growth in market share and number of customers served.

It is also possible to gain reasonably good information about how well a business is satisfying its customers. Nowadays, companies are making a concerted effort to obtain online feedback from their customers. A business that is not satisfying its customers faces a decline in customers, and may eventually go out of business. This has happened to a number of large chains of department stores, as their business models could not meet the challenge of Amazon and other online retailers.

In contrast, public education is a very complex and challenging enterprise, one faced by a multitude of possible goals. One can make an analogy between a paying customer in a store and a student in a school. School children have parents who can be considered to be a type of customer. And, public schools are paid for by taxpayers who also can be considered to be a type of customer.

A school district may pick a few easily-measured goals such as having all students take a specified number of courses in reading, writing, arithmetic (math), history, science, and so on; increasing average student performance on a particular set of exams; or increasing the percentage of students who complete high school. However, success in accomplishing these types of goals does not ensure that the district is providing its students with a good education.

Also, we know that there are many students who cannot meet the standards that are typically set for passing such courses and exams, or meeting graduation requirements. This is not a new problem. Quoting from Plato:

“When you spoke of a nature gifted or not gifted in any respect, did you mean to say that one man may acquire a thing easily, another with difficulty; a little learning will lead the one to discover a great deal; whereas the other, after much study and application no sooner learns then he forgets.” (Plato; Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the western world; 428/427 BC-348/347 BC.)

Some people think of public education as a weeding out process. Others think of it as helping to meet the inalienable rights of children to develop their personal talents and interests, and helping them to have a good quality of adult life. Increasingly, schools have moved toward helping all students to get an education that extends through high school. The schools believe that they are not meeting their obligations to society when large numbers of students drop out before graduating.

Many people have developed very extensive lists of goals for education. One example, developed by my colleague Dick Ricketts and I many years ago, is available in the IAE-pedia (Moursund & Ricketts, 2016, link). It is easy to make lists that include goals for students to learn reading, writing, arithmetic (math), history, science, and so on.

It is not so easy to say what level of performance should be met when taking into consideration the widely varying innate capabilities and interests of individual students. Also it is not easy to decide how such academic goal requirements may need to be modified as the substantial use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) becomes ubiquitous in our country and in many other parts of the world.

There are possible goals that are arguably equally or even more important than the commonly used academic goals. Here are four of my favorites:

  1. Help all students to make progress toward being responsible adults who are nice and kind to others, who contribute to our society, and who take care of themselves to the extent that they are physically and mentally able to do so.

  2. Provide all students with living and learning environments both in and outside of school that help to them to be lifelong learners who have a good quality of adult life in our society and in our rapidly changing world.

  3. Begin the process of integrating the ubiquitous use of computers into every aspect of our schools as an aid to solving the problems and accomplishing the tasks within the various disciplines. As the now trite statement goes, ICT is here to stay. I advocate for this in my free book, The Fourth R (Moursund, 2018, link).

    The intended audience of The Fourth R is preservice and inservice teachers at the PreK-12 levels, as well as all people interested in improving education at these levels. The emphasis is on defining and securing widespread acceptance of the addition of a 4th R to the traditional list of the 3 Rs of Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic. The new 4th R is named for Reasoning/Computational Thinking. This Reasoning/Computational Thinking 4th R makes use of one’s brain and Information and Communication Technology (ICT), and especially Artificial Intelligence, to represent and solve problems. I strongly recommend that this 4th R of Reasoning/Computational Thinking should be thoroughly integrated into the traditional 3 Rs across all curriculum areas and at all grade levels K-12.

  4. Recognize and routinely take advantage of the fact that a computer is both a tool for solving problems and an aid to teaching problem solving. In each discipline of study, educators must deal with the following essential question:

    If Information and Communication Technology (ICT) can solve or greatly help in solving the problems and accomplishing the tasks in a specific discipline we expect schools to teach, what do we want students to learn about such use of ICT as they study that discipline (Moursund, 2018, link)?
As you think about this question, I suggest you also think about open Internet-connected testing that places more emphasis on thinking/analysis, and less on rote memory. Closed book, closed computer tests place major emphasis on rote memorization. Of course, a well-designed closed book test can be designed with questions that require both rote memory as well as being able to think about/analyze/interpret what one has memorized. Remember, skills in thinking/analyzing have a potential to last a lifetime.

In the business world, if a computer is a cost effective aid to solving a problem, accomplishing a task, or increasing worker productivity, then digital transformation is moving the business toward such use of computers. The first two items listed above strongly differentiate public schools from for-profit businesses. They target the socialization aspects of education. I believe the third and fourth items provide a good link between the current and ongoing digital transformation in businesses and the digital transformation that will be required to develop much better schools.

Decreasing the Cost of Public Schools

A greatly simplified version of public schools is that they have three major types of costs.

  1. Buildings (including heating and cooling), grounds, equipment (including computers), instructional materials (including books and worksheets), transportation (school buses), and other facilities. More intensive use of ICT is not apt to greatly reduce the costs in these general categories of expenses.

  2. Non-teaching employees. As indicted earlier in the newsletter, about half of the employees in our schools today are not credentialed teachers. One way to cut expenses is to have non-teaching (lower paid) employees take over some positions currently filled by credentialed teachers. As one example, over the past decade, many schools in the U.S. have made substantial cuts in their number of credentialed librarians by now using non-credentialed library staff and/or by closing their libraries entirely (Sparks & Harwin, 5/25/2018, link). In my opinion, this is a terrible way to try to save money. More forward-looking school districts have repurposed their school libraries to provide quite valuable additions to Information Age education (Rendina, 1/28/2015, link).

  3. Teaching employees (usually, credentialed teachers with a high level of education). On average, U.S. credentialed teachers in PreK-12 education are underpaid relative to their level of education and other qualifications. This past year has seen several large teachers’ strikes that have led to some salary increases. It seems clear that there is considerable pressure to increase teacher salaries.

    This line of reasoning brings us to two major issues about the future of instructional content being organized and presented by credentialed teachers:
  1. To what extent can computer systems and robots perform a sufficient part of what teachers currently do, so that the number of teachers can be decreased?

  2. If (or when) ICT has such capabilities, to what extent will they be adopted? Will there be significant differences in adoption between public schools, private schools, and home schools?

These questions remind me of a quote from Thomas Edison:

“I believe that the motion picture is destined to revolutionize our educational system and that in a few years it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks.” (Thomas Alva Edison; American inventor and businessman; quotation from 1922; 1847–1931.)

This prediction was way off the mark. If Edison were alive today and familiar with multimedia-based computer assisted instruction (CAI), he might now say:

“I believe that multimedia-based CAI is destined to revolutionize our educational system and that in a few years it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the current use of credentialed teachers.”

What Edison missed in his 1922 statement, and what is missing in this hypothetical updated version of his statement, is captured in my items 1 and 2 listed earlier in this newsletter, and repeated here for your convenience:

  1. Help all students to make progress toward being responsible adults who are nice and kind to others, who contribute to our society, and who take care of themselves to the extent that they are physically and mentally able.

  2. Provide all students with living and learning environments both in and outside of school that help to prepare them to be lifelong learners who have a good quality of adult life in our society and in our rapidly changing world.

Education is much more than just learning some of the content of various discipline areas taught in our schools. However, Computer-assisted Instruction is of steadily growing importance in education.

Using ICT to Improve the Outcomes in Public Schools

Here are two major aspects of making considerably more and better use of ICT across the curriculum.

  1. Using computer-assisted learning. We now have a growing number of Highly Interactive, Intelligent Computer-assisted Learning (HIICAL) systems. While these have not yet reached the level of highly skilled individual tutors, they have surpassed a number of the success-levels of average teachers working with classes of 20 to 40 or more students. We can look forward to the time that HIICAL-based units of instruction and full courses span the curriculum. Learning to learn from HIICAL systems is a key component of a modern education (Moursund, 2018, link). We also have a growing number of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). These multimedia, online courses are typically designed both to present audio/visual information online and to involve student interactions online. While originally developed for use in higher education, they are seeing increasing use at the precollege level (Harrsch, 4/15/2018; Harrsch, 4/30/2018; U.S. News Staff, 1/17/2018, link). These are a step up from the long-used correspondence courses, but fall far short of HIICAL.

  2. Integrating routine use of ICT as an aid to solving the problems and accomplishing the tasks that we want students to learn to perform. I call this ICTing across the curriculum. (Moursund, 2016, link). ) Good HIICAL systems are both tutor and tool. That is, the software needed in a good HIICAL system can solve or help to solve a very wide range of problems.

In both of these situations, computers are increasingly becoming both a tool and an aid to instruction in use of the tool. That is, the tool serves a dual purpose. Carrying this idea into the entire school curriculum will require a major change in our current educational systems, but will improve student ability to solve problems and accomplish tasks in our highly computerized world.

Final Remarks

It is essential to help students receive an education that is compatible with the world as it is now and as best we can foresee into the future. Computers are ubiquitous in the U.S, and this ubitquitousness is growing rapidly. Schools need to provide students with an education that helps to prepare them for adult life in a society that makes routine use of computers in their vocations, avocations, and other aspects of their daily lives.

References and Resources

Acciona (3/3/2017). What is big data analytics? (Video, 2:19.) You Tube. Retrieved 3/3/2019 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aeHqYLgZP84.

Caffee, A. (11/19/2018). Teacher salaries in America. Niche. Retrieved 2/21/2019 from https://www.niche.com/blog/teacher-salaries-in-america/.

DXC Technology (2/21/2019). The recipe for digital transformation success. Fortune. Retrieved 2/19/2019 from http://www.dxc.technology/digital_transformation/insights/146226-the_recipe_for_digital_transformation_success.

Harrsch, M. (4/30/2018). MOOCs–Models for learning in the 21st century: Part 2. IAE Newsletter. Retrieved 2/28/2019 from https://i-a-e.org/newsletters/IAE-Newsletter-2018-232.html.

Harrsch, M. (4/15/2018). MOOCs–Models for learning in the 21st century: Part 1. IAE Newsletter. Retrieved 2/28/2019 from https://i-a-e.org/newsletters/IAE-Newsletter-2018-231.html.

Loeb, S. (1/14/2016). Half the people working in schools aren’t classroom teachers—so what?. Brookings. Retrieved 2/24/2019 from https://www.brookings.edu/research/half-the-people-working-in-schools-arent-classroom-teachers-so-what/.

Moursund, D. (2018). The Fourth R (Second Edition). Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Retrieved 1/3/2019 from http://iae-pedia.org/The_Fourth_R_(Second_Edition). Download the Microsoft Word file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/307-the-fourth-r-second-edition.html. Download the PDF file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/308-the-fourth-r-second-edition-1.html. Download the Spanish edition from http://iae-pedia.org/La_Cuarta_R_(Segunda_Edici%C3%B3n).

Moursund, D. (2016). Problem solving. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 2/24/2019 from http://iae-pedia.org/Problem_Solving.

Moursund, D., & Ricketts, R. (2016). Goals of education in the United Sates. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 2/20/2019 from http://iae-pedia.org/Goals_of_Education_in_the_United_States.

Rendina, D. (1/28/2015). 6 ways to rethink your library space and make it amazing. Renovate Learning. Retrieved 3/3/2019 from http://www.renovatedlearning.com/2015/01/28/rethinking-our-library-space/.

Retail TouchPoints (2019). How many products does Amazon carry? Retrieved 2/21/2019 from https://www.retailtouchpoints.com/resources/type/infographics/how-many-products-does-amazon-carry.

Sparks, S., & Harwin, A. (5/25/2018). Schools see steep drop in librarians, new analysis finds. Education Week. Retrieved 2/26/2019 from https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2018/05/16/schools-see-steep-drop-in-librarians-new.html.

U.S. News Staff (I1/17/2019). What college applicants should know about MOOCs. U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved 2/25/2019 from https://wtop.com/news/2019/01/what-college-applicants-should-know-about-moocs/.

Wingfield, N. (9/10/2017). As Amazon pushes forward with robots, workers find new roles. The New York Times. Retrieved 2/21/2019 from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/10/technology/amazon-robots-workers.html.

Author

David Moursund is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, and editor of the IAE Newsletter. His professional career includes founding the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in 1979, serving as ISTE’s executive officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship publication, Learning and Leading with Technology (now published by ISTE as Empowered Learner).He was the major professor or co-major professor for 82 doctoral students. He has presented hundreds of professional talks and workshops. He has authored or coauthored more than 60 academic books and hundreds of articles. Many of these books are available free online. See http://iaepedia.org/David_Moursund_Books .

In 2007, Moursund founded Information Age Education (IAE). IAE provides free online educational materials via its IAE-pedia, IAE Newsletter, IAE Blog, and IAE books. See http://iaepedia.org/Main_Page#IAE_in_a_Nutshell . Information Age Education is now fully integrated into the 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, Advancement of Globally Appropriate Technology and Education (AGATE) that was established in 2016. David Moursund is the Chief Executive Officer of AGATE.

Email: moursund@uoregon.edu.

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About Information Age Education, Inc.

Information Age Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving education for learners of all ages throughout the world. Current IAE activities and free materials include the IAE-pedia at http://iae-pedia.org, a Website containing free books and articles at http://i-a-e.org/, a Blog at http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog.html, and the free newsletter you are now reading. See all back issues of the Blog at http://iae-pedia.org/IAE_Blog and all back issues of the Newsletter at http://i-a-e.org/iae-newsletter.html.