Twelve Questions

Way back in the year 2000, Joel Spolsky wrote down twelve questions for assessing the quality of a software team. This became known as the Joel test, and it has been quoted, used, and abused more widely than any formal maturity assessment model I know of.

Wind forward to 2012, when MOOCs were all the rage and you couldn’t go into a coffee shop in Silicon Valley without tripping over someone who was going to disrupt education but didn’t actually know much about it. Audrey Watters put together some questions of her own that summed up what everyone in tech ought to know about education. Some had yes-or-no answers, but as she said:

If I were to really formalize [such a test], I think it would also have to involve what you know, what you think about education, about teaching, about learning, about politics and theory and practice – its history, its present, its future.

I rail a lot against what I describe as our “ed-tech amnesia,” this mistaken notion that suddenly in the last year or so, technology has entered the classroom. This amnesia means we forget that chalkboards and paperclips are also technologies. And even if we just consider computers, there’s still a lengthy history.

Among the deeper questions she would ask were:

  • Who was Seymour Papert?
  • What was PLATO?
  • What are constructivism, constructionism, and connectivism?
  • What is Bloom’s Taxonomy?
  • What are project-based learning and inquiry-based learning?
  • When did standardized testing via multiple choice exams originate?
  • How many K-12 students own a cellphone?
  • Who pays for technology in the classroom?
  • Are schools failing? If so, why, and how do you know?
  • Who benefits from this “failure narrative”?
  • Are you an autodidact? Is everyone?

After only scoring about 50% the first time I read her piece, I started doing the background reading I should have done years before. That in turn drove the development of Teaching Tech Together, and the answers to her questions still shape my thinking about what’s right and wrong with education today and what role technology and technologists ought to have in preserving what’s good and fixing what’s not.

That said, I think there’s still a place for a spot test to see how much someone actually knows about education. After yet another awkward conversation with an entrepreneur who wants to fix our broken schools, but who actually knows very little about how they work, how people learn, or what’s been tried before, I came up with this:

  1. How much money is spent per student per year in your area, and how much does that vary from school to school?
  2. Name any three levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.
  3. Name three educational theorists or researchers of the past hundred years.
  4. What are the three biggest motivators and demotivators for adult learners?
  5. What are two widely-believed myths about education and learning and why are they wrong?
  6. What is a deficit model?
  7. What is a flipped classroom?
  8. What is meant by “far transfer” and does it actually exist?
  9. What is pedagogical content knowledge?
  10. What is peer instruction and how does it compare to direct instruction?
  11. What is the difference between formative and summative assessment?
  12. When and why was standardized testing via multiple choice exams invented?

They aren’t yes-or-no questions like Joel’s, but if I’d known enough to answer them back in 2010, I’d be a couple of years ahead of where I am today.

In the wake of posts about Shopify's support for white nationalists and DataCamp's attempts to cover up sexual harassment
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