From CA State Senator to President of The 20 Million Minds! Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I spent 20 years in legislative policy-making in higher education, and in 2008 was elevated to the position of Senate Majority Leader. During my tenure in the California Legislature, I was an outspoken leader in the areas of higher education and technology. I was especially passionate about overseeing high tech implementation and education reform, chairing the Senate Select Committee on Wireless Technology and Consumer Driven Programming and the Senate Governmental Organization Committee which oversaw major technology purchases and statewide implementation.
Prior to my election to the Legislature, I worked in higher education policy as the Senate’s Chief consultant to the Senate Committee on University of California Admissions and staffed the California Joint Master Plan of Higher Education Review. Prior to returning back to the Legislature, I was an investment banker having received my MBA at Harvard Business School. I was also a very outspoken UCLA Student Body President receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science.
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How important do you feel the use of mobile technology is to the modern educator?
It is becoming more apparent that the best way to connect with students is through the use of mobile devices. The vast majority of students have access to a mobile device, and new studies are showing that students who are avid texters tend to do better in the classroom. What this tells us is that we can use mobile technology to connect with communities that traditionally do not have access to computers and internet service, but do have access to cell phones. In a sense, it becomes less about the “digital divide” issue we so often talk about and more about expanding the use of mobile technology. The state and federal governments are pushing to enhance the technology infrastructure in classrooms, and the first item on that agenda needs to be thinking about how to use accessible technologies, such as mobile, to provide far better communication between educators and their students, and educators and parents.
What led to the foundation of The 20 Million Minds?
I was very fortunate to meet Dr. Gary Michelson a couple of years ago. He is a prolific inventor and philanthropist who believes in disrupting the way we approach higher education to make it more accessible and affordable. I learned that disruption can be a very valuable tool in getting past our preconceptions of how things have “always been done,” and pushing us to conceive innovative solutions to problems.
Dr. Michelson has a vision to make higher education cutting edge, leveraging the power of technology to engage and teach students in new ways. Gary’s vision led to the creation of The 20 Million Minds Foundation with the purpose of identifying new strategies that apply technology solutions to driving down the cost of textbooks, instructional delivery models, and increase the number of students graduating with a four year degree.
What role can online courses play in creating more access to education? What challenges do they currently face?
We have seen online courses serve our tech-savvy students quite well. Online courses create access for students who cannot get to a brick and mortar classroom during prescribed times, or who simply require more flexibility than a traditional class schedule. One of the challenges we face with online courses is convincing people that online education can still be a social and fulfilling experience. Video-conferences, chat rooms, and shared screen tools allow educators to interact with students, and students to interact with each other in meaningful and constructive ways. However, we need to offer online education in a variety of delivery models, offering a “completion” model that is not yet perfected. The MOOC wave of the past few years was successful in forcing universities to claim “ownership” of this medium and to finally put the financial and intellectual resources behind the only effort able to scale and thus reduce the escalating cost of higher education.
You recently spoke at the DAQRI 4D Expo. How did that come about?
I first met DAQRI co-Founders Brian Mullins and Gaia Dempsey in our offices. They demonstrated a powerful and transformative presentation of augmented reality—and I immediately saw the practical education potential. At that time we were exploring the possibility of using their technology to enhance some of our textbooks as a way to enhance learning in both undergraduate and graduate settings.
The application of augmented reality in K-12 is really the future. We’re currently working with DAQRI to convene local and national middle school and high school teachers to develop a curriculum that effectively utilizes their Elements 4D program, and gets students excited about chemistry.
The Elements 4D program provides an innovative hands-on platform for students to engage with the periodic table. This program has received considerable teacher support, many giving to their Kickstarter campaign, and educators across the nation are already using this app in their lesson plans to captivate their students and make chemistry come alive.
We are thrilled for the opportunity to partner with DAQRI to develop new ways of making science education more exciting for students in middle school and high school. Now that the word’s spreading about the app’s potential, we’re looking to take it to the next level through direct feedback and guidance from the people who know best: teachers.
Do you think augmented reality is the next logical step for technology in education?
Augmented reality provides a versatile platform that creates unparalleled accessibility opportunities. Encouraging students to engage with material and make choices while discovering information is an invaluable experience that augmented reality technology offers. Approaching education as a holistic experience requires innovative technology solutions that allow us to present instructional material in new ways. It is not enough to simply create a math lesson or a reading lesson. Instead, it is important to create an experience that allows students to see the relationships between math and language literacy and engage with those connections. This is one example of the next step we need to take in order to create thinkers that can cross multi-disciplinary boundaries and solve tomorrow's complex problems.
The key for success in any technology driven effort is whether it will create “active learning” that engages students in ways that supplement and support the teacher lesson plans. Augmented reality offers that type of engagement.
How do you reimagine the classroom?
Every technology that we need to change the delivery of education and “reimagine” the classroom has been available for at least four years. The expansion of engaging learning approaches that can reshape the roles of teachers and school administrators is only held back by bureaucracies that have nothing to gain by changing the status quo.
Students today are living in a “bring your own device” or “BYOD” world, yet we have schools banning student devices rather than trying to figure out creative ways to integrate technology. Our classrooms are driven by test, not competency. Our school day is driven by old period driven formulas not flexible project-based learning. Our school performance is still measured by aggregate data, not individual skill attainment.
To reimagine the classroom, we need to recognize the new economy and society we find ourselves in today. Our classrooms need to change their primary mission from creating “knowledgeable” students regurgitating facts and applying rules to “knowledge-ABLE” learners who can find, sort, analyze and critique today’s bountiful information offered by the new tool box called the internet. In short, creating informed and technology-savvy students creates informed and tech-savvy citizens who aren’t afraid to think outside of the box.
What exciting projects are lined up next for you?
We’re currently hosting a special screening of the new documentary Ivory Tower by Andrew Rossi in Sacramento, CA on June 16th. The film focuses on issues of the affordability of higher education in light of rapidly rising tuition and national student debt, which now surpasses $1.2 trillion. The screening will be followed by an informative and lively discussion with director Andrew Rossi and advocates and elected officials working toward a vision for higher education affordability.
We also recognize that nearly 85 per cent of students across California Community Colleges are testing into remedial math sequences. Nationwide, approximately 60 percent of community college students enroll in at least one developmental education course. Research shows that the more developmental education courses students are required to take, the less likely they are to complete a degree or certificate. Sadly, in the current system, only one in four students who begin a remediation math sequence will complete a degree within eight years.
As a result, we’re seeking to invest in new models that incorporate digital technologies to improve remedial math course completion rates for community college students. We held a Remedial Math Summit last month, where statewide and national stakeholders identified best practices and the gaps in information that currently exist, to advise scalable solutions and future policy recommendations.
Lastly, this summer, we’re gearing up to launch our new Tech Careers Initiative where we’re focused creating new and enhancing existing pipelines for students of color to enter careers in technology.
Where can our readers go to stay up to date with updates from you and The 20 Million Minds?
Thank you for speaking with us Dean and we wish you continued success in all your projects as you continue to reimagine education.
FACETIME: Dean Florez
View the above video to hear Dean Florez's presentation, "Eduction Unbound: Reimagining the Classroom," at DAQRI in Los Angeles, CA.
View the above video to take a look at - DAQRIs augmented reality app Elements 4D in action
View the above video to take a look at the trailer for Ivory Tower.