wasting bandwidth since 1999

Tag: personalized (Page 2 of 2)

Spotlight Mismatch

Description of a Spotlight report on Personalized Learning from an EdWeek newsletter:

See how schools are using algorithm-driven playlists to customize lessons for students, consider red flags to look for when purchasing products, and learn how personalization can make learning more social.

I’m almost curious enough to give them my personal information, just so I can understand how “algorithm-driven playlists” and customized lessons can make learning “more social”. Seems like a big mismatch to me.

The next item in the newsletter describes their Spotlight report on Maker Education:

Learn how schools are embracing student-driven learning, ensuring equity in maker education, and providing students with opportunities to develop real-world skills.

Is it possible to have “algorithm-driven playlists” and “student-driven learning” in the same classroom? Or do these reports describe two completely different groups of students? And if that’s the case, how do we decide which students get “personalized” and who gets the “opportunities to develop real-world skills”?

Lots of questions. Not many good answers.

Personalized Learning by Facebook

If there’s one thing Facebook is great at it’s collecting and using data on “members”. Those skills are why the company is attractive to advertisers. So why not have the same programmers who built that attention-grabbing system create “a powerful tool that could reshape how students learn”?

That tool is called Basecamp, a joint project with the Summit charter school network, and is described in this Post article as a program that “tailors lessons to individual students using software that tracks their progress”. More personalized learning.

And personalized learning systems requires lots and lots of data to do the job.

But it also captures a stream of data, and Bilicki had to sign a consent form for her children to participate, allowing their personal data to be shared with companies such as Facebook and Google. That data, the form said, could include names, email addresses, schoolwork, grades and Internet activity. Summit Basecamp promised to limit its use of the information — barring it from being used, for example, to deliver targeted ads — but Bilicki agonized over whether to sign the form.

Question: if they promise not to use the data to deliver targeted ads, why is it being shared with Facebook and Google? Two of the largest distributors of targeted advertising?

Anyway, currently about 20,000 students in 100 charter and public schools are providing that data as the company is racing to have their product ready by the beginning of the school year next fall. A product that will compete with similar personalized learning systems from dozens of edtech startups.

Although the reporter tries to put a positive face on this story – starting with a headline claiming the software “shows promise” – there are so many things wrong with this project beyond the involvement of Facebook. Like this:

“There’s a lot of hype,” said Joel Reidenberg, a Fordham University law professor who researches student privacy. “In effect, they are experimenting on children.”

Then there’s the fact that the developers have very little evidence of the effectiveness of personalized learning systems.

“We really don’t know that much about personalized learning,” said Monica Bulger, senior researcher at the Data and Society Research Institute in New York.

Which applies to all the other companies on the hunt for venture capital to develop their version of personalize learning.

Not addressed in this story, of course, is whether the curriculum being “personalized”, how it is presented, and the pacing is appropriate for every child. Or if their learning from these systems will be meaningful enough to persist past the spring exams.

But I suppose none of these concerns are important as long as schools can boost test scores, administrators can keep their jobs, and investors are paid their profit.

At least in this case, a billionaire (Zuckerberg) is paying the bills. And Summit is the one organization in the world immune to potential data loss.

“We’re offering this for free to people,” she [Diane Tavenner, chief executive of Summit] said. “If we don’t protect the organization, anyone could sue us for anything — which seems crazy to me.”

I’m convinced.

You’ve Been Personalized

When it comes to anything dealing with education reform and technology, who is the first person you want to talk to? Bill Gates, of course. A billionaire is the all-purpose expert on everything.

And so The Verge went to that source of all knowledge for a short interview following Gates’ keynote address to the ASU GSV Summit, something the New York Times calls “The Must-Attend Event for Education Technology Investors” (according to the headline quote on the event website). Considering other featured speakers included Condoleezza Rice, Guy Kawasaki, and Common, the focus was probably far more on investors than education.

Anyway, there’s not much substance in the discussion with Gates, especially as it relates to the title of the piece: “Can AI fix education?”. But the thread that caught my attention has to do with his perception of “personalized learning”, starting with the fact that he’s not even sure what it is.

Well the term “personalized learning” doesn’t have an exact definition. In general, the idea is that people progress at a different rate. If you’re ahead of what’s being taught in the class, that’s not good, you get bored. If you’re behind, then they’re using terms and concepts that create a general impression of “Hey, I’m not good at this.”

And the idea of personalized learning is you always know yourself where you are on a topic, that you have the sense of what the tasks are, how much there’s left to do to achieve certain levels. So there is more personal agency.

However, it’s the writer himself who summarizes all that’s wrong with this concept of “personalized learning” in one sentence from his introduction to the interview.

It’s a diffuse set of initiatives, led mostly by private companies, to develop software that creates individual lesson plans for students based on their performance, coaching them through trouble spots until they have mastered the subject at hand.

The concept of “personalized” learning shared by Gates and many of the edtech entrepreneurs listening to him at this conference, is of a mechanical process that is done to the students. Learning that is organized and programmed for them, with no input from the child, other than the data collected based on responses to tasks on the screen. Everything is about “performance”.

There is really very little about the learning process described by Gates and his interviewer that is “personal” at all. Certainly no one will ask the student about their interests, aspirations or skills, much less incorporate them into those “individual lesson plans”. And true personal learning doesn’t exist without total involvement of the person.

By the way, Will Richardson has a good take on that part about Gates’ approach to that phrase “personal agency”. Go read it.

An Early Start to Automated Teaching

I have never taught elementary-age students. My teaching experience was with kids in grades 7 and above. However, I have worked with teachers in elementary schools and I have tremendous admiration for them, especially those who spend their days with the youngest kids.

My memory of what goes on in those spaces that are the first formal classrooms for most kids is fuzzy and I’m sure very incomplete but I’m pretty sure it didn’t look like this.

Step into an American preschool classroom today and you are likely to be bombarded with what we educators call a print-rich environment, every surface festooned with alphabet charts, bar graphs, word walls, instructional posters, classroom rules, calendars, schedules, and motivational platitudes–few of which a 4-year-old can “decode,” the contemporary word for what used to be known as reading.

Because of the Common Core standards, with the associated over-emphasis on testing (even in schools outside that program like here in Virginia), even Kindergarten students are spending large parts of their day on “seat work” and “tightly scripted teaching known as direct instruction”, instead of the guided exploration of their world I remember seeing just a few years ago. The idea of Kindergarten was as a “welcome mat” and a beginning of the transition to a more formal learning process.

The idea of “tightly scripted” direct instruction is bad enough in middle or high school. It’s downright depressing for four and five year olds. And it seems to be souring kids on school early in their lives.

New research sounds a particularly disquieting note. A major evaluation of Tennessee’s publicly funded preschool system, published in September, found that although children who had attended preschool initially exhibited more “school readiness” skills when they entered kindergarten than did their non-preschool-attending peers, by the time they were in first grade their attitudes toward school were deteriorating. And by second grade they performed worse on tests measuring literacy, language, and math skills.

The researchers told New York magazine that overreliance on direct instruction and repetitive, poorly structured pedagogy were likely culprits; children who’d been subjected to the same insipid tasks year after year after year were understandably losing their enthusiasm for learning. [emphais mine]

The writer of this article is an experienced early childhood educator and says the focus in those years should be “not just on vocabulary and reading, but on talking and listening”.

We forget how vital spontaneous, unstructured conversation is to young children’s understanding. By talking with adults, and one another, they pick up information. They learn how things work. They solve puzzles that trouble them. Sometimes, to be fair, what children take away from a conversation is wrong. They might conclude, as my young son did, that pigs produce ham, just as chickens produce eggs and cows produce milk. But these understandings are worked over, refined, and adapted–as when a brutal older sibling explains a ham sandwich’s grisly origins.

Actually, putting the focus on “talking and listening, and those concepts of spontaneity and unstructured conversation, should be at the core of instruction at all levels. High school students also need to learn how things work (at a slightly higher level) and “solve puzzles that trouble them”. Direct instruction in middle and high school doesn’t work nearly as well as many educators think it does.

Anyway, in the end, this educator says the “academic takeover of American early learning can be understood as a shift from what I would call an ‘ideas-based curriculum’ to a ‘naming-and-labeling-based curriculum’”. A curriculum that can be scripted and “delivered without substantially improving our teaching force”.

A school experience that can be automated, “personalized”, and “individualized”. Words and phrases that fill the sales presentations for any number of ed tech startups.

Let Me Individualize That For You

The US Secretary of Education recently asked Congress to fund, among other things, resources to help teachers “personalize learning”.

Lots of other education leaders talk about we need “individualized” learning.

Junk mail from edtech companies offer to sell me “solutions” that will help teachers “individualize” or “personalize” their instruction.

Setting aside the fact that the ultimate goal in most discussions of this topic, and certainly for the corporate “solutions”, is to improve standardized test scores, I find something very wrong with those two terms, “individualize” and “personalize”.

Both carry the implication of an action done for (or possibly to) someone else. In the case of K12 education, the teacher (or increasingly a set of algorithms) will individualize/personalize an instructional plan that is then carried out by the student. Based on a whole bunch of data, of course.

However, make a very small change to the vocabulary – individual instead of individualize or personal instead of personalize – and you arrive at a very different concept, the idea we should be talking about.

Individual learning, personal learning, is something you do for yourself, certainly with input from friends, family, members of your network, but always under your own direction, based on your own goals. And always subject to revision at any time. With the essence being the individual in control.

Now I’m not saying we should turn all decisions about curriculum over to students; make everything in school optional. Certainly there is a basic foundation of knowledge and skills everyone needs before they can make any meaningful goals for themselves. Being able to read and write effectively in your native language should be a given and we can debate what is added beyond that.

However, in the larger picture of K12 schooling, learning cannot be truly individual or personal unless the student is directly involved and allowed to make real choices.

Ok, am I being too nit picky about language? Maybe. But it’s said that words matter, the vocabulary you use is important.

And when I look at the context surrounding the pronouncements about personalized learning by Duncan and other education “experts”, not to mention in the marketing materials from any number of vendors, there is very little about including students in the decision making process.

Just lots of adults crafting an “individualized” education for kids who will live in a very different future from the one they faced.

Newer posts »

© 2021 Assorted Stuff

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑