Monday, January 14, 2013

The Future of Learning Will Be Unevenly Distributed, Mostly Shoved on the Poor

Will Richardson:

Before too long, schools will figure out how to put technology into the hands of every student and teacher, whether that’s via a BYOT program or budget allocations that cover the price of a device considering the fast reduction in cost. (Is a robust, $100 or less tablet really more than five years away? Laptop?)

You would think, wouldn't you, but I've been thinking that for the past 10 years, and I'm not sure we're any closer. There is no decision process for making this happen; the institutions and institutional will to do it don't exist.

We don't want to give every kid a cheap, 3-5 years behind the curve device. High speed networking at home is expensive and not even available everywhere. Are we going to give every kid free cellular data plans? It isn't like anyone can just order any of that to happen. Nobody in ed tech wants to be caught talking about tech anyway, it is beneath them, so who is going to solve the technical problems and keep industry in line?

Schools will also begin to contract with data collection/analytics services that begin to capture every keystroke of every user in the school, delivering real time data on student progress, interests, time allocations, and about a million other things that may or may not be interesting and relevant. Sooner rather than later, these data analytics services, drawing on a global repository of “learning content” in various formats, begin to deliver “personalized” lessons covering required concept and skill mastery to each learner based on the immediate needs and “what works best” for that learner in any given moment. Textbooks become unnecessary.

Two things.

One, we need to be clear about who owns, collects and has access to the data. When I was doing a lot of thinking about these issues, I was thinking about all the data going into the school and district's own data warehouse. What has actually happened is it is all going to the corporations, which is problematic in a number of ways.

Two, we don't know that this approach will work; it is just a promising idea.

The services do constant, competency based assessment through the curriculum aligned with standards, remediating as required, rendering cumulative, standardized tests unnecessary. Grades give way to levels achieved.

The problem is that, like most of the above, this only even theoretically works in math, where at least a lot more attention has been paid to the process of writing standards. The ELA/Literacy Common Core standards lack the basic organizational rigor you'd want for the foundation of an automated system like this, e.g., all standards specifying what texts should be read should be contained in the "range of reading" section, and in practice, they'll be found to be overly narrow and constrained. We don't have standards for all the required subjects, and there's no reason to think doing so is politically possible.

We've not made the investment in making the academic standards writing process sufficiently rigorous for use as technical specifications for learning systems that people will be satisfied with. You can write a system to teach Common Core ELA, but it will literally ask kids the same couple dozen questions with minor variations thousands of times, because that's all that's required by the standards. Not that they are easy questions, the reading is hard, and you might have to write an essay, but it is still the same damn thing over and over and over.

We're a long way from anything that would satisfy people who have access to good, more traditional schools.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hi Tom, I noticed you commenting on some Common Core articles and thought you might be interested in this Common Core ELA unit.

I'm not sure exactly what position you've been staking out on the Common Core, but you might be sympathetic to this. It's built around a view of language as action in social context. I've been working with the group as a postdoc.

The unit itself is here:
We'll be adding video and more supporting resources as we undertake the piloting process.