Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Personalized Learning; What's Happening Out There

I've written about "personalized learning" before and I will continue as this becomes an ever-growing story.  There is absolutely every reason to consider new and better ways to use technology to increase academic outcomes and hopefully that drills down to each and every student's learning style.  But there are many factors to consider like:

- costs.  I just read a tweet from WA State Teacher of the Year, Nate Bowling from Tacoma, who asked for fully-funded schools so that student computers aren't "more than a decade old."  Technology is moving a lot faster than school budgets.  All the great technology in the world is only as good as the computer and wifi at your child's school.  You then have to ask what the ROI is for all that investment in technology.

- developmental appropriateness.  I get mighty nervous over the amount of time students are spending with screens, both in and out of class.  While schools cannot control what happens outside of class, they do need to consider that many students already are using screen devices for many hours in the day.  

- who benefits?  As I said, the ROI to schools must be there.  It certainly is going to be there for the companies that develop all this software and hardware.  According to Ed Week, the Chan Zuckerbert Initiative will build "a world-class engineering team" to support advances in personalized learning, according to a post on the group's Facebook page.

If you read that Facebook page, you'll see they are working with a charter school group, Summit, to expand a tool called the Summit Learning Platform.   This may be a great tool but I am disturbed by yet another philanthropist who will come into public schools and say, "Here, use this" and experiment on more public school students.  And some schools will say, "Gee, if Mark Zuckerberg thinks it's good, then it must be."  If charters want to pilot this in a big way, have at it.  

- the role (or lack thereof) of teachers - more on this to come but consider the Rocketship charter school model where, during personalized learning time, the teacher is replaced with a facilitator (cheaper when no actual teaching is happening)

There's a lot of good reading out there.  I urge you to read some of it and consider what it may mean for YOUR child.
Forbes - 4 Fundamental Problems With Everything You Hear About The Future Of Education
 This is a GREAT article and I hope you read the entire thing. 

1) Kids are bored and technology will provide better ways to engage students.  It sounds convincing. But don’t believe it. Engagement is NOT an issue—at least it is not an issue for everyone. Some great teachers use new technologies and some don’t. But at the end of the day it has little to do with tech in itself. It is all about the teachers.

 2) More data-based adaptive technologies will lead to child-centered curricula.

I think adaptive technologies are great. I’ve seen some early prototype adaptive software engines that are going to be game-changers for teachers—enabling us to our jobs with more precision, equity, and efficiency. But none of these technologies are going to solve the socio-economic injustices that lead to inequitable distribution of faculty support. If we believe that precise data tied to adaptive textbooks will fix everything, we will inevitably end up with poor kids staring at screens while rich kids continue to build robots with mentors (dedicated mentors equipped with awe inspiring amounts of detailed learning data).

Of course, if our goal is to continue tracking certain populations into prison cells and fast-food jobs, it is working just fine. Adaptive technologies, without teachers, will allow us to do it cheaper and more efficiently.

3) Video games will finally contextualize academic content.

Yes, games do put content in context, but in video game contexts. Video game contexts are great for retention and comprehension, but don’t necessarily teach students anything about real-world applicability. We need good teachers to do that. Anyone who says games, by themselves, can provide context is implicitly arguing either for replacing bad teachers with robots, or for making school “teacher proof” in a way that would be more industrial—the factory model of education would become more ubiquitous rather than less. 

The promise of video games in the classroom, therefore, really has to do with the potential to address yet another socio-economic injustice: the privilege of autonomy. This would be a big change from our current system, in which affluent students—especially private school students—enjoy the ability to “find themselves” during their school years, and underprivileged students are tested and tracked into career trajectories. In some cases, poor kids “win the lottery” and get the opportunity to learn the kinds of militarized “character skills” that help them fall in line and fit into molds.

4) Learning should be more fun. 

Anybody who plays video games knows that they are not FUN. They are always engaging, but they are also often anxiety provoking, sometimes frustrating, occasionally anger-inducing. Secondly, the conclusion is absurd: learning is not, nor should it always be FUN. Learning is hard and learning can sometimes be excruciatingly painful. It forces you to sever ties to existing ways of understanding the world and replace them more articulate ones.

The truth is that games and digital interactive learning platforms can help students become as passionate about learning traditional academic content as they are about learning to play Assasin’s Creed.  What we absolutely don’t want, however, is to strengthen our culture of complacency by implicitly sending the message to our children that when things are easier and more fun, they are therefore better.
From Education Dive: 5 K-12 trends to watch in 2016 

The sparsely-populated state of Vermont is leading the way with the push towards personalized learning plans (PLPs) for students. It recently mandated the creation of PLPs for all public school students in grades 7-12. The Flexible Pathways Initiative was signed into law in June 2013, and will be phased in over the course of the next four years. “The intention is to put students at the center of the construction of their own learning experience, which evidence indicates will result in greater relevance and engagement, and therefore better outcomes,” Tom Alderman, of the Vermont Education Agency, told Education Dive in a recent interview.

Beyond the Green Mountain State, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg have been promoting the use of PLPs. This year, the Gates Foundation partnered with the RAND Corporation to produce a new report, “Continued Progress,” to measure the efficacy of personalized learning.

From Save Maine Schools: Baltimore County Public Schools Used in 270 Million Dollar Tech Experiment

“In order to personalize learning for young people, we should be able to assess students at any moment to figure out what level they’re on, what standards they’ve mastered, so they can move along the continuum,” he said.

Dance’s STAT program has established 17 “lighthouse” schools that will “lead the way” for STAT. According to the district’s website, “The Lighthouse Schools will be the first in the system to receive individual digital learning devices for students; implement one-to-one personalized and blended learning; and create an innovative, comprehensive digital learning culture.”

“This is taking place in a school district that is in desperate need of improvements to infrastructure, transportation, class size reduction, and social programs, issues that have been financially pushed to the side in favor of STAT,” a teacher wrote.

“The way children use screens makes them particularly vulnerable to complication,” Cindy Eckard wrote in an editorial. “They stare at them for long periods without taking significant breaks; computer work stations often don’t fit them well; and they don’t complain about blurry vision because they don’t realize it’s a problem that will just get worse.”

From Education Next: Beware the Iconography Trap of Personalized Learning: Rigor Matters

But we’re also seeing that it’s easy for schools caught up in these sweeping changes to lose sight of what will really push student learning forward: high-quality, challenging, rich content.

Can districts and external partners support both rigor and personalization? This may be the most critical and least attended-to question for the successful implementation of personalized learning. 

From Ed Week Market BriefBill Gates: Ed Tech Has Underachieved, But Better Days Are Ahead

“Our foundation’s going to do everything we can to help facilitate the creation of great technology,” he said, with a focus on three areas: effective personalized learning solutions, an evidence base that works, and adoption of proven technologies. “Our goal is to help innovators.”

Within the next five years, Gates expects most schools to be using personalized learning in at least one way, but it’s a shift that will require more than just technology. Even the layout of the classroom will look different, he said.

One approach that would accelerate the promise of personalized learning, he said, “would be deeper engagement” between teachers and entrepreneurs. “Far too many of these digital products aren’t really getting used,” and he encouraged entrepreneurs to continually improve upon and optimize the products that do find success in the classroom.

The market for digital instruction materials will likely grow by $1.1 billion between 2015 and 2020 in the U.S. alone, Gates predicted. Interest in education outside the U.S. is very strong, too. Last year, funding for ed-tech companies in China doubled, for instance.

Still, “it’s a tough market,” he said. “From a pure profit potential…it might not be the most immediate market to come to mind.”

Boston CityBizList:  Massachusetts Accelerates Adoption of Personalized Learning Through New Public-Private Partnership

The LearnLaunch Institute and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education today announced the creation of a public-private consortium to catalyze personalized learning: the Massachusetts Personalized Learning Edtech (MAPLE) Consortium. Supported by The Barr Foundation and Nellie Mae Education Foundation, MAPLE will leverage the work being done by the Commonwealth's most innovative schools to enable all districts to incorporate personalized learning approaches and cutting-edge pedagogies, ensuring all students are prepared to be productive and successful citizens in the 21st Century.

MAPLE will connect districts with necessary resources -- a strong peer learning community, professional learning, digital tools, funding strategies, and a rich evidence base -- to create thoughtful and innovative new models of teaching and learning that improve student engagement and achievement.

From Diane Ravitch: District Adopts Federally-Endorsed Tech Product, and it Bores the Kids to Tears

A blogger described what happened when his school district adopted Edgenuity.

Students have expressed quiet and loud frustration; parents have also complained. To find compromise and rest the restless, a Digital Learning Committee was formed consisting of teachers, students, and concerned parents. Complaints center around concerns surrounding the implementation, the quality of education, student/computer over-use, and lack of teacher/student interaction. Some students are not only unhappy with the system but they are feeling as though their education is being hindered and many parents are feeling uncomfortable with the system, as well.

Some students have been concerned about the quality of education they are achieving through the Edgenuity system. Hazel voices this concern when she says, “I’m not a strong supporter of online learning in general, but I realize that it is useful for elective and language classes. However, it is only useful if the classes are of high quality, which Edgenuity has more than proved itself not to be. The lectures are not lectures at all; rather, bland Powerpoint style screens read by a talking head who clearly knows very little, if anything, on the subject…Do I think that Edgenuity is improving my education at Kenny Lake? Overall, no. It is a constant, daily source of frustration for me and my peers. I am not graded fairly. How can anyone’s intelligence be judged by multiple choice questions and virtual teachers?… Some courses, like government/economics, are completely unnecessary to have online since we have great, real teachers already willing to teach them. Many are wrought with factual errors, so what is the point of having them at all?”

With the addition of Edgenuity and other online learning courses is the sudden end to most student-teacher interaction. As Hazel said, the days were once filled with “…banters with teachers…” and “…thought provoking group discussion…” which are now replaced by long silences with nothing but the clacking of fingers on keyboards, while the teacher stands and paces in the classroom without much input or excitement. In fact, there is no excitement in the learning and no passion in the teaching.   


Jiji said...

The "ST Math" program that my kid used in elementary school at SPS is already a video-gamification of math. It was terrible. Apparently it was "personalized" except that my kid was one year ahead and they couldn't find a way to let the kid access math one year ahead. So, it was busywork.

I can see the point to personalized video-gamified math if it's at a kid's level and is helping the kid to improve/hone skills. But SPS would have to get away from their rigidly fixed belief that all 7 year olds are at exactly the same level in math by sheer virtue of their being 7.

Anonymous said...

Same thing at my kid's school. I was told it was due to the licensing. This was at an HCC site... So, you would think that personalization would mean 1 or 2 or 3 years ahead, or anywhere in between, but no. Kids could only practice grade level work, a little faster, if they already knew it. This was dream box, and may have been purchased by the PTA.

Kids were rotated through the computer station, so that others could get targeted small group instruction from a qualified teacher. This is exactly why kids need to be grouped by level rather than age, to maximize actual instruction and learning in classrooms! I think the class did about 3 levels for instruction in the HCC class, but imagine a regular class, easily the instructor would need to teach 5 or 6 full grade bands to get all students their reasonable progress. That's MTSS for you... 4/5ths of your class time shoved in front of a stupid computer.

Seattle definitely needs to get away from strict age sorting. They are supposed to be an educational institution... I think they are trying to be primarily, I don't know what, a dating service?


Pyroclastic Reading said...

Same thing at my daughter's elementary school. They were using RAZ Kids, which was a video-game-like set of leveled readers. The students had little rocket ships or other "fun" game-like elements on their home page and were supposed to read their way through a set of 20 or so books at a given letter level. Only they did it all by themselves with no teacher or grown up assistance. Many of the texts were artificially engineered so that the same text could be read by classmates who were at different reading levels. So if you had a second grade classroom with students reading at a variety of reading levels spanning from kindergarten through, say, 4th grade, they could all theoretically read the same book about firefighters. Except that the students reading below grade level would have had the harder words removed from their texts to provide an easier-to-read text. And the students reading above grade level would have had some harder words randomly sprinkled through the text to make the text seem harder. As a trained teacher, I found this horrifying, because the first rule of learning how to read is that the students should be reading natural-language texts. You would never take a Beverly Cleary book or a P.D. Eastman book and just sprinkle in some harder words to level up a reader. Nor would you censor out sight words that a child hadn't learned yet from a Roald Dahl book. That is not how it's done.

And given that we know that that's not how it's done, it is alarming to me that SPS is trying to do that. The way to learn to read in English is to read books written in English, written by humans not by computers attempting to strip a book of difficulty or artificially imbue a book with difficulty.

The joy of learning how to read is the reward. Gaining access to a library where the student can select a book that appeals. And being able to successfully read that book.

The joy of learning how to read is not having the RAZ Kids rocket ship blast off to level P books where you are required to read all 20 books in the system to the computer's satisfaction.

If children had computerized, personalized, game-like access to actual books written by actual writers, then maybe. Computer-only access to artificially-modified make-it-through-the-joyless rat maze to letter up and earn your rocket ship? Creepy. And not likely to work very well from an educational outcomes perspective. Right?

Anonymous said...

Whole language, although widely taught in education circles, has been shown in research to be a less effective way to teach early literacy than phonetic instruction. Remember many great children's authors "engineer" their writing to teach reading. Cat in the Hat was written as an early phonics reader. It is very effective because the fun rhymes give readers clues to pronunciation in a fun and engaging way. My kid was delighted when he read his first Bob Book on his own... the highly engineered phonetic reader 'Mat Sat'.

That said, your program is terrible because the fireman story would take more than a few word simplifications to be a great early reader... it should also be changed to rhyming verse with illustrations. I bet the computer is not doing that well. Another issue is decreased comprehension on monitors, retention and comprehension of written information is much higher when reading from paper... but I guess humans don't get that luxury anymore.

With the more advanced readers... reading real literature, rather than test paragraphs, give students a cultural education as well as a sense of narrative form and genre while expanding comprehension of more complex sentence structures. Although, if you are using modern young adult books note the sentence structures and lengths are getting more simple and shorter every decade it seems. Having a computer to push comprehension, when publishers are not willing to, could be a good check... or instructors could assign old classics, many old books are VERY cheap these days.

School administrators seem to buy crappy software based on salesmen, not actual effectiveness. I bet a small library could be cheaper and longer lasting.

Also, I hate it when a computer thinks it would be better for a student to type in an answer but is not smart enough to interpret the answer. Instead of asking a human... the computer will tell the student they are wrong. This happens all the time STILL with online learning. If computers can only understand a limited number of answers, in limited formats, as is the case currently, they need to stick to multiple choice. When they think they are bigger than their britches and allow other input, it is the student that suffers the frustration. I see it all the time with Kahn academy. It happens with workplace proficiency testing... it is crappy for all involved. When students are being retained or held back from learning new content because of poor programming and lack of software testing it is a real problem. It happens all the time. Do you want your child's academic trajectory dependent on some young coder's quality of code or algorithm design? Not at all!


Anonymous said...

SPS tries to do this because 1) we don't fight back against it and 2) our school board members are totally AWOL on this. We need to stop this and demand our school board members lead for once. I know, that's asking a lot.


Anonymous said...

We had our son on DreamBox (math) for several years and I was pretty impressed with it. It allowed him to learn/work at a much faster pace than his classroom instruction as his teachers weren't able to differentiate enough for him. He was usually a few grades above curriculum-wise, all aligned with common core supposedly. It wasn't videogame based. He used it willingly until around 4th grade. 5th grade was more of a drag for him, we had to coax him to do it, but the content was still good. Our school covered it for 1st and 2nd grades then stopped, after which we paid the family subscription for him to continue. Not cheap, but I was satisfied with the content. I found it better than anything else as it actually taught, it didn't just quiz.

Anonymous said...

The Summit platform is now being shared for free with more than 100 schools across the country, most of them "traditional" public schools.

This history of this platform is that it started out as a mashup of Illuminate Education, Activate Instruction, and ShowEvidence software. I believe Facebook donated some engineering time to re-write the platform into a unified thing, and in the last three years Summit has been accepting several dozen school partners at no cost.

What's interesting about the platform is that it allows students to escape some of the most confining assumptions of 19th century schooling: learning at the rate of all the students in the room, moving on with no mastery, the stigmatization of error, employment of a single curriculum (as in, "what's your math curriculum?").

-- Veteran Educator

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