Monday, July 14, 2014

What is Teaching Time Really About (and how is it counted)?

ST Reader alerted me to a story in the Times about Seattle Schools doing a pilot for a new company run by a UW professor, Zoran Popovic who directs the Center for Game Science at UW. 

He founded a non-profit called Enlearn with money from (who else) the Gates Foundation.  But the Times notes:

Enlearn is developing a commercial application for the interactive technology aimed at the global K-12 market.

Of course. 

It's supposed to a personalized learning/differentiation service for students wherein the students play the "games" on tablets, data goes to the teacher:

"...providing a moment-by-moment progress report on how each student is faring and whether the class as a whole is ready to move on or needs a better explanation." 

"The platform, in real time, provides the key misunderstandings and misconceptions for every individual student, which directly informs the teacher about what to do next at that instant," Popovic said.

In other word, turbocharged differentiation.

The Times notes that this was "tested" in 9 sixth grade classrooms at 3 SPS schools.  These were 5-day trials. 

Sigh.  Many questions and thoughts.

Here's what I wrote to SPS Communications on this subject:

- what were the schools?
- who okayed this within the district?
- why was this considered a good use of teaching time?
- was this a voluntary thing for teachers and students?
- did the district get any kind of compensation for testing this platform?  If so, in what form and who got it?

Because clearly, someone is likely to be making money off this venture and I would expect - if teachers and students are piloting for this group - that the district gets something out of it.  If not, the next time the answer should be no (or not without some kind of compensation especially for teaching time).  

Also, there is an issue of how would the district be able to provide every teacher a tablet.  Does that then lead to every student needing a tablet?  Huge costs. 

As for whether it's "turbocharged" anything, I not so sure.  Because students "misunderstand" material for many reasons - curriculum, teaching, ability to concentrate in class - that may not be as readily apparent as you might think.

I do think it great if a teacher can see how a majority of the class is thinking (and make any teaching adjustments) or see that a couple of students are consistently struggling (so as to give supports) but I am doubtful about "instant" adjustments.  Teachers, you tell me.

My concern is over how many of these groups are now requesting time in our classrooms, who gets in, why, how does it impact teaching and learning and what the district gets out of it.


mirmac1 said...

Who owns the data?

Who has a legitimate educational interest? NOT a corporation/"not-for-profit" funded by Gates. Only a teacher.

What kind of disclosure was provided to parents so they could okay or opt-out?

What has C&I committee heard about this?

How much staff time is spent on district/corporation/not-for-profit partnerships?

Anonymous said...

Interesting - there's not 1 hit from the SPS website on either EnLearn or Mr. Popovic - you'd think someone at SPS would have written something about it that made it into official channels.


name said...

Sounds interesting. I would be excited to have my kids test out something like that. A good teacher could plan the experiment into their unit and still ensure that the material got covered traditionally if it was a wash. Too bad Seattle doesn't have any lab schools where interested parents could send their children to learn in constantly evolving environments. Most universities have one. I wonder why UW doesn't.

Anonymous said...

I acknowledge Melissa's questions about -- how much of this goes on, who the gatekeepers are, etc. I am way less concerned (in this case) about whether SSD got compensated for it, etc. -- and am struggling to figure out why I am not on the same page as Melissa and mirmac (I usually am).

Here is my initial impression, I guess. This is not time missed for testing. This was actually "learning" time in all classes. It was just slightly different pedagogy -- and the thing I sort of cottoned to is -- this is what the MAP supposedly (fakily -- since it was really about teacher evaluations) was supposedly trying to do -- give real time feed back to teachers. In this case, if I understand the article, it goes even one better -- the program itself figures out why/what the kids are not understanding -- and serves up different problems based on that. Thus, if you have a kid who conceptually hasn't grasped the concept of ratios, presumably they are getting different problems than one who gets the concept -- but who can't do the math because they have trouble with computations expressed as fractions (or who is maybe just rushing through the problems). The devil is obviously in the details, but if you really could design programs so that kids zoom through what they really get, and spend more time honing in on what they don't understand -- it would be incredible. In my heart of hearts, one of the really huge things I deplore in schools is the wasting of kids' time (whether through incessant testing, by making kids who are ahead regularly act as "tutors" or helpers for legging kids, by teaching over kids' heads or beyond their abilities, though stupid and inane art projects and dioramas, by making them draw 48 dots to "show their work" in math, and by forcing kids to learn at times, or in ways that are inappropriate for their development (like forcing all 6 year olds to learn to read -- when some already learnedat 4, and others won't be ready until they are 7) -- it all strikes me as a monumental waste of childrens' childhoods -- of their lives. If you really could design learning materials so that kids face far fewer instances of wasting their time -- it would be a really, really big deal. I am with "name said." I would volunteer my kid for this in a heartbeat.

Whether this program does all I wish it could is another matter. But to me this is one of the holy grails of teaching. How to teach 25 or 30 minds (all different in how they learn and what they already know) at one time -- without massive wasting the time of a huge number of them.


Anonymous said...

Queen Anne Elementary is an option school, meaning anyone can apply via choice for a seat, and it's somewhat alternative, in that it is heavily technology oriented/-based. Maybe QAE offers that electronic based experience you think is innovative.

However, there is slim pickin's for supporting advanced learners. And, honey I found it incredibly off-putting to walk in to see all these kids in their own little isolation bubble staring at a screen to do their lessons. It felt not exactly very supportive of social or emotional growth, plus, screen time is very deleterious for certain children, such as those ADD ADHD. It's does bad things to thei behavior. But obviously, that is very dependent on the kind of student you have. For some, it might be a fantastic thing. Call me old fashioned, call me a dinosaur, I want my kids in front of a teacher, teaching them, not an iPad with a TFAer as a consultant to help guide them after their lessons. While society has changed, fundementally, humans have not. Kids learn by sitting around the camp fire with their parents/teachers explaining and showing and having them try it. That's the way it works. Young humans learn from other humans, not from representations of humans electronically. Babies and toddlers can't acquire language by sitting in front of a TV screen.

But, to each there own. I support diversity of choices and options, and QAE is a fabulous school and much beloved. Just not for us.

-teachers not iPads

mirmac1 said...

The recent crisis with data-collector ConnectEDU prompts some of my questions. For example, did SPS say "here Gates guy. Johnny Smith comes from a single parent household at poverty-level. We plugged him into your software and handed you the results. In return we got...bupkus. Next year we're going to expand this experiment to 60 schools and won't let the parents know. Our method of evaluating the success is, oops. The evidence of best practice is, double oops. We've got 4 highly-paid staff beating the bushes for more of these experiments. The board directors know nothing about this because we neglected to tell them. Besides, it part of the Strategic Plan elements 1.1-1.12, 2.1-2.14, and all the others. Don't ask us to do anything else unless you get Bill's buy-off."

Melissa Westbrook said...

Reader47, not if you didn't want parents to know how many different items are being piloted - by your children - in SPS. Wouldn't surprise me at all.

The "feedback" is whether the teacher can what? Get more done? Help more students? Buy more tablets and software?

What you would get is somewhat what you get now - some kids "zooming" thru and others falling behind. I'm not sure the teacher doesn't already know which is which.

The other issue - again - is how much of this is going on? Who decides who gets in (must it have the Gates seal of approval)?

And, as Mirmac 1 says, who gets the data? And what data is it?

name said...

Look up the idea of generative learning. Here is a quick link https://sites.google.com/site/generativelearningtheory/ Its the idea that students can combine component skills to solve new problems that they haven't been explicitly taught how to solve. The purpose of this program is to provide individualized questions for each kid. So the kids who struggle with a concept get lots of help with the basics and a kid who understands it quickly has the opportunity to move in to more complex aspects of the concept. The teacher is still teaching and designing the units and it looks like they would use this program in the assessment part of their lessons. I don't see the concern.

Anonymous said...

Be aware of the data collection implications of something like this.


Anonymous said...

The concern is not about the specific goals of this project. It may very well be a great idea. The problem is the lack of transparency in how this and other projects are brought into classrooms in this district.

We have no idea who is doing this, when it is being done, what data is collected, or how it is used. This time it sounds pretty benign. But other projects have been brought in silently that were potentially harmful, notably some of the data collection projects being referred to here in other posts.

SPS has a systemic and longstanding problem with opaqueness and the lack of information surrounding district affairs. Sometimes it is just due to ineptness, sometimes arrogance, but sometimes it is outright corruption.

If I were a board member, I would make it top priority to hire a superintendent who has a proven track record of daylighting organizations with a long history of dysfunction and hidden agendas. Specifically, someone who is strong and patient enough to establish enforce open procedures that follow industry standards in all areas, and willing to get rid of anyone who has a history of intimidation.


Anonymous said...

Exactly! "The problem is the lack of transparency in how this and other projects are brought into classrooms in this district."

This and the sales person giving out EnVision for free on the other thread are troubling symptoms of district without strong competent leadership.


Melissa Westbrook said...

I can only say that you can look away and shrug but one day, there will be something that you didn't want your child to participate in and it will be too late.

Silence can be tacit approval.

dw said...

Jan said: Whether this program does all I wish it could is another matter. But to me this is one of the holy grails of teaching.

I know I'm pulling one tiny quote out of your post, but I really want to respond, and it seemed as appropriate as anything.

Yes, this might possibly be one of the holy grails of teaching if it did all this analysis locally, on-site, not by reporting the information back to a central organization

Mirmac and Melissa (and me, and a few others) have been harping on this for some time, and I'm surprised how few people "get it". In many cases, this kind of data may not feel personal in the same way that a social security number is personal, but when enough data is gathered about individual students (or anyone, for that matter), it becomes problematic in that it can be used in ways that people don't consider or frankly don't understand.

It's not just the kids' answers, but real-time response rates, tendencies, the way you hold or move a tablet or twitch your finger, when and how often you sign in from home, where you sign in from home. All these things are personal data, and the big data analytic folks love, love, love to analyze this kind of data to look for patterns in the chaos. They don't care about the "why"s, only that patterns exist and can predict future behavior.

There may indeed be some benefits that allow more individualized learning, but is it worth having our kids analyzed in ways that most people can't even understand? This is not paranoia, it's the reality of commercial interests for the most part. Insurance companies, potential employers, they are all data hungry, and the data brokers that gather this kind of information have no qualms getting it from tech education companies. And in many cases they get fully-identified data for individual kids. ConnectEdu was just one such example. Where is that data going to land?

Leadership on this issue is going to need to come from the Board. There's no other way to get it under control. At the very least, a policy needs to be written that guarantees parents are to be notified IN ADVANCE when any data about or from their student being sent to ANY company outside the district, and parents must be given the choice of opting out without any negative repercussions to their child.

When these systems can be built so that ONLY the district manages, owns and controls the data, then perhaps great things can come of that. Until then, we need to put our collective foot down.

As Melissa says here: one day, there will be something that you didn't want your child to participate in and it will be too late.

mirmac1 said...

There is a GIANT loophole for web-hosting vendors (like ConnectEDU). They provide an "institutional service" so no parental notification is required under the eviscerated FERPA law. Likewise the BERC Group can conduct its annual HS graduation data analysis with your senior's data, while at the same time refining and selling its proprietary software to districts on teacher evals or whatever is the "next big thing" (as my daughter likes to say).

dw said...

...eviscerated FERPA...

Yes, this is the root of the problem.

However, it can be fixed at the local level if the Board has a mind to fix this problem. The data is gathered and exists at a local level (SPS), and most of it is handed out on a local level. Other than data provided to the state/OSPI, our district is not compelled to share anything with outside organizations.

The first step that the Board should take, and frankly this should happen immediately, is to ask for a simple audit describing which groups outside SPS have access to any student data whatsoever, and what exactly that data is. Until that information has been gathered and made public there's no way to know how severe the problem is and where potential problems lie.

There truly shouldn't be any reason not to do this. If there's any pushback from staff that would be a warning indicator, as in, we don't want the public to know.

Melissa, I'm not sure if anyone else is still reading this besides mirmac and myself, but is this worth its own thread? If there's enough interest here among the blog readers, perhaps we can make a concerted effort to reach out to Board members and get their attention on this. We really need to push for a simple audit.