Sunday, April 21, 2019

NYT: Fascinating Article On Individualized, Computerized Instruction

Here is a fascinating article from the NYT on individualized, computerized instruction:

Silicon Valley Came to Kansas Schools. That Started a Rebellion.

"[P]ublic schools near Wichita had rolled out a web-based platform and curriculum from Summit Learning. The Silicon Valley-based program promotes an educational approach called 'personalized learning,' which uses online tools to customize education. The platform that Summit provides was developed by Facebook engineers."

"Many families in the Kansas towns, which have grappled with underfunded public schools and deteriorating test scores, initially embraced the change. Under Summit’s program, students spend much of the day on their laptops and go online for lesson plans and quizzes, which they complete at their own pace. Teachers assist students with the work, hold mentoring sessions and lead special projects. The system is free to schools. The laptops are typically bought separately."

"Then, students started coming home with headaches and hand cramps. Some said they felt more anxious."

"“We’re allowing the computers to teach and the kids all looked like zombies,” said Tyson Koenig, a factory supervisor in McPherson, who visited his son’s fourth-grade class."

"In a school district survey of McPherson middle school parents released this month, 77 percent of respondents said they preferred their child not be in a classroom that uses Summit."

:The resistance in Kansas is part of mounting nationwide opposition to Summit, which began trials of its system in public schools four years ago and is now in around 380 schools and used by 74,000 students."

"He said he liked Summit’s program. His daughter, Kelcie, 14, said she felt self-directed. 'Everyone is judging it too quickly,' he said."

"Around the country, teachers said they were split on Summit. Some said it freed them from making lesson plans and grading quizzes so they had more time for individual students. Others said it left them as bystanders."

Key point: "For years, education experts have debated the merits of self-directed, online learning versus traditional teacher-led classrooms. Proponents argue that programs like Summit provide children, especially those in underserved towns, access to high-quality curriculums and teachers. Skeptics worry about screen time and argue that students miss out on important interpersonal lessons."

I have mixed feelings about a program like Summit's.  I believe that the most important thing any school can do is to turn out self-directed learners.  On the other hand, too much screen time can hurt students psychologically.  Perhaps the solution is to mix computerized instruction with old fashioned classes.

(Scott Fruehwald)

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