I found a new resource that could possibly be a part of what I see to be the next generation of equity in education. You can follow this link to check out Knewton, an adaptive learning platform. Hopefully textbooks and their exercises will transform into a mastery-based, personalized system. You can add that to Khan Academy and ALEKS as different tools that try to deliver personalized educational experiences to students. The lecture/model/practice paradigm just isn’t good for a classroom where different students have widely varying sets of skills and motivation, and the professional teaching practice of “differentiation” just isn’t as effective or scalable as individualized, adaptive systems.
In college, I used “Mastering Physics,” which is a prototypical example of the sorts of systems that could be possible. While frustrating and imperfect, the system had great potential to provide instant, individualized feedback and promote mastery (hence, Mastering Physics). One teacher simply cannot offer that kind of feedback to 150+ students on a daily basis.
Moreover, adaptive learning frees teachers from the lecture/model/practice paradigm to do more interesting things like have discussions about more complex problems that require more reasoning. Teachers can evaluate students’ verbal and written explanations to probe how students understand complicated ideas, not just whether or not they have mastered a skill. Teachers can use their time to give specific comments to students about their ideas, rather than numerical feedback on worksheets. That sort of feedback is much better handled by automated systems (it’s more timely, too). Students will forgive teachers for taking several days to write thoughtful feedback for a writing project (yes, we have those in math classes now) because they are getting great, immediate, daily feedback from adaptive learning systems.
What do you think?