January 14th, 2013

Results That Matter

Nicholas Carr in MIT’s Technology Review:

Looking toward the future, Kuntz says that computers will ultimately be able to tailor an entire “learning environment” to fit each student. Elements of the program’s interface, for example, will change as the computer senses the student’s optimum style of learning.

The advances in tutoring programs promise to help many college, high-school, and even elementary students master basic concepts. One-on-one instruction has long been known to provide substantial educational benefits, but its high cost has constrained its use, particularly in public schools. It’s likely that if computers are used in place of teachers, many more students will be able to enjoy the benefits of tutoring. According to one recent study of undergraduates taking statistics courses at public universities, the latest of the online tutoring systems seem to produce roughly the same results as face-to-
face instruction.

Adds to my post from yesterday, but don’t miss the point. The most important word to parse in this snip is “results.” And this is what drives me crazy when we talk about this stuff. We all know that Carr is talking about performance results as measured by competencies or tests or grades, but are those the only results that matter in face-to-face instruction?

Apparently so.

Let me be really, really clear. The teaching profession is absolutely important and worth fighting for. But I’m convinced, in the current climate especially here in the US, that simply pushing back against these types of innovations by attacking their lack of humanity will not work. At the end of the day, if technology continues to bring better scores and better economics to the equation, I’m not sure the separation between “tutoring” and “teaching” will be deemed worth saving.

I appreciate the stories of learning that many are telling now, stories of inquiry and creation and authentic work using technology to deepen and scale the experience.  Somehow, we’re going to have to make those stories scale.

  1. willrichardson posted this
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