[IAEP] Data vs Critical Thinking - Can Sugar give schools both?

Yamandu Ploskonka yamaplos at gmail.com
Fri Apr 23 22:28:05 EDT 2010

On 04/23/2010 08:13 PM, K. K. Subramaniam wrote:
> On Thursday 22 April 2010 07:33:25 pm Caroline Meeks wrote:
>> 1. Software that assess students, track and displays results, quickly and
>> efficiently without using up a lot of instructional time.
>> 2. Software and a content library that analyzes these results and gives
>> students the right learning objects/experiences for their current level and
>> learning style.
>> #1 is straightforward programming.
>> #2 is a grand challenge!
> Not really. #2 is amenable to statistical methods. See www.assetonline.in, for
> instance. Diagnostic tests are different from grading tests in that they do
> analyze "wrong" answers too and report to teachers and parents about potential
> areas of confusion.
> They do have a drawback - they can detect confusion but not prevent them.
> Getting it right the first time requires systems like Montessori that put the
> learner in charge. All statistical methods come with outliers - 'exceptional'
> or 'laggards'. Then you have a problem of dealing with them :-(.
Excellent points (I love this thread, thank you Caroline and all)

One hope is that an early system would take care of the inbetweeners, 
who are the greatest number anyway, thus freeing up more time for the 
teacher to do her magic on the (circumstantial and extreme) outliers, 
besides also more time for each one in class since a lot of the routine 
tasks are dealt with by the machine.  I mean, if a computer can simply 
take care of attendance and retrieving homework, that already gets me 
back 5 to 10% of a high school class time, if it can deal with some of 
the exercises to understand a concept, I get 50 or even 80% more to 
spend in one-on-one follow up.

Also, the hope is that a further improved system can detect the specific 
kind of confusion a kid has , to trigger a specific kind of 
intervention, by the computer or the teacher, by pointing out the 
specific need to the teacher, more efficiently, saving human time and 
wear and tear spent in figuring what the current stress point is.  I 
actually envision such a system would be able to eventually also deal 
with a lot of the reinforcing needed by some outliers, as well as the 
extra content needed by others, thus a win-win for everyone.  Alas, 
still tied to the curriculum because that is the way things are.  While 
ideally this could be done by a human teacher, we know that there simply 
are not that amount or level of human resources available able to 
discern the needs and then follow up with the appropriate intervention, 
and that is just going to get worse as time passes, as the statisticians 
tell us.

My biggest selling point is that it would save work for the teacher.  
The addition of high-quality content and individualized delivery might 
be seen by many as gravy, though of course we know that that is the 
heart and raison d'être of the concept in the first place.

Yes, Montessori might be best, but I know too well that requires such a 
unique blend of skills and training that it just won't do, especially 
for places where the very basis of it is unknown.

And in this concept the learner /is/ in charge.  I mean, the very idea 
is that the system would mold itself around the learner, following 
curricular criteria of course, but shaping the delivery to the learner's 
own path.  The student would make "his" own choices as he proceeds 
forward, with the machine gently giving hopefully the best and most 
adequate and understandable material for his own quest to knowledge, 
"Guide the child along his own way,..."

> Automation can only take us so far. A teacher instructs and listens. The
> former service can be done through a computer while the latter is difficult. For
> many students with difficult backgrounds, the teacher is the only source of hope
> and guidance. We are still a long way from empathic computers ;-).
And maybe it's right that is so.  I accompany those who fear a 
dehumanised learning system (/cf./ what you see in the opening scenes of 
the Star Trek movie relating to Spock schooling), where the remaining 
elements of interaction with peers and educators are bullying and 
judgmental labels.  I believe an Open Source system would never allow 
that, enough checks and balances are the nature itself of our approach, 
but such evil is not too hard to imagine if these folks 
get the contract to be in charge of this initiative, as their for-profit 
motive trumps all other considerations, as is the case too often right 
now.  All in all, I do hope that teachers will be even better able to 
listen and support and help build character, eventually trained to be 
their best at that, as other tasks are delegated to the machine.
> Subbu
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