By: Emmett McGroarty, Jane Robbins –
As we’ve pointed out, so-called “personalized learning” is the current fad in progressive education. But observing personalized learning in action reveals that the term is misleading. Perhaps we should call it “de-personalized” learning.
Most parents don’t realize that the “personalization” aspect of this digital training (not to be confused with education) comes not from extra attention paid by a good teacher, but from creepy mind-mapping and psychological analysis. The sophisticated software used in these interactive digital platforms can evaluate exactly how the child’s mind works (including socio-emotional characteristics) and so, theoretically, tailor the training to fit his needs.
The problem with this is, at least, twofold. First, the government has no business examining how children’s minds work, especially when the data collected from this intrusion may be stored in the children’s lifelong dossiers and used down the road for heaven knows what. Second, notice what, or rather who, is excised from this digital-training process: the teacher.
Although the ed-tech universe pays lip service to the value of the teacher’s involvement, in reality, gluing kids to screens for much of the school day pushes the teacher to the margins of the educational experience. Utah teacher Suzan Barnes has explained that a classroom built around digital instruction too often reduces the teacher to a dashboard monitor, clicking here and there to unlock the next level of each student’s lesson without the necessity of, or the time for, truly evaluating whether that student has learned anything. Students are thus deprived of the teacher’s guidance and wisdom that would come to bear in a traditional classroom with actual human interaction.
This marginalization of teachers suggests the long-term possibility (plan?) of vastly reducing the number of teachers needed in the classroom, saving millions in personnel costs. An added benefit would be, as Ms. Barnes explains, that the government could restrict the points of view to which students are introduced. Why risk exposure to the rogue teacher who doesn’t toe the government-approved line?
Regardless of the macro plan, the result of this “personalized” training is that it’s anything but. Students interact with impersonal software on an impersonal device, perhaps with an occasional computer-generated humanoid voice commenting on their performance. Meanwhile, the teacher is stuck at the desk, inputting the required mountains of data.
It gets worse. The de-personalization movement not only marginalizes teachers, it minimizes their skills in dealing with human students anyway. Educational Testing Service (ETS), which administers standardized tests including the College Board’s SAT and AP exams, is developing a new exam for assessing teacher candidates that observes them in a clinical environment disinfected of all actual students. This new assessment would replace students with avatars. Seriously.
ETS’s proposed “National Observational Teaching Exam” (NOTE) would create a virtual classroom filled with fake computerized students and make teacher candidates “teach” a lesson to the fake students. Feedback on the candidates’ performance would be provided by – of course – artificial intelligence.
ETS is creating NOTE in partnership with TeachingWorks, a University of Michigan initiative “dedicated to improving teachers’ preparation and to creating a professional threshold for entry to teaching.” That sounds worthwhile until you read the annual report and discover that TeachingWorks is generously funded by (let’s all say it together) the Gates Foundation. Having royally mucked up public education regardingstandards, digital training, etc., Bill Gates is now directing his well-funded ineptness toward teacher preparation.
Gates’s sponsorship explains to some extent how education professionals could suggest such a goofy sci-fi way of training teachers. If it involves computers, apparently, Gates is all in.
But relevant also is Gates’s advocacy of maximum standardization in education – remember his analogy of education as a standard electrical outlet – and such standardization is one goal of NOTE. As ETS explains, “In partnership with Mursion, which provides a mixed-reality teaching environment with simulated students, the avatars are produced by trained, calibrated human ‘interactors’ using standardized protocols. The use of virtual classrooms not only supports greater standardization of instructional contexts and settings for candidates, but also eliminates disruption to classroom activities, curriculum and student learning that occurs in schools.”
Standardized protocols produce standardized “students” to produce standardized teachers. It’s Bill’s ultimate fantasy.
As for using something like NOTE to determine a student teacher’s readiness for the classroom, only someone utterly unfamiliar with caring human interaction and its centrality to genuine education could be talked into that.
This is just the latest in a cascading series of efforts to denigrate the teachers. It reflects a flawed understanding of human nature, of what makes a teacher great, and of what captures the imagination and enthusiasm of the child. Recall your most effective teacher from high school. Now try to visualize him or her “teaching” a screen of avatars. Impossible, right? Odds are, sadly, that such people will no longer seek a career in the de-personalized world of personalized education.