CourseSmart and Dumbing Down Teaching

I had to wince to make it through this article and visibly groaned when I read this:

Teacher Knows if You’ve Done the E-Reading – NYTimes: “CourseSmart is owned by Pearson, McGraw-Hill and other major publishers, which see an opportunity to cement their dominance in digital textbooks by offering administrators and faculty a constant stream of data about how students are doing.

In the old days, teachers knew if students understood the course from the expressions on their faces. Now some classes, including one of Mr. Guardia’s, are entirely virtual. Engagement information could give the colleges early warning about which students might flunk out, while more broadly letting teachers know if the whole class is falling behind.

Eventually, the data will flow back to the publishers, to help prepare new editions.”

As a teacher, I definitely understand the well meaning intention behind something like CourseSmart. I use Khan Academy a great deal with my 7th grade students for similar intentions.

However, the reason I use Khan for reinforcing math skills we’re discussing or for enrichment is to increase a student’s “number sense” and basic quantitative reasoning skills. We have conversations about their work on Khan, we do track progress a little (though it’s not used as the basis for a grade) and I am able to see where a particular student might be struggling, bored, competent or proficient on certain math skills that we’re covering. It’s a handy tool just like worksheets or pencil and paper. In the end, my job as a teacher is to converse with each student and see where they are in their math work on an individual basis. Khan along with many other tools helps me do that more authentically. I don’t “helicopter” students but want them to realize that they can take charge of their own learning for learning’s wonderful sake.

Khan, Code Academy, iTunes U, Coursera etc have made me a much better teacher over the last three years because I fundamentally believe that conversation (meaning more than verbal but conversation in the truest sense of the word possible) with an individual student is still the best test.

Nonetheless, what CourseSmart is doing from a teaching point of view is taking something like reading and making it into a quantitative model of “engagement.” Rather than a student being able to engage with material that suits them best, they’re being pigeon holed into an algorithmic expectation of highlighting and note taking in a way that up-ends the teaching process. Services like CourseMart are yet another example that boxed one-size fits all education at any level does not work.

Plus, the connection to corporate edu is so disturbing. Pearson and McGraw-Hill have become the Facebook and Google of education with their takeover of the education cloud.

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