Triggered by Friday’s article on e-Literate TV, there have been some very interesting conversations both in the Chronicle comment thread and on the e-Literate TV site. The most, um, intense conversations have centered on the application of self-regulated learning (SRL) in combination with adaptive software (ALEKS) to redesign a remedial math course at Essex County College. Michael has been wading in very deep waters in the comment threads, trying emphasize variations of the following point.
But that debate should be in the context of what’s actually happening in real classrooms with real students, what the educational results are, and what the teachers and students involved think of their experiences.
Right now, the “sides” are having a fight–it’s not really a debate because the sides aren’t really talking to each other–in near total absence of any rational, educator-evaluated, evidence-based conversation about what these approaches are good for. One side says they will “fix” a “broken” education system, while the other side says they will “destroy” the education system. Well, what are the students saying?
One key theme coming through from comments at the Chronicle is what I perceive as an unhealthy cynicism that prevents many people from listening to students and faculty on the front lines (the ones taking redesigned courses) on their own merits. Michael called out this situation in the same comment:
What bothers me is the seemingly complete lack of interest among the commenters in this thread about actually hearing what these teachers and students have to say, and the disregard for the value of their perspectives. It is possible to raise legitimate concerns about techno-solutionism, anti-labor practices, and other serious abuses while simultaneously acknowledging that so-called “personalized learning” approaches can have real educational value when properly applied in the appropriate context by competent and concerned educators and serious students.
One of our primary goals for e-Literate TV is to give additional access to those on the front lines, thus allowing debates and conversations about the role of ed tech and personalized learning approaches. However, it is important to recognize that students can have their own perspectives and are not just robots who are told what to say and do. Consider the following panels discussion with students. To me, the students are quite well-spoken and have real insights.
Sade: A typical day is, like, you basically come in—you go and you log on and you do your ALEKS. You do it at your own pace. Every individual works at their own pace. That’s why I like it. Because some people are ahead, and if you’re in a typical, a regular class, then you have to go with the pace of everybody else. Even if you don’t understand, you have to be—you have to try to catch up. Here, you work at your own pace.
Viviane: It’s been a very good experience for basically the same reasons. Where you just sit and you work and if you can solve 10 problems in one hour, it’s better for you if you keep working at your own pace.
And there’s also—the professor that helps you, or you can even bother one of your classmates and say, “Hey, can you help me out over here with this problem?” or something like that. I mean it’s—I feel as if it’s a very interactive and open classroom.
As per other classes, I don’t think that a regular math class would be able—I mean you wouldn’t be able to sit and ask another classmate for help or anything like that. You would have to just wait for your professor.
Most students we talked to appreciated the self-paced nature of the lab portion (working on the computers emporium style with faculty roaming the room for one-on-one support), but it is very clear that the technology itself was one component of the solution. Students are reflecting back that it is the combination of self-paced design along with interactive support that is critical to success. Not only that, but note how students value the ability for peer support – students helping students. That design element of courses is often overlooked.
In another segment, students explored this concept in more depth with an additional element of ownership of the learning process.
Phil: Most of the students we talked to seem to have internalized the lessons of self-regulated learning and feel empowered to learn.
Sade: It’s really good because, for example, say I’m doing a topic, and I’m stalling. Vivian is faster than I am. I could work by my own pace and then it’s a professor there that I could raise my hand. “Excuse me. I don’t understand this. Could you help me with it?”—because everybody learns at their own pace. Everybody learns at their own pace.
Khalid: Yeah, we are typically just sitting down on the computer screen, but we’re sitting next to our classmates, so if there’s a problem on it, I could ask my classmate. Like, that’s actually the best thing about ALEKS, is that there’s an explain button right there.
We would do well to listen to students more often, judging input on their own merits.
Update: Fixed first video link.