Just before the holidays, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend NY EdTech Week. The morning session especially was crammed full of speakers from across the educational spectrum – everything from city officials to charter school administrators to university professors to EdTech visionaries. While they covered an enormous diversity of topics (including updates on elementary and middle school curriculum, personalized and adaptive learning, reducing college attrition rates, and corporate training), there were some noteworthy themes that emerged.
Takeaways from NY EdTech Week
Personalized learning is going to be big, but it isn’t going to be easy.
As Jim Shelton from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative noted, the ideal education would be to give every child their own personal tutor, but we don’t have the resources for that. So the question is, how much of the difference can we make up with technology?
However, Larry Berger of Amplify noted that this isn’t as simple a problem as many had originally thought. The original idea was that big data and algorithms would assess kids, place them on a map of learning, and then shepherd them through a library of learning objects, testing all the way through and allowing the system itself to learn. However, it turns out we don’t yet have most of those components. We don’t have a single map of how everyone should learn, we don’t have the tests that will accurately measure real comprehension, and we don’t have the highly targeted library of chunked information yet. He spoke of the importance of going beyond the simple algorithms: of offering personal feedback, giving kids choices in what they want to learn next, and designing learning experiences that can be experienced on different levels.
Just because the analytics is hard doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.
That’s not to say that we shouldn’t keep trying to build the algorithms. Mark Milliron at Civitas is working on how to make sure more college students actually finish their degrees. He spoke about the importance of predictive analytics. For example, they’ve found that predicting who will drop out is not done best by monitoring which classes students fail; by then, it’s too late. Instead, the most predictive classes are the gatekeeper 101/102 classes most students pass. But the ones who get As and Bs in the early classes will most likely make it through, while the C students are far more likely to fail to graduate. Predictive analytics let institutions intervene early to get the struggling students help before they fail.
Similarly, it’s not always about failure. Most students leave because of life events, logistics, and social factors. By using algorithms to help map schedules and courses, we can help reimagine course pathways to accommodate schedules and get more people through to the end of the program.
Technology allows people to not just learn new skills, but learn how to learn and even to create new knowledge.
Mike Barger from CorpU (who also founded JetBlue and was chief instructor at the Top Gun school) had a lot to say about teaching in the corporate environment, but it mirrored much of what had been said earlier in the day. People will need continue learning throughout their careers. Teaching them not only information, but also how to learn and how to teach is crucial. Democratizing the learning environment – giving learners the tools to create their own materials that can be shared – helps raise everyone’s knowledge level. Forcing learners to teach also improves their command and confidence in the material.
Making knowledge accessible is a major drive.
Getting under served populations access to knowledge came up time and time again. Carmen Farina, Chancellor of the New York Department of Education, emphasized both the dual language program and the importance of making opportunities – algebra, computer science, college awareness – available for all. Gerard Robinson from the American Enterprise Institute spoke about reeducation for those emerging from incarceration. One great anecdote featured workers at Marriott, many of whom don’t speak English as a first language and aren’t even literate in their native language. Marriott gave them tablets to take home, where their kids showed them how to use the tablets to go through training lessons. EdTech brings education to people who would otherwise not have access, and makes it easy for them to engage with the material.
Seeing how many ways people are tackling the many challenges in education today was inspiring. EdTech is exploding with potential, and you could feel the excitement in the air. At Kaltura, we’ve been trying to help drive on many of these trends, including personalization, measurement, democratization, and accessibility. With the flood of smart educational technologies that are being created today, we may be on the edge of a golden age of learning.
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