Sunday, January 24, 2016

What if Blobla DID look at us based on an algorithm?

So have you been on Facebook and seen the "Bill the Stickman" app by It keeps appearing over and over on my newsfeed. Occasionally I also see a little parody of it or frustration with it as well. BUT, I had to try it. Mainly because the edtech educator in me needed to see if it was algorithm driven. Was it really looking at my posts, friends, etc and deciding what to say about me? Obviously with the post on the right, I immediately thought it was a data driven algorithm. I found myself running it again, again, and again and finally realized it was just a random assigner of silliness. BUT, what if it actually ran on an algorithm? Before I realized it wasn't algorithm based, I would click and find myself looking hard at myself about the results. "I don't click like on friends photos just because they don't have many likes, do I?" "I don't just hate everyone, do I?" Forgive me as I chase this bunny down a trail but algorithms are so wonderfully interesting to me. In this case, what if it allowed me to take off the rose colored glasses in the way I see myself and truly see myself as others see me based on data? Would that be a good thing? Could I grow from that? Would it make me feel like sitting in a corner and sucking my thumb because I realize I am much more fake than I really want to admit? AND WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH AN EDTECH BLOG POST?

Ahhh...I'm getting there, I promise. "Big data" gets a bad rep at times. The educational industry is so enamored with data points from testing- and yes, I agree we are in an over testing culture right now, but what if these algorithms could lead us to personalize learning? I think it's the future of education. We are already seeing it happen within some software/app options, for instance Dreambox Learning and Mangahigh both have created intuitive environments that adjust to student learning. If a student gets one question right, he keeps being challenged with a progression of harder questions. If a student gets a question wrong, the student gets an easier question so as not to overwhelm the learner with a sense of failure but to keep them active and progressing just the same. At our school we are using a LMS called Edify and it has the ability to suggest to a student relevant learning aids (videos, etc) after taking an assessment. This is based on what that student is still struggling with. These examples are the beginning threshold of algorithms that help us with personalized learning.

See if you can wrap your head around this... 25 students in a class taking assessments that tell them and their teacher what their best learning styles are, what they still struggle with, who they best learn with (collaboration efforts), what days are harder for them to learn on, if they need to be challenged by a new modality, if the lesson will be a struggle or a challenge. The options could go on and on. The next day the teacher has looked at the data from the day before and knows where 8th grader Annika should sit, what modality she should be taught with, etc. Algorithms could do that. Could they replace the teacher? Not well. But what if it helped the teacher affirm they are doing everything in their power to meet the needs of that student? That's student-driven. Big data and the way we are seeing it being used to pour kids into boxes that place them into categories are scary but what if big data meant meeting an individual kid's needs better than ever before. I believe this is the not so distant future of edtech.

The question becomes how do we harness the power? How do we, as educators, use the ability without losing the relational aspects of school? As I look at our school's blended learning prototype this year I see so much potential. I see technology allowing teachers the ability to have more 1 on 1 and small group instruction time to build relationships with their students. I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt we are on the cusp of innovational educational change. Is it scary? Yes! Even for someone like me that is excited about it. I fear it being used wrongly, I fear it being depended on too deeply, I fear administrators thinking that relationships aren't that important and instead of it becoming a change agent for engagement between teachers/students it becomes another step towards "mill-based everyone looks the same, come in and get it done and graduate education." But I don't think educators will let that happen. I leave you with this Twitter post I saw today that makes me believe that teachers will choose to empower their students for lifelong learning as they begin to see the options and opportunities open up before their eyes.