The term “Personalized Learning” is huge and controversial. Technology offers incredible potential for education. The concern I have is how educational technology companies are framing how technology can personalize learning. I attended the keynote of NYU professor Diane Ravitch on March 16, 2012 at the Computer-Using Educators (CUE) conference in Palm Springs, California who started with “for a century, educators have dreamed about student-centered learning, and now technology has the potential to make it real.” Ravitch explains this in more detail in her latest book: The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education
“Educational technology helps students rise to a level of engagement and learning “far beyond” what a textbook can offer,” Ravitch said, “adding that textbooks often avoid sensitive or difficult topics from the past because publishers and those with a stake in adoption want the textbooks to be approved for student use. Textbooks have been plagued by a regime of silence and censorship, and for years, educators have wondered how to expose students to true versions of the events they read about in their textbooks. So what do you do?”
“ The answer is technology,” Ravitch said. “For instance, educators can show videos depicting historical events or portraying scientific phenomena without editing. Technology is too big, too various, too wide open, and far too much for them to monitor,” she said. “It’s free, and they can’t make you edit out the controversial stuff—they can try, but I think it might be too hard.”
Ed tech has, in fact, helped spur new kinds of freedom. Teachers aren’t the only ones who see technology’s potential in the classroom—entrepreneurs see it as a way to make money, and policy makers see it as a way to cut costs and, in some cases, eliminate teachers.
“Some advocates of online instruction say it will make possible reductions of 30 percent of today’s teaching staff,” Ravitch said. “The bottom line for some is profits, not students.”
Technology adapts curriculum, analyzes data, stores content, allows anonymity, and produces vast amounts of information. In many of these cases, companies frame what they do with technology as personalized learning.
Ravitch added “no machine can judge nuance, or irony, or tone, or some amazing bursts of creativity. I fear the use of these programs will inevitably reduce student work. … I fear a loss of thoughtfulness” as students write papers to satisfy a computer. This is the thinking of a world too flat for me. … Don’t let them flatten you,” Ravitch said. “Don’t let them give you a number—we are not cattle; we should not be branded. Let us dare to use technology as it should be used—to dream, create, explore, and learn without boundaries. Let us use the power of technology to say ‘No’ to those who want to standardize our minds and the minds of our students.”
Diane Ravitch is a historian of education at New York University. Her best-selling book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, has made her one of the nation’s most sought after speakers on current issues. She is a graduate of Houston public schools, Wellesley College, and holds a PhD from Columbia University. She has received nine honorary doctorates and many awards for her scholarship. She served as Assistant Secretary of Education for Research and Improvement in the administration of President George H.W. Bush and was appointed to two terms on the National Assessment Governing Board by the Clinton administration. She lives in New York City.
Educational companies are framing personalized learning to adapt what you learn. Their software adapts to your learning so learners sit in front of a computer half a day. It is also being framed as a way to make learning cost-effective and guarantees increasing scores. They are promoting that computers can take over the work of a teacher. This is what I say: “A computer cannot personalize learning like a teacher and a student can.” It is all about the learner not the software, the textbook, or the tools.