Last week I finished an online digital painting class at schoolism.com taught by the legendary Bobby Chiu. To show you how effective the class was, I learned how to turn this:
And then into this!
All from the comfort of my home and time schedule using only Photoshop and a digital tablet.
I’m not a professional illustrator (yet), but I feel like I learned some amazing skills from a world expert on the subject and I felt like a kid having fun. So, I wondered “Could kids benefit from online schooling?”
So I thought of some benefits and drawbacks of online schooling compared to traditional schools:
Get help with Adaptive/Personalized learning (knewton.com).
Learn at your own pace and schedule.
(The online schools I include above do not target children per se, but I don’t see why their models couldn’t be adapted for children.)
Schools are not just about knowledge transfer, they ‘re also about making friends and getting exposed to the real world away from home.
It’s hard to enforce the “rules” when the teacher is not physically around.
As far as “enforcing rules”, a “virtual teacher” technology can easily be applied to record scores and progress as if the teacher was around (with deadlines, online testing etc.). So the most serious drawback of online schooling is the lack of the ability to socialize. Even though there are options that mimic social interaction online a la Facebook (schoology.com), unless kids leave home and meet other kids in person, they will miss out on a big part of life lessons if we replace schools with online learning.
So how about turning schools into “social activity centers” to get kids to play and interact together while they get schooled online? For the first time in history, we could give kids the opportunity (especially in developing countries) to get quality education from anywhere anytime at the fraction of the cost of traditional schools.
I’ve been reading lately about new approaches to teach children science and technology through storytelling via the use of specialized software and portable devices. The most notable effort I’ve come across is Alan Kay’s Viewpoints Research Institute which is integrated with the One Laptop Per Child project. The idea is that through the use of media and the integration of activities in one interface, children can understand complex concepts in science.
Another tool I came across is called Processing. Even though this software is not really targeted for children, it serves the same purpose: teach complex concepts through an intuitive user interface. Maybe in the future it could be tweaked for teaching kids how to write software.
Given the highly sophisticated educational software out there and the web’s ability to find knowledge fast, it’s fair to ask why would a teacher-in-school setting be necessary in educating our children in the future? In fact there are examples, where teachers start being replaced by devices running educational software.
An approach by Microsoft research relies on a multi-point mouse interface and off-the-shelf PC equipment to allow children in developing countries to teach themselves without the need for a teacher.
A start-up company called Knewton uses adaptive algorithms to coach students on standardized tests (e.g., SAT) in a personalized fashion by “understanding” their skill level. In addition, online services like MIT’s OpenCourseWare, teach university-level classes through rich-media content from the comfort of one’s home.
At the same time, the current generation of portable devices (iPad, iPhone, Android tablets) expose simple to use interfaces. Simple enough for children to use on a daily basis. So children could carry them around, meet with their friends and play and learn together. Not only that, but there are already games available that provide alternatives to learning how to read or count.
So the obvious question is: will school teachers be entirely replaced? After all, intelligent portable software and a great user interface provide a powerful interactive storytelling medium that can not only capture the attention of a child, but also convey very sophisticated concepts that a teacher and a blackboard cannot.
On the other hand, after reading “Work Hard, Be Nice”, I see how much power an effective teacher can have in a child’s life. The passion and persistence of the founders of the KIPP schools is hard to replicate using software running on a personal portable device. The teachers made each class a ritual and enforced a “no shortcuts” culture in their schools by confronting students in person. Even unmotivated students responded positively. An iPad can’t do that.
What do you as current or future parents, teachers and educators think on this matter? I’ve created the following poll to pick your brains.
The story of the Dragon’s Treasure Makeover aims to teach both a problem-solving skill and a technical skill.
First, the problem-solving skill is “try to understand the nature of a problem before you attempt a solution”. Imagine your printer is not working and you say “It worked fine yesterday. What happened? It broke. I’ll call support,” when in reality someone by mistake pulled the printer’s plug. In the story, all three wizards use the Spellopedia Magica, but only Thinkalot picks a useful spell out of the book. That’s because he asked questions in order to understand the true nature of the Dragon’s problem. Understanding the nature of a problem is most of the time harder than coming up with a solution. It’s a skill that takes time to acquire, but it’s invaluable. If your children are stuck on a problem you can teach them by saying:
“Understand the problem and you ‘re more than half way towards the solution.”
Second, the technical skill is “if you organize things based on an identifier then it’s faster to search through them”. In this information-loaded age, information management is a great skill to acquire, so this story will provide a good discussion framework for you and your children on this topic.
I’d be interested to hear your opinion or reactions of your children on these topics.
Here are some comprehension questions you might want to ask:
1. If you were a Dragon which wizard would you hire and why?
(Thinkalot because he would try to understand my problem before he cast a spell.)
2. If you were the Dragon how would you change your ad in the Magic Network to make more clear what your problem was?
(“looking for wizard to help with search of treasure. I would like to be able to find any item in my treasure in about one day. I don’t want to lose any of my treasure” etc. The goal is to write a more specific ad.)
3. Thinkalot’s solution splits the treasure based on the first letter of each item. That splits the treasure in 26 piles. What if half of the treasure items started with “A”? It would take the Dragon half a month instead of a day to search for an item starting with “A”. So Thinkalot would be in trouble! Can you help Thinkalot find a better solution before the Dragon finds out?
(One way to solve this is to split the “A” pile into 26 piles using the second letter and so on. There are even better solutions if you are creative with your sorting criteria. I’d be interested to hear what your children can think of!)
I hope we learned something useful today,