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Friday, January 3, 2014

How IBM's jaw-dropping classroom of the future will 'learn' you

IBM's vision for the classroom five years from now is wrong on so many levels. When I came across this infographic and the accompanying video today my jaw dropped.

I added the numbers to the graphic above and keyed my bullets below to them to help unpack what the good folks at International Business Machines are thinking. But you'll quickly see many more flaws than I can point out. And if you're insulted by the six copy points in the graphic, just wait till you click on the video below.

1) Yes, the classroom will "learn" you - providing you are a student lucky enough to participate in Big Blue's dream of grabbing a utopian chunk of the world's public education pie. This "classroom" of which they speak? Basically, it's a hardware/software/cloud combo IBM wants to sell your school division after its research project with Gwinnett County Public Schools, the 14th largest school district in the US, is complete.

2) Now, what Dr. Frase is really saying here is the classroom will learn about every student in your class, providing you enter copious amounts of standardized test and other data (the more numbers the better) about them and brief the software about their aptitudes and learning preferences. Notice, too, that this not-quite-human helper will actually provide you with a tailored curriculum for each student from kindergarten all the way through high school until they get their first job at McDonalds. Hmm.

3) If you thought "The classroom of the future" was some corny Popular Science / Jetsons / 1950's news reel fabrication, not so fast. Consider that this classroom will be so darn smart, it will help your kids master skills critical to meeting their goals. Not to make light of students genuine interests and desires, but it's only the kids goals that count right? Not yours, their parents or even Society's. But can hardware and software even DO that? Looks like the classroom of the future can.

4) This classroom is so clever, in fact, that it will substantially lighten your load by developing a syllabus based on every child's learning style and pace. Sure, you may have to push a few buttons and stuff, but that classroom computer will do the real grunt work. And you know that flipped classroom experiment? Well, this will be even better because now your students will be able to learn everything on their terms and their schedule.

5) Now, read carefully here. If there's anything getting in the way of any of your young charge's educations right now - hunger, poverty, gangs, violence, teen pregnancy, a bad home life - the system will take make these barriers less of a deal in how they do in school. Yup.

6) Finally, if you're wondering what exactly will fuel this magical helper of yours? Why, numbers of course. And don't feel too insulted when you read that last paragraph. IBM knows things like identifying kids most at risk and finding measures to overcome their challenges are really your job. But they also know you could use a hand from their version of Hal.

Ok, your thoughts? Have you ever seen a more clumsy attempt by a multinational to engineer its way into heavier profits at the expense of good pedagogy and teacher autonomy? Now, we know IBM will have to duke it out with ed behemoth Pearson and other players for market share, but can you get more disingenuous and disrespectful? Is it really a matter of sitting back, punching in the numbers and reaping the benefits of individualized machine-generated curricula for students? Is this really a vision for the future, five years out?

As you watch the video below, you'll form more impressions. Mine actually boil down to a simple question. Honestly IBM, who do you think you are?

Your thoughts, dear reader, would be most welcome.

1 comment:

  1. I think this is positioned as simply a tool for teachers to better know and reach their students.... who wouldn't want that? The video says "teachers efforts will go much further," I don't see where it suggests that it replaces the role of the teacher. Let's face it, we are still teaching the same way we did 100 years ago. Everything else has changed, except education and government.... I was one of those children in the 70's with ADD who couldn't focus for more than a minute... labeled stupid, and yet, every time I was pulled out of class for individual assessments I would baffle the "experts" by testing above average intelligence.... what's my point? if there is a tool available that helps identify a students needs, why not use it? What could it hurt to know you have someone (or more) in the classroom who thinks a little differently than the others? Teachers are not gods... you cannot look at a child on day one and know what all of their learning tendencies are... and let's face it, there are a lot of great teachers and a lot of BAD teachers in America right now... If using data can flag one kid, in one class to use a different approach that works for them, then a system like this is worth it. Some tools work and some tools don't, but to simply dismiss a tool without ever trying it???..... It's 2015, every aspect of life is being changed by technology... Do you want to have schools, or museums?