Jay Mathews has a piece in The Washington Post this week that highlights a common challenge in ed tech. Many schools now partner with sites where students’ assignments can be easily followed online. This is great for kids who routinely forget to write down assignments, and it’s great for parents whose children struggle to stay on task.
One problem, though, is that some teachers aren’t embracing the change. Mathews tells the story of a mother who had to email the principal to figure out why her daughter’s work hadn’t been posted (her daughter has ADHD, so tracking assignments is especially pressing):
The teacher was discontinuing the web site, the principal replied. She felt it was not a useful tool, too much of a bother when she had different assignments for gifted and regular kids. So how could parents keep track of assignments if the teacher rejected the instrument designed to accomplish that?
You can see how situations like these would be common in schools. An online syllabus can be useful in theory, but what happens when teachers have to change assignments on the fly for different students? For teachers who are less than tech-savvy (or in the case of websites or programs that are less than user-friendly), online tools could prove to be more of a burden than a boon.
That’s why technology–not teachers–should be doing the legwork. Instead of requiring manual updates every time a study plan changes, what if a syllabus automatically adjusted to individual students? The problem of “different assignments for gifted and regular kids” would be resolved; a teacher would only have to monitor adjustments and let the system send the alerts.
This individualized approach to education is a work in progress (it’s the kind of adaptive learning technology we’re building now at Knewton), but in the meantime there have to be ways to meet teachers halfway.
A syllabus should be more than a static calendar. One idea would be to track students’ positions on a moveable timeline, where teachers could drag and drop students to different parts of the syllabus as they moved through their work.
Or what if each student had a personal syllabus that clearly showed which assignments were left to complete? We recently wrote about the online syllabus in our GMAT prep course; it’s a one-stop source of information for all student assignments and deadlines, and something like it could certainly be used to empower parents who are eager to follow their kids’ progress.
Jay Mathews insists that teachers have to accept technology if it’s going to be useful, but let’s not forget that technology still has a lot of room to grow. All teachers want to provide the best education they can — when technology helps them do that, they’ll be less likely to reject it.