Would You Want to Learn With a Personalized, Online Learning Program Instead of a Teacher?

Would You Want to Learn With a Personalized, Online Learning Program Instead of a Teacher?

Imagine your school has started a new method of teaching and learning. Instead of being led through lessons by teachers, you and your classmates now use a personalized, web-based learning platform. This program is tailored to your individual abilities, needs and interests and you can complete it at your own pace. Your teacher no longer directs the class, but acts as your personal “mentor,” helping you with assignments as needed and meeting with you for 10 minutes a week to check on your progress.

How similar does this scenario sound to the way your classes function right now? Is this a program you would want at your school? Why or why not?

In “Silicon Valley Came to Kansas Schools. That Started a Rebellion,” Nellie Bowles writes about a similar platform backed by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg that was introduced in two Kansas high schools:

The seed of rebellion was planted in classrooms. It grew in kitchens and living rooms, in conversations between students and their parents.

It culminated when Collin Winter, 14, an eighth grader in McPherson, Kan., joined a classroom walkout in January. In the nearby town of Wellington, high schoolers staged a sit-in. Their parents organized in living rooms, at churches and in the back of machine repair shops. They showed up en masse to school board meetings. In neighborhoods with no political yard signs, homemade signs with dark red slash marks suddenly popped up.

Silicon Valley had come to small-town Kansas schools — and it was not going well.

“I want to just take my Chromebook back and tell them I’m not doing it anymore,” said Kallee Forslund, 16, a 10th grader in Wellington.

Eight months earlier, public schools near Wichita had rolled out a web-based platform and curriculum from Summit Learning. The Silicon Valley-based program promotes an educational approach called “personalized learning,” which uses online tools to customize education. The platform that Summit provides was developed by Facebook engineers. It is funded by Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, and his wife, Priscilla Chan, a pediatrician.

Many families in the Kansas towns, which have grappled with underfunded public schools and deteriorating test scores, initially embraced the change. Under Summit’s program, students spend much of the day on their laptops and go online for lesson plans and quizzes, which they complete at their own pace. Teachers assist students with the work, hold mentoring sessions and lead special projects. The system is free to schools. The laptops are typically bought separately.

Then, students started coming home with headaches and hand cramps. Some said they felt more anxious. One child began having a recurrence of seizures. Another asked to bring her dad’s hunting earmuffs to class to block out classmates because work was now done largely alone.

“We’re allowing the computers to teach and the kids all looked like zombies,” said Tyson Koenig, a factory supervisor in McPherson, who visited his son’s fourth-grade class. In October, he pulled the 10-year-old out of the school.

In a school district survey of McPherson middle school parents released this month, 77 percent of respondents said they preferred their child not be in a classroom that uses Summit. More than 80 percent said their children had expressed concerns about the platform.

“Change rarely comes without some bumps in the road,” said Gordon Mohn, McPherson’s superintendent of schools. He added, “Students are becoming self-directed learners and are demonstrating greater ownership of their learning activities.”

John Buckendorf, Wellington High School’s principal, said the “vast majority of our parents are happy with the program.”

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

— How much classroom time do you spend learning online? Do you enjoy it and wish you had more of it? Or would you rather spend more time offline, working with your teachers and classmates? Why?

— What do you think about Summit Learning? Would you want to learn with a personalized, online learning program instead of in a classroom led by a teacher? Why or why not?

— What specific concerns would you have about using a program like Summit? What aspects of the program do you think you would find most beneficial? In your opinion, do the potential benefits outweigh the drawbacks? Why or why not?

— What do you think of the community’s reaction to Summit Learning in their schools? Do you think they are just being resistant to change, as Diane Tavenner, Summit’s chief executive, suggested? Or are their concerns legitimate? If Summit Learning came to your school, do you think parents, teachers and students would embrace it or reject it?

— What are your thoughts on Silicon Valley’s efforts to “remake American education in its own image” — that is, an institution heavily reliant on technology? Are programs like Summit Learning the future for public school students? If so, what potential impact might this new method of teaching and learning have on society?

Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.