Annie Murphy Paul, one of my favorite columnists, published a piece in Sunday’s New York Times about computer-based tutoring programs. Many researchers and companies have developed technologies to deliver individualized instruction. The challenge, however, is capturing the human decision-making that occurs in more expensive one-on-one private tutoring sessions. One company, ASSISTments, has tried to do just that.
ASSISTments bases much of its work on an educational study–conducted in 1984 by Benjamin Bloom at the University of Chicago–showing that tutoring is the most effective way to learn. This study demonstrated that children tutored individually performed two standard deviations better than children who received regular classroom instruction. The researchers at ASSISTments identified several tutor behaviors that they believe have the greatest impact on students’ improved performances, and they strived to incorporate these teacher behaviors into their computer program. The researchers noted that tutors:
- Provide immediate feedback, which helps to keep students focused and engaged.
- Guide their students’ efforts as they work through a task, providing meaningful prompts.
- Motivate students and manage frustration, boredom, and confusion.
While ASSISTments seems to have been innovative in accounting for some of this human judgment, I certainly don’t believe that a computer can replace a master teacher. The best solution is when skillful teachers integrate technology as part of the instructional program. Annie Murphy Paul writes, “ …it’s the emerging hybrid of human and computer instruction — not either one alone — that may well transform education.” Technology provides countless opportunities to enhance instruction. Besides engaging students and making the learning seem more fun, technology also facilitates data collection, including scores, grades, anecdotal notes, e-portfolios, transcripts, and school reports. This data can be easily generated and shared by professional teams supporting a student, which in turn promotes discussion and more thoughtful practice.
We take this integrated approach at My Learning Springboard in our work with students and as a professional team. For example, tutors may introduce students to new applications or advanced skills; they may ask students to preview short videos or other content in advance of sessions or as follow up; or they may ask students to use applications or websites that support repeated practice through drills or games. As a professional team, we use technology to facilitate case management, problem-solving, communication, and accountability. We carefully document our work with students and collect ongoing data to support decision-making, interventions, and program plans.
This intelligence cannot be easily replicated by software, but it can be supported. Educators and technologists should work together closely, and teachers should be given regular opportunities for differentiated professional development and digital mentoring. Whether you’re PTA leadership, school administration, or an individual teacher, we can help.
Written by: Editorial Team, My Learning Springboard, Inc.