Essays In Education Foulger

Why Adaptive Learning?

My name is Rory, and I am a member of the first graduating class at Minerva Schools at KGI. Minerva is a brand new Liberal Arts program based on the science of learning. As a cohort, we live in 7 cities around the world for a semester each. I have just completed my Freshman Year, based in San Francisco. I am working with the EdSurge Independent Cohort because I have a long standing passion for education, and a desire to debate and discuss important issues within the sphere.

When I was in school, I spent a lot of time in English wishing with all my heart that we could just go faster, and a lot of time in Math wishing we could go back and do fractions again, because I just didn’t get it. My brother had the opposite problem, able to understand math conceptually, but hardly able to write a sentence. Many of my friends still mourn their ignorance of the scientific method, or that missed grammar lesson, or the hours they spent doing worksheets for concepts they’d mastered quickly.

This is because our current school system works on a conveyor belt, or factory, model. The vast majority of people born in 1998 just finished their final school year. Unless they were unusually bright, or found school unusually difficult, they all followed the same path. They were all taught to read at pretty much the same time. They started algebra within months of each other. They read the same books, in the same amount of time, with the same level of analysis. Why? Because they were born in the same batch.

While this may have been the easiest way to structure a school system 100, 50 or even 10 years ago, to me, this makes very little sense now, as we enter a technological age. We now have the technological power to individualise the curriculum to each student, allowing some to push themselves faster, and some to take a slower pace, without separating them physically.

What would an Adaptive Classroom look like?

When I imagine an Adaptive Classroom, I see a room at AltSchool, San Francisco. At AltSchool, each child has a ‘playlist’ of lessons for the day. They meet together in the morning, just like any other class, to share their stories, talk, and set goals for the day. Then they proceed to their tablet and find their tasks, set for them by their teacher and determined by how far along in each subject they are. The children go out for recess, do art and play sport, but the speed of their learning is self determined.

An Adaptive Classroom allows all children to go through a pre-set curriculum at their own pace, and constantly checks their understanding through mini-assessment. After each assessment, the computer generates lessons and learning tools to address holes in understanding, and to push forward.

What could we gain from Adaptive Learning?

Some benefits of Adaptive Learning are obvious: no smart kid would ever have to sit through another class and learn nothing. No below average child would feel stupid as the teacher ploughed on without making sure they understood. No average child would be sacrificed to make the classroom work for the extremes. In short, every child would be able to progress at a speed which ensures their understanding as well as pushing them to greater heights.

Other benefits are less easy to see. Right now, teachers act mostly as lecturers and classroom managers. They don’t have the time to sit with each child, and use their skills to advance each students’ learning. With an Adaptive Classroom, teachers would become more like tutors, assisting students whenever needed, and curating social activities for the group. Teachers would be able to use their considerable skills better.

What could we lose with Adaptive Learning?

Well, it depends on how far you take it. You could go as far as having hundreds of children in rows, staring at screens for a few hours a day, and then going home, not having interacted with a teacher or another student. Or children could stay at home, and do all their studying from bed. However, I haven’t found a single proponent of Adaptive Learning who is even close to proposing this scenario.

Realistically, schools would continue to have the same ratio of student to teachers, and the children would have just as much time to socialise and work together on projects as in a ‘normal’ classroom.

Another concern is the lack of ‘class spirit’ or feeling of togetherness in a class. Skeptics argue that children would not have the same space to develop close ties with their peers if they were completing different work. I contend that children would still be in classes together, would still go out to recess together, would still do art and sport together. I see no reason why being able to work at their own pace would damage those ties. In fact, it may well have positive impacts on intelligence and performance related bullying, as children will not be able to directly compare their performance to others in the group.

Why does this matter?

Getting education right matters for the same reasons that education matters. We want to nurture a generation of confident, educated people who are able to do the basics and much, much more. Adaptive Learning would ensure that every child gets to fulfil their potential.

February 3, 2017

English professor Devoney Looser presents 5 things to know about the acclaimed author, based on new research

Sometimes artists receive critical acclaim during their lifetimes, but don’t achieve fame until after their death.

This was the case for Jane Austen, and it’s the subject of ASU English professor Devoney Looser’s latest book, “The Making of Jane Austen,” which comes out this summer ahead of the 200th anniversary of the British novelist’s death.

Publisher’s Weekly has named the book a top 10 pick in Essays and Literary Criticism for spring 2017.

“Oftentimes, when we look at a literary figure, we don’t necessarily trace what happened to them from the years of their death to the present,” Looser said. “What my book sets out to show are the ways that popular culture has been influential in our making of her as a posthumous figure, as someone with an afterlife.”

A self-proclaimed “Jane Austen weirdo,” Looser has structured whole parts of her life — teaching, scholarship, leisure — around the early 19th century author. Still, there were things she discovered during the writing process that surprised even her.

Here, she shares five things to know about Austen, her work and her role as an icon.

1. Jane Austen was popular long before we imagined her being popular.

Many attribute Austen’s current en vogue status to an explosion in popularity following the widely praised 1995 film adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” starring Colin Firth. Looser sets the record straight, noting that Austen received her first Hollywood treatment in 1940 when Laurence Olivier brought the role of Mr. Darcy to the silver screen opposite Greer Garson, who gave an unfortunate performance of Elizabeth Bennet as a “flibbertigibbet flirt.”

There were several other attempts at translating the classic novel into film, including ones that re-imagined it as a Western, a screwball comedy and a musical — all without success.

Before that, Austen had been invoked for political causes as early as 1908, when her name was emblazoned on banners held by suffragettes marching through the streets of London.

2. There’s some debate as to what garnered Austen fame in the first place: critical acclaim or popular readership.

Sir Walter Scott, considered the greatest novelist of the 19th century, gave a positive review of the novel “Emma” during Austen’s lifetime, though the critique was unsigned.

He also acknowledged in his journals that he believed she was more skilled in some areas than himself. After Scott’s 1832 death, his journals were discovered and so was his opinion of Austen. Because of his stature, the public took note.

And there were other well-respected writers who also praised her talent. However, Looser said, “There are some sources from the 1830’s … saying it was readers who discovered Jane Austen, and critics picked up on it after the fact.

“I think there could be an argument made in both directions, but obviously the popular readership is what kept her going and, I think, moved her into each new popular media as it emerged. It wasn’t critics who did that.”

3. The idea of Austen as a feminist icon goes way back.

Some of the first performances of her work were young women performing Elizabeth BennetThe lead character in Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice." monologues in their drawing rooms, which Looser said helped spur the beginning of a movement toward women’s rights.

“They spoke Elizabeth Bennet’s words, and it was a way to make them stronger and make them feel like it was OK to say no to traditional structures that wanted them to marry a certain way, or wanted them to behave a certain way,” she said.

In 1909, Austen was included as a character in Cicely Hamilton’s women's suffrage play “A Pageant of Great Women,” at a time when some people were interpreting Austen’s work as “safe and conservative and morally unchallenging.”

“There were certainly people using her work then to say women should go back to the home, that they should be satisfied with their lot in life, which is to be a mother and a daughter,” Looser said. “But at the same, time, all these feminists were saying Jane Austen is a genius writer; Jane Austen gives us characters who show that women are rational creatures. … That’s fascinating, that women learned to refuse traditional edicts about how to live their lives using an early 19th century author.”

4. An illustrator helped shape perceptions of Austen’s novels.

Ferdinand Pickering was the first to illustrate Austen’s novels in 1833 when they were repackaged as a set.

As an illustrator, Pickering’s style was more gothic, often depicting characters in wide-eyed, sensationalized moments of female intimacy, as in “Sense and Sensibility,” when Marianne falls ill with a fever and is comforted by her sister Elinor.

Looser suspects Pickering’s penchant for depicting those kind of moments had to do with his somewhat tragic and volatile childhood and family relations.  

“His choice to pick out the moments of family drama in Austen are really interesting, and I think shaped readers sense of her books as being more about women and female relationships,” she said.

Pickering also depicted the novels’ characters in 1830s dress, the era during which he created the illustrations, even though they had been written in the 1810s.

“I think it’s one of the reasons,” Looser said, “that people start to mistake Jane Austen as a Victorian novelist.” 

5. She didn’t write in secret.

There’s a long-held myth that Jane Austen hid her writing and wrote in secret. It began with the first memoir of Austen’s, written and published by her nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh. In his account, he fictionalized aspects of Austen’s life – the manner in which she wrote being one of them – which he was unable to witness because of his young age at the time of her death.

“He’s saying, ‘I can’t remember my aunt writing, so she must have been hiding it,’” Looser said, “but it was clear that at the time the story was first told that he was writing fiction, that he was fantasizing.”

Unfortunately, that was lost on many and the notion was passed down through history as fact.

“It’s been spun out and repeated over and over as if it’s fact … but if you look at the original source, it does not appear to be the conclusion we should come away with,” Looser said.

“That’s one of the things that I hope my book does; takes us back to some sources we haven’t scrutinized at all, that we’ve assumed were fact, and says, ‘Let’s look at how these were positioned, how these stories got repeated, where these myths came from.’”

Devoney Looser shows off her Jane Austen leggings.

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