By Patricia Gomes

This post first appeared on Porvir.org on 4/29/2013.

Suppose you, the reader, are in the second grade and the person who writes this text is in this same grade. We are classmates. As you can imagine, you have much more ability with numbers than I do. In a certain moment, we are given the same task: with colored blocks, whose sizes vary according to the number of units they aggregate, we need to form number 37. You take three of those which are worth 10 units, one that is worth 5 and two that are worth 1. In a sophisticated manner for a second grader, you have formed 37. I, on the other hand, not as able as you are, pick up 37 units to form 37. We have both completed the activity, but we have chosen very different paths.

In a traditional class, both of us would move on, though clearly not on the same learning stage. In a customized learning process facilitated by adaptive platforms, however, the project is quite another. As we learn in different ways, different paths would be proposed – adapted to our necessities. You would be able to move onto subtraction exercises whilst I would take some steps back to consolidate the learning of groupings. Neither you would not feel bored because the lesson is too easy for you, nor I would get frustrated for not being able to catch up with your rationale. Each of us would have a very specific learning experience, customized for your needs.

The example above was given by Jessie Woolley-Wilson, DreamBox CEO, North-American enterprise that competes with Knewton for the title of most adaptive platform in the world. Focused on the teaching of Math from primary school to 5th grade, DreamBox has 1.100 lessons available in interactive activities. Upon starting the use on the platform, students choose an avatar which will move on the gamified adventures available in the online environment, intertwining traditional subjects on mathematical concepts.

The dispute with Knewton occurs because, even with a platform considered adaptive, it can show higher or lower levels of adaptability, varying with the intelligence with which it was developed and the amount of information about the student that it is able to take into account. This dispute for higher adaptability implies software continuous development, based on in-class observation. The more information it is able to interpret, the more adaptive the platform is. DreamBox, for example, is able to capture 50.000 pieces of information per student per hour.

“The platform learns about the student with each of his or her clicks. We learn with the students while the student learns”, says Jessie, who completes with: “The longer the student spends in the platform, the more the platform learns about him or her”. Amongst the factors that the system take into consideration are, of course, item such as if the student has properly answered or not a question, the time he or she has taken to answer it, if he or she hesitated before getting it right or what kind of mistake he or she had before finally achieving the correct result. Besides these pieces of information which Jessie calls “obvious”, more sophisticated platforms are able to identify the strategy the student has employed to fulfill an assignment, as in the number rods example above.

Adaptive platforms are even able to comprehend what sort of stimulus brings up more results for each and every one. Let’s get back to our initial example. As I have more difficulties than you, maybe, before being introduced to exercises of multiple choices, I may still need to practice a lot with geometrical virtual materials offered by the platform, while you do not see any reason in doing it as you are already set for learning with a more sophisticated game. The platform tries to optimize your performance suggesting activities with videos, texts and other resources, as you progressively respond well to them.

“Public schools have a higher student-teacher ratio. The platform helps them to do more with less”.

For students, benefits are clear. Having exactly what you need makes learning experiences richer, knowledge apprehension faster and students to feel empowered and responsible for what they have achieved. Besides, stresses Jessie, students day-by-day outside school are immersed in technology and, bringing it into education, school is making their students ready for what they will face in the future. “Students feel challenged to continue learning”, she says.

For the teacher, the platform offers data that help him or her to make pedagogical decisions. Differently from what used to happen before, educators no longer retain the information, rather they are learning mediators. For schools and school systems, data made available by the tool help them outline strategies and use their resources with higher chances of achieving good results. “Public schools have more and more a higher student-teacher ratio. The platform helps them to do more with less,” Jessie states.

DreamBox Works in the US and Canada and has no forecast of starting activities in Brazil. Around here, this kind of tool is still rare, despite some initiatives having started up – Geekie and QMágico, for example, are fully involved in this challenge and are still developing and enhancing their products. For the future, Jessie says she hopes DreamBox enhances its Math adaptability and starts to work in other subjects. “We started out with Math probably because it was what US needed the most, but it is possible to make it grow”, she promises.

Translated by Renato Nunes Dias

Patrícia Gomes is assistant editor at Porvir, a Brazilian news agency specialized in innovations in education.
It would be great if you could link to Porvir website and networks, www.porvir.org (Portuguese) / www.porvir.org/en (English). Be sure to like them on Facebook or follow on Twitter.
 
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