By Aaron Eberle
On May 2, the Edgemont School Board held a special meeting to discuss mass customized learning. Dr. Julie Mathiesen, Technology and Innovation in Education director, presented materials for the board and general public that were in attendance.
Mathiesen stated that customized learning may be supported with units of online instruction, but it is not a virtual learning program. This would put more responsibility on learners to be mindful of their progress, but it is not learning on your own.
Mathiesen says this program would promote life-long learning skills that serve students beyond their K-12 experience, but it does not reduce the emphasis on academic progress and success. This would still mean teachers teach, but it may look different because they are often attending to individual or small group learning needs. Teachers do not stop providing quality instruction; professional and highly qualified teachers are even more important in a customized learning environment.
This type of learning is supported with a variety of resources through a customized learning grant from the Bush Foundation. Participating districts do not have to figure all of this out on their own.
Mathiesen stated that this would be more of a mass customized learning instead of mass production (batch processing). Teachers would meet the student at their readiness level to help them progress. In years past, learning has been pretty specific about time and space, where achievement should be the constant now, with time and space as variables.
Mathiesen continued on to say that much of what is currently being done in public education made sense when it was designed in 1892. But times are changing and there are over one million students who fail to graduate.
Mathiesen went on to say that if second graders have a rough start in math, for example, they will have other problems as they continue. Another variable could be that teenagers are not getting enough sleep, which could cause depression and aggression.
As a teacher in a customized learning environment, there is a chance to give more feedback, explain things better and continue to work with students to make things better for them. A teacher can meet students where they are at and provide resources to help move forward. Many Internet sites today have several interactive things for the students to gain knowledge from.
Mathiesen stressed the importance of Internet sites being used to a student’s or teacher’s advantage, but also stated that sometimes the best way to learn was curling up with a good book. Education should not continue to be a one size fits all structure.
Mathiesen believes that if a student is responsible for their own learning, they will do much better in college. The customized learning system helps to provide this for a student, and this will help to set and carry out lifelong learning habits.
Some questions were asked after the presentation. One was how many schools are currently engaged in this type of learning. Four pilot schools are doing this in South Dakota. Applications are being put out for the next round. When asked how long it would take to implement, Mathiesen encouraged to go slow with the process. The grant is good for three years. A school can get a good start in that time. Mathiesen also commented that schools that are already starting with this type of learning, say that discipline of students has dropped and college enrollment is up.
Linda Tidball was concerned with how to meet state guidelines, grade point average (GPA) standards and other things that the state requires, especially if the student is applying for college. With the customized learning system, these rules would not apply. Mathiesen stated that there are way to convert to a GPA and meet the pace.
When the grant runs out, some were concerned about what would happen then as far as funding goes. Mathiesen stated that there are other opportunities for funding, as well as getting online education for free.