A few promising technologies are being introduced that improve the coordination between the teacher/lecturer and the students, and there are some world-class curriculum content sites available without charge. It’s always a good time to look for ways to improve education, but public optimism has worn thin from thousands of silver bullets sightings that veer off course, let parents remain inert, are blocked by teacher unions or are tangled in bureaucracy.
Despite 3.5 million on the payroll, the US education services sector is underperforming. Reports of grade 4 and 8 attainment compared the rest of the world are handwringing fodder, but the key improvements we need are: reduced dropout rates in high school (or dropouts that migrate to trade school); better on-time college completion; and more job-market-savvy in the selection of college major. Such progress would strengthen prospects for holding a good job by those lacking a college degree and reduce their need for a lifetime of social services support. For college–bound students, on-time completion should hasten entry into higher-paying jobs and help them to recover college costs. Those who better align course majors with job-market demand will find jobs worthy of their educational attainment.
One teacher-student coordination technology is ClassDojo. It allows teachers to give students real-time feedback using any mobile device. Teachers award or subtract points depending on their behavior in full view of the entire class. Those focused on the feelings of troublemakers may object, but ClassDojo probably helps greatly in classrooms for ambitious students.
Understoodit is a web app letting students anonymously express their bafflement in class. When students click a “Confused” button, their state registers on the professor’s computer which also shows what percentage of the class is “lost.” The teacher can re-explain things in the hope that a much higher percentage of students will hit the “Understood” button.
ClassDojo and Understoodit help keep students on track with the teacher in live sessions. The Khan Academy is a self-paced approach using videos with outstanding coverage of algebra, trigonometry, geometry, and much more. Students are expected to use the online explanations and high volume of exercises to practice and gauge progress. MIT’s OpenCourseWare and Open Yale Courses cover sophisticated college subject matter using videos of lectures but without a live professor and without grading. That may work for highly disciplined students, but not for all. Perhaps an entrepreneur will dovetail an Understoodit variant to go with the MIT and Yale materials.
Alan Daley is a retired businessman living in Florida and following public policy from a consumer’s perspective.