Monday, April 22, 2019

Facebook Learning Debacle

Yesterday, the New York times published an expose on how schools in certain (poor, rural) places are being used as guinea pigs and getting "Zucked" by the Facebook founder's "Summit Learning" initiative, yet another plan to replace teachers with computer time. The highlights are sad and predictable:
  •  A program that promises "personalized learning" at each student's individual pace. Software free of cost, but school district must buy everyone a laptop.
  • The program was built by a whopping total of 5 Facebook engineers (highly unlikely to have any training in education or pedagogy issues, I'd wager). 
  • A spokesperson says it is based on, "building a curriculum from the open internet", that is, mostly links to outside web sites. Examples given include links to the Daily Mail tabloid and Christian conversion therapy sites. (How very Facebook-y.)
  • Facebook/Summit collects reams of information on students involved, and expects to keep tracking students through college and beyond. 
  • The program "asks schools to commit to having students meet weekly in person with teachers for at least 10 minutes", but reports say not even this is happening.
Students are reporting high levels of anxiety, eye strain, hand cramps, and even seizures. Said one parent who visited a classroom, “We’re allowing the computers to teach and the kids all looked like zombies”. Some places are seeing pushback like student protests, walkouts, and parent removing their children from schools.

One reminder from yours truly: the promise of "personalized learning" is not new. It's been around at least since multimedia in the 90's, or the PLATO computer system in the 60's, or correspondence courses in the 40's, or the Gutenberg printing press, depending on how you count such things. None of them have come close to denting the need for real human teachers.

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