Com­put­er­ized Ini­tia­tives in Learn­ing

Mus­ings are thoughts, the thought­ful kind. For the pur­pose of th­ese ar­ti­cles, a-mus­ings are thoughts that might amuse, en­ter­tain and even en­lighten.

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Michael Walker

You know, it just oc­curred to me, dear reader, that I have not re­ally kept you in­formed of my progress the past few months; so this week I thought I would rec­tify that slight omis­sion, if you don't mind, and if you are in­ter­ested, of course. Through­out my ca­reer, start­ing in the 1960s, I have been blessed with a mind that ques­tioned ev­ery­thing. I firmly be­lieve that there is al­ways a bet­ter way of do­ing things, even if it means re­ject­ing re­forms and ini­tia­tives that I have been part of cre­at­ing. It's called progress.

You see, in the 60s, tech­nol­ogy was be­gin­ning to in­flu­ence teach­ing. Tape recorders ap­peared in class­rooms mak­ing lan­guage learn­ing dif­fer­ent. Then came lan­guage lab­o­ra­to­ries where stu­dents could sit with their head­phones on and prac­tise in iso­la­tion im­i­tat­ing mod­els on tape. The over­head pro­jec­tor that could project images on to a screen in a well-lit room added visual stim­u­la­tion and, in­ci­den­tally, re­moved the need for te­dious hours of writ­ing ex­am­ples on the black­board.

The method­ol­ogy of teach­ing changed with the ad­vent of new tech­nolo­gies. Slowly but surely the teacher's cen­tral role in the class­room de­vel­oped into more of a sup­port­ing role. The teacher was there to help and en­cour­age, and not nec­es­sar­ily to dic­tate and lead. Then came com­puter labs, and once the In­ter­net took hold, then a whole new uni­verse of in­for­ma­tion, some good, some bad, be­came ac­ces­si­ble to just about ev­ery­one. I sup­pose it is true to say that English be­came a world lan­guage due to the unique role played by the Bri­tish Em­pire. The Brits spoke English, and the rest of the world had to follow. Well, that's more or less what has hap­pened yet again. In­ter­net English is the world's lan­guage.

I have spent a great deal of time in re­cent months with kids aged be­tween 9 and 13 from all sorts of dif­fer­ent lin­guis­tic back­grounds, and one out­stand­ing fea­ture of their ed­u­ca­tional de­vel­op­ment tow­ers above all oth­ers: they all un­der­stand and speak English to an un­prece­dented de­gree, not be­cause their teach­ers have sud­denly be­come more pro­fi­cient at teach­ing but be­cause the kids them­selves have be­come more mo­ti­vated through their ar­dent, fer­vent quest for suc­cess at on­line games, games that have de­vel­oped from iso­la­tion­ist ac­tiv­i­ties for sin­gle play­ers to com­pet­i­tive, co­op­er­a­tive team games that can be played be­tween kids sit­ting in front of com­put­ers miles apart. And most of th­ese games de­mand that the play­ers un­der­stand the univer­sal lan­guage: English.

In the old days, I can re­call fol­low­ing kids from, say, the age of 5 up to 15 and I could be quite cer­tain that I per­son­ally was re­spon­si­ble for all the English they knew be­cause I was their only source of in­for­ma­tion. To­day, no such con­trol ex­ists. Kids have ac­cess to so many sources that it is im­pos­si­ble to know what they know, what they don't know and what bad habits they might have picked up and what mis­in­for­ma­tion they might have gath­ered, which brings me back to what I wanted to talk about to­day.

Com­put­ers in ed­u­ca­tion of­fer so many al­ter­na­tives; they make in­di­vid­u­al­iza­tion a re­al­ity; they per­form a mul­ti­tude of oner­ous, time-con­sum­ing tasks in seconds; they pro­vide in­di­vid­ual so­lu­tions; they adapt to the speed of their op­er­a­tors; com­put­ers are docile; they do what they are told. So it oc­curred to me that I should come up with a new method­ol­ogy. In­stead of merely us­ing di­ag­nos­tic tests to find out how much stu­dents have learned dur­ing a course, our start­ing point is to dis­cover how much they al­ready know, and how many mis­con­cep­tions they have man­aged to pick up be­fore they even start, which does not, of course, pre­clude the tra­di­tional uses of di­ag­nos­tic in­stru­ments..

So that is what I am presently busy with. The work in­volves the pro­duc­tion of a cat­a­logue of English lan­guage items – a sort of list of ev­ery pos­si­ble mis­take a stu­dent can make – that can be in­cluded in a bat­tery of di­ag­nos­tic tests, which com­put­ers cor­rect, an­a­lyz­ing the re­sults in seconds. Er­rors made almost al­ways have a va­ri­ety of causes so it is es­sen­tial that stu­dents be guided to an even more ex­ten­sive bat­tery of re­me­dial ex­er­cises that al­lows them not only to stop mak­ing th­ese er­rors but also ad­dresses the un­der­ly­ing rea­sons for them. In re­cent tri­als we have been able to process more than 120,000 tests in un­der three days. For teach­ers, it is a hands-off process. Stu­dents log on, take the tests, and im­me­di­ately get the re­sults and guid­ance on how to pro­ceed. The com­puter con­tin­ues to gen­er­ate re­me­dial work un­til the stu­dent is sat­is­fied; some will be happy with what might be a pass­ing grade, oth­ers will strive for a 100% suc­cess rate. Com­put­er­ized, in­di­vid­u­al­ized learn­ing has come of age. Stu­dents are in charge; they set the pace.

Well, that's what I'm up to, and I'm loving ev­ery minute of it. The re­cep­tion among ed­u­ca­tors wher­ever I go in the world is over­whelm­ing. Like all good ideas, its simplicity is se­duc­tive, and its ad­van­tages for stu­dents, teach­ers and ad­min­is­tra­tors ev­ery­where pain­lessly ob­vi­ous.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Saint Lucia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.