15 Comments

  1. Truth Without Accountability says:

    Wow. The episode was delightful, but what really stands out for me is all of the math teachers talking about why ALEKS can’t replace math teachers. Methinks the faculty do protest too much!

    Colleges can of course teach developmental math in a lab setting with ALEKS, a more traditional classroom setting, or in a hybrid approach as described in the SRL portion of the episode. Why not both? Heck, why not offer math 5 ways, like chili in Cincinnati, if that is what it takes to get these students a credential and a life leading to full employment (among other things, of course).

    But it remains an interesting question to me: if schools were for some reason constrained and had to pick one or the other approach (which they did do and continue to do–with traditional lecture halls– all over the US!), which approach would benefit the most students? IN my estimation (the data will bear this out) the hybrid ALEKS / human teacher lab approach at Essex provides the most efficient path forward for the preponderance and probably the majority of developmental math students.

    It must simply be difficult for faculty and administration to admit it, but over a decade of foot-dragging did do actual harm to the preponderance of actual human beings who came to them to get a credential, and who failed only because they got bogged down in remedial math and/or language classes. (ALEKS has been commercially available for over 15 years! And faculty have been very slow to accept it. After seeing the faculty comments on this episode, I don’t wonder why.)

    The war is over: ALEKS–and remedial math students– have finally won. It’s time for math teachers to embrace the future, and not just at Essex.

    • Douglas Walcerz says:

      The reason ALEKS can’t replace faculty is because ALEKS only delivers math content, and the reason students struggle in math is not because of lack of content delivery, it is because they lack the dispositions and behaviors of successful students, i.e., self-regulated learning. A key benefit of ALEKS is that it frees the faculty to focus on SRL, which they would not otherwise be able to do.

      One of our observations with individualized learning is that students feel less accountable because everyone is at a different point in the content and there are no common milestones, such as a “quiz on Chapter 3 next Friday” which used to give every student a signal of where the ought to be in the course. We had to develop weekly status sheets and a “check-in” with the instructor to reinforce the sense of accountability, which again is not something that a computer program can do.

      So yes, one of our key points is that ALEKS can’t replace faculty. This is not because only faculty can explain math. It is because software is not effective at making students feel accountable nor is it effective at changing student behavior, and these two elements of the teaching and learning environment are essential to student success.

      • Truth Without Accountability says:

        I hasten to agree. ALEKS can’t and should not replace math faculty. I want to make sure I am clear about that. It should have been incorporated into the plan at many more schools much sooner. That’s really I I meant to say.

  2. “Truth Without Accountability,” I find it disheartening that you seem to have such contempt for your customers. (I am assuming that you are a McGraw Hill employee, since you mention ALEKS about 37 times when it was barely mentioned at all in this case study, and since I have seen similar comments on our sites from somebody who is clearly a McGraw Hill employee before.) The faculty and administrators we talked to, not only in this case study but elsewhere, were not only supportive of trying out these approaches, they were the leaders that made it happen. As for teachers “protesting too much” about software replacing the teachers, you need to listen more carefully to the students. THEY think that the teacher-led SRL approach is critical to their success.

  3. Truth Without Accountability says:

    All these years in this business, Michael, and you are disheartened by me? I would think you’d have to have a pretty strong stomach against getting discouraged to stick it out if this long you have even a tenth of the understanding about how the sausage gets made that I think you do. I was once a McGraw-Hill employee, and, yes, I was a huge fan of ALEKS. I left the industry because I was tired of seeing some of the faculty fiddle while Rome burned. Contempt? For some, yes, and it was well justified, believe me. I could tell you stories that would curl the hair of any right-thinking parent or taxpayer who put up good money to send our young people into one of these urban failure factories.

    Essex is admirably doing the right thing, and is to be praised for its leadership here.

    (I mentioned ALEKS 4 times, by the way, so your hyperbole is noted. I am sorry if I made you angry.)

    I felt a great deal of admiration for many faculty who were financially secure enough or tenured enough or simply brave enough to worry first about what was right for their students and then second what was best for themselves. What was disheartening to me was a classic human problem, not unique to math teachers. Luddites smashed the mechanized loom, and teachers have been smashing technology. It’s OK. It’s natural. It happens all the time.

    But is it also OK if someone just stands up for the students in the middle of all of this? Is a eulogy for the wasted lives of the 50 students who failed the first math class and the others who failed to complete the gauntlet something that causes you anger? So be it, then.

  4. Yes, I have heard all different kinds of objections of varying degrees of rationality. by faculty and administrators at some schools. But when they read a comment by somebody who has obviously been affiliated with a vendor—calling him- or herself “Truth Without Accountability”, no less—stating right off that faculty “protest too much” when they argue that “ALEKS can’t replace math teachers,” then the faculty and administrators have a rational reason to believe that at least some representatives of the vendors think that their products can replace teachers. That is not what we are seeing happen. Even in the more audacious (and controversial) approach that ASU is taking (as we will be covering in a forthcoming case study), teachers still have a critical role.

    What Doug demonstrated so succinctly and eloquently in his comment above is that the educators who are engaging with these technologies most thoughtfully and most successfully are looking at them as tools to solve particular classroom problems for particular students. The need for this approach is more broad-based in some schools than in others due to differences in mission, student populations, and teaching philosophies. But the second you start talking about teachers being “replaced” by the technology, or that the “war is over’ and it’s “time for teachers to embrace the future,” you both veer off the track regarding what we are seeing happening at these admittedly exemplary schools and you are doing damage to the cause you profess to support by giving academics reason to worry that at least some vendors think that they are in a “war” against them.

  5. Truth Without Accountability says:

    Michael, you are still engaged, and seriously, good on you for being there. I’m out, and I just want history to record a few things about the process: a) If colleges and universities moved with anything approaching the speed of business, this would have been over a long, long time ago, b) Pearson *still* dominates here, and there is no rational explanation for this fact. Maybe you could write about that?

    You fight in the trenches for a decade, on the side of student success against massive inertia and payola and a hundred other crap truths, and then tell me the right way to deal with the shell shock of what really, really, did feel like a war to many of us watching horrified as (again I bring up the students: wish you would) students fell by the wayside over and over until something cracked inside and we just resigned ourselves to this taking much longer than it should have. That’s why it felt like a war.

  6. Bill Zobrist says:

    This isn’t about ALEKS, it’s about the changes in how people achieve learning for administration, teachers and students. The technology is an enabler. There’s excellent information here just in hearing each stakeholder talk about how things they do are different than before. Is it better? Obviously, no one knows yet, but Essex had to do something. Is the video biased? Also, we don’t know that since we don’t know who and how they were chosen to appear. It wold be great if some students at Essex left some comments here as well. In the end, it’s valuable just have the access to the information these videos provide. Take them for what they are worth and move on.

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