School of One: data-driven pedagogy 2.0

Following our lecture this morning on the use of data in education, I couldn't help wondering about an interesting pilot project I heard about recently on the Freakonomics Podcast. 'School of One' is a project being trialled in New York for a couple of months. What intrigues me about this project is that it seems to be borne out of a set of concerns and beliefs that I completely empathise with. Here's Arthur Levine setting the scene…

"Today's schools are an anachronism. They resemble the assembly lines of the industrial era, when they were conceived. Groups of 25 to 30 children, beginning at age five, are moved through 13 years of schooling, attending 180 days each year, and taking five major subjects daily for lengths of time specified by the Carnegie Foundation in 1910. These schools are time-based — all children are expected to master the same studies at the same rate over the same period of time. They focus on teaching — how long students are exposed to instruction, not how much they have learned. They are rooted in the belief that one size fits all — all students can benefit equally from the same curriculum and methods of instruction. We have learned much about education since today's schools were created. We know now that what students learn and what they are taught are different, and that learning is what matters."

Where they go from there is interesting. From their website, "The School of One pilot program departs from the traditional classroom model. Rather than one teacher and 25-30 students in a classroom, each student participates in a combination of teacher-led instruction, one-on-one tutoring, independent learning, and work with virtual tutors. To organize this type of learning, each student receives a unique daily schedule based on her academic needs and recent progress. As a result, students within the same school or even classroom can receive very different instruction, each lesson tailored to the concepts a student needs to learn and the ways she can best learn them. Teachers acquire data about student achievement each day and then adapt their lessons accordingly."

So, we are bringing together three important things here: multi-modal learning (not just teacher-led), digitally delivered learning (both individual work and 'virtual tutors' using voice over IP), and continual assessment and refinement of personal learning plans. The model has been consciously borrowed from progressive businesses. If our present model of schooling was developed two hundred years ago based on the industrial paradigm of the day, School of One is truly based on the modern 'information society', 'Web 2.0' industrial paradigm.

Have a look and make up your own mind. From even a cursory examination, I have serious concerns – both philosophically and practically – about the program. What interests me most is the eagerness with which it is being greeted. Clearly this is very much the solution 'of the moment'. Where it goes from here will be very interesting to watch.

6 thoughts on “School of One: data-driven pedagogy 2.0

  1. NP

    Hi Dan, I gave the lecture. I, too, have a healthy scepticism about anything that gets greeted too quickly as the solution / the new paradigm. Reading this, my immediate questions around school of one were about the support given to an emergent classroom culture / school culture: individual manifest destiny all very well, but so much of why we come to school is to learn how we belong with people who are different to ourselves. Another way of putting it would be that if we accept the Vygotskian idea that learning takes place socially first and then moves inward, where does that leave the privacy of the program outlined here. I like LAMS as a technical tool that picks up learning design principles, allows for differentiated instructional paths, but keeps the idea of groups learning well and truly alive. Nice blog.

  2. Brett Rolfe

    Hi Nigel,
    Thanks for the thoroughly enjoyable lecture – it was also really interesting to hear a bit about North Sydney Demonstration School, not something I was familiar with.
    Absolutely agree on the issue of culture – they are not addressing that yet as they currently seem to be running it as an extracurricular activity. Should they try and run the entire school day like that the impact on classroom climate would be detrimental (I am reminded of advertising agency Chiat/Day’s disastrous attempt to move to hotdesking in the early 90’s that turned their office into Lord of the Flies). Perhaps the question becomes how much of the school experience may be better managed through this kind of system, and how does that dovetail with more traditional social environments.
    My only question is what made you address your comment to ‘Dan’ (most of my friends call me Brett), have I gone and put ‘Dan’ somewhere on the blog inadvertently?!
    -brett (most of the time)

  3. NP

    Brett nee Dan, speed reading picked up Dan Meyer link at top and for lack of better option decided you were Dan. Apols :)

  4. Ben Rolfe

    It’s funny that you describe it as a “Web 2.0” paradigm. If someone asked me to describe a school based on Web 2.0 (and yes, I wish they would). “Social Networking” would have to be among the first words out of my mouth.
    It does seem a shame that the focus on tailored tuition has resulted in removal of horizontal connections. I would love to see this kind of tailored needs approach being used to build multidisciplinary teams of students for group projects – you need to focus on your persuasive writing skills? You’re job is to write the report for the team. You’ll work directly with Lisa, whose job is to synthesize the information from the various students who are analyzing the data which was gathered by various other students.


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