IBM has bought themselves some "sponsored content" over at Slate, which means an advertisement all dolled up to look like an actual article. I imagine these are challenging to write-- exactly how to you hit the sweet spot where you are pitching to someone who is not bright enough to notice they've clicked on "sponsored content" but who is smart enough to appreciate your offered wisdom.
At any rate, IBM clearly would like to be a player in the data-chomping personalized-educating making-money-off-of-ed-biz game. So how's their pitch.
Part I: Boogah-boogah!!
Students are dropping out! There will be a zillion dropouts in a few years, along with an equally intimidating number of jobs that go unfilled because we won't have enough college grads! And you know those numbers are reliable because they come from our friends at McKinsey.
Businesses are so aware of America’s growing skills gap that they factor in the quality of local schools when deciding where to set up shop.
Sure. Remember that time that all those companies moved their plants to China and India? No? How about that time that Super-Mega-Corps said, "I don't care how big a tax break you offer us, we're going to a different site because we like the local schools better."
Part 2: Traditional Failure
Traditional schools are so one-size-fits-all. Large class sizes get in the way of that, and clearly the solution to that would not be smaller classes-- not when you can just open another school entirely. When I have so many packages in the back seat of my car that a passenger can't fit, I just buy a new car.
I call baloney on the one-size-fits-all thing, too. I teach at a relatively small school in a ruralish area, and we still manage to prepare students for both ivy league colleges and careers in welding.
Part 3: Data!!!!
Schools are swimming in data. IBM would love to help you collect it and crunch it. Really.
Because with all that data, IBM can help you individualize instruction and figure out exactly what each student needs. IBM has already anticipated what you are going to dislike about this idea:
That doesn’t mean that technology will replace teachers or the human
insights that are so critical to understanding students’ needs.
And then they turn to an analogy that is exceptionally bold-- if you want to see how data can make the world awesome, just check out healthcare!!
Yes, the industry where your best hope is that you'll find somebody who will set down the policy manual and care for you like a person, the industry where the length of your care is determined by bean counters and non-medical personnel, the industry where the system feels the best way to help you is to reduce you to a number-- that healthcare industry.
Part 4: Our Schools
IBM would like to tout some of their partnerships, where their all-encompassing data-gathering has allowed teachers to accomplish amazing things, like the ability to "use analytics to enable teachers to identify both at-risk students and high performers." Because teachers haven't any idea about how to do that. Honestly, there are days when it seems as if the worst stereotypes are true-- computer guys have no idea how to interact with other humans, so they just assume that no other humans know, either. Or maybe this is another iteration of the modern management idea-- management by screen, where a manager just sits in his office and makes decisions based on streams of data.
Either way, no. No, IBM, I do not need some data crunching to tell me things about my students that I, as an actual teaching professional, should be able to work out by using my powers of "looking" and "listening." Plus, by using my powers I can also develop a "relationship" with the student that can provide the foundation for helping that student learn and grow as an individual. I could help coach him forward based on "trust me" and "I know you" as opposed to "the data printout says so."
But IBM and their data-consuming cloud have bigger ideas-- IBM would like to be your buddy on the cradle-to-career assembly line, letting you know what career you should choose and overseeing your course selection.
IBM’s analytics can also help align students with their prospective
career pathways. Australia’s Deakin University, for example, is using
IBM’s Watson technology to create a Student Advisor application to give
students real-time answers to school-related questions.
I guess when you want to talk to your advisor at 3 AM, or without putting on pants, this would be just the thing. Most of IBM's pitch seems to be aimed for a post-human-relationship world. But the humany stuff does not seem to be where their focus primarily rests.
"The data that is available today is an important natural resource for
the next century,” he said. “And education systems that leverage that
data are going to be more competitive in the global economy.”
I will have to mull over the data-as-a-natural-resource idea for a while. In the meantime, I going to hold off on hopping on the IBM bus.