Tuesday, April 8, 2014

What do you mean by Personalization?

Guest Post: Elliot Washor, Ed. D. is co-founder and co-director of Big Picture Learning, the co-founder of The Met Center in Providence, RI, and co-author of Leaving to Learn. 
Personalization and Student Engagement Webinar 4/22/14


This is a cross-post of Elliot's blog post "Are you with me now?" on 2/24/14.

The way educators and business people are now using the terms personalized learning or personalization is really baffling me. There have been loads of articles and books written about how Big Picture Learning (BPL) continues to be at the forefront of innovation because of how well we strive to know our students. In a recent book. Redesigning Education: Shaping Learning Systems Around the Globe by the Innovation Unit a Team of Global Education Leaders' Program (GELP), we are featured as a non-profit organization “providing students with a personalized learning experience driven by their passions and anchored in internships out in the community.”

All week I have been in schools and with organizations that want to work with us because they want to get better at personalizing their schools and knowing their students better but what do people mean by personalization? A recent article in the New Yorker on Amazon by George Packer pointed out that to Amazon personalization means collecting data analytics and statistical probability. 

A group called the Personalization team (P13N) comprised of engineers at Amazon employ algorithms that use customers’ histories to recommend future purchases and in the near future Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon reported that "our packages from Amazonia will soon be delivered by drones." 

So with all of this technology, where is the person and the personal in personalization? I got curious about this question and found out that when Bezos was asked: 
What's the ultimate in personalization? He responded, when “you go into a bar and sit down, and the bartender puts a whiskey in front of you without having to ask what you want." 
For me, this begs the simple question, what if you changed your mind and want something else? How would the bartender know? What a waste of a drink!
"When the information network promises to eliminate any reason to travel or to touch something palpable other than a keyboard or a mouse, we search all the more intensely for the personal and the tactile." Ralph Caplan

The digital technology world, including many in education technology, wants personalization to mean that technologies anticipate what you need next and digitally deliver it on a massive scale to each and every student. As Packer points out, to Amazon engineers all content is mockingly referred to verbage, like garbage. It just doesn’t matter what the content is because to them it is all the same.

Since our beginnings, personalization has been at the core of our work. We strive for schools to be communities where every student is known through their interests, academics and how they are doing socially and emotionally in and outside of school. Here the twist is that the student is known well because, it is the student who tells and the teacher who listens and observes rather than adults who are only telling what they know or suggesting what you need to know.

In this real time environment, there are lots of variables to how, when, what and why a student learns. These variables change all the time and they are hard to measure and hard to predict. The good news is that this keeps all of us engaged and on our toes. Figuring out things is what we are good at as humans. It makes everyone a part of a community that listens. observes and communicates.

Structures in schools — like personalized learning plans that start with each student’s voice, choice and interests where parents, teachers and mentors are involved in understanding and developing the next steps, courses and projects a student will do ‑—need to be part of any learning environment and can become a great digital technology platform. Instead, what we get is a hijacking of words and terms that sound like education is personalized. Sadly, the real practice these words symbolize is missing from far too many schools and most digital platforms.

Much more than a prediction or some standardized pre-formatted lesson plan of what is next for a student, personalized learning is complex and variable where teachers, students, and mentors in the process pay attention to multiple measures and high standards coming from school and the world at-large. This is deeper learning that includes academics, social/emotional, and 21st century skills.

These dual meanings of personalization from the business and education worlds create lots of issues. Algorithms and school brands replace human relationships. Qualitative assessments are cast aside because they take longer to do and are deemed too expensive. But this is precisely what personalizing learning is.

International assessments report that if students are not challenged appropriately or do not have real choices they will become bored and disengaged. And although state and school assessments done appropriately are important, the most powerful forms of assessment are about what matters to the student from people who know them well and their own self-assessments. No algorithm can perform this way. 

We have to decide. Do you want Godfather style personalization? 

It's nothing personal. It's strictly business.


Personalize Learning Webinar Series 
at Classroom 2.0


Mt. Abraham Union Middle/High School
Tuesday, November 12 at 5pm ET, 4pm CT, 3pm MT and 2pm PT
using Blackboard Collaborate in this room.
- See more at: http://www.personalizelearning.com/2013/11/personalized-learning-at-mt-abraham-umhs.html#sthash.8fnfZzkT.dpuf
Listen and learn from John H. Clarke, Lauren Parren, Caroline Camara, and Josie Jordan who are the architects of the Pathways Program. Robin Kuhns is an eleventh grade learner at Mt. Abe who will share what personalized learning means to him and his pathways to graduation. - See more at: http://www.personalizelearning.com/2013/11/personalized-learning-at-mt-abraham-umhs.html#sthash.8fnfZzkT.dpuf

Personalize Learning Webinar Series at Classroom 2.0


Mt. Abraham Union Middle/High School
Tuesday, November 12 at 5pm ET, 4pm CT, 3pm MT and 2pm PT
using Blackboard Collaborate in this room.
- See more at: http://www.personalizelearning.com/2013/11/personalized-learning-at-mt-abraham-umhs.html#sthash.8fnfZzkT.dpuf

Personalize Learning Webinar Series at Classroom 2.0


Mt. Abraham Union Middle/High School
Tuesday, November 12 at 5pm ET, 4pm CT, 3pm MT and 2pm PT
using Blackboard Collaborate in this room.
- See more at: http://www.personalizelearning.com/#sthash.Kq1xJdAN.dpuf

Personalize Learning Webinar Series at Classroom 2.0


Mt. Abraham Union Middle/High School
Tuesday, November 12 at 5pm ET, 4pm CT, 3pm MT and 2pm PT
using Blackboard Collaborate in this room.
- See more at: http://www.personalizelearning.com/#sthash.Kq1xJdAN.





Elliot Washor, Ed. D. is the co-founder and co-director of Big Picture Learning in Providence, Rhode Island. He is also the co-founder of The Met Center in Providence, RI.

Elliot has been involved in school reform for more than 35 years as a teacher, principal, administrator, superintendent, video producer, writer and speaker.  He has taught and is interested in all levels of school from kindergarten through college, in urban and rural settings, across all disciplines. His work has spanned across school design, learning environments, practice and authentic assessment.  He is supporting others doing similar work throughout the world.  Elliot’s interests lie in the field of how schools can connect with communities to understand tacit and disciplinary learning both in and outside of school.  

His professional development programs won an “Innovations in State and Local Government Award” from the Ford Foundation and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He has been selected has been selected as one of the Daring Dozen– The Twelve Most Daring Educators by the George Lucas Education Foundation.
 
His dissertation on Innovative Pedagogy and New Facilities won the merit award from DesignShare, the international forum for innovative schools.

His latest book co-written with Charles Mojkowski is Leaving To Learn: How to increase student engagement and reduce the dropout rate. Elliot will be presenting a free webinar in our Personalize Learning webinar series about Leaving to Learn and personalization. 

Elliot lives in sunny San Diego with his wife and dogs.