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Posted on February 10, 2016


skillmoundIt’s for that class.

Okay, to update!   Our “assignment:”  To post about a worst case intervention… we were encouraged not simply to provide barriers to learning but to demonstrate Bad Design.  We were encouraged to include a visual.   I’d just seen somebody extolling the virtues of an “intelligent [computer] tutor” that included saying that if you put an ant on the beach, its path would *look* complicated, but that was because of the topography; if you put another one down it would follow the same path.  Oh, and the “intelligent tutor” wouldn’t explain things twice because you just forgot it, so it would know to give you a shorter explanation (not a different one)… and the next time, it would tell you to figure it out for yourself.  The conclusion was that computer tutors were superior to humans tutoring because humans tutored “off the cuff,” and didn’t have time to hone  what they were doing. (Really??!!??!!)

Yea, I wonder if this guy is friends with Sal Khan.

So, what you see is the “Skillsmound” per the math program described below, which pulls the worst of Khan Academy, ALEKS and Connect:

Students are going to master basic algebra skills. . Their scores on the placement test indicate they need remediation. Research overwhelmingly indicates that most students who take developmental level (pre-college) courses don’t end up succeeding in college level courses and don’t graduate, and so we want to get them into college level courses as quickly as possible.

The students will use a computer software system monitored by college staff. Students come in the first day, and take an “assessment.” The anxious ones want to throw up, but, whatever. Any skills they don’t succeed in are put into their SkillMound, which they will be digging through in the course of the 8-week summer course.

Skills are broken into very fine grains so that students can master one thing at a time and have many small successes. The students who need the most skills will have the most work to do digging out of their SkillMound, as many as 100 each week.

Students log into SkillMounds and click to “follow their learning path.” Since they’re like ants on the beach, it’s the same path for all of them, and like those ants, they don’t really have any idea where they’re going.

They are presented with a problem. If they can get it right, a little icon shows a check in the corner. If they don’t know how to do it, they can hit “explain,” and a solution to the problem will be presented, though it may include procedures they haven’t mastered, and “obvious” steps will be skipped. They cannot get credit for that problem. (there’s nothing remotely resembling multiple representation here, of course. We need to move fast to remediate!)

Once they’ve gotten enough right in a row, they are congratulated and shown the (huge) number of steps they still have to complete that week. If they miss a problem, then the number they have to complete to “master” is re-set to the original. They are told, “You will need to answer 4 more problems correctly to get another piece of your mound shoveled.”

If they miss a whole lot, they’re told they should go work on something else. When they click “explain’ the second time, it’s an abbreviated version of the same explanation. The third time, they are told to work it out for themselves. It’s an “intelligent’ tutor, so it knows they’ve heard it before.

Since the problems are created through random number generators, they may or may not make sense, and occasionally there are errors. Students have no recourse for this. The system doesn’t go down *too* often, but … sometimes it does.

Periodically, students sit down and are told “You must take a re-assessment before continuing.” If they don’t answer questions correctly even if they’ve “dug out” tha tpart of the mound, it’s added back to the mound.

They are given constant visual feedback of their progress through the mound, but if their assessments don’t show progress, the mound caves in on the progress tunnel and they have to dig out that part of the mound again.

At the end of the six weeks, they take a proctored, no-calculator final.

Then the college administrators look at the data and speculate about why the students continue to fail at their best efforts at remediation.

Meanwhile, happily, the students in the other college can get expert human tutoring from people who’ve spent years honing the craft; they’re professionals so they take the time to do that.