Larry Summers writes,

it makes sense for students to watch video of the clearest calculus teacher or the most lucid analyst of the Revolutionary War rather than having thousands of separate efforts.

True enough, but I think one should try to go beyond a vision in which technology just gets bolted on to the traditional system.

I have been looking at, a math tutoring site. It has interesting strengths, along with frustrating weaknesses. I think that its greatest strength is that it offers very clear definitions of mastery of a topic, and it assesses students against those standards. It is very systematic about making sure you know something before you move on to something else. It can substitute for a teacher giving exercises. It gives feedback that is more personal to the student–what you need to work on, as opposed to what the median student out of a class of 25 needs to work on. It costs very little.

Against this, there are a number of weaknesses. One is that working with the software adds a layer of overhead to effort. For example, when I accidentally type in 1.08 instead of 1.80, I am punished for getting the wrong answer by being told I now have to work three more problems correctly in order to move on to the next concept.

In fact, the assessment process is in some ways worse than multiple choice. As with multiple choice, you get graded solely on results, not on process. But unlike multiple choice, you have an opportunity to make all sorts of irrelevant errors, such as accidentally inserting a typo in your answer.

Maybe on net ALEKS is a great step forward. But in the end, it feels to me somewhat like bolting technology onto an older model of learning rather than trying to imagine something really revolutionary. My ideal would be AI software that watches you do a problem, nudges you when you’re going off track, and knows the difference between a careless mistake and a fundamental lack of understanding.

Back to Larry Summers, I think that education reform is not going to come from the college Presidents of the world. I think it is going to come from the bottom up, driven by the people who want to learn and by people who have innovative ideas for assisting them.

I think that at some point the best educated people will be self-educated. People like Ben Casnocha, who left college because I presume he felt it was slowing down his learning. Ben does not sit around at home, by any means. Every time I check out what he is doing, he seems to be in a different country.

I think that long before policy makers have figured out how to get everyone into college, college will have become obsolete.

Meanwhile, speaking of bottom-up, note this plea from Neerav Kingsland to school superintendents:

rid yourself of the notion that your current opinions on curriculum, teacher evaluation, technology, or anything else will be the foundation for dramatic gains in student achievement…let me suggest another identity–one whose charge is to return power, in a thoughtful manner, back to parents and educators. Let’s call these types of superintendents Relinquishers. With great diligence, these superintendents attempt to transfer power away from a centralized bureaucracy.