But the biggest advantage of a tutor is not that they personalize the task, itâ€™s that they personalize the explanation. They look into the eyes of the other person and try to understand what material the student has locked in their head that could be leveraged into new understandings. When they see a spark of insight, they head further down that path. When they donâ€™t, they try new routes.
EdSurge misreads Mike pretty drastically, I think:
What if technology can offer explanations based on a studentâ€™s experience or interest, such as indie rock music?
Mike is summarizing what great face-to-face tutors do. They figure out what the student already knows, then throw hooks into that knowledge using metaphors and analogies and questions. That’s a personalized tutor.
But in 2016 computers are completely inept at that kind of personalization. Worse than your average high school junior tutoring on the side for gas money. Way worse than your average high school teacher. I don’t think this is a controversial observation. In a follow-up post, Michael Feldstein writes, “For now and the foreseeable future, no robot tutor in the sky is going to be able to take Mikeâ€™s place in those conversations.”
So it’s interesting to see how quickly EdSurge pivots to a different definition of personalization, one that’s much more accommodating of the limits of computers. EdSurge’s version of personalization asks the student to choose her favorite noun (eg. “indie rock music”) and watch as the computer incorporates that noun into the same explanation every other student receives. Find and replace. In 2016 computers are great at find and replace.
This is just a PSA to say: technofriendlies, I see you moving the goalposts! At the very least, let’s keep them at “high school junior-level tutor.”
BTW. I don’t think find-and-replacing “indie rock music” will improve what a student knows, but maybe it will affect her interest in knowing it. I’ve hassled edtech over that premise before. In my head, I always call that find-and-replacing approach the “poochification” of education, but I never know if that reference will land for anybody who isn’t inside my head.