Yesterday was one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever had. I was invited to lead a symposium (which essentially was setup for me) on blended and personalized learning. It’s still hard to wrap my head around the fact that I was asked to teach the Japanese about new teaching techniques, but based on what I heard from students, parents, teachers, and media, there is much that both cultures could gain from this new trend. Essentially, Japanese teachers face a very similar problem that American teachers face: How do we engage all levels of learners in one classroom? School of One is certainly one answer, but it still has a long way to go to get to perfection. More on that later.
The symposium was held at Yasuda Gakuen School. It’s a private middle and high school which students study very hard (in juku) to pass an exam to get into. I was given a very formal and ceremonious greeting. The Japanese are excellent at being ceremonious. It’s definitely something I could improve on. I met the headmaster in his conference room as well as the 8 students who would help me demonstrate the School of One program. It was a bit difficult to explain to the kids that they didn’t have to do any actual work, just kind of put on a show. As I assigned fake group partners, they awkwardly giggled when I assigned one boy and one girl to work together. I guess this is a universal thing.
Guided by a pretty solid slideshow I put together, I spoke (in English) about the main benefits of blended and personalized learning with a focus on School of One. My aim was to convey that personalized learning using technology can allow teachers to redefine the classroom in ways that were not possible before. This is especially true for School of One since it uses an algorithm and massive data collection by the computer to regroup students on a daily basis. It would be nearly impossible for a human to do it. But as always, I stress that this type of system is not a replacement for teachers. It merely does the functions that teachers can’t do on a massive scale – most of the data collection and regrouping – and leaves the job that teachers do best – teaching – to the teachers. There is some overlap. Teachers do group within their groups, and computers do provide virtual instruction. But for the most part, each entity does what it does best.
I went through both the macro and micro details of the program, getting right down to the nitty gritty of small features on the website. Believe it or not, they understood me very well and not much was lost in translation. The crowd was very engaged, especially one teacher who kept nodding his head in understanding and what I thought was encouragement. He was definitely there to learn something and it relaxed me.
I then led a 45-minute question an answer session (with a bunch of help from my translator Shiomi), which was much more engaging than I ever expected. Audience members had great questions about the details of the program and its efficacy. One recurring theme is that the audience wanted to see the MATHEMATICAL CONTENT that the program employs. I didn’t have access to those materials, and I was also honest in that I didn’t always think the contents were of the highest quality. This is a big area of opportunity for School of One, and I had to explain that the company that created it set out to build a program, not math content. They quickly learned, however, that a quality program without quality content won’t go very far. It’s a work in progress.
Generally, the audience was very enthusiastic and appreciative to hear about this technology. There was intrigue from most people, and I have received a few emails already with more questions about the program. This idea of personalization definitely resonated.
After saying a ceremonious goodbye and doing the customary business card exchange, Mr. Morigami, an educational consultant who arranged the entire event, took me and a few audience participants out to lunch (one of which was the very nice teacher who was nodding his head). We ate at a restaurant on the 21st floor of a nearby hotel, something I’m told is very common to do. Who knew. We all mostly just shot the breeze, and it was a nice decompression from the morning.