Sunday, 10 March 2013

Every child defined in a database

A new database is in place to capture every US student in the name of "personalizing" their education.  It is a $100 million database called inBloom, funded by the Gates foundation to track students from kindergarten through high school.  The database was built by News Corps' Amplify Education subsidiary and turned over to a non-profit to run.

A Reuters report says that in its first "three months, the database already holds files on millions of children identified by name, address and sometimes social security number. Learning disabilities are documented, test scores recorded, attendance noted. In some cases, the database tracks student hobbies, career goals, attitudes toward school -- even homework completion."
Who is most excited about this product?  Entrepreneurs who see education as a market.

By the public release of information about the database, some two dozen companies already had developed applications that mine the database to create products--educational games, lesson plans and progress reports for principals.  The Gates Foundation has promised another $70 million to private companies that develop applications.
Promoters say that the database will transform education by "personalizing." Some examples:

Does Johnny have trouble converting decimals to fractions? The database will have  
recorded that - and may have recorded as well that he finds textbooks boring, adores    animation and plays baseball after school. Personalized learning software can use that   data to serve up a tailor-made math lesson, perhaps an animated game that uses baseball statistics to teach decimals.

Johnny's teacher can watch his development on a "dashboard" that uses bright graphic to map each of her students' progress on dozens, even hundreds, of discrete skills.

"You can start to see what's effective for each particular student," said Adria Moersen, a high   school teacher in Colorado who has tested some of the new products.
Companies with access to the database will also be able to identify struggling teachers and pinpoint which concepts their students are failing to master.
One startup that couldbenefit: BloomBoard, which sells schools professional development plans customized to each teacher.

Privacy concerns are bound to arise with so much data collected in one place from many sources.  InBloom promises to guard the data, but its privacy policy correctly points out that it "cannot guarantee the security of the information stored...or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted."
Not everyone, of course, sees this database as an advance.  Education technology consultant Frank Catalano told Reuters "The hype in the tech press is that education is an engineering problem that can be fixed by technology. To my mind, that's a very naive and destructive view."

With thanks to Susan Ohanian:




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