Brookings Report Praises Robot 'Teaching Assistants' Among Other EdTech Successes

Brookings Report Praises Robot 'Teaching Assistants' Among Other EdTech Successes

A recently issued report from the Brookings Institution highlights five edtech "successes" which have "demonstrated the ability to improve efficiency and effectiveness in education systems." Chief among them is the rise of the MOOC which has, at least anecdotally, seen education democratized to every corner of the globe, and more practically provided a new delivery medium for colleges and universities coping with funding cuts. Brookings' Darrell M. West and Joshua Bleiberg report:

"MOOCs have the potential to disrupt higher education, improving outcomes for students and expanding learning opportunities. Tuition has risen steeply over the past few decades, and the resulting cuts have negatively impacted students and restricted access by poorer students. MOOCs could dramatically decrease costs for universities and offer courses to students all over the world."

Closer to the bleeding edge are a couple of robotic language learning assistants being developed at South Korea's Korean Institute of Scienceand Technology and Pohang University of Science and Technology.

Affectionately named MERO (a talking head) and ENGKEY (an English Disc Jockey-ing penguin), the robotic assistants employ speech recognition algorithms to provide grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary assistance for new English language learners -- especially in rural areas where qualified ELL teachers are more difficult to place. 

Even at $8700 (for the Engkey model), the Korean Education Ministry hopes to provide a robot to all 8400 of its kindergarteners by the end of 2013.

The report also gives a nod to Minecraft and its growing cult of educators using the MinecraftEdu module, and "stealth assessment" -- a relatively new term (outside of academic circles) that refers to passive data collection and analysis through games and other interactive experiences.

But perhaps the most intriguing "success" from the report is Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT). Used by the GRE, GMAT, and a handful of states, the testing model adapts questions to the test taker in lieu of the fixed format often used in paper-based tests.

The report finds a number of advantages to this model, especially when it comes to accurately assessing student progress:

"Imagine an average 8th grade math student who then takes a 7th grade math test and 9th grade math test. The student will likely do very well on the 7th grade test and very poorly on the 9th grade test. Unfortunately neither of those scores allows for a strong inference about the students proficiency in 8th grade math. Test items with an appropriate level of difficulty make for a better test."

With regards to the ongoing Common Core State Standards rollout, CAT stands a nation divided. While the SmarterBalanced consortium of states has elected to use CAT (and gone considerable lengths to establish a minimum technology requirement for doing so), states under the PARCC, for the time being, are sticking to a fixed format.

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