Project Visions: iGoverness – Part 3

Part 3 of our feature on improving our education system using modern technology and the iGoverness idea comes straight from Part 1 and Part 2. If you have not read Part 1 and Part 2 yet, please go back and read them so that you know the motivations for the following article.

The way I see it, there are a few major flaws with the way classes are handled in schools today:

  1. Classes go as fast as the slowest student. This alienates the faster student, and causes them to perform lower quality work.
  2. Classes are strict structures with defined times, schedules, deadlines and pre-scheduled exams.
  3. The 30 students to 1 teacher ratio does not ensure that our children’s needs are met.
  4. Class material is often taught “to the test” to get a passing score on a standardized exam, rather than teaching real-world problem solving skills and basic human functionality.
  5. A student is forced to learn the subjects that are set aside as required. A student has no leeway to learn the subject that he or she has the most desire to learn.
  6. The parents are increasingly being removed from the learning process.

Alright, so what does this mean in terms of solving these problems using technology?

We have to take a look at the objectives of such a project in order to get a general vision of what we need to do to improve the educational experience.

  1. First, and foremost, the standards of the state and federal government need to be addressed, so that the program is an accepted alternative to a classroom education. Materials for the state of Maryland’s requirements are available online.
  2. Because of the individual nature of the learning experience with this program, it needs to be mathematically geared to each student through a complicated system of algorithms which test and assess a student’s learning speed and specific subjects that the student desires to learn more readily than others.
  3. Provide help through a one-to-one system with automated processes and human consultants for that personal connection needed to facilitate an easier learning experience.
  4. We would like to bring an ever-increasing amount of parent participation into the new program. The parents can learn right along with the students, as well as check up on their progress, and see where they can help out and how.
  5. An easy-to-use and lightweight software product that is completely cross-platform and possibly open source for a community-based development program with changes that can be applied on a nightly basis.
  6. The use of a central server infrastructure to take processing load off of the clients and maintain the small footprint of the application on the user’s side.

These aren’t the only considerations with a project like this, but these are the first that come to mind. So, we’ve determined the objectives of such a project, let’s see how each will affect the way a student learns.

1. Standards
The standards of the state are most important, mainly because that’s how such a project would be considered a viable alternative to current home schooling methods and in-class learning. While not “teaching to the test” we would still be able to instill the requirements that have been set forth by the powers that be.

2. Individualization
Using algorithms to efficiently assess a student’s learning speed, the system would be able to cater a program to a specific student, and allow an easier path for the student to learn the required materials. These algorithms would also determine in what subjects the student is most interested.

3. One-to-One Relationship
Because the learning path is created by the system, there is a one-to-one relationship between the child and his or her “teacher”. This is crucial when wanting to improve the way our children learn. Just as the best money in Victorian England could pay for a well-rounded governess, so too will our children be able to have a system where they feel they are getting the individual attention they need.

An automated process for dealing with issues that the children have is a must. This would be a growing wiki-type (although it would have to be less complicated than a wiki) architecture, where the increasing number of students ask questions, and relevant answers are found among already-asked questions. In the case that a student has a question that cannot be answered through this method, they will be connected directly to a human who will help them with their query. The answer and question from the human interaction would then be entered into the database for future automated withdrawal.

4. Parent Interaction
I think it is very important for parents to be intimately involved in the education of their children. From my friends in the education field, it is apparent that the majority of parents compartmentalize their children’s education, and leave the children to their own devices, never meddling, asking if they need help, or even showing up to meet the teachers that will be molding their sons and daughters into the people of the future.

This is a bit of a downer when you think about it too much. The new system must address this head on. The parent will have the opportunity to go through the same lessons as the child, allowing them to learn along with their child (after all, how many soccer moms remember their Algebra lessons from high school?). This also allows a parent to lend help when the student gets frustrated and stalls in their learning.

There will also be a mechanism for the parent to “keep tabs” on their child’s learning process. If they don’t like the results that are coming from the software, they can tweak the way the software works. Now, this is something that would have to be regulated, as I could easily see an overzealous parent wanting their kid to be a surgeon and therefore ramping the Biology section up while their children’s interest lie in English Lit.

5. Lightweight Client-side Software
The client-side software product would have to be very lightweight, so that other programs can be open while using it, and entirely platform agnostic. A logical choice for a base to this operation would be a browser, such as Firefox or Opera, which allows plugins and other customization.

Firefox would be the most desirable choice, as it is open source. This would mean that the changes made to the base source code (both upstream and down) would be able to make its way into the product, and anyone could benefit from such changes.

6. Cloud Computing Infrastructure
One of the most important criteria for this product is that the massive amounts of data and processing be done on the server-side architecture. A Cloud Computing backbone would provide the actual number crunching and data transmission, whereas the client-side program will just be a way to access this information. This allows the client-side application to free up the resources for everyday computer use, without having to scale down the intensity of the application.

The general outline of how and why such a system would work becomes clearer. Part 4 of this feature is now available. Please continue on and provide some feedback about the concepts.