Blending Technology & Classroom Learning: Jessie Woolley-Wilson (Transcript)

Jessie Woolley-Wilson – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT

Pivotal moments really can create who we are today and very much shape who we become tomorrow.

When I was a student, I was part of a group that went to the DC metro area to try to figure out what business could do to try to improve education for every child.

What I remember most about my first classroom visit in DC was the sound of dripping water from a dilapidated building. There was this classroom full of maybe 20, 25 students, and there was one student sitting at a desk, captivated by the water dripping from the ceiling.

I won’t forget that scene because there wasn’t much learning going on. But I also won’t forget his eyes. He saw me when I looked at him, and he knew he deserved better. That was a pivotal moment for me.

At that time, I decided not to take a traditional path from business school and to devote my career, really my life’s work, to try and figure out a way to make quality education available to every child, regardless of what language they spoke, regardless of where they called home, regardless really of their ZIP code.

Do you know how important your ZIP code is to giving you access to a quality education? Of the 40,000 ZIP codes in the United States, two outside the Boston area are considered the most highly educated ZIP codes in the country.

So it seems to me we have a choice. We can load up our minivan and take all kids to the best neighborhoods with the best teachers and the best education, or we can figure out a way to make ZIP code irrelevant to a child’s ability to learn, to realize their learning potential, and I believe, in doing so, realize their human potential.

I am very, very excited about the future of learning, despite what you might read in the paper every day, because I think it rests in the promise of blended learning.

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Blended learning – learning that combines the traditional face-to-face classroom experience, that all of us perhaps grew up with, with new innovative learning technologies that have the power, in my mind, to democratize learning.

So I want to tell you a little story. I want to talk about three things —  three things that I think are converging now that are going to permanently, and I think, positively, change education.

The first is the economic tsunami that we’ve all weathered 26 of 50 states are going to dramatically decrease their investment in education as the result of what has happened in the past several years; 26 of 50.

And as a result, schools are being forced to do more with less, while classroom sizes get larger, and while the learning readiness of the students in that classroom continues to get broader and broader and broader: broader socioeconomic, broader cultural, broader language skills.

So what is a teacher to do?

I want to tell you a really encouraging story about a teacher. Her name is Wendy Funk, she’s a teacher in California. She saw, over the past two or three years, her class size go from 18 to 28 students. In the United States, the average classroom size is about 25 students now, but that’s up from 16 in 1980.

So Wendy looked at her classroom, and she said, “What am I going to do to make sure that every child gets what they need when they need it?” What is a teacher to do, even a great teacher like Wendy? Wendy’s pivotal moment came when she turned to blended learning.

She turned to blended learning that was supported by an intelligent, adaptive learning technology that I’ll tell you more about later.

So she asked her kids to spend 100 minutes a week on this adaptive software program and to rotate, part live class with her, some time on the adaptive program, and the results were nothing but astounding.

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In six months, her classroom achieved the equivalent of a full year of learning; in six months. So with the help of these adaptive technologies that I’m going to introduce you to, we could actually increase the velocity of learning.

So it doesn’t matter what a child’s starting point is. It doesn’t matter what they know when they start. What matters is the journey and where it takes them. And that brings me to the second major force that’s changing education in a positive way.

I mentioned it a few minutes earlier: intelligent adaptive learning. How many of you have ordered something from Amazon or Netflix that you never – more on that later – that you never intended to buy? Because these software programs that we use get to know us through use.

They get to know us through use. And sometimes, they’re right; oftentimes, they’re right. We’ve brought that kind of capability to learning so that these adaptive technologies learn the learner as the learner learns. Sounds funny, but it’s true. They actually learn the learner as the learner learns.

So that they can help determine what next lesson, what next learning experience a child should have, based on what they demonstrate they know, and what they don’t know. So let me share with you an example that might help.

Behind me, you’ll see a virtual manipulative, a learning tool. This is designed to allow students to explore a lot of different ways to solve problems. But what is happening in the background, what’s happening under the hood is that the adaptive engine is collecting a lot of information as the student plays what the student thinks is a game.

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