Adaptive learning materials that supplement or replace the paper textbooks allow students to practice on the computer. Based on the answers, an algorithm determines which next task is suitable for a student. If the material is easy for the student, he or she is more challenged. The teacher can see how the students are doing on a special dashboard. More than half of all primary schools use adaptive learning resources on a daily basis. Snapped and Gynzy are the most famous.
Adaptive learning systems make it easier to differentiate. Satisfied teachers point to students who first became frustrated with their mistakes and now benefit from their digital success stories. A big advantage is that the teacher can leave the marking work to the system. Students receive instant feedback and can proceed immediately.
More and more we see education by the light on the dashboard. The changes are not to be mistaken. And they raise ethical issues.
1. The pedagogical relationship is seen in a different light
Trust in data changes teachers’ behavior and shapes the pedagogical relationship between teacher and student. The more children practice in the system, the better the algorithm can determine if a student is in control of the lesson material and what follow-up tasks are appropriate. Teachers are afraid of missing their students and let the students work individually on the computer, assuming that the algorithm then arrives at a better prediction. But in this way, other tasks quickly disappear from view, in class or in the schoolyard, away from the computer. How desirable is that?
2. Invisible scratches are no longer there
In addition, everything a student does or does not do in an adaptive learning system is increasingly becoming the norm. Invisible to scratch a notepad, make a sum or draw by the master, is less. This provides unprecedented new insights, but at the same time the system acts as a control mechanism, a new way of continuously monitoring students. Students may have difficulty with this. Furthermore, it is an ethical question: Is it desirable that we monitor and guide children more and more about individual ‘learning behaviors’? To what extent is this in line with children’s rights?
3. The teacher becomes the partial achievement leader
According to developers, the teacher is always in control, the adaptive learning system is nothing more than a modern instrument for good education. The reality is different. The algorithm determines more and more, without the teacher always understanding exactly how that algorithm arrives at its decisions.
There is much discussion about what skills teachers need to be able to use these new learning resources effectively and efficiently. Computer literacy is the new tool, it is said, that teachers cannot live without it. But are we sufficiently aware that our view of good teaching is changing? And what does that mean? Are we aware that the teacher also partially performance manager become, a person with a stronger focus on measurable performance via a dashboard? How far should we go in our expectations of teachers?
Listen to the teacher
Adaptive learning systems determine virtually all education. That will not change in the future. So much the more necessary that we listen to the experiences of teachers. What pedagogical issues do they face? How do they handle it? What can other teachers learn from this?
Just as a Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA) critically screens technology in the field of privacy and security, so too must a way be found to bring pedagogical and ethical issues to the fore, broader than just adaptive learning systems. Not to put a quality stamp on educational technology, but to understand how technology shapes the classroom experience. The better we understand, the better we can take our responsibility.