Jiva Technology

Ebooks and Phones

I reached a personal milestone today: the completion of the first book that I’ve read entirely on a mobile phone. That may not seem like much of a milestone, but I’ve read hundreds, if not thousands of books in my life and whilst the whole ‘read a book on a phone’ thing started out as a bit of fun, I’ve now come to the conclusion that it’s pretty good. I don’t want to buy a Kindle, the iPad is too big to always be with me and all of a sudden, my criteria for phone replacement in August includes the ability to read a book on it. Think about it … I will always have a book with me, wherever I go. That may seem like a small thing, but the book I read just seemed to happen, filling in a thousand tiny cracks of the day, whilst I was waiting for someone or was travelling somewhere. From humble beginnings can mighty things happen.

Do tutors offer an unfair advantage to those that can afford it?

Tutors have long had to contend with the faint whiff of unfairness. With their sessions costing anything from around £20 per hour and upwards, tutors don’t exactly come cheap; they’re frequently seen as the preserve of the wealthy and the middle classes. It’s an accusation that isn’t exactly helped by the knowledge that tutoring does actually help students get better results (see my previous post). If it was a drug, it certainly wouldn’t be considered a placebo. Take this one step further and apply some simple logic:

If the support of a tutor gives a student an advantage over those who don’t

and,

employing a tutor is expensive, so it’s only available to the few, not the many,

then,

tutoring offers an unfair advantage.

It would seem that we can add tutoring to our list of ‘evils’ that perpetuate social inequality; a list that includes high performing state schools located in expensive residential areas, private schooling and unequal access to elite universities. What is more, the evidence seems to support this view. In the the only study that I’ve seen regarding the prevalence of tutoring in the State Education system, the University of London found that more than up to 27% of students had at one time received the support of a tutor. Put another way, nearly three quarters of state school students had never, ever received the support of a tutor.

Case closed. Or is it?

What if we changed one thing? The cost. If we could provide tutor support at a rate that made it available to the mass market, then tutoring goes from being an unfair advantage for a few to a great learning tool for the many. Tutorhub is our way to bring tutoring to a broader audience and we’re working on ways to make it accessible to a much, much broader audience. Watch this space.

Re-assembling education

For those of you that have the time to read it, Marie Bjerede’s blog about DIY learning is worth the effort. For those of you that don’t, the crux of her argument is that we’re reaching the point where it’s possible to take the traditional ‘products’ and ‘processes’ of an education, disassemble them and reassemble them in a way that better suits the learner and their circumstances. This is about much more than just home schooling and takes things even further than the ideas of Edupunk. Some of the most eye-catching examples, such as the Stanford Online AI Course, have happened at college/university level, but the principles make sense and it can only be a matter of time before it filters down to secondary and primary education.

Don’t expect the revolution to come from within though. It never happens that way … it will be those who are close to, but not in the education system, that recognise when all the pieces are in place for a new approach. After all, it wasn’t the music industry that brought us iTunes.

Tutoring: WHY does it work?

In support of our development plans for Tutorhub, I’ve been taking a much deeper look at the world of tutoring recently. My aim was to ignore the popular wisdom and look for hard evidence, not only that tutoring actually works (see my earlier post on this subject) but to get some idea of how it works. This is more than just an academic exercise or background reading for our product development plans. The fact is that tutoring support can make a significant difference to educational performance, but understanding how it works is vital if you’re going to get the most out of your tutoring session, reduce the time spent with a tutor and avoid wasting money on unproductive sessions.

Perhaps the best way to explain this is to imagine a student who is trying to work on a topic or question that they’re struggling with. Cue student:

“Our student encounters a problem that they can’t understand or work through. Frustration begins to build. The tutor will use scaffolding (guided prompting that pushes the students thinking) to encourage them to think about the problem in hand, to use existing knowledge and tools to try to approach the problem. Feedback along the way helps to both monitor the process and guide the student when they are either wrong or unsure. The process is highly interactive, unlike say watching a video or reading a book, which is passive. It is also granular, which means that the problem is broken down in to small steps and at each stage, the student understands if they’re right or that they are wrong and need to repair their thinking. In other words, a student can’t go far wrong. This is an intense process that reinforces existing knowledge, creates new knowledge and repairs faulty understanding.”

It is this process of scaffolding, feedback and interaction that seems to offer the most effective improvement in understanding.

What this means is that we should reconsider how, when and why we use a tutor. Tutoring is typically born of frustration, with “I don’t get Maths” probably being the most common starting point. What follows is a whole series of maths lessons. I believe we should be looking at tutors in a different way, perhaps more akin to an educational Swiss Army Knife. If we want to achieve the best results our native talents will allow, we should realise from the start that we’ll inevitably come across problems that we can’t understand. When that happens and before the frustration builds, we know that we need to work through the problem in a more detailed, intense way, to really understand it. That’s when we reach for the tutor. In some ways, this is an approach that’s an odds with how most tutors currently work, but that’s a problem for another day …

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