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Education Should Go to the Movies (guest blog)

This is a guest blog by Arvin Vohra, who will be a guest on Technology Today on Thursday, June 23rd to discuss issues facing the US Educational system. In this blog, we offers his view on a potential solution.

When motion pictures first came out, movies were little more than plays caught on film. There were no closeups, no shot sequences – just actors filmed as if they were on a stage. Something very similar is happening in educational software: instead of using the power of computers to create more effective teaching methods, most schools are simply digitizing old methods – requiring that students hand in homework and check grades online, without improving the nature of the homework or grades. Our Synapse software is one of a handful of software packages that are moving in a very different direction.

Synapse software is built on an algorithm that makes memorization easier. More bluntly, it allows you to force your brain to permanently memorize information. It works by considering how often a particular question is missed, the overall percentage missed, and adjusting the frequency of repetition, as well as the ratio of new questions to old questions.

But most importantly, when used correctly, Synapse is an incentive based approach to education, and its most vital element is the score. Each question has four multiple choice answers. If you get it right, you gain a point. If you get it wrong, you lose a point. If you guess three wrong answers, you can lose three points on a single question (you don’t move to the next question until you get the question right.) You aren’t finished until you reach the target score (usually 100 points). That might take 10 minutes, or 10 hours. And that forces every single student, whether ambitious or completely uninterested, to put in 110%. Not every student cares about grades. But, every student wants to be done as fast as possible. And at the core, every student has a desire to learn. Most current educational methods often destroy that desire, but that desire is there, and the video-game style of Synapse often revives it.

As more people learn about Synapse, I expect that a lot of students will use Synapse packages on their own to learn information much more quickly and easily. I also expect private learning centers and innovative educational companies to heavily use our software. Some schools may use it for homework, but I don’t expect to see it in most classrooms anytime soon. Why? Because really using the full power of the Synapse platform requires making major changes in the way education is done. I have already made those changes in my classrooms, with staggering improvements in student performance, morale, ability, and confidence. But I don’t expect most school bureaucracies to follow suit. I expect them to cling to broken educational methods, to become increasingly ineffective in the modern educational landscape, and to soon become even more obsolete than they already are.

Just take a look at the software platforms that schools have incorporated, versus the ones they won’t touch. They have primarily stuck to the ones that involve no fundamental changes (i.e. improvements) in their approaches. Consider how many schools have adopted the absurdly expensive Blackboard learning management system, which involves little or no benefit to students, compared to the number that have adopted Rosetta Stone software. Why? Blackboard involves no major changes in administrative or teaching methods; Rosetta Stone just might (note that Rosetta Stone is my direct competitor, whereas Blackboard is not.) Systems like Blackboard have, thus far, allowed teachers to continue using the ineffective methods that have made American schools among the worst in the world, despite spending more per student than almost any other country. Those systems are simply ways to keep throwing money at a problem, without actually doing anything differently.

What I hear from administrators is that preset learning systems like Rosetta Stone or Pimsleur do not allow teachers to modify the content for a particular course. That might be true (although I suspect it has a lot more to do with the fact that innovative learning systems require teachers to improve their approach). That’s one reason why I have opened the synapse platform in two ways. First, all schools, teachers, and students are invited to use our free Open Synapse software, which applies the synapse algorithm to any user created list. A student or teacher can enter any list, and instantly have a fully functioning Synapse package, complete with algorithm. Secondly, AVE is offering custom created Synapse packages to any schools, with non-expiring, school-wide licenses for just $995. The price has been deliberately kept artificially low, so that any school that wants to offer better education can afford to do so.

I believe that American education is at a crossroads. On one side we have more efficiency – greater gains in cognitive development per hour spent. We can make each hour that a student spends more and more rewarding, in terms of real intellectual development. We can make our rising generations the smartest in the world, able to outstrip their international competition in this global economy.

Or we can allow schools to remain a mix of babysitting and obedience training. We can continue to turn students off with busywork, fillers, and time-wasting approaches.

Across the country, educational innovators are providing students with tools that allow them to forge ahead. At the same time, others are providing administrators with tools to maintain the status quo. I believe that Synapse is an important step forward for students, but it will be up to students to make that decision. You can demo the Mandarin Chinese Synapse now. Spanish Synapse, AP Latin Synapse, and AP Biology Synapse are also coming out this year. Android and iPhone apps will be available in the coming weeks as well, along with online demos for all products.

Arvin Vohra
Author, The Equation For Excellence
Founder, Arvin Vohra Education

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June 22, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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