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posted by Fnord666 on Saturday March 21 2020, @09:36PM   Printer-friendly
from the my-schoolboard-sucks... dept.

Some local schoolboards have already rolled out full remote learning curricula, starting Monday (seems to me there have been plans in the works for years to make something like this happen this fast.) Others appear flat-footed and clueless. We did some homeschooling with our kids a couple of years ago, and the one website that really clicked with us was (shameless plug) .

I know we had a Soylent story just over a week ago asking for alternatives to the ubiquitous (and well deserved first place recommendation) Khan. Now that it's a little less abstract, and looking more certain that the kids won't be returning to physical school buildings until the fall... what do you look for in online learning services?

Our criteria were: easy for the kids to self-learn the material as presented, easy to track progress and identify areas where extra instruction might help, clear documentation of subjects covered and relative mastery of each, easy for kids to self-select appropriate subject areas to study, reasonable cost.

Khan certainly presents material clearly, and the cost can't be beat, but we found IXL to be superior in the other areas, and when you think about the tremendous number of hours invested by you and your kids in the learning system, the cost isn't really significant ($20/month for one, $24 for two).

Has anybody else taken a serious plunge into online learning and found something "better than Khan" for your purposes?

[Ed. addition follows. --martyb]

See our previous story: Student Privacy Laws Still Apply if Coronavirus Just Closed Your School and take a close look at future provider's security and privacy practices. From the article linked to in the previous story

Usually educational organizations—colleges, universities, or local K-12 districts—have agreements in place with certain dedicated educational software vendors such as Blackboard or Canvas to use their tools. Compliance with FERPA is ideally part of those agreements, although adherence can be somewhat hit and miss. But when everyone is suddenly scrambling for new tools as best they can in response to a pandemic, privacy considerations may fall by the wayside.

Software platforms allowing videoconferencing, recording, and screen sharing have all seen a massive spike in use in recent weeks. Microsoft, Google, Slack, and Zoom are all offering discounts or extra features to businesses, groups, and individuals to help with the everything from home era in which we (hopefully temporarily) find ourselves. Not all of those tools, many of which are designed for enterprise use, are necessarily going to be compliant with educational regulations.

Google, in particular, has been in hot water before. Neither schools nor individuals can sue for FERPA violations, as the Electronic Privacy Information Center explains, but both states and individuals have filed suit under different statutes alleging related violations.

In 2013, a group of students sued Google over its "creepy" data-mining from Google Apps for Education tools. Google ended the practice in 2014, only to be sued again in 2016 by a group of current and former university students alleging their data was collected and retained from their Google academic accounts in violation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

Neither are all the lawsuits in the past. Just last month, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas filed suit against Google. That suit alleges the company's collection and use of data from schoolchildren in New Mexico violates both the federal Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and New Mexico's Unfair Practices Act.

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  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by Phoenix666 on Sunday March 22 2020, @03:42AM (2 children)

    by Phoenix666 (552) on Sunday March 22 2020, @03:42AM (#974012) Journal

    In the wake of the soylent article I went ahead and set up virtual classrooms for my two kids, 5th and 4th grade, respectively, and assigned them coursework in math, ELA, biology, physics, chemistry, grammar, computer science, and a couple other subjects. It's free, instant, and works well. The kids understand the videos and are able to manage the work well. They tried to slack off the first two days but Khan Academy gives you a fine-grained view of what they're reviewed and how they've done on everything, so I could tell when they weren't watching the videos all the way through or at all. Now they don't cheat. To get them to work even harder, I tell them that if they finish their lessons early and get over 95% they can take the rest of the day off.

    When I compare what they've done with what NYC public schools managed, they've covered in a week what the public schools took half a semester to do. That pace is great, because they soak the material right up. I also like it because it opens opportunities in the schedule to weave in Korean lessons (so they can talk to grandpa) and insert the computer science that I wish the public schools would teach as a core subject.

    The one irritant is that the New York City Department of Education, which, having nuked its own relevance a week ago, is desperate to do something with online learning. Their solution? A static PDF that amounts to a big homework packet. Oh, and they've also been ragging on the parents to sign their kids up for Google Classroom, which the teachers don't know how to use and are treating like a superchat. Because that's the most phenomenal fucking way to use time efficiently with kids who'd rather fuck off and play video games. My wife and I are doing their jobs, doing it better, and they still expect to be the ones that get paid for it.

    The experiment is ongoing, but I'm already mostly convinced that the haphazard and mostly non-functional teacher's union in NYC has rendered their mode of pedagogy and their very existence obsolete at a stroke.

    Washington DC delenda est.
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  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by JoeMerchant on Sunday March 22 2020, @03:38PM

    by JoeMerchant (3937) on Sunday March 22 2020, @03:38PM (#974150)

    What we've found with our kids is that any major (positive) shift in educational approach initially has a big ramp up of highly visible progress, but sooner or later it plateaus and you're back to the more usual slow progress. This happened when we shifted to home schooling, and again two years later when we shifted back from home schooling to regular school, and other times with major changes of in-classroom situations.

    Work-at-your-own-pace is almost always faster to cover material than the classroom of 30 kids moving at a pace ideally suited for the bottom quintile (and usually not that well tuned.) Kids that get it quickly are bored, kids that don't get it as quickly as presented are lost. If you can keep your kids motivated / interested and progressing through Khan, and other online resources, they'll learn more than any classroom could ever teach them.

    Our kids are "lexically challenged" - so while the Khan presentations are excellent, they tend to be really talky, which doesn't help our kids a lot. The IXL exercises do a ramp up of difficulty, if you really know the material you can get through an exercise with 25 short answers, if you have trouble you can repeat until you see the pattern for yourself (works best for our kids), or you can go to the "talky" explanation of what you did wrong and then try again. Getting to 100% in an exercise by guessing is virtually impossible (something like 10,000 guesses required due to they way a wrong answer makes you repeat multiple questions...) The great thing is after several months you can look back at hundreds of little mini-topics 100% achieved, which seems so much more satisfying than a slip of paper from the county with an 8 entirely arbitrary letters on it.

    🌻🌻 []
  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 22 2020, @07:55PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 22 2020, @07:55PM (#974221)

    The schooling system is insanely inefficient, lackluster, and focuses far too much on rote memorization over understanding, but somehow that still doesn't stop people from claiming that anyone who is not one of its victims is inherently less educated and maladjusted. It's truly bizarre.