Socratic — Homework Helper

Description:

Students have certainly discovered the opportunities afforded with Internet searches that might aid them in their homework needs.  A new app called Socratic is just six-months old but already tops the downloads from Apple’s App Store for education software.  What began as a resource for questions from middle and high school students in the content areas of science and history has developed into a wider resource.  Content areas now include English, economics and even some mathematics. Calculus is next to be conquered.

Creator Shreyans Bhansali (who used to work for Google) used artificial intelligence to teach Socratic to learn algebra.  The team at work behind the scenes “had to write an algorithm that could analyze a photo of a math problem and solve it” (Pullen, 2017).  Developers worked with teachers to provide explanations for the answers provided so students would understand how to get the answer.  The program “combines cutting-edge computer vision technologies, which read questions from images, with machine learning classifiers built using millions of sample homework questions, to accurately predict which concepts will help” (MacDonald, 2017) students solve their questions.  The step-by-step explanations that follow help students know the details about how the question is answered.

Students are able to visit Socratic.org on the Web or download a mobile app that allows them to take a picture of a homework item.  On the Web, students type in a question. Questions are given answers by the site, plus those who ask questions can also answer questions and earn points to advance in status on the program itself.  With the scan app, the program searches the Web and its own internal database for solutions. Parents can visit Socratic to help their child with homework topics that they may not have seen in many years and need to review.  Either way, Socratic is helping students get more homework done, and done correctly!

Analysis:     

For technology to gain respect in the educational world, it needs to be more than just clever, colorful, and creative.  It needs to align with the standards to which educators are held responsible. The educational website Socratic.org aligns with ISTE Standards 1, 2, and 3.  Standard 1, Learner, supports leveraging technology that improves student learning. When students attend to the explanations for the homework answers, their learning deepens.  Standard 2, Leader, supports student empowerment through technology. Since Socratic is an optional technology for students, they show empowerment when they engage in the experience of asking and learning.  And when they answer other students’ questions on the site, they are fulfilling Standard 3, to responsibly participate in the digital world (ISTE Standards, 2018).

Beyond aligning with the ISTE Standards for Educators, the program Socratic promotes thinking and reasoning skills, as supported in Bloom’s Taxonomy (Armstrong, 2018).   As a tool, Socratic utilizes four of the levels: knowledge, comprehension, application and analysis.  Students approach Socratic with a question about knowledge and in a matter of moments, acquire material for comprehension, which they then can apply to further homework problems.  As they work through the step-by-step explanations and apply it to their knowledge, they analyze and grow in their knowledge and academic abilities. With Socratic, this growth can happen quickly.  A teacher in a classroom cannot always meet individual needs at this pace.

Finally, Socratic promotes self-directed learning; in short, it motivates students.  According to Lehman and Conceicao (2014) technology “can make it possible to save time, travel, and cost” (p. 11).  Students need support to engage and advance in a class and when the affordances of technology make learning available everywhere and anytime, students are motivated.  Because they are in control, their self-efficacy grows (Lehman & Conceicao, 2014). With the help of Socratic, students can know that help is available when they need it, encouraging them to prepare better for classes

Critique:

Socratic is an innovative program that helps students get immediate help and explanations for troubling homework problems.  It also helps parents gain confidence that they, too, can assist their child when they need to review content to help. When used for appropriate purposes, Socratic is a positive asset for students and their parents.  Discussions may need to happen regarding inappropriate uses of the website. It is for the occasional struggle, not the ongoing assignments in full. It is for knowledge growth, not for plagiarism or cheating. It is somewhat social, which “helps solidify information in the brain in a very different (and sometimes more effective way) than working alone” (McQuillen. 2018).

Because Socratic is improved every day (Pullen, 2017), users benefit more from this technology option.  The resources from which it draws can be increased at will, as well. The affordances of such a broad connectivity multiply accordingly.  This is good for students who are using it of their own volition, but could Socratic be an option for teachers? It could, but only with some modification.  When students engage with Socratic, there is no record of how often they use it or what for. There is no proof that students are comprehending the explanations or are able to transfer that knowledge to similar problems.  The Socratic team could include a couple of new features. One could be supplementary problems that imitate the one involved in the question. Student knowledge would deepen as concepts are applied to more problems. Another feature could chart engagement of students which could be shared perhaps via email with instructors.  That way, students could learn and earn respectability from peers and teachers, show their increasing sophistication of skills and even perhaps receive extra credit!

References

Armstrong, P. (2018). Bloom’s Taxonomy. Retrieved May 20, 2018, from https://cft.vander

bilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy/

ISTE Standards for Educators. (2018). Retrieved May 18, 2018, from http://www.iste.org/

standards/for-educators

Lehman, R. M., & Conceicao, S. C. (2014). Motivating and Retaining Online Students (First

ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

MacDonald, C. (2017, January 21). The Ultimate Exam Cheat. Retrieved May 18, 2018, from

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4141968/Socratic-app-answer-questions-

Just-taking-picture.html.  Socratic.

McQuillen, G. (n.d.). Socratic – Scan Homework,Get Answers and Explanations. Retrieved May

20, 2018, from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/app-reviews/socratic-scan-

homework-get-answers-and-explanations

Pullen, J. P. (2017, January 26). This iPhone App Can Do Your Kid’s Homework. Retrieved May

18, 2018, from http://time.com/4650119/socratic-app-homework-iphone/Socratic

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