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

Tools for secondary education majors

Tools for Secondary Education majors to consider

Because I teach General Secondary Methods in my college, I am always searching for tech tools (and the appropriate pedagogical frameworks to guide the incorporation of those tools) to teach to the mixture of preservice high school teachers in my class. With my background in Language Arts education, I am particularly interested in tools to engage, enhance and extend students in this area. Tools that work for Language Arts will apply across various subject areas, fortunately, so what I can present to my class will likely be useful to most of them.

Tools that address classroom learning overall include Socratic, Socrative and Quizlet. For Language Arts specifically, I know one English teacher in the Lincoln Public Schools that relies on NoRedInk (NRI) for her vocabulary and grammar usage training. Because I already know Quizlet, I will focus on Socratic and Socrative. Since I do not know NRI at all, I will include that tool in this collection of three tech options for secondary education majors to consider.

First, Socratic is a free tool that uses artificial intelligence and info from educational sites like Khan Academy and Crash course to offer explanations for homework problems, including videos and step-by-step instructions. It offers support material for subjects across the curriculum. Students can be taught to reach out to this resource before they reach out to teachers or even peers. In this way, students learn to take control of and responsibility for their learning.

Video games and digital literacy

Steinkuehler, C. (2015).  Video games and digital literacies.  Journal of Adolescent & Adult

Literacy, 54(1) (September 2010), 61-63.

Steinkuehler (2015) described a novel approach to studying the effect of video games on students and concluded that video games are “important literary practices” (63), much to the disagreement of parents and teachers who see video games as distasteful distractions.  Period.  Quite by accident, during her afterschool lab time created to study boys and gaming and the disconnect from school, Steinkuehler met “Julio.” Through that acquaintance, she learned that when a boy is allowed “to choose what to read, he [may] read four grades above his diagnosed reading level, not three grades below,” as was happening to Julio in his English class.  His English teacher decided he was troubling for her and sent him for testing in special education.  Steinkuehler concluded that the English classroom had become a female domain and that students were being forced to love only what the teacher loved —  a demand that Julio and others like him were not going to meet.

Even though the article offered no compromise with parents, teachers and especially English teachers, the point was well made that boys, in particular, may do well in school only when they have choice in their content.  Technology that could be used to engage boys and hopefully open the way to academic development should be encouraged.  Studies that highlighted just such a practice would be supportive of the stance taken in this article.

As an English teacher, I stand guilty as charged (by Steinkuehler, anyway).  I have given very few choices to students as to what they would prefer to read, considering that an option for their spare time.  The classroom curriculum was outlined for me and I complied.  I did not include video games or other more creative technology to engage disinterested boys, for example.  Looking back, I wish I had.  There were more unengaged boys in my classes than otherwise.  I knew they weren’t reading, and their grades reflected their choices.  The opportunity to reach them is lost now, but I can encourage my teacher candidates to be more open to how technology (namely video games, for the sake of this discussion) could enhance their future classroom curricula.

New Literacies for Digital Citizenship (Week 10)

Simsek, E., & Simsek, A. (2013). New Literacies for Digital Citizenship. Online Submission

Seeking to contrast old definitions of citizenship (and how technology did not guide it) with new definitions of citizenship (and how new forms of technology definitely play a significant role), authors Simsek and Simsek (2013) began by exploring various theories of technology in civic society.  The theory of autonomous technology claims that technology “evolves in its own course, regardless of outside factors….Technological determinism defends the idea that technological development itself has created social changes because technology has such a revolutionary power” (Simsek & Simsek, 2013, p. 127).  The political selection approach claims that “technology has been determined by political forces and capitalist needs” (Simsek & Simsek, 2013, p. 127).  A final emphasis, called the critical approach, is fully negative toward technology and society, positing that “technology hides reality by mass communication devices” (Simsek & Simsek, 2013, p. 128).

After this discussion, the authors explored the various literacies of modern culture– information literacy, computer literacy, media literacy, communication literacy, visual literacy, and technology literacy–stating that it is the civic duty of all in the modern day to manage all of these well and to participate in citizenship responsibilities that use all the modes of modern  technology.  Further, they expect that “in the new world of virtual technologies, digital citizens are expected to combine cognitive, affective, psycho-social, and technological skills.  The interaction of all of these skills produces an ideal digital citizen for the 21st century” (Simsek & Simsek, 2013, p. 131).  They admit, however, that having the technology will not guarantee participation and that “there is not an ideal world in which new media and democracy interact” (Simsek & Simsek, 2013, p. 134).

Authors Simsek and Simsek researched extensively to write this article, summarizing various other authors’ descriptions of the digital citizenship opportunities apparent in the 21st century.  The several paragraphs that explain the various positions move quickly with brief descriptions and little interpretation or evaluation.  The idealist tone of the article surrounded the idea that responsible people must use technology well to participate in a global digital community and promote democracy through the new modes of technology available.  The enthusiasm of the authors culminated with the comment that “digital citizenship could create a more transparent, connected, and participatory democratic environment via its interactive, non-hierarchical, user friendly nature” (Simsek & Simsek, 2013, p. 132).

I expected the article to focus on the new technologies primarily, and upon citizenship secondarily.  Such was not the case.  There were two lists of tech options new to modern citizens and many paragraphs of theories and conceptual frameworks from those in the conversation.  The political tone was not motivating for this reader.  A follow-up article could certainly approach the topic from a more technological paradigm.

Teaching teachers to incorporate gaming

Becker, K. (2007). Digital game-based learning once removed: teaching teachers.  British

Journal of Educational Technology, 38(3), 478-488.

Karen Becker (2007) explores why teachers are hesitant to adopt technology into their on-ground courses.  Because they typically do not have resources of time and equipment, because they may lack an understanding of how to use games, and because they may not read the journals that discuss current practices, the teachers remain aloof to the possibilities inherent in the field.  There are disconcerting voices they may hear in media and from principals and other colleagues to further deepen their nervousness  Some courses are available to teach teachers to think differently about technology (see www.minkhollow.ca/KB/PF/PFGacademe.html#courses) (p. 480).  While teachers have opted to use computers for some things–email, in-class use, reports, presentations and for reference–this is certainly nothing compared to a full integration of technology into content and pedagogy.

The second half of the article focuses on a class in which Becker (2007) is involved.  The goal of the class is to introduce various games teachers could incorporate and how they might think differently about how much and when to use games and other technology in their classes. In one final quotation, Becker (2007) pushes strongly for the use of interactive programs as opposed to the linear technology of television, etc.  She says, “It should not be surprising that today’s learners easily grow bored and restless with books as a medium of learning.  Traditional lecturing approaches require passivity and acceptance, but games are fundamentally dependant on the concept of agency.  ‘Agency is our ability to alter the world around us, or our situation in it.  We are able to act, and that action has effects.  This is probably the first thing we learn as babies.  This is the crucial distinction between interactive and linear entertainment’” (qtd. In Becker, 2007).

The focus of this article drifted, even though Karen Becker (2007) occasionally made strong points.  She began with a clear case of why teachers may shy from incorporating technology, but then only barely supplied an answer:   teach them in teacher preparation programs.  She did not mention the importance of deepening their ability to understand how to blend technology with content and pedagogy.  Perhaps it was assumed that would follow, given the course she was proposing to solve the problem.  This article, coupled with others about TPCK and other preservice teacher coursework, helps provide a stronger foundation for those in teacher prep programs.

Since I am fully involved in a teacher preparation program, I am already interested in encouraging teachers to use technology well.  Our program offers one three-hour class in Educational Technology.  In conversation just this week with the professor, I learned that she is doing well in the overall goals of TPCK.  Students are learning to incorporate technology into both pedagogy and content.  After reading articles such as this (Becker 2007), I am able to speak with more knowledge and guide our professor somewhat for now, and more so as my CMU program continues.

Week 4 — Digital Technologies and Pedagogies

 

Weis, T. M., Benmayor, R., O’Leary, C., & Eynon, B. (2002). Digital Technologis and

Pedagogies. Social Justice, 29(4), 153-167. Retrieved January 28, 2018, from

https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-99399480/digital-technologies-and-pedagogies.

 

Digital Technologies and Pedagogies

Weis et al, (2002) explain their use of technology to create assignments for their students associated with the grant-funded Visible Knowledge Project (VKP) headquartered in Georgetown University (see hhtp://crossroads.georgetown.edu/vkp). Each teacher utilizes digital publishing formats for finished products. Weis and Benmayor’s courses encouraged minority students to tell their stories, after significant primary research. O’Leary taught a capstone course in digital histories that began with a research phase, moved to a lengthy essay-writing phase and then concluded with a digital publication that is stored for students, professors and historians to access on the Web. Eynon’s undergraduate course at LaGuardia Community College, a fully international institution, requires students to study their culture and prepare oral histories and ePortfolios of their findings. It is evident from the research happening with the VKP that “new digital media are empowering students to become researchers, storytellers, historians, oral historians, and cultural theorists in their own right” (p. 153). The VKP seeks to “bridge the digital divide, and to make visible the stories that have been invisible for too long” (p. 166).

This design-based research by Weis et al was in the second year at the writing of the article. Several researchers shared how they had already modified their approach as they gathered information from the first research effort. All authors focused on multicultural themes and used technology to give a new voice and new perspective to the students and to the readers (and watchers) of their final projects. At the time of the writing, ePortfolios were a new concept as technology was developing to make such endeavors possible. The authors, if writing today, would have very different things to say regarding the newest tech available and how they might incorporate it in their assignments.

As a practitioner in Language Arts, I was thoroughly interested in the project-based and inquiry learning discussed in the research projects. I would like to see the research widened to include topics that go beyond just multicultural or historical themes. I am also interested in what questions could be asked and what research projects could be developed given the array of technology availability now. Language Arts classrooms and curricula should only improve with time. I’d like to help with that momentum.

Impact of E-Learning — positive signs

Tunmibi, S., Aregbesola, A., Adejobi, P., & Ibrahim, O. (2015). Impact of E-Learning and Digitalization in Primary and Secondary Schools. Journal of Education and Practice, 6(17), 53-59.

This case study from Nigeria (Tunmibi, et al, 2015) enthusiastically supports the position that learning happens when technology is utilized, both for the student and for the teacher. Studying the digitalization process, termed Information Communication Technology (ICT), researchers sought to validate current educational practices. Survey questions given to students and teachers in the Greensprings School in Lagos State, Nigeria revealed that cognitive growth was apparent in a long list of ways: E-learning promoted better communication, accountability for learning and success (shared between the student and the teacher), efficiency, critical thinking, and collaboration. Beyond that, students had access to unlimited sources of information to help them conduct research, communicate and create knowledge. And finally, using E-learning encouraged students to learn their preferred way, to connect between subjects, to further their computer skills (for teachers, too) and in general, to bring out their best.

The perceptions of students and teachers in the survey were nearly thoroughly positive. Though a case study, the various charts reported high numbers in favor of the above list of accomplishments in the utilization of technology in those particular primary and secondary schools. If validated by other perhaps deeper inquiry, it would be a great encouragement in the debate as to whether technology affects learning at all.

Nigerian educational researchers have been seeking validation of current practices for some time; it is not a new venture for them. That is encouraging. It is one of the benefits of the world’s interconnectedness that all nations can share their findings and advance the cause of using technology in the best ways for the sake of students and their learning. As I continue to read the work of researchers everywhere, I will have a broader base of knowledge from which to draw (or at least I will have read from a broader base, acknowledging that not all research is fully laudable).