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Knewton’s Knitch: Thoughts to Ponder

On the Today Show, a segment was dedicated to, “The Classroom of the Future.”  [see TV segment below] The initial comments pointed out that the “present educational system is impersonal, a factory model.”  This is followed by a set of statistics with no sources to verify.  Then the background voice of Jose Ferreira, founder and CEO of Knewton, makes this comment, “How many da Vinci’s, Einsteins, and Marie Curie’s, and Michael Jordon’s are we losing every generation because we are not giving them the opportunities that some of us have?”  What?  How did Michael Jordon fall in the same category of the great scientists?   Okay, move on, the broadcast continues, in order to solve this problem of inequity and problems in the status quo, the solution becomes a what if question.  What if everyone had access to the Internet?

Lest we forget, Jose Ferreira runs a business.  A subtle note focuses that this is a company (.com) versus an educational research group (.org).  On his webpage (www.knewton.com) you are faced with a large screen counting the number of sales pitches he is making in the global market.  When I viewed the page the count was 270, 952,575 and counting.  This is not the number of students that are using his software, not the number of students learning from his program, and not the number of students graduating because of his program, but the number that are being ‘invited.’

In the broadcast, Mr. Ferreira says, “the present system is impersonal, a factory model.”   And, what exactly is a software program?  It is impersonal and a factory made model.  Now, at this point, I should state that I am not against technology.  I hold two B.S.I.T. degrees and worked in a secondary technology school for 22 years.  I also was the first teacher, documented in 1996, to launch the first global educational program on the Internet.  My program, Space Island’s, reached 2.3 million teachers and students in forty nations, and was placed into the Library of Congress as a historical event in 1996.

The Knewton Webpage is full of pictures of adults working one-to-one with young people, however, the software program is designed to work one-to-one with the student.  It is a template of problems and clocked timings to match the student’s ability.  Where is the challenge for student growth by matching those variables?  But that is what his knerds, yes that is what they call themselves, I believe this must be the generation that ate Knudsen products.  Anyway, the knerds design standardized templates!  Now, where have I heard that term before?  I believe that knerds are well educated and excellent programmers and data collectors, but lest we forget where these individuals got their education.  It wasn’t from the Knewton factory but from the public or private schools these engineers graduated from.

If you go to the careers tab of Knewton Website you’d think you would find examples of students who have used the Knewton program and what careers  (engineers, teachers, scientists, and programmers) they have landed in.  No, you find out how lavish the knerd employees are being treated with their own private areas, food services, and perks.  This is the selling page for those interested in employment to Knewton!   Now, where do you suppose the money comes from to cater to these benefits?   There is much hype that this software and program is a pantology that will create a panacea for the present educational system.  However, in reality, it is nothing but a set of organized, timed, impersonal-factory templates.

The broadcast also details the work of Khan Academy and its founder, Sal Khan, whose Youtube math tutorials are quite good and free.  Mr. Khan’s approach is to tutor in short segments with a lively and entertaining presentation.   Adding the good works of Sal Khan’s Academy model to Knewton is comparing apples to oranges.

Knewton is not free, but its founder at the beginning of the broadcast states, “…we (the status quo, which he has now joined) are not giving them (students) the opportunities that some of us have.”  Yes, Mr. Ferreira, what opportunities did you have?  How is your program giving students in the global arena those same opportunities?  The only opportunity I see is Knewton found a nitch to sell its product like Apple Computers did.  It will be interesting to see how many Michael Jordon’s make it to the big league by playing a video game instead of one-on-one on the court!