Sunday, June 24, 2007

Pedagogy of the Confined: Harris County turns to computer learning for incarcerated kids

From a corporate press release we learn that the Harris County juvenile probation board has contracted for a computer teaching program that will be used for incarcerated kids and those in alternative disciplinary schools. Said the release:
PLATO Learning, Inc. (NASDAQ:TUTR), a leading provider of K–adult computer-based and e-learning solutions, today announced an agreement with the Harris County (Texas) Juvenile Probation Board to provide web-delivered credit recovery, intervention, assessment, and on-grade curriculum solutions using the PLATO Learning Environment™. Harris County will implement its PLATO Learning solution at four residential facilities for incarcerated students, as well as at two schools for expelled students.

“We were looking for a complete solution that covered all subject areas, but we also required a very flexible implementation model,” said Margaret Rhode, deputy director of the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department. “Many of these kids have severe academic deficiencies that must be addressed individually, so we were glad that PLATO Learning offered us a versatile, self-paced learning and assessment option.”

For Harris County, their electronic learning system needed to address the unique challenges of teaching incarcerated kids. A web-based model was essential for providing lesson access to transient students, many of whom are transferred between facilities as part of the adjudication process. With PLATO Learning’s web-based solution, students can use their log-on to complete lessons from any location.

“In the juvenile justice system, kids are not always grouped by grade level,” said Rhode. “There are often complicated territorial issues, such as gang allegiances, that need to be considered before putting kids together in a learning lab. The PLATO Learning Environment gives us the flexibility we need to foster truly individualized learning at each of our sites.”

Harris County is committed to getting the most out of its implementation by training extra teachers to use the system. “We received federal grant money for training,” said Rhode. “We want to make sure all of our teachers know how to use the product every single day so we can have a better handle on measurable results.” To prepare students for the statewide Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) examination, teachers will use benchmark assessments aligned to TAKS with PLATO® Test Packs with Prescriptions on PLE™ and monitor time-on-task to measure student engagement and lesson effectiveness.

Different kids learn in different ways, and this might work well for some. I'm glad to see they're training extra teachers, and I hope the PLATO program isn't seen by the county as a substitute for providing human teachers for these kids. A teacher isn't just a source of facts and figures to remember, they're a role model for proper behavior and the benefits of education that, when they succeed, also teach kids important lessons on a human level you can't learn from a book. So I hope this is a successful tool, but that it is never viewed as an alternative to providing teachers for troubled kids.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This approach demonstrates a complete and total lack of pedagogical practice and knowledge. They are trying to substitute for teachers and will fail miserably. PC based learning is OK at best for lower grade level concrete learning. However, the rote learning methods are extremely poor in assisting learners in synthesis and generalization skills. I generally take a very dim veiw of post 4th grade educators that rely heavily on PCs. They and systems like this PLATO are trying to cover up the fact that they can't teach.

As we used to say in the army: If you can't dazzle them with your dance, baffle them with your bulls**t!