Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Trend Alert:"Adaptive" Technology

I am both excited and skeptical about adaptive technology - when the app has incorporated software that will adapt the level of difficulty of the content to each child's skill level. A few examples are: Agnitus - Games for Learning, Leo's Pad: Preschool Kids Learning Series, and Monkey Math School Sunshine.

I am excited about this trend because adaptive software can help give kids practice on exactly what they need and not risk them getting bored by items that are too easy or get frustrated and lose interest in items that are too hard. It can then also provide parents and teachers with more accurate information leading to better instruction.

I am skeptical because while I'm not an expert in adaptive technology, I've worked on developing and evaluating assessments where adaptive technology was considered. So I know at least a little about what it takes to have accurate adaptive tasks. Of course, we don't need to hold apps to the standards of a validated assessment, but in the least, we need to have 1) data (where the items have already been tested on lots of kids of varying skill level) - case in point is Agnitus. I first reviewed Agnitus almost a year ago when they first came out. My biggest problem was their progression - that it was too slow. Now, almost a year later, you can tell that they've collected a whole lot more data from their users and have been updating their adaptive software accordingly. The progression is now much improved. 2) The app would still need to consist of enough items so that the technology can do it's work pinpointing the skill level. Both Agnitus and Monkey Math School Sunshine seem to have a large bank of questions to pull from. So when the software has determined the child has mastered a certain type of question, it moves on. I'm not sure the same can be said for Leo's Pad and how it's being "adaptive." Each episode is more like watching a tv show with only a few moments where they've integrated some activities. Perhaps once all the appisodes have been released? Or it's being adaptive in a different way?

As you'll see, the marketing text for these apps don't really provide any information other than it incorporates adaptive technology. So here are a few things I consider when deciding whether or not to buy an app that claims to have adaptive technology:

1) Does it have enough data? Do they mention having collected any data/done prior studies? Ok - that would be rare. So maybe, look at when it was released. If it's a brand new app, chances are, they are only starting to collect the data they need to improve the adaptive software. Or, possibly, if they are using items from existing curricula or any hint that the items have been tested with kids before.

2) Does it have enough items? Can a few or even several items really be enough to pinpoint each individual's skill level? I would say no. How many items per skill is asked? Maybe kids just got lucky on the multiple choice. Adaptive technology can be tricky because you don't want to leave things to chance, but at the same time, part of the goal is to cut down on repetitive items.

3) Consider the type of skills it's measuring - is it suitable for adaptive technology? Especially in early math, it can be hard to judge a child's skill level with just right or wrong answers. Here's a website from Teachers College, Columbia University and EDC that points out where educators can easily overestimate or underestimate a child's ability based on their answers. If you're developing a math app for preschoolers, it's worth a look. Check out the "Understanding Children's Responses" section.

This website was created to support a math assessment, but the content is pretty universal to early math understanding.
Temporary login for the website:

ID: mathcgm  
Temporary Password: mathkids11

This is not to say that math apps should not incorporate adaptive technology. It just depends on what you're trying to practice. Drilling math facts? Sure, adaptive technology would be great. The goal here would be for kids to be more fluent on math problems, so if they know addition problems pretty well, no need to keep going through them - move on to subtraction. Or similarly, memorizing vocabulary would be a good candidate for adaptive technology. Kids Vocab - Mindsnacks incorporates some variation of adaptive learning technology where you have to get each item correct x amount of times before they deem that you've learned it (kudos on actually providing an explanation for your audience!).

So while I'd like to see more apps with adaptive technology, I'd also like to see more information about why and how it's being incorporated.

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