Social media giant Facebook announced yesterday that it would be partnering with Silicon Valley-based charter school system Summit Public School to introduce what it calls “a classroom experience that’s centered around students’ ambitions that takes advantage of all the technology and information accessible to a kid growing up today.”
“When we first heard about Summit Public Schools a few years ago we, like many others, were impressed by their results,” Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox wrote in an announcement. “They are consistently ranked among the best schools in California, almost all of their graduates are accepted to at least one four-year college or university, and they achieve these outcomes while serving a very diverse student population that reflects the local community. They are just remarkable schools.”
Cox explained that Summit’s success is largely due to the school system’s approach to the flipped classroom model, where students learn the material online outside of school and work on assignments and projects in class. He also credit’s Summit’s focus on a personalized learning experience, which allows each student to work towards their own long-term goals like becoming an investigative journalist or learning how to code.
“As we looked into why this was so effective, we saw that a lot of this was the culture of the teachers and school, but also that a lot of the magic was in the technology,” Cox said. “First, the technology itself has the power to bring to life the daily work by putting it in context. And second, the technology frees up classroom time for teachers to do what they do best—mentor students directly—and for students to spend time collaborating with, and in some cases, teaching each other.”
Facebook reached out to Summit to see if the social network’s engineers could come up with a system that would allow the schools to take advantage of technology to improve their personalized learning experiences, and in 2014 it began testing a new software program called Personalized Lesson Plans (PLP).
“Last year, more than 2,000 students and 100 teachers spent the school year using it,” Cox said. “For 2015, we’re supporting Summit as it partners with public schools who want to explore personalized learning through a small pilot program. We’ll use feedback from this program to improve the PLP so we can eventually offer it, for free, to any school in the US that wants it.”
Facebook is assigning a small, independent team that will work with Summit to improve the program. The social media giant is quick to point out that the software will not be connected to Facebook in any way, and users will not need a Facebook account to use it. Cox also points out that the program takes students’ privacy very seriously, and the company has taken steps to protect them.
“Everybody working on the PLP is subject to strict privacy controls that help protect student data,” Cox said. “Summit subscribes to the White House-endorsed Student Privacy Pledge, which means that the Facebook employees working on this project are required to handle Summit students’ data in accordance with the Pledge.”
The program itself appears to be aimed at making it easy for teachers to create detailed lesson plans with varying goals, assignments, and sub-categories, making it easy to map out a learning path for a diverse range of students and their interests. PLP also makes it easier for students to see their upcoming schedule and the various lessons and tasks associated with each subject.
Example images for PLP also show online assessments and lessons with the ability for both students and teachers to see current progress and goals.
“This is personal for those of us working on the team here at Facebook,” Cox concluded. “Through our kids, our families and the teachers in our lives, we’ve seen that there’s an opportunity to help apply our skills to the future of education, and we all wanted to find a way to help make an impact by doing what we do best — building software. With Summit it’s starting to feel like we’ve found the perfect partnership.”
He added, “Together we look forward to offering personalized learning to any public school that wants it, and further out, to the day when anyone with an internet connection could have free access.”