Facebook Promotes Educational Tool to Track Online Learning


Facebook has teamed up with charter network Summit Public Schools to create an online educational tool called the Personalized Learning Plan that will eventually be released to other districts for free.

K-12 students can schedule and track their courses and assignments to see the skills they’re developing and how they fit into their chosen career path. Eight Facebook employees are now working full-time on the project, writes Vindu Goel and Motoko Rich of the New York Times, under Summit’s chief executive Diane Tavenner.

Facebook plans on eventually releasing the software for free to all US schools. Summit Public Schools’ students and teachers have been using it since 2014.

Chris Cox, Facebook’s chief product officer, said that the app will help students see the ways their education is furthering their life and goals:

This means that every moment of each students’ day is motivated by what they want to be when they grow up. Alongside this, teachers can then check in on how their students are doing to give tailored feedback each day, and parents can do the same to view their kids’ progress at any time.

Summit Public Schools was founded in 2000 by a group of parents from Silicon Valley. Students do most of their learning online and use class time for projects and collaboration with peers.

Brian Johnson, a founding teacher of Summit, described students’ reactions to the Personalized Learning Plan:

Once they get used to it and start to understand themselves better as learners, which I think is the most important part, they respond very positively.

Summit is ranked in the top 20% of California’s public schools, and about 90% of its graduates are accepted by at least one four-year college, reports Queenie Wong of Mercury News. Its network includes nine schools and two more are scheduled to open in 2016.

This summer, Summit offered a Basecamp program that lasted for two weeks and included twenty-one middle and high school teachers with the goal of teaching them about the Personalized Learning Plan program so they can implement it at their own schools.

Facebook has joined other technology companies like Google and Microsoft in providing free educational tools.

Brian Lewis, CEO of the nonprofit International Society for Technology in Education, said:

This is big business, make no mistake about that, but there are very well-intended people in these high tech companies that are not just trying to fulfill these business objectives.

Facebook will not be using this program for data mining, according to Betsy Corcoran and Christina Quattrocchi of edSurge. Anticipating concerns about student data privacy, the Personalized Learning Program is completely separate from Facebook and adheres to the White House-endorsed Student Privacy Pledge.

This June, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, announced a plan to donate $5 million to a scholarship fund for immigrants in the Bay Area. The year before, they donated $120 million to Bay Area schools in need.

Zuckerberg wrote:

Building software that will enable personalized learning for all children is a new and exciting challenge for Facebook, and we can’t do it alone.