IT Blossoms, one of the most exciting and effective uses of educational technology to help high school students learn math and science, doesn’t boast the latest in artificial intelligence or adaptive algorithms. Its secret weapon is, rather, a canny understanding of human psychology—both students’ and teachers’. Technologically speaking, its basic model could be executed with an old television and VCR.
In fact, it was. Blossoms was born a decade ago when Richard Larson, a professor of engineering systems at MIT and an early advocate of educational technology, visited a run-down school in rural central China. The classroom was lit by two bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling, and was so cold that students kept their coats on inside. It did have a used TV and VCR, which the teacher employed to play a video of a science lecture. She would show a few minutes of the tape, then turn it off and engage her students in a surprisingly dynamic, interactive lesson. This was followed by a few more minutes of the video, then back to interaction with the students.