Junyi Academy

Educational Innovation Through Technology
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2019 / August

Esther Tseng /photos courtesy of Jimmy Lin /tr. by Jonathan Barnard


Since the end of 2012, Taiwan’s Junyi Academy has put more than 10,000 free educational videos and 40,000 inter­active practice questions online. Its platform has more than 1.5 million registered users, and every month more than 200,000 students actively log on and learn with it. From elite schools to rural classrooms, from private cram schools to remedial classes for disadvantaged groups, the technology-aided learning it facilitates is moving education beyond classrooms and textbooks. By changing how students learn, Junyi is helping the disadvantaged as well as the gifted.

 

 


On a rainy afternoon, we arrive at Zhi­min Junior High School in ­Yuanli Township at the southwest corner of ­Miaoli County. However remote and rural the loca­tion, the students in the classroom we visit each have a tablet and are logged in to Junyi Academy as they complete a worksheet. The teacher, Zeng Jia­wei, moves from student to student, providing guidance and checking on their answers.

Launched in 2017 in a collaboration between the Miaoli County Department of Education and Junyi Academy, the classroom provides supplementary re­medial math­ematics education during regular class time. The school’s director of academic affairs, ­Zhang Shu­ping, explains that the classroom is filled with students who were identified in seventh grade, their first year at the school, as weak in math. When other students are taking their regular math classes, these students go to the remedial math classroom. It has its own bandwidth, which enables students to log on to the Junyi Academy. Hence it and others like it are called “Junyi classrooms.”

Taiwan’s Khan Academy

Founded amid a rising tide of web-based ­education projects, Junyi Academy first went online in 2012. “Hoping to do things that help education in Taiwan,” its founder, Fang Shin­jou, who is also chairman of Chengzhi Education Foundation, got authorization to use resources from Khan Academy, the largest free self-study site on the web. His aim was to provide free, first-rate educational materials tailored to Chinese-­speaking learners in the Internet age.

Junyi has also become the biggest platform for online learning among Taiwan’s elementary and junior high schools. Behind the scenes, another key figure in its rise is Ray Lu, known as “Taiwan’s Kahn,” who is now chairman and CEO of Junyi Academy.

First in his class from elementary school through senior high School, Lu was still an intern at a hospital in 2012. One day, scanning newspaper headlines at a breakfast joint as he drank his soy milk, he came across an article titled “Bill Gates’ Favorite Tutor.” It told the story of how hedge-fund analyst Salman Khan founded Kahn Academy.

When working as a home tutor years earlier, Lu had noticed that when students came across a concept they didn’t understand, if they couldn't find someone to explain it to them they would often get stuck, unable to understand their textbook and reference materials. If students whose parents were able to pay for sup­plement­ary education encountered such obstacles, the situation was naturally much worse for those who couldn’t afford ­tutors or cram schools, or who lived in remote areas without educational resources. Inspired by Khan, Lu started in his spare time to make videos about high-school English and math, giving clear, in-depth explanations of under­lying concepts. He posted the videos on YouTube in the hope that students who wanted to learn would watch them. The students could watch the videos over and over until the concepts entered long-term memory. In this way he could help to close the educational gap between the haves and have-nots.

Lu’s virtuous desire to share knowledge caught the attention of Junyi founder Fang Shin­jou. In 2013 Fang invited Lu, who was by then a licensed doctor, to join the KIPP-Inspired Schools foundation as a special instructor for video teaching projects. ­Chang Hui­-cheng, the founder of Sharestart, says of Lu: “He forsook the much-admired field of medicine with its ‘gold rice bowl’ for the ordinary status of a teacher with its ‘iron rice bowl.’” Faced with a choice between practicality and pursuing his dreams, Lu chose the latter, steadily taking steps to achieve his aim of “providing free educational resources for all.”

Tech that tears down classroom walls

Lu was promoted to chairman and CEO of Junyi Academy in December of 2017. Standing 180 centi­meters tall, he wears an untucked blue shirt on the day of our interview. When asked about how Junyi is changing edu­ca­tion in Taiwan, it brings out the teacher in him as he scribbles English words on a whiteboard: “smart assist­ant,” “training coach,” “policy advocacy.” It feels as if we are watching a live educational video broadcast.

“Junyi integrates AI, big data, and smart software to create a ‘smart assistant’ that can serve as a tool to help teachers and students continue learning outside of class,” he explains.

The smart assistant has all of Junyi Academy’s free videos, covering curriculum from elementary school to high school, including math, natural sciences, English and so forth. More than 10,000 videos have been collected featuring experienced teachers, and there are practice questions to answer after watching them.

“Technology offers great opportunities for students to learn at their own pace and for instructors to truly teach to students’ abilities,” Lu emphasizes.

Technological companion

Apart from enabling students to watch self-study videos at home, Junyi also encourages schoolteachers to make use of its resources in the classroom.

Having studied medicine, Lu believes that teachers are a lot like doctors: In the classroom they must diagnose problems and look at their students’ educational histories (much like doctors looking at patients’ medical records) to analyze their strong and weak points. Junyi’s resources can allow them to put more emphasis on differentiated instruction and remedial teaching, and facilitate more experiential activities—for instance, letting students engage in thematic discussions or adopting problem-based learning. Its technology is thus upending traditional modes of education.

As a non-profit organization, Junyi has put a special emphasis on helping the disadvantaged. Junyi started working with Yi­lan County in 2014. In 2016, it began to work with the K-12 Education Administration of the Ministry of Education to provide support to 20 schools in Ping­tung and ­Miaoli counties. Currently, there are about 10,000 teachers in Taiwan who encourage their students to use the Junyi platform, and 1000 who directly use the platform during class periods.

Google grant

Originally inspired by Khan Academy, Lu was able to meet his idol Salman Khan in person in the United States in 2014. For its international exchange programing, Junyi Academy invited John Bergmann, founder of America’s Flipped Learning Network, and Brian Greenberg, CEO of the Silicon Schools Fund, to visit Taiwan. The two educa­tion innovators saw with their own eyes how remote rural schools were making use of the Junyi platform to improve the learning atmosphere among poorly motivated students, and they both affirmed that Taiwan was among the leaders of educational innovation in Asia.

In 2018 Junyi became the first organization in Taiwan to receive financial support from Google.org. With a two-year US$1 million grant from Google, Junyi increased support for classrooms serving disadvantaged students. Thus far it has selected 9 NGOs to support training for those classrooms, empowering more students to take advantage of Junyi’s resources.

In 2017 Junyi introduced webpages for parents, and this year it has launched a smartphone app enabling conversations with Junyi “virtual teachers.” During summer vacation, the educational achievement gap typically widens. So this summer Junyi has introduced “weekly parent‡child study plans” in the hope that parents can lead their children to establish learning goals. If the goals are met, the children can receive rewards of some kind. In this manner, students won’t be academically idle during summer break.

The digital age of personalized learning

For the many elementary students who use Junyi, the platform is like a super­computer that can teach and provide practice questions. It can also tabulate scores and give badges of attainment. Behind this “computer” are all manner of young professionals in STEM fields such as information science, electronics, and engineering. They have forsaken the high salaries of private-­sector employ­ment to contribute their expertise to this non-profit, working as a team to achieve the platform’s success.

Junyi’s aim is to personalize learning via technology. “Every child can become a lifelong learner,” says Ray Lu, describing the organization’s vision. “And that includes disadvantaged students and students making middling and poor marks. They can gain mastery of subject matter and build skills for their futures.”

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科技伴讀‧教育創新

均一教育平台

文‧曾蘭淑 圖‧林格立

2012年底上線至今,均一教育平台提供超過一萬支免費學習的影片、四萬個互動式練習題;已有超過150萬人註冊使用者,每月有廿萬活躍使用者進行線上學習。從菁英學校到偏鄉教室,從私立補習班到弱勢課輔班,科技學習不只走出教室與書本,也翻轉學習的面貌,做到不只拔尖,亦可扶弱。


在霪雨霏霏的午後,來到海線苗栗縣西南隅苑裡鎮的致民國中。在此偏鄉教室,學生卻是每人手中一個平板,邊看均一平台線上教學,邊寫學習單。老師曾佳偉穿梭在每個學生之間,邊檢視學生答題情況,邊進行一對一的指導。

這是苗栗縣教育局與均一教育平台合作,自106學年度推出的數學科「課中補救教室」。致民國中教務主任張淑萍解釋,所謂「課中補救」,即是在國一新生中篩選出每班數學需要加強的學生,在學校上數學課的同一時段,將這些學生獨立到「學習扶助班」。不同於其他的教室,這個教室擁有獨立頻寬,學生可以上網,利用均一平台的內容上課,因此又稱為「均一教室」。

老師曾佳偉經過一年的努力,學生透過補救教學評量通過的比例達82%。這次段考甚至考到全班第三名的盧同學說:「在這個數學班,老師講的我都聽得懂,我的數學也不再不及格。」

台灣的可汗學院

均一教育平台緣起於這幾年興起的線上學習風潮,2012年上線之初,創辦人、也是誠致教育基金會董事長方新舟,基於「希望做對台灣教育有幫助的事」,取得全球最大免費自學網站「可汗學院」的授權,將其平台內容中文化,希望為網路世代提供免費、一流的教育資源。

均一也成為全台灣中小學最大的線上學習平台,幕後還有一位功臣,被喻為「台灣的可汗」、現為均一教育平台董事長兼執行長呂冠緯。

從小學到高中都是第一名,以全國第七名成績考進台灣大學醫學系,2012年還在醫院擔任實習醫師的他,有一天在豆漿店邊喝豆漿邊看報紙,讀到「比爾蓋茲最喜歡的家教老師」,也就是避險基金分析師薩爾曼.可汗創辦可汗學院的故事。

呂冠緯由於先前當家教時發現,許多學生常對一個小觀念不了解,找不到人問,自己看課本或參考書也看不懂,因此學習就卡在那裡。付得出昂貴補習費的學生有此窘境,更何況沒有錢補習,或是位於偏鄉沒有資源的學生。受到可汗故事啟發的他,開始利用實習之餘,錄製高中英文、數學等科目的影片上傳YouTube,希望讓有心向學的學子,透過他脈絡清晰、深入淺出的影片,可以反覆收看與複習,轉為長期記憶,彌補教育資源的落差。

基於分享的善心,卻吸引了均一創辦人方新舟的注意,2013年邀請已經考上醫師執照的呂冠緯,到基金會擔任專案教師。如學思達創辦人張輝誠形容:「放棄人人稱羨的醫生金飯碗,投入人人覺得普通的老師鐵飯碗,」在追夢與現實之間,呂冠緯選擇成為一個追夢者,逐步實現「為每人預備免費的教學資源」的夢想。

科技打破教室的圍牆

訪問當天,身高180的呂冠緯,藍色襯衫露在褲子外面,在2017年12月後升任均一平台教育基金會董事長兼執行長的他,接受採訪時談及均一帶來改變,卻像老師一樣,開始用白板筆寫起英文的板書:「1.智慧助教。2.授業教練。3.政策倡議。」讓採訪感覺好似看現場的教學影片。

他進一步解釋:「均一結合AI、大數據的技術,與聰明的軟體,提供智慧助教的內容,可以作為老師教學與學生學習的工具,讓教室的黑板不會因為下課後而消失。」

智慧助教的內容,即是均一平台提供可以免費收看,從國小至高中,數學、自然、英文等科目,由資深志工教師錄製超過一萬支免費學習的影片,以及觀後的練習題。

有了免費的「網路家教」,他舉例說,桃園一位小學五年級的學生,原本成績不好,甚至被老師懷疑過動,由於老師指派學生作均一平台的作業,一年之後,這名學生不僅數學成績追到前五名,家長還親自登門「興師道謝」,詢問老師到底施了什麼魔法?把一個原本成績差的學生,變成對數學有興趣,還收看到國中的多項式與高中極限的內容,逛書店甚至吵著要家長買微積分的書讓他自學。

原來是小學的內容對這位學生太簡單、太無聊,透過均一線上的學習內容,學生自主學習的進度可以超前。但學習也可以往後,例如宜蘭一位小五、中度智能障礙的學生,連有進位的加法都不太會,在五年級的班上,老師無法顧及他的程度。但透過在均一平台先學會小學一年級的數學,逐漸建立了自信,原本已自我放棄,一週洗一次澡、翹課的孩子,現在會在意自己的衛生,而且每天都來上課。

「科技提供很大的機會,讓學生根據自己的速度學習,讓老師可以真正做到因材施教。」呂冠緯強調。

科技陪伴:點、線、面

點到面的擴散,是除了學生可以在家自學之外,還鼓勵學校老師在課堂上使用均一的教學內容。

「正如韓愈《師說》所說,師者,所以傳道授業解惑。以往老師上課大多偏重授業,均一平台希望取代老師授業的角色,讓老師轉變為『教練』,帶出更多陪伴與引導,老師可以有更多時間去傳道──傳授學生學習方法與態度,與解惑──解決學生的問題與困難。」

不忘過去醫學院的訓練,呂冠緯說,老師就像醫生一樣,可以在課堂上進行診斷與定位,利用均一後台資料,分析學生的落點與弱點,可以更有餘裕進行差異化與補救教學,以及更多的體驗活動,例如讓學生進行主題式的討論,或是採取以問題為導向的教學(PBL),透過科技來翻轉教育。這也是科技學習直接改變傳統教室的風景,不再是「老師說、學生聽」的單向授課。

作為非營利組織,均一更重視的是「弱勢扶助」。從2014年開始與宜蘭縣教育處合作,2016年得到教育部國教署的支持,與屏東、苗栗縣共20個學校合作補救教育,目前全台灣約有一萬名老師在課餘或課後鼓勵學生使用均一平台;並且有一千名老師直接將均一平台融入平時教學上。

Google資金挹注

受到可汗學院激勵的呂冠緯,2014年親自在美國見到心中的偶像可汗,均一平台在進行國際交流時,也進一步邀請美國翻轉學習網絡(FLN)、翻轉教室的創辦人之一John Bergmann,與美國推動創新教育知名的矽谷創校基金(Silicon Schools Fund)的執行長Brian Greenberg到台灣訪問,二位創新教育的先鋒實際觀察偏鄉學校使用均一平台的情況,與動機低落學生的學習氛圍,紛紛肯定台灣是亞洲教學創新的領頭羊。

均一教育平台2018年獲選為台灣第一個由Google.org資助的團隊,同樣也獲得「Google加速計畫」資助的還有可汗學院、喬治克隆尼與他的妻子、國際人權律師阿瑪爾共同推動敘利亞難民兒童助學計畫的基金會,以及連美國前總統歐巴馬都加入倡議的公益組織一小時玩程式。

藉由Google兩年100萬美元的資金挹注,均一平台將加速協助弱勢課輔班,目前已選定9個民間公益團體旗下的課輔機構,透過培訓與賦權,幫助更多孩子,利用均一自學。

為弱勢家庭孩子做了13年課後輔導班的宜蘭員山方舟聖教會,參加了均一的師資培訓工作坊,從今(2019)年暑假開始,為學業落後的孩子提供均一平台的資源,牧師王光華說,弱勢家庭的孩子往往學業基礎很差,在課輔班寫完作業都是一大挑戰,若能提升他們學習的能力與動機,對孩子將有很大的助益。

均一平台2017年開發出家長使用頁面,今年又新推出利用手機與「均一小老師」語音對話的功能。目前正值暑假,更容易出現資源分配不均、學習力落差的問題,因此均一提出「週計畫親子共學」的暑期活動,希望家長帶著孩子一起訂學習目標,按階段達成後還有獎勵機制,讓暑假不虛度。

個人化學習的數位時代

對許多使用均一平台的小學生而言,均一是一台超級電腦,會教課、出習題,還會算點數、給徽章。這台「電腦」背後,其實是許多來自資電、電機、工程等各領域的年輕人,放棄在科技業的高薪,投入非營利組織貢獻專業,群策群力的結果。

除了有教學影片,網站能夠運作與營運,背後需要強大的軟體工程師。呂冠緯指出,均一的資料與界面工程師有很強的技術能量,又具有教育脈絡的素養專業與概念,致力存留與整理資料庫的數據,使得不一定是工程師的工作人員,也可以迅速地對大數據存取、分析,使得均一是少數可以穩定提供各縣市政府智慧決策建議的平台。

均一利用人工智慧技術,未來希望能夠針對還未做練習題的使用者,提供成績預測,依據不同程度,做到自動化推薦適合學習課程的目標,增進學習的效能。

配合今年八月實施的108課綱,教育組組長鐘敏豪指出,均一平台加入更多生活素養的內容,在講課中插入提問,透過動畫中的狐狸貓代課,提升學生興趣,希望帶領學生更多的思考,並且嘗試與不同單位合作,提供更完整的教學影片。

均一的藍圖便是「科技融入的個人化學習」,呂冠緯描繪均一的願景:「每一個孩子成為終身學習者,包括弱勢與學習中後段的孩子,可以學得會,可以學好未來能力,連接未來。」

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