Technology has infused classrooms with useful digital learning tools and has ushered in a new model of connected teaching. Teachers are now linked to professional content, resources and systems that are designed to improve instruction and increase personalized learning.
Indeed, the teacher’s role in the classroom has shifted in the last few years, thanks in part to rapid advancements in technology. While many of the new tools were developed to make a teacher’s job easier, they can also be overwhelming. After all, teachers today are expected to manage a great deal of technology. They are generally required to manage at least three different platforms to input their own personnel data, student attendance, grades, and lesson plans. They are required to help their students access multitudes of apps and websites for various learning and support. They are expected to view and use data they gather (or others gather) to inform instruction. They are expected to create individualized lesson plans for each child’s learning needs.
The bottom line – teachers are expected to have data analysis skills at a much deeper level than was required in the past. This could be compared to going through a person’s Netflix “previously viewed” list and matching it against other similar titles on their own.
There are tons of tools for teachers – probably too many to count. But schools usually put them in place based on what a single administrator likes, or what a board member may suggest. There is generally not a lot of thought put into how the new tools will integrate with the old tools. This tends to lead to frustration and new initiative “fatigue.” Nothing takes hold, and everyone gets annoyed.
Educators and edtech leaders frequently say that teachers need to become better at analyzing data so they can use the growing mountains of information to better inform instruction. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there is a growing belief that teachers should not be required to be data analysts – that’s not why they got into teaching. Instead, they should be able to focus on building relationships with their students while supporting their social-emotional learning needs. Technology should instead help teachers know what to do next academically and help them tailor instruction to meet individual students’ academic needs. From this perspective, tools that effortlessly personalize learning, without analysis by the teacher, are thought to be the “holy grail” of edtech.
To truly harness the power of technology in education (minus the frustrations), teachers should have access to technology that includes artificial intelligence (AI) which analyzes data and plans instruction. Edtech tools need to become more intuitive, and seamless – just like when you turn on the TV or computer and Netflix tells you what to watch. Intuitive AI tools can transform what teachers have to manage into something that supports them. One new edtech tool utilizes AI and eye tracking to provide a clear view of a student’s reading level, providing reading scores and recommendations for instruction in just a few minutes. Eye tracking technology allows teachers to truly “see” how students are reading. Thanks to AI analysis, the eye movement patterns are translated into actionable data.
Today, many schools are adopting the idea of personalized learning, knowing that individual students learn in different ways. While teachers have always had to analyze data about how their students are learning, there are new data analytics tools that automate much of their work, allowing them to spend less time administering and more time teaching. A non-profit organization that is pushing the envelope on intuitive tech tools for teachers is New Classrooms, which advocates for teachers to do what they do best while letting technology take care of the rest. The idea behind organizations like New Classrooms is to advocate how tech tools can help teachers without requiring them to become data analysts.
New Classrooms partners with schools to design and implement innovative learning models, such as Teach to One: Math, which has been adopted by middle and high schools across the country as their core math program. Teach to One: Math is dramatically changing the way students and teachers experience middle school math by redesigning how the classroom works – from the use of technology, time, and physical space to the instruction and content that engages each student. With this approach, every student, every day learns with a custom, personalized curriculum that meets that student’s needs and accelerates learning. Every teacher, every day, receives the customized lesson plans and can focus solely on interacting with students and moving learning forward.
“Currently, if you look at the way teachers work in the day, they not only teach, they are being asked to sift through miles and miles of data and see what it actually means for them and what it actually means for the student,” Raj Chary, vice president of technology and architecture at education content provider Triumph Learning said in this article.
Meanwhile, this article points out, “There is a growing trend and expectation that teachers must be data driven – aside from educating our students, they are also expected to analyze student assessment data (including formative assessments, interim exams, state tests, etc.).
Triumph Learning has an online learning platform called GET Waggle, which focuses on state standards-aligned content in English language arts and math, and is built with embedded analytics at the core. Waggle – which uses games, review sections, progress indicators, and other fun features to engage students in the learning process – can be used in the classroom or at home. The platform is powered by an adaptive engine that analyzes what students know and how they learn best. It provides learning recommendations and instructions that are customized for each student. This technology is a great example of arming educators with the most effective tools that enable them to teach and not be data analysts.
A survey by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation found that 91% of teachers report using some form of analytics solution, but only 32% found the data interpretation to be useful. As stated in the above article, “This raises the question: Is it reasonable to expect teachers to be experts in data analysis and interpretation, given the fact they do not feel supported and are already overwhelmed with their duties in the classroom?”
In order to make data work for teachers, we must create innovate tools that don’t take away from the teaching or learning experience. For teachers, integration and interoperability are the name of the data analytics game. According to the same study by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the type of tools that would help thwart teachers’ data dilemma include:
- Information from multiple applications that can be combined into a digital gradebook or dashboard.
- Demographic information from sources such as student information systems that can be integrated with performance data from data tools to provide a more holistic view of students.
- Tools that track academic performance and socioemotional metrics that can share information with each other to provide teachers with a richer snapshot of their students.
- Tools that provide information from formative and summative assessments can align results for each student, providing data that indicate not just scores and areas of struggle, but also a learning trajectory for each student over time.
There are some schools across the country that are developing their own effective learning tools. One of them is Merit Prep, a Newark, N.J. school operated by Matchbook Learning that has created a data integration tool called Spark. It pulls together information from online learning and assessment resources from multiple providers. According to the study above, Merit Prep officials estimate the tool saves teachers between 15 and 75 minutes per student when they aggregate data to track student progress.
“What we found was that our teachers were spending a lot of their time trying to manipulate this data to even be able to make sense of it before they could make any academic decisions,” according to Matchbook’s chief technology officer. “The tools we create help support those key interactions and those key points where the magic is supposed to happen. My time as a teacher is not as a data analyst. It’s because I’m good with kids and I have a passion for this, and I have a skill set of delivering to and communicating with kids.”
So, what will the future classroom look like in terms of tech tools that enhance both the teaching and learning experience? Joel Rose of New Classrooms won’t try to predict the future but said that we will need to embrace the idea that there are fundamentally better ways to do school.
“To do that, we need to fully grasp the extent to which the traditional school model has been entrenched and reinforced for more than 100 years, not just on schools themselves, but on the systems, structures, and mindsets within them. Once we step back and understand how all of the different aspects affect student learning, we can begin to design innovative learning models with students at the center of the experience.”
Once we understand what learning models are best for students, we can better understand the best roles for teachers.
Writtn by Dr. Janine Walker Caffrey.
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