The Modern Classroom: Students, Teachers and Data-Driven Education
The days of paper textbooks seem destined to become as distant a memory as cursive handwriting. In 2014, big data is reshaping the way students receive curriculum and learn, and the tools of the new and digital classroom are changing the dynamics for educators.
“Data is changing the way people think,” says Eileen Murphy Buckley, founder and CEO of ThinkCERCA, a company in the data-driven education space. “From critical accountability to teacher accountability to the way we arrange time, our learning spaces, technologies — data is disrupting everything.”
The inclusion of the computer in K–12 classes is nothing new; they’ve been on desks since the days of Texas Instruments. In more recent times, however, pupils aren’t turning to their screens to learn a little BASIC or play a round of Oregon Trail — they’re increasingly experiencing data-driven teaching as a fully integrated part of a post-textbook, personalized academic process.
How data-driven classrooms operate
If you think about the impact of technology on our lives today, algorithms are analyzing our behavior — both on and offline — all the time. They shape what we do in the moment, and they often steer us toward what we do next.
At many online stores — Amazon, for example — the ideas, suggestions and products in front of you are frequently placed there based on data gleaned from your order history, browsing habits and numerous other factors.
Education has entered this ecosystem, too. In the data-driven classroom, the concept of digitally collecting and analyzing students’ work — at the district level and above — is already deeply a part of how school systems track and report performance. It’s a key part of the standardized-testing milieu that No Child Left Behind made commonplace.
On the level of the individual classroom, digital curricula and data is changing the way teachers — and, in turn, learning — work. Below are just a few examples of the intersection of data and education.
Scoring and grading: In simple ways, applications such as BubbleScore allow teachers to either deliver multiple-choice tests via mobile devices or scan and score paper exams via mobile-device cameras. Tools like these typically allow instructors to export results to grade books and track progress along defined parameters — helpful for reporting under Common Core and state standards, for example.
Personalized, adaptive learning: More than just streamlining assignments and the grading process, data-driven classrooms opened up the experience of what students learn, when they learn it and at what level. Companies such as Knewton create digital courses that use big-data-fueled predictive analytics to pinpoint what a student is mastering (or not mastering), and what modules of a lesson plan best suit them under those circumstances.
Problem management: When it comes to issues that can arise in the classroom — a student handing in writing that might not be his own, for example — data is also at teachers’ disposal. One company, iParadigms, leverages big data to cross-reference written work with public databases and other online resources. Its apps verify that all material submitted is original to the student writer.
There’s a key factor at the core of all this functionality: The teacher, and the role he still plays at the center of data’s classroom transformation.
The human factor: Teachers and data
As classrooms become more and more connected to data and its far-reaching potential, the human mind that’s managing the process remains very much central to students’ experiences.
Even companies that are promoting digital integration in the classroom remain keenly focused on the individual at the head of the class.
For example, a core component of ThinkCERCA’s software is that while it guides students through the process of writing an effective argument, it also puts that writing — and the associated analysis — back in the hands of human beings. It’s the teacher who assesses each pupil’s work, and their interaction with the student is the cornerstone upon which ThinkCERCA’s algorithms rely.
“I would say that we really give teachers small data,” says Buckley. “It’s really about capturing all the small human processes and putting those in front of people. You can liken it to [a fitness- and food-logging app]. You put in what you eat, and over time it gives you back data that you can understand in a very meaningful way.”
Seeking to quantify human behavior that surrounds the back and forth of writing and teaching, ThinkCERCA’s analytics (over time) can provide schools and educators with a new understanding of whether they’re posing the right questions about their classrooms and methods in the first place.
And that, if you ask one educator, is the preferred approach to the data-driven classroom.
“Big data could be leveraged to upend the standardization model altogether and enable a creativity- and problem-solving based approach,” says Justin Lyon, a former high-school math teacher and the founder of Critical. “Big data could free students and educators up to do stuff that matters.”
Are you an educator using data in the classroom? Tell us how in the comments.