Make Classroom Data More Useful

Sean Cavanagh writing for EdWeek Market Brief

So what’s the problem with the data teachers are receiving?

Too much of it is delivered to teachers manually, requiring them to analyze it themselves, rather than spend time in more productive ways like preparing for instruction, the Gates survey and report found.

Education software companies have to deal with the reality that teachers don't operate in a technological vacuum. Now more than ever, teachers live in a tech-ecosystem, using multiple systems throughout the day that don't talk to each other well. The temptation for edtech providers is to just spit out a .csv file, using the line "teachers can do whatever they want with the data" as a cop out.

Data by itself is meaningless; it must be interpreted to have any meaning. As we develop Positive Learning, we are always asking ourselves how we can get the system to provide that meaning so teachers can make important decisions.

Data also tend to come to teachers too slowly, and in overly granular form, scuttling educators’ efforts to use it to modify their classroom practices. And a lot of data is one-dimensional, providing information on a test result that provides just a sliver of information on a student’s progress.

Slowing coming data came up in a conversation I had with a teacher this week. She worried that paper-based homework made the feedback cycle too long. If students return homework the following class period, it still has to be graded, and the teacher has lost an opportunity to adjust her instruction based on the class's understanding. She was concerned about the impact of one day, let alone the weeks of delay associated with some systems.

Most teachers I talk to really relate to the idea of "overly granular" data. The transition to digital has helped broadcast technologies like radio and television to increase the signal-to-noise ratio, clarifying communication. Unfortunately, the companies providing the change from analog to digital teaching methods often create their own noise with too much data. They drown out the signal that teachers need. As usual, less is more.