Accelerating digital learning: How to use data from classroom devices

Technology Writer

Digital learning is the default mode for most kids today, as they're constantly connected to smartphones, tablets and laptops. Many educators are taking note of this important trend and adjusting curriculums accordingly.

Last year, the Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, New York, became the first school in the US to use an all-digital textbook library, according to CBS News. Thanks to this technology, students can access all their textbooks online. Lessons at the Aspire Titan Academy in Huntington Park, California, on the other hand, are taught by a combination of teachers and computers, as reported in The Atlantic.

Educators who choose to embrace digital learning often find that they get a better sense of what's working and what's not. As these technology-focused approaches to learning become more common, educators should take advantage of the new, objective feedback mechanism that's created: data from the devices.

Reading comprehension

One basic use of classroom-generated data is to gauge reading comprehension. According to Education Week, the East Haven, Connecticut, school district began giving its teachers iPads three years ago so they could turn in students' digital reading assessments. The school started collecting the assessments electronically and storing them in a centralized database. The program also let teachers share the data with parents at conferences. Making use of tablets in this way, educators can collect, share and collate data in real-time to form assessments, adjust their teaching strategies and observe trends from year-to-year. re-teaching loop

Digital devices that collect data can also yield information about how students are mastering basic concepts. This real-time data can be then be used to modify lessons.

For instance, SchoolCity, a California-based company that helps public schools make data-based assessments, gives teachers real-time access to how each student performs on their formative assessments. The company is able to do this even if the test is taken on paper and pencil. Students can use a document camera to get an immediate comparison between their performance and their peers' results, as well as average results in the district or school.

"The key thing is, you want the results to be instantaneous," Lucy Long, senior regional educational consultant at SchoolCity, said in a recent interview. "I don't want to wait until the teacher gets around to grading it before I know where I need help."

When students see what their problem areas are, they're directed to online resources like Khan Academy videos to help them master the concepts.

The re-teaching loop can leverage e-textbooks to facilitate digital learning as well. As The Economist recently noted, "new interactive digital textbooks with built-in continuous performance assessment can change in real time, depending on what and how much the pupil using it is learning."

The article also notes that data-mining software can tell when a student is likely to fail at reading or math, thereby allowing teachers to assist before it's too late.

Unconventional forms of data

Reshan Richards, the chief learning officer of Explain Everything, a New York-based educational technology firm, echoes a common critique of relying heavily on data to improve classroom performance.

"I think in many cases when people look at metrics or even standardized testing, you see those more as validators," Richards said in a recent interview. "But I don't think those measures tell the whole story by itself because there are many students [whose knowledge] doesn't always translate into numbers and charts."

Richards thinks educators should consider using digital devices to "capture those things that were previously difficult to capture." In particular, he notes that educators and students should make use of the cameras on their smartphones and tablets to record key moments in the learning process and to document ongoing projects to show progress. Photos and videos aren't an answer in themselves, he says, but they can help flesh out teachers' informal assessments of students and give parents a better feel for what's going on the classroom.

This may not be data in the traditional sense, but if it provides value for school systems, it may be worth the effort. The US education system is learning to embrace the digital wave, and this is one test it can't afford to flunk.

Turn educational data into better student results