Untapped Talent - Day Three - “Accept Disruptive Technologies!”

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Dec 15, 2015
by Louise Hallman
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Untapped Talent - Day Three - “Accept Disruptive Technologies!”

How might Big Data and “Uberization” impact education? Terry Mazany tells American students to “Get Lost” – in their learning

Uber did it to the taxi industry. AirBnB is doing it to the hotel business. What sort of “disruptive” technology could have a similar impact on education?

The use of big data and linking it to formal assessments is already causing shake ups in countries such as Ecuador, where its initial rankings of schools based on assessment results alone did little besides upset students, parents, teachers and policymakers alike. Linking that data to multiple other data sets, however, has proven hugely insightful.

By applying bigger data sets, such as socioeconomic, demographic, type of school, etc., the National Institute of Educational Evaluation was able to start building a much fuller picture of why some students thrived while others struggled, despite attending the same sort of school, or coming from the same socioeconomic background. Considering variables as detailed as gender balance, pupil and parent satisfaction levels, school life, pupils’ distance to from school, attendance, etc., gave an even fuller picture as to why some schools were performing better than others – and offered insights into how to improve those that were struggling. 

In some countries, such as the UK, school inspections are carried out to try to make similar assessments, but in countries of more limited resources and more remote communities, this data is even more valuable: “We can’t visit all the schools! That’s what we need data for,” remarked one Fellow. 

Another tech solution that is promising to be “disruptive” is LRNG in the US. Recognizing that learning can, does, should continue outside of the classroom, LRNG aims to “transform learning from something [students] do to something they live.” Through predesigned and interchangeable “playlists”, students can “get lost” in a topic of their choice and interest, by accessing online and in-community resources, receiving in-person mentorship, attending “real life” events, and ultimately achieving a “digital badge” – a qualification that Collective Shift (the organization behind LRNG) hope will eventually be recognized by universities and employers.

Education needs this “disruptive innovation” because “the world isn’t going to wait for our schools to improve in 10 year blocks,” and students need 21st century skills now to guarantee their success in the future. 

The Power of Data

That we now have at our finger tips more data about students than we ever had before is indisputable, but how can we actually realize the power of this data to benefit the education system as a whole and the individual student?

Although repeated testing is controversial, cognitive data shows that testing can also be used for learning; students who study and answer test questions are more likely to retain information than those who only study. Testing in and of itself is a learning process, and particularly when provided with feedback to students, can be a powerful opportunity to support learning. However, we cannot forget that testing measures performance rather than learning, and performance may not always reflect learning. For example, the pressure of performing can lead to increased anxiety, which in turn reduces exam performance.

Learning is better retained when links can be made between different subjects and strategies – this also encourages greater creativity. If tests can be designed to make connections across curricula, the anxiety associated with tests could be countered, improving performance and increasing learning outcomes. 

We need to not only measure and assess for learning, we need to also measure and assess well. Using online testing which tracks students’ progress during the test, as well providing a score at the end, can help educators understand their students’ cognitive processes and reasoning – not just see what the student got right or wrong. This moves beyond simply using “computers to do all the work” for the teacher, and instead combines technology with pedagogy, encouraging teachers to enter into a conversation with their students after the test is done.

Regardless of the data used, it is not about its size, but rather how the data are used. Different data are useful to different stakeholders; what is useful to a teacher to help their students learn better, is not the same information as is needed by policymakers or that which can be easily understood by the public. 

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The Salzburg Global program Untapped Talent: Can Better Testing and Data Accelerate Creativity in Learning and Societies? is being hosted in collaboration with the Educational Testing Service (ETS)the National Science Foundation, and the Inter-American Development Bank, and in association with the Royal Society of Arts (RSA). More information on the session can be found here: www.salzburgglobal.org/go/558.