Archive for January 25th, 2013

January 25, 2013

Teachers should harness technology to find gaps in student knowledge

by Grace

So do we all agree with edX president Anant Agarwal that technology might be the “single biggest innovation in education” in the last 200 years?  It certainly seems possible.

Technology ‘will topple many ideas about how we teach’.

Because education is economically important yet appears inefficient and static with respect to technology, it’s often cited (along with health care) as the next industry ripe for a major “disruption.” This belief has been promoted by Clayton Christensen, the influential Harvard Business School professor who coined the term “disruptive technology.” In two books on education, he laid a blueprint for online learning: it will continue to spread and get better, and eventually it will topple many ideas about how we teach—and possibly some institutions as well.

My observation as a parent is that technology is unlikely to make human teachers obsolete any time soon, but the opportunity for schools to use data more efficiently screams out as a way to improve human teachers.

Technology will define where online education goes next. All those millions of students clicking online can have their progress tracked, logged, studied, and probably influenced, too. Talk to Khan or anyone behind the MOOCs (which largely sprang from university departments interested in computer intelligence) and they’ll all say their eventual goal isn’t to stream videos but to perfect education through the scientific use of data. Just imagine, they say, software that maps an individual’s knowledge and offers a lesson plan unique to him or her. Will they succeed and create something truly different? If they do, we’ll have the answer to our question: online learning will be the most important innovation in education in the last 200 years.

Teachers should harness technology to find gaps in student knowledge.

I recently heard a local high school teacher claim he did not have time to conduct formative assessments*.  Part of the school’s explanation for this was that excessive mandatory testing requirements left no time for teachers to find student’s gaps in knowledge.  I’m not buying this, because Khan Academy and other sources offer “software that maps an individual’s knowledge”.  I’ve had a brief glimpse of education software used in our public schools that also does this, generating data similar to that provided by KA.


Personalized data like this would enable a teacher to use his time more efficiently, even making differentiated instruction more feasible.  But instead, a school that claims it is teaching 21st century skills is letting its instructors rely on clunky data-gathering methods that shortchange its students.  Unfortunately, it’s going to take a little while for technology to disrupt this school’s hold on teaching methods.

* Formative assessment or diagnostic testing is a range of formal and informal assessment procedures employed by teachers during the learning process in order to modify teaching and learning activities to improve student attainment.[1] It typically involves qualitative feedback (rather than scores) for both student and teacher that focuses on the details of content and performance.[2] It is commonly contrasted with summative assessment, which seeks to monitor educational outcomes, often for purposes of external accountability.[3]

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