What I Learned In 2013


It’s 2014 and perhaps a little late for a comprehensive review of EdTech in 2013.  I’d rather not miss the chance to take a brief look back though, so I’ll take a more personal approach.  This is what I learned in 2013:

Learning analytics have only just begun

When it comes to EdTech and data, we have a long way to go.  Your school may not even be measuring engagement – i.e. website logins, homepage hits, number of clicks.  And I’ll buy a bottle of Pommery for anyone whose school is doing lean analytics with their LMS.  Yet even this is less than what is necessary.

Adaptive learning is the obvious next step: measuring learning pathways and what works for different students.  Establishing this knowledge and practice will take time.  Producing efficacious data, understanding it, and then acting on it (and measuring that action) is a big task.  The final post in our interview series with Knewton attests to that.

Real-time analytics – data about what is happening in your class right now – can be assessed more quickly.  The produce-understand-act part of the loop still applies, but we as teachers make judgements about the effect of a particular action on our classroom.  For example, in a describe-the-word (don’t say the word) activity using ClassWired, I found it instantly helpful knowing what words my students were describing while their peers were still guessing.  That’s because it was all being beamed straight to my smartphone.  That alone was transformative.  Yet think about the potential here: what if we knew what words are taking students longer to describe, which student is taking longer than the others?  I’m open to ideas; post them below.

In-class mobile learning does improve class (but)

Yes, knowing what your students are working on and how far / quickly they are progressing makes a big difference to class.  Yes, knowing how students are answering questions in real-time lets us see how they think.

BUT!  We need to reduce the friction of EdTech.  Think about pen and paper.  The pen works (or you borrow one).  The book has a spare page (or you buy another).

At ClassWired, I spent a long time in 2013 just talking about how to make the login as simple and easy as possible.  Students were confused by the choice of ‘login’ or ‘register’.  The fact that our students are not English speakers, and that class time is limited, heighten this friction.  As a teacher, it was hard to know exactly who had logged in and who needed help.  (And this is before I even start talking about bugs and browser compatibility.)

Simplicity in design is good but we don’t know what it means

Once upon a time here in Australia, a sacked opposition leader was criticised for prolixity.  Later, triumphantly returning to the job, he pledged to ‘wear simplicity around his neck like a talisman’.

In the EdTech world, I wonder if we feel the same.  We know that simplicity is a concept we should aspire to, but we don’t know how to make it happen.  Take LMSes: they are unwieldy beasts that do everything from manage your enrolments to run an in class quiz.  Consider ClassWired, which focuses on classroom interactions, with as little management as possible.  What about apps like English Eruption, which focus on single skills?

Do we really know which part of  the educational experience we are trying to model with software?  How can we make our products more simple if we don’t?

Feel free to answer below now or any time in the year ahead.

Title and Featured Photo Credit: CaptPiper via Compfight cc. Text added by eltjam.

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