Why Education Technology Has Not Delivered

At one point, educators believed that using computer technology in education was the Holy Grail of education reform. With a decade of “computer aided education” behind us the jury is still out. While everyone accepts the promise of technology in education, the results have shown that technology does not improve outcomes. The greatest successes in using technology are found in schools where achievement is already above par. There should be no surprise here. Give a good student a new tool and they will effectively use the tool. In schools with marginal or below par performance, studies show that achievement actually decreases.

That said, not all technology is equal. For example, SchoolBoogy initially created its classroom learning system under the name Tablio. We were developing a classroom education management system that used tablet computers to deliver our one-of-a-kind software. When we went into real world testing, we discovered a surprising fact: Tablet computers are terrible tools for delivering in classroom education. The screens are just too small, and half of the screen is lost to an onboard keyboard making software navigation awkward on anything less than a 12” tablet. Tablets are fine for presenting material, but interacting and capturing assessment data is difficult using a tablet. Two years after we discovered this truth, major school systems around the country who had purchased thousands of iPads started complaining. Earlier this year Apple started an exchange program where schools can exchange their iPads for the MacBook Air. In 2014, we had already decided to reengineer our SchoolBoogy system for 2-in-1 computers and laptops.

Another issue facing teachers is the question of what they should buy. The education technology market has become crowded in recent years as the Gates Foundation and the investment community have poured funds into the industry looking for the silver bullet of educational achievement. Frankly, most of the systems are very similar, focusing on curricula and computer based testing in a closed system. Most companies focus on digital content and computer-based testing. Some have designed their systems to deliver a measure of personalized education to the classroom. The appeal of all of these tools is the promise of replacing printed material while assisting in relieving teachers of the burden of actually grading large amounts of tests. All of these system take a student centric view of education. I think this student centric view is the greatest flaw of using technology in education.

I know I sound crazy to a lot of people. Shouldn’t education technology focus on the student? Isn’t it the student we are trying to help? Well, yes and no. Education technology should be teacher centric. I learned a long time ago that the most effective software enables the experts to be more productive and effective, and that it the knowledge worker, with the proper tools, who make the difference. In this case, education technology should focus on in-classroom teacher productivity. Teachers are the knowledge workers. Teachers are the critical component in improving education outcomes. The student will not drive achievement and technology will not drive achievement. Only technology enabled teachers can fuel long term educational achievement. Armed with this fundamental belief, we were able to transform Tablio into SchoolBoogy, creating tools for teachers to drive student achievement.

The Education Lifecycle

The argument is against Common Core is that it takes away local control of curricula. The truth is, local schools systems have never had control over curricula. That has always been determined by the state’s boards of education. Common Core is a standard, meaning that it is a glorified list of what the state wants covered in the classroom for core subjects. Teachers have always had to “teach to the test”. The only difference is that when a state standard changes it take a lot of time and effort for teachers in the local schools to create curricula and lesson plans that align to the new standard. Before Common Core, we had another standard just like it, but rather than being the same standard across states, we had a different standard from state to state.

The education lifecycle starts with the state standard. Common Core was just an effort by the state boards of education to come up with a common list of course requirements that could be used by every school in every state. Once a standard is adopted, the local school districts are then tasked with finding material and create lesson plans to implement the standard at the local level. This is a time consuming and expensive process. Publishers of traditional text books have not effectively been able to create text books and other material that completely align to the Common Core standard. Teachers are often left with old lesson plans and material that don’t align with the new state standard. With the addition of state wide standard testing, teachers are faced with the burden of not showing enough progress against the new standard.

The ideal computer based education system would assist the teacher with tools that help the teacher align classroom activities with whatever standard their state has adopted. Tablio, now SchoolBoogy, was designed to do just this. The system provides materials and lesson plans aligned with state standards. The teacher simply needs to work through the lesson plan and measure student progress. In our studies, we have determined that the difference between a good teacher and a great teacher is the ability to quickly assess how much individual students are understanding and retaining. High performing school tend to have more parity in student knowledge levels, where as under performing schools tend to see high diversity in the learning levels in a single classroom. To help the good teacher be a great teacher, we designed the system with state-of-the-art assessments tools that give teachers the ability to know exactly what a child knows and when. The system does not fundamentally change the way a teacher does his or her job, but it does provide a road map to teaching the material in a digital platform that makes teaching and learning easier.

Automatic grading is a common feature with most computer based education systems, but most focus on what I call a “water fall approach” to teaching. In project management terms, the waterfall approach means that material is presented in order and once a step is complete, we move on to the next step on so on. The teacher teaches a lesson, conducts exercises, gives a quiz, and then once several quizzes are completed, a test is given. Rinse. Wash. Repeat. SchoolBoogy is built to focus on course material mastery for individual students.

SchoolBoogy is designed to give the teacher the ability to focus on individual student mastery of the entire body of material by using rapid assessment technology to measure and report learning on individual lessons and individual students. We call this the “Agile approach”. Teachers still progress through the lesson plan, but the tool provides automated assessment and learning tools that allow individual student to continue to work toward mastery of all covered material. Without computer technology this would be impossible to achieve.

Because the goal of education is to educate the student to the standard, SchoolBoogy measures knowledge against the standard. Rather than focusing on quiz and test result in a waterfall approach, scores are presented against rolling progress on individual state standards. This difference is huge and gives the student tools to increase scores against each standard criteria.

What does that mean in the classroom? One of the most difficult things teachers face in a classroom is the issue of gap learning. The waterfall approach creates classrooms where student are bundled together who have a broad range of learning levels. The ‘test it and move on’ model in the waterfall approach means that student with 75% final average has been promoted to the same classroom as the student with a 95% final average. What that means is that students who lack 25% of the knowledge they needed to learn at the previous level are advanced to the same class as students with a higher mastery of the previous lesson material. In other words, the students who advanced with the 75% learning level have a systemic learning deficit. They come into the new class lacking 25% of the knowledge they needed to learn to be successful at the new learning level. In subjects were learning is hierarchical, like math, we find that students simply fall further behind and are unable to keep pace with those students who achieved mastery at the previous level.

SchoolBoogy is based on a Learning Plan model that is Agile in design. The Agile approach focuses on lesson mastery throughout a school year. Teachers have the ability to conduct rapid assessments that generate an automatic Learning Plan that outlines for the teacher and the individual student what that student must review to increase their learning on a lesson plan basis. The system generates custom assessments that measures student progress against individual state standards. Once graded, the system generates Learning Plan that maps out all of the material and exercises the student can complete to raise their mastery of individual standard criteria. Learning Plan completion is reported to the teacher and parents as the student progresses. The Learning Plan also identifies any dependent learning prerequisites a student must review to support follow on learning. Teachers can mandate student complete self-assessments that are designed to identify standard mastery without impacting their final grade. Guided Assessments are then used to determine final grading against the state standard. In the classroom, teachers can use Quick Assessments to determine progress learning throughout the teaching process. This Agile teaching model makes it possible to students on advance on lessons across the entire curricula on an ongoing basis. All of this is handled by a state-of-the-art assessment engine.

Learning Zones are another powerful tool that teachers get with SchoolBoogy. A Learning Zone color codes student progress by lesson and by overall class averages. Scores in the Red Zone represent those lessons where there is no mastery (Scores below 70%). Yellow Zone scores represent ‘in progress learning without mastery’ (scores from 70% to 85%). While Green Zone scoring represents lesson and standard mastery (scores 86% and above). Once an assessment is complete, at a glance, teachers can immediately see who needs more attention and what kind of attention students may need. For example, a teacher can list Learning Zone results for the class showing what lessons the overall class performed the worse and best on. The teacher can also show Learning Zones for student groups based on overall averages. Again, at a glance teachers can group students by Learning Zone performance and adjust classroom time to target struggling groups of students with targeted teaching. In a single classroom, with little effort on the teacher’s part, one group can receive direct attention, another group can leverage automated resources for learning, while the best performing students can assist the teacher with struggling students. SchoolBoogy is a teacher enabling technology that also provides each student with a virtual tutor designed to compliment teacher directed learning.

For more details on how SchoolBoogy can transform your classroom, contact SchoolBoogy for a demo and detailed discussion about your classroom needs. Visit us at www.schoolboogy.com

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