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How Analytics Are Transforming the Art of Teaching

Posted in Teacher Tools on November 19, 2011 by



New technology is transforming the art of teaching. It is reducing administrative burden and enabling teachers to orchestrate activities more effectively and coach individual students with a precise attention to their needs. In particular, adaptive learning–a teaching method premised on the idea that a curriculum should adapt to each individual–can harness the power of data mining to give teachers new freedom in the classroom and deeper insight into their students.

1) Reduce Administrative Burden

As many teachers know, the administrative aspect of running a class can make high-minded goals seem completely disconnected from reality. Online “grade books” that allow teachers to organize information regarding grades, absences, and tardiness have existed for years. But imagine a sophisticated reporting dashboard that gives teachers insight into the learning process itself–engagement, effort, retention of information, etc. Imagine, also, the flexibility of scope that such a dashboard could provide–teachers could grasp patterns in student activity and performance across the whole class or drill down into individual student profiles to determine exactly why a student is struggling.

Instead of spending a great deal of time scoring and organizing material, teachers can spend more time analyzing data, determining actionable steps for their students to take, and fine-tuning their lectures and curriculum. The end result is more time spent on teaching and learning rather than updating the grade book.

2) Address the Diverse Needs of Students

One of the biggest challenges facing schools and administrators today is the growing diversity of the students within their population. A greater diversity of students means a greater diversity of needs to consider. Some struggle because English is not their first language; others have difficulty with focus or organization. Others may be particularly weak in some area but possess unusual strengths in another (which the existing curriculum may not take into account).

As every teacher knows, classroom management is a consummate juggling act. To remain attentive to the needs of all students, teachers must engage the more advanced students while helping the struggling ones catch up. At any given point in a lesson, a teacher must decide whether to move through the material aggressively and add more challenges and twists to the problems presented, or build in more of cushion for those who are confused. Any one of these strategies, including “teaching to the middle,” is bound to leave some students feeling bored or confused.

Blended learning solutions that offer a sophisticated analytics dashboard give both students and teachers more freedom in this respect: students move through coursework at their own pace and teachers retain control over the classroom while gaining insight into the learning process. A teacher might discover through analytics that a student who is weak with math word problems is struggling because he has difficulty with reading comprehension; that teacher can then direct him to material that improves his grasp of syntax and vocabulary. Another student who understands mathematical concepts but has trouble with carelessness in arithmetic can receive feedback about how to develop stronger estimation abilities or check work once completed.

For more on how computerized learning offers more flexibility than ever, check out this article on mastery-based learning.

3) Improve Engagement Levels

Academic success hinges on engagement. With the joblessness and disillusionment felt by many young people due to the current economy, a general culture that undervalues school, and the competing attractions of video games and TV, low engagement is a serious problem in classrooms. Nationwide, only 56 percent of students who begin post-secondary education receive a degree within 6 years.

How can analytics help solve this problem? Just as marketers use A/B testing to determine the most effective content strategies, so teachers can use data analytics to perfect their curriculum. A reporting dashboard that measures the efficacy of content in a computerized system can help teachers determine the strongest and weakest aspects of their teaching materials. This ensures that content can be analyzed for fine-tuned improvements from year to year and that students are never stuck with a dull or outdated textbook.

4) Increase Flexibility

Analytics will allow teachers to allocate their time more efficiently; this in turn will enable teachers to focus on the aspects of teaching that appeal to them most. Those who are gifted “orchestrators” can experiment with class activities and ways of encouraging interaction and collaboration among students; and then use social media and other tools to publicize the results to other teachers. Those who have developed exceptional content over the years can work on fine-tuned improvements of their material. And those who excel at presentation might record their lectures and broadcast them to thousands.

Knewton Math Readiness for College™

We took all the above into consideration when designing the Knewton Math Readiness for College™ course dashboard. We wanted to “bucket” the information and limit the scope of presentation in helpful ways, though we wanted teachers to have the freedom to interpret the results and add value however they see fit. To accomplish this, we developed an “on-track/off-track” concept to measure student progress through the course. This concept functions as a binary indicator that helps teachers grasp information about his/her class efficiently. Using this tool and others, teachers can see reporting data from two perspectives:

A) The Whole Class. The dashboard includes a histogram which provides a big picture assessment of the whole class’ “track” status.

While this might not seem like a particularly helpful tool for a class of 10 or 15, it dramatically assists teachers of classes with 80, 100 or several hundred students who want to see if certain strategies are working across a whole student population. Using the dashboard, teachers can also see how students are performing in individual subject areas–and which segments of material are the most challenging for students, which are the least and what kind of patterns in both performance and activity emerge across the class. After multiple years of teaching the same course, teachers can compare the data from year to year.

B) Individual Students. While the presentation is streamlined so that teachers can focus on the big picture, the dashboard allows teachers to click into the interface and drill down to each student’s work in the system. Teachers can see how students have performed on specific quizzes and exams, and if a student isn’t grasping the material, teachers can use data to determine whether it’s due to carelessness, forgetfulness, or confusion, and where precisely such confusion occurs. Current research concerns soft factors like engagement and how to quantify them with specific metrics and feed that information into the dashboard.