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The future of education is already here: part 2

Data, data, data...

In my last post in this series, The future of education is already here: part 1, I discussed the way technology is already changing how we communicate in schools and the impact that this is having on teaching and learning. This second article discusses how good use of data can support teaching and learning. It looks at the tools that schools are already using in this area and the impact they are having on the home-school partnership.

In the article The future classroom: part 2, I looked at how the use of data is becoming a daily fact of life. If schools are to be in a position to use the wealth of possible data that could be available to them, then they need to be able to collate it in a way that is neither complicated nor time-consuming.

(Incidentally, I use the term 'collate' because schools are already collecting a large amount of information regarding their students and teaching outcomes. However, the ways in which this data is stored can make it difficult to draw meaningful conclusions from it.)

The richest data set for these purposes is the weekly homework activities that take place in schools. These provide us with almost 'real-time' feedback, both on how well students are performing and the impact of the activities we are undertaking with them. Technology now allows teachers to set homework quickly and easily, but crucially it also allows all the data that this generates to be collated in a way that is genuinely useful for those concerned.

Of course, it is not just test scores, homework and exam results that is collected in schools. Every school community moves information back and forth every day, whether through trip permission slips, absence request forms, cover lesson requests, medical information forms, and so on.

Whilst these might not be as pedagogically valuable as the sort of quantitative data we were discussing earlier, they are certainly an invaluable part of ensuring that a school runs smoothly.

But good use of the data we collect in schools allows teachers to be better informed about their students and engage parents more effectively in the learning conversation.

The use (and significantly the misuse) of data is a hot topic in the media at the moment, but it is important to recognise when appropriate use of data can lead to better outcomes. We know that schools already possess an extraordinary amount of information about their students, but using it to its best effect is a step further. Technology is making it easier to achieve this goal.

One result of this shared data is a change in the relationship between teachers, students and parents. If you spend any time in schools, you will be aware that the dynamic between the school and the home has changed significantly in recent years. Gone are the days when a parent's involvement in their child's education was limited to reading the school report and attending a Parents' Evening once a year. It is no longer sufficient to rely on twice yearly reports to keep parents up to date with the sorts of activities their children are involved in; if the relationship between school and home is to remain healthy then communication needs to be a constant ongoing process. This creates a much richer dialogue between school and parent.

This opens up the possibility of doing away with the time-consuming process of writing these reports in the first place, saving a significant amount of time and effort which can be better spent elsewhere in the learning process.

Technology enables this. Schools can open a gateway that parents can use to stay up-to-date with their child's activities and progress. Furthermore, schools can use this portal to help parents feel a part of the school community and participate in the learning conversation. Teachers can share the teaching materials they use in class much more easily so that families can become involved in learning, not just teachers and students. Online learning tools already facilitate this process in many schools, allowing teachers and parents to spend their time focusing on how their students learn, rather than what they should be learning.

The more we understand about the classroom "black box" then the more we are able to engage with it effectively, with benefits for students, teachers, parents and schools.

Schools are built on the strength of the relationships within them and it is only by recognising this and nurturing them that that education will truly be able to realise its potential.

I realized if you can change a classroom, you can change a community, and if you change enough communities you can change the world.
Erin Gruwell

In my next, (and final) article in this series I shall discuss how technology is having an impact on our understanding of learning itself as well as the impact of the ubiquity of knowledge on the classroom experience.

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