Driving Innovation: Tech Enablers

In 2018 the Consortium for Schools Networked (CoSN) transformed the K-12 Horizon Report into The CoSN K-12 Driving Innovation Series with three reports. The reports are based on the work of over 100 educators around the globe who look at emerging technologies through three lenses: Hurdles, Accelerators, and Tech Enablers. As the co-chair of the CoSN Emerging Technologies Committee, I was selected to be part of the process. The Advisory Group engaged in several months of discourse about the major themes driving, hindering, and enabling teaching and learning innovation at schools. After each phase, final thoughts from advisory board members were distilled in surveys discerning the top five topics to feature in each publication.

Currently I’m working with the CoSN Emerging Technologies Committee to expand the work of the Advisory Group around Tech Enhancers, focusing on Analytics and Adaptive Technologies.

According to the Driving Innovation report:

Tech Enablers are tools that support smooth leaps over the hurdles and expansive changes in K-12 education. The top five enablers , which were ranked in order of closest proximity to mainstream adoption are:

To understand how Analytics and Adaptive Technologies have evolved I interviewed two key experts: Steve Ritter, the Chief Scientist and one of the founders of Carnegie Learning, and John Pane, a Senior Scientist and one of the leading educational researchers with the RAND Corporation. Both Steve and John have years of experience and have witnessed the changes in how Analytics and Adaptive Technologies have created new opportunities for a better understanding about learning and how to personalize that learning.

According to Steve Ritter, the role of analytics is changing in K-12 education with availability of Big Data. For Carnegie Learning data plays several key roles:

  • Evidence of student learning based on existing assessments;
  • Improve existing products to better identify learning issues;
  • Provide teachers with real-time information about student learning.

Carnegie Learning has partnered with the Miami-Dade School District in Florida and other schools to develop “LiveLab,” a real-time analytics dashboard that provides data to educators based on student progress within MATHia™ software. The dashboard identifies which students most need help so that teacher can make best use of their time.  It also helps teachers better understand why students need help. According to Carnegie Learning’s website, “LiveLab highlights each student’s progress through math concepts in real-time so teachers can guide, intervene and coach effectively. Indicators and alerts help teachers assist struggling students and celebrate students for hitting key milestones in Carnegie Learning’s MATHia software.” Teachers from Hopewell School District, outside of Pittsburgh, PA, have been testing out LiveLab. Ray Smith, one of the teachers, describes the experience as game-changing. According to Ray, “Using the analytic tool provides all the student information at your finger tips.”

John Pane has examined a variety of adaptive software tools. The results are not always positive. For instance one study of the Cognitive Tutor Algebra from Carnegie Learning in 150 schools in over 50 school districts showed a significant improvement, but mainly in the second year. In a separate study of Cognitive Tutor Geometry in a single school district there was negative effect on learning. According to John you need to look deeper. The Carnegie Learning programs are not intended as 100% computer based. The software is intended to supplement small and whole group instruction. These studies measured the entire package of software, classroom implementation, training and the ability for the teacher to change their practice to work in concert with the adaptive software. According to John there is a conflict between policy and practice. The software pinpoints the need for many learners to work on prerequisite skills, but the teachers are often under pressure to “cover” the content and are uncomfortable letting the students move at their own pace. As a result they may have students use the software less, or override the software to push them into more advanced content before they have mastered the basics.

John also discerned a potential risk with the use of Adaptive Technology. If educators are not careful, they can end up tracking students and have lower expectations for student performance. He also highlighted some other challenges around privacy and security. However, even with these concerns, John remained optimistic and believed that adaptive technologies and analytical tools when used appropriately and with teacher training and buy in can provide greater opportunities for student mastery of knowledge, skills, and dispositions.

As we increase the use of enhanced technologies that provide analytics and adaptions, educators need to be cognizant of both the opportunities and the possible negative consequences. We need to be mindful of privacy and security issues, for instance. In addition, it’s very difficult to gauge the success of some technologies when we’re using measures that only look at content growth. In order to truly “Drive Innovation” we need to not only understand the Hurdles, discern the Accelerators for growth, and identify the enabling tools, we must also think what are we really trying to achieve. Is it enough for students to demonstrate proficiency on standards-based assessments? Or do we want to provide our learners with the tools for life-long success so they can continuously learn, relearn, and even unlearn in order to become creative problem-solvers, communicators, and collaborators in a global society?