I was fortunate and honored to be asked to speak at a recent conference for The Software Information Industry Association (SIIA). They are all wonderful people in a group that represents a major portion of education software developers and manufacturers. I had some great discussions with some very smart and driven education-minded, business people. As I stated in my last post, many of these people have come from the ranks of educators. My big take away from this conference however, was not about all of the great new products coming from the companies that these folks represented. What was most evident to me was the driving force behind all of the great stuff being developed: DATA. In this world of monetizing education data is King. It is what business understands.
Knowing that makes it easy to understand the point of view of many of our industrial, or business-background, educational leaders, who are leading the way in education today. They are data-driven leaders. They believe that we need Data to analyze, and adjust, so that we may move forward. Of course, if we analyze, adjust and move forward according to the Data, and change doesn’t happen, there must be a reason that requires us to think through that reason in order to adjust. If there is no improvement, someone must be held accountable, because the data is always reliable. All things considered the fingers of the data-readers begin to point to the variable in the equation; the teacher. Of course Business oriented leaders will additionally include the Bane of any business leader’s existence; the unions.
Now before everyone gets their backs up, let us consider another possibility. Let us consider that maybe the merging of the mantras of education and business are not working out together. Maybe “Content is King” merged with “Data is King” does not add up to a learned individual. Maybe the focus on content, so that education can be easily assessed by Data is really the wrong thing that we should be analyzing. Maybe, how we teach, is a much more important element in learning than what we teach. Maybe the data is totally correct about what it is assessing, but what it is assessing is not what we should be looking at.
I always go back to the way technology is assessed by some schools. They test kids out, interject some tech stuff, test the kids again, and check the results. If the results are poor, or if there is no difference, then it is deduced that the tech has failed to make a difference. Hence, Tech does not work. The questions not asked are important. Was the teacher properly prepared to use the tech? How were the students trained to use the tech? Was the culture of the class supportive of the tech? Was the tech that was selected the best tech to achieve the teachers goals? Was the teacher involved with creating the lessons using the tech, or was it packaged lessons? How much support did the teacher receive during the project? Of course we could go on with even more questions. The point is that the right questions and conclusions need to be applied to the data.
I met many, very smart, and successful people at that conference. I did not ask one of them what the data said about their personal competence as a learned individual. I judged that for myself by their accomplishments, communication skills, social skills, and even appearance. Not one person had a name tag with their test scores evident as a means of introduction. I only hope they were equally impressed with the opinions I expressed as an educator who is more than somewhat opinionated. I am sure my Hawaiian shirts gave them some mixed ideas.
As teachers, we all have our specific content to teach. That has been our goal since public education was introduced. It is what we do with that content that makes the difference. We can put it out there and have the kids commit it to memory. We can put it in video form and have the kids commit it to memory. We can put it in a PDF form and have kids commit it to memory. That would all make it easy to do a data analysis. We could probably require specific things be covered by all teachers, so our kids would all get equal educations in every state in the country. We could even develop a single test everyone could take at the same time. That would help standardize education. Then we could compare apples to apples as well as oranges to oranges around the country.
Another way to look at it would be to use that content to teach skills of collaboration, communication, and the ultimate “ation” of all; creation. Memorization of content (although difficult for many) is the thinking skill requiring the least amount of thinking. As a skill it is needed, but not coveted. Having the facts is helpful, knowing what to do with them, and adapting them to any situation is priceless. If teachers focused on teaching learning instead of the more easily assessed content memorization, we would have a population of critical thinking, creative, innovators who continuously learn even after leaving school.
At the final presentation that I attended at this wonderful conference, I gained a little more insight into the direction of Tech in education today. This was a panel of some very impressive, forward thinking presidents of tech in education companies. My first insight was that there are a great many companies developing gaming for education. My second insight into the Edtech direction was not as hopeful, at least to me. The two phrases that really caught my attention were “classroom instruction” and “BYOD (bring your own device)”. Both of these told me that the tech companies, like many people in general, believe that kids need to go to a specific place to learn, the classroom. If we are to be successful as educators, than how we teach kids better involve a way for them to learn outside the classroom. No student should be limited by the content knowledge of their teacher. If I taught all my students everything I know, it wouldn’t be enough for them to live in their world. What we are teaching will be irrelevant. How we teach kids to learn will serve them for a lifetime.