Vantage Learning has continued to develop technology to create innovative, cost-efficient ways to address multiple challenges in education. In this interview, John P. Fallon, VP, Global Marketing at Vantage Technologies (pictured), discusses adaptive learning platforms, assessment in a digital age, the speed of change—and what needs to change—in this insightful discussion.
Victor: We talked back in May. What’s been happening since that time? Any new developments?
John: Vantage has been working hard to really enhance our adaptive learning platforms, specifically our Student Progress Monitoring System or SPMS. Our focus has been to draw a much tighter correlation between assessment and learning. As a student moves through assessments, we can identify- down to the object level- where their weakness are and deliver immediate resources, thereby shortening the time between assessment and intervention.
We have really been concentrating on adaptive learning environments, because we’re focused on how all of our different resources work together and not just how an individual program functions. Whether it’s a writing assessment or a math assessment, we can deliver resources at the time of the evaluation. Our solutions are able to give feedback to a student in the mode that he will respond to- whether it’s a video, reading passage or practice activities- in order to address his specific weakness. It’s a multi-modal approach to learning.
Victor: What’s happening in the area of adaptive learning?
John: It’s clear that a one-size-fits-all approach just does not work in education. The adaptive nature of technology leads directly to individualizing learning. One of Vantage’s goals is to tie assessment back to learning in order to reduce the time lag between identifying weaknesses and getting a student up to level. We’ve expanded the number of resources we provide and greatly enhanced our ability to deliver the resources from a variety of different areas. With our adaptive learning environments, students can take their assessment, get their resources based on their proficiency, get reassessed and continue this process until they get up on the level where they should be. This really helps teachers that are taxed with trying to individualize instruction for more and more students by ensuring relevant resources are delivered in a timely manner, leaving the teacher with more time to focus on the students. The ability to learn at their own pace and in unique ways will lead learners to further engagement and mastery of skills.
Victor: How should assessment work in this digital age?
John: Assessment can no longer be given incrementally without immediate intervention based on how the student performs. Assessment has to be a continuous process. It’s not assess—done—assess—done. It’s really got to be assessment—remediate—reassess as a continual process throughout each course. Now, with advances in technology, the ability is there to deliver resources based on assessment.
The connection between assessment and learning must be present. With a summative assessment, it’s just too late. Students cannot learn from their mistakes if there is no immediate remediation. Instead, they’ll just fall further behind. Likewise, teachers cannot see what instructional practices are working without instant feedback. Real-time assessment and response to all parties are key in providing meaningful feedback to improve and link back to the learning process.
John: Given that our solutions are essentially cloud-based, software as a service, we continuously make improvements. There is never a stagnant period in terms of how our products are positioned and how they meet the needs in the classroom. Through our professional development programs and constant interaction with teachers in the classroom, we’re continuously working to add enhancements based on in-practice usage of the products. Our product marketing team and PD team are in constant contact with users of all types—various school designs, grade levels, regions, ethnicities, etc. to ensure maximum value for maximum return on the enhancements we make. We employ an evolutionary process as opposed to a staged one. From a technical standpoint, it is an agile development process which has proven very effective in ensuring enhancements or additions are implemented, quality-controlled and released in a timely manner.
John: There have been a number of improvements in the ability to make education better through technology and social networking, especially in terms of the ability students have in accessing information anytime, anywhere. However, we have a long way to go in terms of integrating technology into the classroom, working with teachers to harness the activities and allowing the educators to use the tools available to them. Students can be further ahead of the curve than teachers when it comes to using technology, but we’re starting to see where teachers are involving students in the learning process to help take advantage of some of the opportunities that are available.
Victor: What needs to change, and how is Vantage changing it?
John: We need to get away from the status quo—scrap what we already know isn’t working and move to things that are working. This comes back to adaptive environments and recognizing that each individual student is going to have unique needs. With the student to teacher ratio what it is across the country, we are trying to provide teachers with the resources to individualize instruction, whether it’s enabling them to work better with a better understanding of individual needs or if it’s in helping to deliver remediation to the students directly for self-learning. Of course, we are still making sure that the teacher is fully involved in what’s going on and recognize what resources are working for which student, so as they move from student to student they individualize instruction, based on what the students responds to and does.
Adaptive platforms aren’t completely new, we have been building them since Vantage was founded, but, as I said, we are working to improve them so that they are able to provide more genuine learning moments for students. Take our flagship product, MY Access!. Each time a student writes, the feedback she receives from the program changes. As her writing improves, the feedback becomes more advanced so that the student is continuously learning and improving.
John: I think the outlook looks great. Having recently participated the 21st Century Learning Symposium with the Los Angeles County Office of Education, as well as with districts across the country, it’s apparent that schools and districts are really beginning to embrace technology and see its tremendous value. The education community understands the importance of preparing our students for success beyond high school, and how embracing technology can have a significant impact in readying individuals for the global market. Technology-charged educational experiences are going to have a momentous impact on our students’ futures.
Also, and perhaps more importantly, schools are also able to recognize that just purchasing a program isn’t enough. Teachers need to learn how to integrate the technology into their teaching. And I’m not just talking about being trained on how to use programs, but really learn how to use them in the classroom and use the various resources to make them their own.
Victor: What issues and challenges do you see on the near-term horizon? What makes you say that?
John: I think the biggest issues are funding and the speed at which things happen in education. Schools have to sift through the various providers of technology and many seem almost gun-shy about what decision to make. They are afraid to make the wrong decision—and understandably so. Money is tight or nonexistent, so schools need to make sure they get it right. But, they need to recognize that they can’t bring in technology piecemeal. They need to bring all of the components together so they can see the whole picture. Take writing, for example. Writing across the curriculum is proven to create improvement in all areas, so they need solutions that can help them connect the dots between writing performance, math performance and so on. Schools need solutions that work together to help them connect those dots.
Accountability has become a scary word in the past few years, but it shouldn’t be. With the right tools and support, everyone could take an equal piece of the accountability pie— teachers, admins, parents and students.
Victor: Any interesting anecdotes that really tell the story of Vantage learning that might quirky or funny?
John: Well, this is not a story, but it’s definitely quirky. This song was written by Andrea Kittelson from the Glendale Unified School District in Glendale, California as part of her report at the final CTAP2 training.
Victor: Great song! Gotta love that Harry Belafonte version, too! Anything else you think educators or industry people ought to know? Anything you want to add or emphasize?
John: I applaud teachers and administrators that are embracing technology as a component of their instruction and encourage them to keep doing so. Greater exposure to advances in technology will not only ensure that students are college and career-ready, but it will also help students prepare to shape the global economy. Using technology will help enable self-learning and personalized learning, which will serve students well as they move through their academic and professional careers.
Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to: [email protected]