An edtech leader says teachers stepped up, now here’s some help for them.
GUEST COLUMN | by Jessie Woolley-Wilson
Teachers are superheroes. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing has remained clear: teachers are adaptable, selfless, and committed to providing the best education experience they can for our students. Whether asked to offer instruction in shifting learning environments throughout the week or challenged to personalize learning for 30 plus students learning remotely– teachers stepped up. Education technology innovators must now step up as well and do more to support teachers both today and in the challenges ahead.
The best way we can show appreciation for our teachers is to offer solutions to help them meet the needs of today’s learners. While technology will never replace teacher instruction, it can complement and better enable teachers to focus on the science of learning, the art of teaching, and the social-emotional needs of their students.
‘…technology provides new insights for [teachers] to make the most informed choices.’
Our team, many of whom are former teachers, has stayed in continuous communication with classroom teachers across the country about the challenges they are experiencing and what’s ahead. Below are just a few common questions we’re hearing and the ways we think technology can address their needs.
1. Where are my students in their learning today?
As spring 2020 assessments were canceled, many teachers are still challenged to determine where students are in their learning. Teachers need data. They need data that is easily digestible, real-time, and offers insight that goes beyond whether a student got an answer right or wrong. Teachers want meaningful formative insights about student thinking that addresses how they solve problems.
Imagine if at any moment a teacher could access growth data about how each student is progressing and performing across multiple key competencies throughout the day. That teacher could also dive in further to gain insights about how that student will perform on the next state assessment – even though it’s still several months away – and adjust their instruction accordingly. This is not sci-fi. It’s the power of Intelligent Adaptive Learning™ technology, and teachers across the country are already leveraging this technology to address student learning needs and gaps.
2. How do I address learning loss?
As teachers determine where students are in their learning, many may find that students have not made the typical progress over the past two school years. A recent study by McKinsey & Company determined that minority students may have lost three to five months of learning compared to one to three months for white students. We need to develop creative solutions to close these gaps, especially for our minority communities who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
In addition to the action the Biden Administration has taken to allocate COVID-19 relief funds to learning loss, education technology is a key tool that can help teachers adapt lessons to each student in an age and grade agnostic way. For example, technology can provide recommended study groups based on student readiness for different topics. Teachers know their classrooms and students best and should always make the ultimate decisions on the right assignments and differentiated small groups, but technology provides new insights for them to make the most informed choices.
3. How do I collect and analyze student learning data efficiently?
The pandemic has transformed the teaching profession. While teachers have always used data to personalize instruction, the pandemic has shined a brighter light on the limitations of existing assessment practices and data sets that do not deliver the rich, real-time learning insights that teachers need.
Teachers should not be expected to spend hours sifting through spreadsheets with state and benchmark test scores or frequently take instruction time away to give tests that generate data. Teachers are now “Learning Engineers,” who have a new relationship with technology and data to creatively deliver instruction that meets each student’s unique learning needs. Instead of continuing assessment models that were built in an analog era, digital curricula can provide teachers with a “photo album” of student progress. This album is filled with daily and weekly snapshots of student learning from within digital lessons, doesn’t require any additional testing, and even recommends appropriate, differentiated lessons that each student needs. This approach not only provides the data teachers need, but also saves them time and allows them to focus on connecting with students.
While teachers are heroes of this pandemic, education technology can be a powerful sidekick, empowering teachers with the right insights to drive smart decisions that unlock learning potential for all students – regardless of race, gender, or zip code.
Jessie Woolley-Wilson is President and CEO of DreamBox Learning®. Prior to joining DreamBox, she held executive positions at leading EdTech companies, including Blackboard, LeapFrog, and Kaplan. She has been a featured speaker at TEDx Rainier, SXSWedu, and the ASU GSV Summit, and Ernst & Young named her “Entrepreneur Of The Year®” in the Pacific Northwest region. She has supported the broader education community by serving on several boards, including Quizlet, Rosetta Stone and the Western Governors University Board of Trustees. She holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BA from the University of Virginia.