The name of the CUC class is “Using technology to make data-driven decisions,” or something like that. It doesn’t matter because it’s the way the class happens that interests me.
It is not at all a traditional course, although its subject matter is pretty standard. Yes, like the other courses in this Educational Technology masters cohort I have been taking, it is blended (three classes in person, five via the Internet). No, what makes this such an odd course is that in our sessions together and online, the instructor does almost zero instruction. Instead, she acts as a caretaker of someone else’s estate might–“Here is the English garden,” “Here is the ballroom,” “Please don’t take any flowers.” She is a quiet attendant of the course, not ready to tell anyone how to do anything, and this is not at all to the bad.
One of the consequences of her entirely backgrounded presence is that it puts the onus for learning entirely on my cohort classmates and me. If we don’t write good responses and discussion tabs, if we don’t provide thoughtful and well-researched case study analyses, we will not learn.
So when we do the Excel exercises in class, and the “instructor” sits at her desk and does something on her computer, the cohort starts to respond–the genius of non-instruction begins: Groups help within and across the classroom. One student who has been struggling with the text-heavy classes is a positive maven with Excel, and heroically assists anyone with their technical difficulty. Small groups given projects to accomplish by certain dates organically find the best tools for doing the collaborative jobs and figure out their problems themselves, probably better than they would have had the instructor told them what to do more prescriptively. By sitting quietly behind the desk, this “non-instructor” got out of the way of the learning. Makes me wonder how much I do with my high schoolers, and how much more I should.
In a bit of serendipity, I spoke this week with Rusty Jones, who served as the late George Shearing‘s drummer in his quintet for many years. Jones verified my perception that George was a man who loved what he was doing–his happiness as he played was so clear to the observer.
And at this same jazz performance, I spoke with the great trumpet/cornet player George Bean. Mr. Bean teaches jazz playing to aspiring artists and said that the hardest thing to teach is the most essential and simple. He said, “there’s five words that, if they do them, they’ll play great. But it is so hard to teach them.”
“What are those five words, George?”
“Just ‘get out of the way.’ If they try and play a bunch of notes and show off all their intelligence, the music will stink. But if they understand the song, and the audience, and forget about themselves, great things happen!”
So there’s this week’s wikiness wisdom, reader: “Just get out of the way!” and good things can happen.
Below is a good example of what transpires when the teacher gets out of the way. First, the case study background:
Background Allison Massey has been teaching 6th grade math at Shark Middle School for the past 15 years. This is her only position since graduating with a bachelor’s degree in math from IU. She loves the kids and for the most part the parents but keeping up with the demands of increasingly informed parents is becoming difficult.
The Internet and media attention creates an environment that challenges her ability to stay one step ahead of the parents. They have access to almost every piece of information she does but they only need to know about their child and she teaches over 100! Allison also realizes that information and technology available today can greatly enhance her ability to target her instruction to the unique needs of her students. This pressure means she has to make some tough decisions about the use of her time. What efforts will provide her with most value for the time expended??
And here is what our group–with practically no instruction–came up with. It’s pretty decent, if I do say so myself.
1. Identify two response systems available to classroom teachers. How do they work and what is the application(s) in her math class?
Another excellent instructional and assessment tool is made by SMART Technologies. The instructor does not necessarily need a SMART interactive whiteboard to use this technology as long as the program is installed on a computer with a projector. This system is perfect for secondary students because it creates a collaborative, interactive environment and at the same time can give a teacher insight into a student’s progress in the class. Questions can be asked spontaneously during the class or programed with multiple responses or show different ways of solving problems. It is a complex system that gives both the teacher and students feedback. The SMART Response XE interactive response system has a Teacher Tools features used to create class lists, and view and manage all student assessment data in one location with a “built-in gradebook to record test scores, track performance, evaluate trends, create reports or export results into third-party gradebooks for further analysis” (SMART, 2011).
2. Identify two adaptive testing programs. Compare the value of a response system to the adaptive testing programs. How often would testing be practical? How difficult is it to utilize the information generated? Do they test information needed to meet your curriculum requirements?
Measures of Academic Progress
Scantron Performance Series ™
An alternate adaptive testing program is provided by Scantron, the company whose main product has been part of objective testing for decades. Since job one of effectively using assessment is to create in schools a “data culture,” and since the “short weekly quizzes and instant response system” that Allison is using are not sufficiently informing parents or her instruction, she should think about an Internet-based, adaptive testing program such as the Scantron Performance Series(tm). If Allison were to leverage the lab she has at school with the instantaneous reporting function of this program, parents could be made part of the “data culture” and make interventions at home where important learning is often foregone, for lack of meaningful data upon which to make valid educational decisions. Allison and parents would get “real-time,” current data from the Scantron Performance Series(tm) for each individual student. Together, parent and teacher would be able to assess the student’s performance and work together to make interventions.
According to Steele and King (2005), educators need to consider three criteria when shopping for an adaptive testing program. They write, “…it is important to keep in mind the amount of effort needed to administer the assessment…, the speed with which results can be obtained, and the richness of the information they provide” (144). According to its users, the Scantron Performance Series(tm) fulfills the criteria, being easy to use, instantaneous in its results, and tied in with rigorous common core standards. The results are allegedly full of rich “in-depth knowledge” of each child’s instructional needs. If her school district can afford it, the Scantron program would appear to be a good solution to her problem.
3. Is the cost of either system justified based on the value added to the instructional program?