Friday, 9 February 2018

Teacher Engagement - Making it Part of Your Software's DNA

One of the biggest design challenges for developers of education technology is engaging teachers with our online learning tools. While these programs are created for students, finding ways to connect teachers to the new learning environment is critically important to the success of any classroom tool.

In some cases, a program is chosen at the district level and “introduced” to teachers as a new (and usually mandatory) thing to be used in a busy school day. Scheduling can be a major hurdle, but even when students are given frequent access to the program, it can still feel separate from the actual classroom instruction.

Teacher engagement needs to be part of the underlying design philosophy of a learning platform. (We’re all guilty of creating a few colorful reports and calling it a day.) Good teacher training is part of it, but there are a number of ways to build the teacher viewpoint into your software’s DNA.

While this effort is ongoing, here are a few foundational guidelines for creating a truly effective learning platform with teachers in mind:

  1. Make usage and progress data available in real time and use notifications to prioritize students who need immediate help.
  2. Provide detailed progress data that clearly shows gaps in learning objectives for individuals and classes. Color coding, scoring ranges and listings of missed standards draw attention to problem areas.
  3. Automatically score answers but give teachers the ability to override the system score. Rubrics and answer keys help to reduce the time to review activities and provide feedback to students on what they did well and what was missed.
  4. Cultivate “super users” who can lead by example – and get constant feedback from those users about how to improve the effectiveness of the teacher tools.
  5. Share sample lesson plans with strategies for integrating online work with everyday instruction. Did a group of students miss vocabulary words in a unit? How can that data be turned into a mini-lesson? (Your super users can be very helpful in customizing these plans for the particular requirements of each school.
  6. Provide timely support to answer teachers’ questions and develop their confidence in using the program as part of their classroom instruction. Incorporating different ways to get in touch – email, live chat, phone – lets teachers communicate in a way that fits their individual preferences.
  7. Listen, don’t tell. Once teachers understand how to use a feature, they will often have ideas for making it better – and they really don’t need more explanations as to why the software doesn’t work that way. Feature creep is real, but truly listening to what teachers are trying to achieve will go a long way towards turning a software tool into a teaching and learning platform.

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