Friday, 16 March 2018

On the expansion of space and time

As technology evolves, it creates new ways to think about old problems. When I first started working in education technology 15 years ago, edtech was still fairly new – and much of it was clunky and confined to the computer lab.

Wi-Fi is now available pretty much everywhere, creating new pathways for program delivery and instructional support. Although limited (or overstretched) bandwidth is still an issue for many schools, the model of anytime/anywhere access is very attractive for administrators who’ve embraced the concept of self-paced learning. Yes, there are some who want to lock down the time and place for learning (I’m sure they have their reasons), but the idea that more is better seems to be catching hold. Parents are also trying to find different ways to help their kids outside the traditional school day.

The old problem hasn’t changed. How can schools squeeze more learning into the schedule, especially for students who are falling behind their peers? As software developers, we look at that question from two angles: student access and teacher monitoring. On the access side, all you need is a device, an Internet connection and a login ID – and an extra 20 minutes. Activities designed in short chunks, with built-in rewards for effort and quality, encourage students to work more and track their own improvements.

On the teacher side, it’s about paring down the data to the essentials – such as daily usage, notifications and progress metrics. Teachers still want to see the details, and they can get them by drilling down into activity and performance reports. 

Sample Teacher Dashboard

Parents just want to know their kids are using the program and making progress. The key is to design monitoring systems that can be customized for a user’s preferences to make it less of a one-size experience. And to make those systems easy to learn and use, without time-consuming training and heavy implementation requirements.

Simplified Parent Report
The concept of the delivery platform is also evolving and expanding. Success can be measured in monthly subscriptions and daily users, not static “seats.” Getting more of those also means integrating with common platforms, such as Amazon, Microsoft, Google Classroom, and many new tools that reach both parents and schools. The “signup and sign-in” experience has to be seamless, fast and secure.

It’s clear that to solve old problems, we need to keep adjusting our thinking and experiment with new ways to design, deliver and use instructional technology. Did I mention this is a great time to be part of edtech?