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Can edtech apps transform teaching?

Using edtech apps has been a 'game changer' for one teacher looking to optimise time spent reviewing

Posted by Rebecca Paddick | September 03, 2016 | Product news

By Charles Wiles

Marking – a mundane if necessary part of the role of teaching. One report identified it to be the single biggest contributor to a teacher’s unsustainable workload.

Assessment of student performance in tests is clearly crucial to spotting individual learning gaps and addressing weaknesses that can be strengthened through targeted exercises and practice.

And while there are lots of prudent ways in which to manage the marking mountain, edtech apps are fast evolving to enable teachers to review student and class performance in real time as assignments are performed and, more importantly, giving them deep and instant insight into those all important learning gaps.

The analysis is such that teachers can now get an overview of what particular questions or items are problematic on both a class and individual level in order to deploy bespoke and targeted assignments to improve performance.         

“Apps have been a real game changer for me,” says John Heeg, an 8th grade social studies teacher at Robert Frost Middle School. “Prior to these, I used to compile data from assessments using Google Forms. This was cumbersome and time consuming, but a necessary means of organising and analyzing results. Now, there’s a decent suite of handy classroom tools that allow me to create interactive educational content that train students up for big assessments, while at the same time aggregating data so I can identify areas that require more practice, instantly.”

Heeg proposes that apps such as Quizalize and Zzish have optimised his time considerably by up to 90% by streamlining the process used to produce assignments, and freeing up more time to create bespoke and targeted content that plugs the learning gaps identified in the analysis.   

“The day before a mid-term assessment, I produce a mini online test comprising five questions which students were finding particularly tricky,” continued Heeg. “I used the same method for preparing warm-up tests ahead of the finals. The process took about 15 minutes. By comparison, my colleague spent a whole week in class using the same review sheets he had always used for the past 12 years. My class performed 3% better than his.” 

While tangible paper assets still remain the material of choice for many teachers, apps are providing a vital means of engaging with today’s modern student where traditional pedagogy is failing. Leveraging game play using colour, sounds and genuine interactivity that rewards students’ efforts as well as achievements, technology in education is starting to harness classic motivational drivers to both optimize the learning process and make assessment and marking more efficient for teachers. 

One-to-one learning has shown to dramatically improve student performance, but that intense level of teaching is neither practical nor viable in a traditional school setting where both teachers and resources are incredibly limited. Software though is simulating this dynamic to give every child its own personal tutor by using big data and adaptive algorithms to deliver an optimal teaching and learning experience. 

Teaching and learning needs to be relevant to the next generation of students and teachers, and technology must be mobilised to make the process more efficient and engaging in order to curtail the critical talent decline

Education is ripe for innovation, and it definitely needs it. Teaching and learning needs to be relevant to the next generation of students and teachers, and technology must be mobilised to make the process more efficient and engaging in order to curtail the critical talent decline. The good news is that technology is slowly turning subjects like maths - an academic discipline often deemed (by children and adults alike) as one of the blandest necessary evils of the national curriculum - into something that is captivating. 

Why is disrupting the tedium important? The best of edtech fundamentally speaks in the language that children understand: gameplay, colour, interactivity and friendly competition. This drives motivation and funnels focus; it helps students develop an appreciation and even a love for learning which is crucial to unlocking a fascination in subjects that may lead to pursuing it at higher level or even later as a career. This is a welcome advancement in a sector short of good teachers.

We are starting to see innovation optimise personalised learning that will address both the broader problem of teacher shortages and the narrower problem of giving every child their own personal one-to-one teacher. Indeed, mobile learning is an emerging $38bn market and presents an exciting opportunity for new players to create valuable businesses with meaningful social impact. There is an opportunity to innovate, and it is there for the taking.

Data and algorithms have the power to really transform learning - but the job of such technology is not to replace teachers but to provide them with their very own virtual teaching assistant. Such an assistant can help the teacher know each student intimately, make recommendations for each student and help the teacher personalise their teaching individually.

“By no means do I think that apps should replace traditional teaching,” concludes Heeg. “Rather, they should be perceived and treated like a virtual personal teaching assistant. Technology is evolving fast to help make the teaching and learning process more effective and efficient in every way. Simple classroom-ready tools like Quizalize mean that I no longer have to waste valuable instruction time reviewing for assessments. It has made, what will always been a challenging if not rewarding job that little bit easier. That, in itself, if a very welcome development, and something that every forward-thinking school must embrace.” 

Technology isn’t just, of course, about making learning more fun and more efficient. It’s also about employing technology in order to radically optimise the time and efficiency of a teacher who is increasingly weighed down by an unsustainable workload dominated by marking.

There are over 200,000 apps in the Education category of the Apple app store, and a core failing of a vast majority of these is that they are not classroom ready. They do not collect data on student performance, nor provide teachers with a simple dashboard showing how students are doing well. All of that is about to change. 

What if every single app that was created and currently available on this vast market was actually transformed into powerful tools with huge capabilities to motivate, tangibly improve performance and give the deep-dive analysis teachers need in order to support struggling students better?

Current transformative innovations being developed are doing exactly this; giving teachers access to valuable real-time data and insight into the classroom. In the past teachers would test their students at the end of a term or topic and only at that point would they discover what students really knew, by which time it was too late to do anything about any learning gaps students might have. Now teachers are able to get this insight instantly in every class and change their teaching immediately to address any issues. Technology of this kind is new, and it exists today. This is exactly what we are pioneering with our own venture.

About the author:

Charles Wiles is CEO of edtech venture Zzish, a software company that specialises in transforming all e-learning apps into classroom-ready tools and gives real time analytical insight on student and class performance.

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