Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Instrumentation of Education

The Instrumentation of Education

(this is the third post in the Glass Classroom series)

Preamble: the Glass Classroom has nothing to do with MOOCs or online education. This is a concept to coalesce attention on the lack of technical progress in education and provide a new, innovative framework to move forward. The concept isn't focused on one aspect of the problem, but the entire ecosystem. The future classroom is a place where the instructor and student is aware of progress and outcomes in real-time. They can collaborate, adjust, explore and engage with unimaginable fidelity. Again, the Glass Classroom encompasses the entire educational ecosystem. 

We've finally turned the corner and it's time to outline a concrete solution. Everyone sees the potential of technology to transform education, but the universal conundrum is how educators will actually realize technologies true promise.

Previous posts provided a background and hinted at a solution, but in this post, we'll actually get into the nuts and bolts of a new model.

In a nutshell, the primary idea behind the Glass Classroom is a convergence of two concepts that include:
  1. The standardization collection of student behavior and performance data/metrics
  2. Powerful analytic engines convert this raw data into useful information designed to extend teacher and student situational awareness related to educational outcomes.    
Because it's such a foreign concept to education, an analogy might help illustrate this idea better. The Glass Classroom shares a lot of common ground with the model used in modern medicine. Doctors and nurses rely on patient vital signs collected by specialized instrumentation. These physiological metrics are critical to the assessment of patient condition (link this to student activities and the subsequent teacher assessment of educational outcomes).

Think of the array of sensors connected to a patient and the feedback provided to medical personnel in real-time. Each data point is recorded, analyzed and presented as information that enhances doctors or other medical professionals situational awareness of the patients' condition.

So, in a nutshell, that's the Glass Classroom. The instrumentation of the entire educational ecosystem, from curriculum to pedagogy.

The increased use of tablets and online courses offer the first real opportunity to collect systematic electronic feedback from student behavior  Consider a student working a math problem. The time, attempts and outcome, along with a array of other metrics, from each exercise is data. Once analyzed and presented efficiently (i.e., visualization), this information and increased awareness of the student's performance has the power to fundamentally change education.  

Other disciplines use data collected by instruments and then overlay powerful analytics to enhance and extend human understanding and situational awareness. Why not education?

Until recently, the primary barrier to the advancement of educational business intelligence (BI) was paper and the lack of electronics (sensors) in the feedback loop to efficiently capture these data points for analysis. To ensure success, these data connections must be systematic and standardized. Without these two concepts, any attempt to advance education in this direction will simply fail. Clearly, with the advent of online learning and the rise in popularity of Learning Management Systems (LMS) the ability now exists to instrument course ware.

Actually, others are already moving in this direction. What are others in this area are doing?
  • Here's a excerpt from Forbes (source below): Jose Ferriera, Founder Knewton, whose clients include Arizona State University and textbook giants Pearson and John Wiley & Sons, uses pioneering data-mining techniques to create highly customized lesson plans and test-prep courses for students—a simple acknowledgement that everyone learns in their own unique way. “With that kind of data you can figure out everything: I know what you know and how well you know it. Everybody gets a unique experience every single moment optimized to how you learn.” 

Even McGraw Hill and Pearson have started to head in this direction as part of their proprietary Learning Management Systems (LMS). The marketing and thesis sound compelling to educators, but there's a fatal flaw.

The missing link is a common thread or standard that allows third party curriculum developers and content providers like McGraw Hill and Pearson to connect and share information about student performance outside their LMS ecosystem (API model is a good parallel). Without a common standard (RFC) the fragmentation presents a barrier to progress. Ironically  this lack of vision will actually hurt their competitive advantage over the long-run (stovepipe models run counter to future technology models).

That's it for now, but the next post is actually the most exciting to date  In that point, I'll layout a plan and milestones to build a system of standards to allow the instrumentation of course ware.


Lee Johnston


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