Creating a new generation of data to solve social problems.
Ever wonder what’s going on in the mind of your student as they do a math problem or read a book? We may be far from Big Brother, but advances in e-reader technology are bringing that kind of real-time analysis to life.
A recently published Wall Street Journal article, “Your E-Book is Reading You,” sheds light on some of the information e-reader companies are already collecting on adults reading books. Publishers and authors now have a clear view into information that long eluded them—like how quickly their books are being read, what lines or passages readers highlight, how long readers sit and even where they stop reading.
Now imagine giving teachers the power to measure those kinds of behaviors through e-reader textbooks. What if teachers could assign a passage and see real-time data on how quickly students read, where multiple students took breaks in reading, and what phrases they highlighted or commented on… or if students even read the book at all.
Teachers equipped with this knowledge could skip right to clarifying challenging concepts, based on where students stopped reading or slowed down. Likewise, teachers could help students clarify misconceptions, based on notes students took in the margins. If multiple students wrote a question mark or made a note inconsistent with the passage itself, teachers could address this head on by designing a group discussion or activity to get at the real meaning of the passage in the context of the book.
Further, teachers could personally connect to students, honing in on passages where many students highlighted a quote that seemed personally meaningful—for example, the WSJ article referenced a quote that was highlighted by 18,000 Kindle readers in The Hunger Games: “Because sometimes things happen to people and they're not equipped to deal with them.” English teachers would salivate at the chance to design an assignment around this kind of quote, knowing that it connected the material more deeply to students’ lives.
This innovation would also give teachers yet another motivation to encourage students to mark up books, teaching them good reading practices and teaching them how to learn. Taking notes or highlighting and making reading an active process has been shown to improve comprehension of reading materials. With e-readers, students can freely mark up the pages, engaging fully in the learning process, highlighting important points and also marking questions where they have them. Teachers could also monitor the active processes of their students and differentiate learning skills for individual readers based on their note-taking habits.
Currently, many teachers use a variety of separate reading, mathematics, and subject-specific computer applications to gain some of the same information. Likewise, other teachers with access to mobile technology use one (or more) of a variety of applications on tablets for free or purchase to handle similar types of data. These desktop, laptop, or tablet applications, tend to serve a specific purpose or subject area, and each provides different measures and outcomes.
That said, one of the big challenges in data-driven education is analysis paralysis, referred to in the technology world as “big data” (#bigdata on twitter). According to IBM, 90 percent of the world’s data was created in the last two years. Our challenge is not gathering data, but narrowing it down and drawing meaningful conclusions. There’s a potential challenge to overwhelm teachers with too much information, giving them details on every aspect of each student’s reading habits and making it difficult to parse through. The solution would be to develop a clear and succinct report, based on the goals of teachers in that subject, providing only the information necessary to achieve those goals.
For example, if we asked English teachers, we might find that the three goals in lesson design to achieve student success are to: improve reading comprehension of students; engage students in a personally meaningful lesson; and improve reading practices among students.
We could then attach simple aggregate and individual proxies to each outcome, allowing teachers to quickly gauge progress and take action as needed:
Goal: Improve reading comprehension of students.
Measure: Identify the slowest page and aggregate student comments or highlights on that page.
Action: Focus time on the slowest page(s), talk through common problems that students ran into and cover any questions students raised through note-taking.
Goal: Engage students in a personally meaningful lesson.
Measure: Identify the top three highlighted passages (and percentage of the class who highlighted them) and top three commented passages (with list of comments for each).
Action: Focus the lesson on popular passages, building stronger connections between the students and the reading.
Goal: Improve reading practices among students.
Measure: Quantify total amount of highlights or comments; and total amount of time taken to read the passage.
Action: Identify students who are slower, less active readers and provide coaching; create socially reinforcing systems for rewarding students who leave the most comments.
The e-book revolution is already upon us. The education sector should use it to spur huge changes in the way teachers collect and process information about their students’ learning practices.