The Power of the Personal in the EdTech Transformation of Learning

May 26, 2015 Jonathan Martin

Much about teaching excellence will never change—even as much is changing around us.

For one of my current projects, I’m researching what’s happening on the cutting edge of reinventing education, and it’s striking how many of the newest and most “disruptive” school programs are choosing to emphasize, emphatically, the importance of the personal, of the relational, of the way teachers inspire, motivate, mentor, and mind their students.

Can we expect the forthcoming (or already here, partially distributed) “Internet of Things (IOT)” to assist educators with reasserting the “personal” in our schools?

In one educational forecast report, the 2014 NMC Horizon K-12 (http://www.nmc.org/publication/nmc-horizon-report-2014-k-12-edition/ ),  the Internet of Things seems to offer great promise, though it is still low on the horizon—perhaps four or five years:

“Capabilities common in the consumer sector today make it easy to envision a school experience where students are recognized as soon as they step foot on campus, and everything from science laboratory equipment to lockers automatically calibrate themselves to suit their specifications and needs.”

That sounds nice—it might be fun and convenient—but lab equipment and lockers (lockers?) aren’t strengthening our human connections.  This vision of the Internet of Things for education puts far too great an emphasis on the “things.”

What we need more than an IOT is an IOM: “the Internet of Me.”   As Alan Eagle, a high flying Google exec, recently wrote in a piece entitled The Re-imagination of Daily Life (https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/articles/the-reimagination-of-daily-life-in-2015.html) ,

[New digital tools] take these insights and feed them to your other devices so that, together, they can create better experiences. It turns the “Internet of Things” into an “Internet of Me”—all with your permission, all to simplify your life.

We can see glimmers of this future “IOM” for schooling in another future forecast, CORE-ED (http://www.core-ed.org/thought-leadership/ten-trends)  from New Zealand, whose author-educators name Digital Convergence as among their top ten trends for 2015.

The concept of digital convergence refers to the merging of previously discrete and separately used technologies, as well as the almost ‘invisible’ integration and use of technologies as a part of our everyday life. Key drivers here are the ubiquitous reach and presence of the internet, and our ability to access it via an increasingly broad range of devices.

Digital convergence, they explain, will open more “independent learning pathways” for students, and also, create a

“more intuitive and responsive to the mix of the learners current location, level of progress, availability of support etc. upon which a highly tailored set of outcomes and feedback may be established and monitored.”

This is getting closer to prioritizing the personal—through what is often called the personalization of learning.   Some of the most exciting new schools emerging in California, Summit schools and Alt School, implement this personalization via what they call “playlists.”

In the World Economic Forum’s excellent manifesto, “A New Vision for Education: Unlocking the Potential of Technology” (http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEFUSA_NewVisionforEducation_Report2015.pdf ), there is an explanation of Summit’s approach:

“digital playlists [are] for online, self-directed learning. Playlists include multiple types of internally and externally developed content, such as exercises, videos and quizzes, mapped to specific skills within its learning rubric. Students advance through these playlists at their own pace, taking assessments as they feel ready.”

Some independent school educators working in online or blended spaces are developing their own approaches to personalized learning accelerated through automation    Amy Hollinger, Director of Professional Development for Global Online Academy, explained to me the efforts teachers there are making to provide more automated feedback: simple quizzes with immediate results, and automated emails with reminders and encouragement students receive daily from their teachers.

In this technologically empowered personalization, made possible by the rising “Internet of Me,” the smartphone becomes more than a device, it becomes, Eagle writes,

“the new remote control—not just for your TV but for your life. As the hub for all devices, it becomes an ever-present assistant dedicated to serving one person: you.”

In the digital convergence, the smartphone is personal assistant to students and teachers alike, and as we become ever more proficient with them, we ought to become more efficient with them too.  Using an LMS like Whipple Hill/Blackbaud’s onCampus can be accessible in a responsive manner from any device, at any time of the day/night, and free up valuable time in terms of content delivery.  It  can allow teachers to “flip” in a space that’s surrounded by supporting content leaving more time for the teacher to focus on in class work.

And then let’s be sure to harness the greater efficiency we’ve attained to reallocate our time back to what is truly personal teaching.

Because personalization still isn’t personal enough.  What’s essential for our students is that they see, hear from, and really feel each other and especially us, their teachers, in their lives and learning, and that they know we see, hear, and feel them.

This happens as we are using our LMS platforms like onCampus to chat with our students, to work with them on shared documents, and to coach, encourage, praise, critique and support them.   Hollinger tells of Global Online Academy teachers who regularly provide students personal videos  feedback about their work, making that connection face to face and individual—and thus, so much more meaningful.

With every tool, with every technology, let’s be sure to keep asking: how can this be employed not just for greater personalization of learning but for more learning that is more personal.   It just might be that the Internet of Me, and the smartphone as personal assistant, can do so, can make learning more personal—but only by our intent, our design, and commitment to the goal.

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