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Cartoon by Mark Anderson (andertoons.com)

The education technology industry keeps making it easier for teachers to record and share information on students. Check out the "dashboards" inside programs like Google Apps for Education, or freestanding gradebook apps like JumpRope, or ClassDojo, focused on behavior.

Software also collects information on students all by itself. Jose Ferreira, CEO of Knewton, said in a 2012 speech that his "adaptive learning" platform, used by 10 million students globally, collects 5 to 10 million data points per student per day — down to how many seconds it takes you to answer that algebra problem.

"We literally have more data about our students than any company has about anybody else about anything," Ferreira said. "And it's not even close."

The argument in favor of all this is that the more we know about how students are doing, the better we can target instruction and other interventions. And sharing that information with parents and the community at large is crucial.

But we're also starting to hear more about what might be lost when schools focus too much on data. Here are five arguments against the excesses of data-driven instruction.

  1. Motivation - In a highly data-driven classroom, students who struggle may be made acutely aware, to the percentile, of how far behind the average they are. This could be enough to trigger stereotype threat, depressing performance still more. And what about the students who are leading the dashboard, collecting badges, prizes or virtual stickers? These kinds of extrinsic rewards could depress their interest in an activity for its own sake, researchers have found.
  2. Helicoptering - Today, parents increasingly are receiving daily text messages with photos and videos from the classroom. And some software systems let them log on and see exactly how Jasper or Alaia are performing, assignment by assignment, even down to the number of minutes spent reading or practicing Spanish. All this info could be a great way for parents to partner in their kids' education. On the other hand, overly involved "intrusive parenting" can do significant harm to student development.
  3. Commercial Monitoring and Marketing - Researchers at the National Education Policy Center raised concerns about targeted marketing to students using computers for schoolwork and homework. Companies like Google pledge not to track the content of schoolwork for the purposes of advertising. But in reality these boundaries can be porous. Schools have proven to be a soft target for data gathering and marketing. Not only are they eager to adopt technology that promises better learning, but their lack of resources makes them susceptible to offers of free technology, free programs and activities, free educational materials, and help with fundraising.
  4. Missing What Data Can't Capture - Computer systems are most comfortable recording and analyzing quantifiable, structured data. The number of absences in a semester, say; or a three-digit score on a multiple-choice test that can be graded by machine, where every question has just one right answer. But what about noncognitive skills, or character strengths that seem to make a big difference in the academic success of children?
  5. Exposing Students' "Permanent Records" - Educational transcripts, unlike credit reports or juvenile court records, are currently considered fair game for gatekeepers like colleges and employers. These records, though, are getting much more detailed. ClassDojo, for example, reports on students' "Perseverance," "Teamwork," "Leadership," "Resourcefulness" and "Curiosity." It's certainly imaginable that both colleges and employers will want to see this info now that it's available in a broader, more accessible format. Should they have access to it? Only if it's beneficial or if it's damaging as well? Who decides?

From an article "5 Doubts About Data-Driven Schools" by Anya Kamenetz

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Lea's Learning Analytics Blog

Learning analytics, educational data mining, formative assessment - all recent buzz words in educational research. In principle, the idea is to find theoretical frameworks, models, procedures, and smart tools to collect, aggregate, analyze, reason on and visualize large scale educational data. LEA’s BOX is a research and development project funded by the European Commission. The project aims at (a) making educational assessment and appraisal more goal-oriented, proactive, and beneficial for students, and (b) at enabling formative support of teachers and other educational stakeholders on a solid basis of a wide range of information about learners. That means, LEA’s BOX is a learning analytics toolbox that is intended to enable educators to perform competence-centered, multi-source learning analytics. More info at http://www.leas-box.eu!


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