Monday, January 9, 2012

A Geographer Looks at EdTech - Part 4 - Learning Analytics

--- This post is the second in a ten part series examining top 2011 trends in education technology in the context of GIS and geography education. ---

The fourth theme Audrey Watters identified in her top ten list of ed tech for 2011 is learning analytics, that is the data about learning. She explains that in many situations learning analytics boils down to standardized tests as a measure of our failing schools. But it can also be a tool to evaluate teachers, guide student learning and sadly, a pressure to encourage cheating. Still, with the promise of these data, and the ease of capture when students use electronic devices and software, they can't be ignored.

Data capture is easier than ever. Even as I write this [in December] the American Geographic Society is running a survey of adult opinions on geography. It's built on a data platform (copyright 2006) even more ugly than the widely used Survey Monkey. The questions disappointed me so much that I chose not to share the request for others to complete the survey.

Last year at a geo edu event I got the "pitch" from a Pearson rep on its new geography text book/online package. He explained it would tell me, the instructor, how well my students did on the quizzes related to each chapter in vivid charts. I could see which multiple choice question the most students got wrong and the like. I could see which students did the assignments and which did not. The offering did not appeal to me at all.

Why? My classes (both in residence at local colleges and community college and online in a graduate program) are about geography/geographic thinking/geotechnology) AND communication. While these tools deliver rote learning evaluations, they don't help me see how the students think or express themselves. In a sense, my issue is, "I don't get to see their work!"

That said, I am most excited about using such data to find out what "works." That is, teaching one class a topic using one method and a second via another and seeing which mastered the material better. I believe using these data to hone in on techniques that work is their greatest promise. Want an example? Check out Emily Hanford's latest piece (NPR) on new methods in physics education. If you like it, I highly recommend listening to every podcast from American RadioWorks.

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