While the idea of using ‘big data’ can seem daunting, it is increasingly asserting itself in the classroom as one of the best ways for teachers and their students to get the most out of course materials, and to customise the learning process like never before. This is especially so in the fast-growing knowledge economies of Thailand and Vietnam, where students are “success-driven and have the goal of better professional opportunities,” Kayo Taguchi, Pearson Asia’s ELT Portfolio Manager, said on a recent episode of Pearson’s Art of Learning podcast.
The two countries’ governments and educational institutions are also highly receptive to technology-assisted study, especially in the field of English Language Teaching (ELT). This allows the collection of pedagogical data on each individual student – while considering the genuine privacy concerns that surround the collection of personal data in any field – through an ongoing teach-and-test environment. This, in turn, produces learners who are highly motivated and open to constantly evolving teaching methodologies.
By combining Pearson’s unique offerings, such as Global Scale of English, educators can use technology to create a holistic program that connects infrastructure, instruction and assessment, innovates the way they teach, and provides a measurable impact on student learning and success.
Building on a tried and tested approach
Numerous studies have pointed to the efficacy of providing both learners and educators with data that can be collated and analysed to enable individualised learning.
According to a study on using big data to enhance learning, data can produce intelligence that can be useful for self-regulating learners and for teachers to adapt instructional designs. Further, advances in data analytics technology allow information to be marked and evaluated in real-time, giving educators the opportunity to customise the experience for each student – and ensure that the learning process is smooth and effective by tracking development and success rates.
Pearson has pioneered an efficient and holistic approach that prioritises:
- identification of issues
- constant monitoring through testing
- sharing of the data, while ensuring privacy, to identify and further refine a learner’s progress
Enabling access to granular, actionable intelligence
The data provided by tests help educators to understand students’ strengths and weaknesses, and other behaviour patterns. This is because tests present the data in ways that teachers can immediately put to use by adjusting their teaching styles, classroom environments and approach to individuals.
Experts typically categorise measuring student learning into two buckets: Summative assessments, which include a range of graded activities such as tests, provide a shared and consistent understanding of students’ achievements. Formative assessments include day-to-day classroom practices that help teachers and pupils understand what has and has not been learnt, and implement actions to address this on an ongoing basis.
“What has evolved is the concept of why you are testing and what purpose is the test serving,” says Stuart Connor, Pearson Asia’s Qualifications & Assessment Director. “The best assessments help teachers focus their testing, manage mixed ability classes, and identify and correct student mistakes more easily.”
There are a number of factors that have allowed this more data-driven approach to the classroom – an increase in training, coupled with the advent of new technologies which allow educators and administrators to move seamlessly between resources and tests, and the implementation of common standards.
This allows them to connect the dots between “assessment-of-learning” and “assessment-for-learning” – essentially the difference between learning for the purpose of testing, and testing for the purposes of improving the learning process.
For instance, tools such as in-classroom online polls enable teachers to gauge in real time students' engagement levels and their grasp of the concepts being taught. And as remote learning applications have taken off in the age of the coronavirus, these apps are incorporating such polling features to allow instructors to continue gathering data on student performance despite the lack of physical interactions.
The “game changer” is that by using technology, teachers and students are able to “do something with the results,” says Kayo. “We’re able to answer the question: ‘What steps should I take next, what should I do?’” This can be explicit, she says, pointing to a specific skill, or more subtle, such as a change in teaching style. “Learning becomes a bit more focused when you link the courseware and assessment together.”
Educators are also acquiring the ability to impart training, gather data and analyse performance remotely, something that is increasingly becoming important. “We're having to completely change our teaching methodologies due to the coronavirus pandemic, as we move at unprecedented speeds towards remote and online learning,” says Stuart.
Monitoring success at all levels
The gathering and assessment of data happens at multiple levels. “Data analytics become very important to drive quality,” says Stuart. “From a learner’s perspective…just to see where you are, how you’re performing, against the KPIs, the goals you set yourself – how much additional work you’d need to do and what specific activities you’d need to carry out to reach your goals, to be able to click a button and see that, in number form or in graphs, is really impactful.”
Similarly, it allows teachers to understand whether they’re on track compared with their lesson or semester planning. At a macro level, a department head can see how different classes are performing, giving more control and ability to measure quality and drive improvements, ensuring no individual, class or even educator falls behind.
“For an institution, if they’re looking to make an investment in technology, in resources or assessments, this tells them if there’s a return on that investment because they can measure how well their learners are improving their English, so the data is extremely powerful,” says Stuart.
Harnessing data for the power of learning, to make sure that every student is given the chance to capitalise on their strengths and have their limitations acknowledged and addressed, is a key development in the way teachers teach, and can have lasting impact on how ELT classrooms are designed and implemented.