At a recent tech showcase in Southeast Tennessee, I had a fascinating conversation with the User Experience Analytics Manager from a major retail conglomerate. He was demoing their latest software development. His company owns several malls in the US and they recently added free high-speed WiFi to each location. This was a strategic investment that extended far beyond the publicized interest in attracting customers back to brick-and-mortar retail. The WiFi installment gives customers free connectivity to the internet, but it also returns invaluable information to the mall owners. The moment a customer connects to the free WiFi, the mall immediately has access to portions of the user's digital footprint and their activity while shopping. The software allows the mall to create a heat map for each location that shows and analyzes customer traffic, average time spent in front of and in each store, time spent in the mall, number of stores visited, etc. He assured me (and I believe him) that they don't get any private or identifiable data, but they can see portions of each user's browsing data. More importantly, their analytics engine gets this information. Leveraging the same advanced analytics algorithms that large online companies like Amazon use to send you targeted adds (those adds where you Google "blue sweater" and then see a bunch of adds from Amazon on social media, showcasing a variety of blue sweaters), the mall is now able to sell analyzed, user-specific data to the retailers who lease space in their mall.
I'm going to get to education in a minute--stay with me while I flesh this out.
Suppose H&M is in one of these malls and has decided to invest in consumer data. You've been shopping online for a new pair of jeans and found some for $70 at thegap.com, but you really want to try them on first, so you head to the mall. When you arrive, your phone connects to the free WiFi. You stroll through the mall, purchase a cookie (I have a hard and fast rule that I don't go to the mall without stopping by the Great American Cookie store for a sugar cookie double doozie as my first stop) and then head toward The Gap. En route, you'll have to pass H&M, where you've never really shopped before. As you approach the H&M storefront, their analytics software, which has been tracking you since you entered the mall, sees you coming. As you turn the corner, their digital storefront window switches to showcase a video of a couple enjoying a walk on the beach resembling the one you just visited on vacation. You guessed it, they are wearing the exact pair of jeans you were looking for. Since H&M could see your browsing history, the software realizes you could be swayed by a small discount, so they run an immediate sale. The window shows the jeans with a $10 discount! You walk into the new store and a customer associate, recently notified on her smart watch, greets you, holding the jeans you want, in your size, and casually asks, "Is there anything I could help you find?"
This isn't the future. It's the present. The technology exists. It can literally happen tomorrow. As long as as the criminal justice department doesn't have plans to announce a pre-crimes division, I'm all for embracing this kind of customer-centric user experience.
As cool as this shopping experience could be, it got me thinking about the implications of similar technology in the classroom. One of my biggest frustrations with the testing culture is that it completely negates the art of teaching and relegates effective teaching to a formulaic science that can be quantitatively measured. However, what if science could amplify artistic teachers? The most effective teachers blend research-based strategies with an innate ability to deliver engaging, transformative learning experiences for their students. One critical component in this endeavor is a teacher's ability to formatively assess student engagement and understanding. The very best teachers do this seamlessly and constantly. However, even the best teachers can't possibly constantly keep their finger on the pulse of each student. One of the most important instructional tools teachers use is quality formative assessment--that is, figuring out if students are getting it and if not, why--it is practically impossible for any one person to do this in real-time, all the time. But what if user experience technology could help. I imagine a classroom equipped with an array of cameras and sensors, linked to facial analysis and user experience analytics software. As students, engage in the lesson, the teacher's tablet could display real-time analytics on each student. Amazon wants to make sure you find the perfect pearl necklace and goes to great lengths to leverage your online experience to ensure that you buy that necklace from them. What if we could use the same technology to make sure that students get what they need, right when they need. It could be the ultimate, just-in-time-learning!
I don't want to get arrested for a crime a computer anticipated I would commit, but I am excited to consider teaching in classrooms where I don't have to trust my gut regarding student engagement and learning.
As a self-identified "tech head" and a Director of Innovative Learning, I am constantly bombarded with opportunities to try and leverage emergent technologies to improve or enhance student experiences in the classroom. While I absolutely love and embrace this challenge, I am often concerned when I hear some of the rhetoric around technology integration in education. Let me clearly state up front that in the modern era, I believe it is irresponsible to fail to develop innovative solutions to ensure every student has access and opportunity to experience digital technologies in the classroom. If adults fail to provide equitable and expansive access to the types of tools that will be seamlessly and ubiquitously integrated in the workforce, then we fail to adequately prepare our students to thrive as adults
We're celebrating Start Up Week this week in Chattanooga. The energy is palpable and the air is ripe with a sense of expectancy and possibility. Entrepreneurs live in a fast-moving world of what-if possibilities, solution pitches, product/service development, scaling, funding, funding some more, analysis, marketing, a bit more funding, leveraging human capital..... They live in a world that tries to provide scalable, sustainable solutions to opportunities as quickly as they can be found. While I have a long-standing personal philosophy of arguing against the call for education to be ran like "any other business," I am increasingly convinced that the ed world has much to glean from the entrepreneurial community.
In December 2015, I read Pastor Mark Batterson's latest book, If. The book was written to inspire Christians to live life void of "if only" regrets by pursuing "what if" possibilities. While it is written in a spiritual context, the transfer to education was unavoidable for me. Over the past 18 months, I have informally interviewed more than 1,000 educators from across the United States. Without fail, all of them eventually point to testing as a substantial issue in public education. Those interested in reducing racial, socioeconomic, and gender gaps will point to the inevitable and well documented biases woven into high-stakes tests.
There is a wave of momentum behind computer science (CS) education that is sweeping across the country. From Code.org's Hour of Code, to hacker-sessions, to digital making, computer science is clearly here to stay. As members of the CS community continue to develop creative strategies for convincing others that CS really is a fundamental skill that all students need to be familiar with, a number of intriguing discussions are surfacing that present unique challenges in the already bumpy landscape of American education. With an undergraduate degree in computer science, I am unquestionably biased to the importance of CS--I thought it was important enough 16 years ago that I chose to major in it. However, perhaps more importantly, as a father of 7 and 4 year old daughters, I am increasingly interested in the potential of CS in K-12 education and in efforts to curb the alarming data regarding the gender, racial, and SES gaps in computer science. When framed through the lens of a parent, the conversation gets really tricky really fast. I want to discuss some observations I have had as both a dad, and as a computer science educator.
GE Foundation Leadership Summit
Leveraging Innovative Technologies for Learning
Texas Open Innovation Conference
Mar 27 - 29
Emerging Innovations in Education
Authentic Learning through PBL
FFT Leading & Learning
Connecting Global Education with the Tennessee Valley
reMake Education Summit
Sonoma County, CA
Keynote, Making Making Work in Education
National Governor's Association
Teaching Governor's to Code
US Dept of Education
Round Table with Secretary John King.
K-12 Pathways for CS
Ed Foo--Making in Education (breakout session)
K-12 Education Panels
Strategies for Reducing the Racial Gap in Computing
Boston Museum of Science
Teaching with Toys--Using Robotics as a Gateway for Computer Science
US Dept of Education
MSP Computer Science Proposition
§ The Great Miscalculation
§ Five Facts About Failing
§ Oh! That's STEM?
§ My Mom Isn't
an Engineer and That's