Assessments, Learning Loss, and the Future of Learning

A lot of people in the education industry are talking about how the pandemic fundamentally changed education, simply because it was being delivered through a different medium.

We disagree.

If the means by which we expect students to learn is not allowed to change, then change doesn’t happen just because we vary the medium through which education is delivered. In fact, most educators, often bound by the curriculum requirements of their districts, are still teaching the same subjects in the same way with the same assessments. Just because they’re doing it online instead of in person doesn’t mean anything has fundamentally changed – and fundamental changes to education are what we really need.

We Need to Stop Focusing on Failure

If a student is excelling in music and art while failing math and science, then that doesn’t mean they’re failing as a student. It means they demonstrate exceptional skill in areas that can lead to innovation. In order to foster the true passion and talent in every student, we need to make a fundamental change in how we assess success. This point has been brought to bear on how we evaluate learning loss as a result of the pandemic. Dr. Yong Zhao explains during an interview with Dr. Wendy Oliver, published on EdisonLearning:

The pandemic has created a very unhappy environment for a lot of children. They’re isolated, they’re not going to school, and they’re not talking to friends. But at the same time, we probably should pay attention to see how they have grown. Human beings learn from experiences. These experiences have changed our children in different ways. Perhaps now they are better at handling adverse situations. They are now better at making friends online, which is essential in today’s life. Maybe your children are becoming more independent in learning? These are the types of things he stresses we really need to focus on.

Right Now, We Assess Failure and Focus on Failure

From early on in our students’ educational journeys, we focus on measuring failure. We conduct spelling and math tests and mark what they get wrong. We focus on how far beneath the average they are and we assume that wherever they are at that moment academically is where they will remain. This places an undue burden on the students and the teachers when they are forced to approach education in this way. Instead, we should be focused on the successes and strengths students have. When we focus on successes and strengths and take the time to understand a student’s passions and interests, we can find ways to improve their subject matter expertise by teaching through their passions.

Every Student Deserves to Have an IEP

Right now, the only students who qualify for an IEP (Individualized Education Program) are those students who have a disability that is recognized by the federal government. But shouldn’t every student have an individualized learning plan that is customized to meet their needs and help them achieve the best outcome?

We must be particularly cautious as we come out of the pandemic, as there is a push to assess students and determine what they’ve lost by learning from home. Brian Moon explores this in terms of the unbounded concern over learning loss. He points out that part of the problem stems from education focusing on the wrong question: “How do we help students perform better on standardized tests?” By doing this, we are forcing teachers to teach to the test and focus on teaching what students need to know to pass tests instead of engaging their minds.

Moon suggests a new question: “How do we use assessment to accelerate, deepen, and showcase individual student learning?”

How Do We Use Assessment to Accelerate, Deepen, and Showcase Individual Student Learning?

That is the question that needs to be explored as we redefine education in the twenty-first century. But in doing so, let’s focus on Moon’s point:

We need not categorize students as deficient in order to justify improving the efficiency, depth, and meaning of their learning experiences. Assessment scores are finite, but learning is limitless. When we center student growth – rather than points or percentiles – as the goal of education, we expand the possibilities for how schools can provide value.

The Future of Learning

The future of learning should be individualized. Assessments should not be used to penalize students but rather to help encourage learning. And what students learn should be modernized and revolutionized so that the students moving through the education system today are prepared to live, work, and engage in the society of tomorrow. Learn more about how Lumen Touch is contributing to the future of learning.

Are Virtual Classrooms the Future of Learning?

Students may be returning to the classroom in the fall, but technology has certainly changed not just our ability to deliver instruction but also the innovation surrounding effective education. Virtual classrooms will not go away. The possibilities are limitless! Here are some great examples of how technology is creating optimal learning experiences:

UCI Professor Goes Virtual

Grown tired of Zoom, Christina Lopes, a professor at University of California, Irvine (UCI), developed a virtual space for her students to obtain hands-on experience in her course, How Computers Work. According to a Newswise article, she helped to create a new program called OpenSimulator. Instead of sitting in a classroom learning from a textbook, students are able to see the code come to life.

Virtual Innovation Is Disrupting Every Industry

From virtual meetings, where the CEO of a company appears as a hologram in various locations around the world, to tradeshows where buyers are able to examine virtual versions of the equipment they are interested in buying, virtual and augmented reality are changing how we perceive the world and how we interact with one another. Virtual environments are enhancing virtually every industry, and education is no exception. Virtual classrooms can help educators meet the needs of more students. What started as a way to reach students when schools closed during the pandemic has revolutionized education in a way that can hopefully continue even as students return to the classroom.

Virtual Classrooms Help Bring Education into the Future

We know that a radical revolution in education is necessary in order to prepare students for the future of work. Teaching to the test and basing student advancement on their ability to regurgitate facts is no longer enough to prepare students for the workforce of the future. Virtual classrooms allow students to accelerate their tech skills, improve their soft skills, and learn how to leverage technology for their benefit.

Virtual Learning and Classrooms Can Co-Exist

No matter how students receive instruction, educators are paramount to the overall success and progress a student makes. Virtual classrooms may never fully replace in-person instruction. But virtual classrooms can be used to enhance the in-classroom experience, by allowing students to pursue individualized and customized areas of learning, thereby giving every student the opportunity to have a richer education. Virtual classrooms can also allow two teachers from different districts, states, or even countries to collaborate to deliver a richer, more diverse curriculum.

Virtual education is not the enemy of the classroom – it is an enhancement to it. And for students who have difficulty being in school every day, either due to illness, disability, or the circumstances of their home life, it can bring additional equity to your district.

Preparing for the Return of Teachers and Students to Classrooms

For some students, online learning has lasted for a year or longer. Some teachers have likewise been making magic in front of a computer screen instead of a class full of students. So, the return to fulltime in-person instruction is an exciting moment, but we cannot for one minute think that it will be easy for anyone.

Isolation Makes Human Contact More Stressful

Have you seen the film Cast Away? After 4 years on an island, when the character portrayed by Tom Hanks was finally thrust back into society, it was an overwhelming experience. While the situations may not be comparable, it’s likely that both educators and students will struggle to adjust when being thrust back into the classroom. Districts should consider having supports in place for their employees as well as strong SEL systems for students. Ted Gennerman, director of student services, and Emilie Tregellas, school psychologist for the Oak Creek-Franklin Joint School District in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, wrote an exceptional guide for incorporating SEL to support students and improve student behavior.

Beware the Assessment Drive

We realize that there will be a push to complete a lot of assessments when students return to the classroom full time, in order to determine how far behind – or how far ahead – they are from the standard grade level. While we’d prefer to do away with grade levels altogether and simply teach students at their own pace and in ways that motivate them to learn more and love learning more, we urge districts to complete assessments not to hold students back from their grade level but to identify who needs the most support to catch up.

Forward Progress Must Continue

Even as we return to traditional classroom settings, we can bring what we’ve learned about accelerating and individualizing education into the classroom – and we can bring the technology that helped us achieve it, too. Just as corporations are recognizing the benefit of continuing to support a remote workforce, schools are recognizing the benefit of continuing to use the learning systems and technology they implemented during the height of the pandemic.

Technology Improves Education

Hybrid learning does not have to end when schools open. Consider all of the kids sent to school sick because of attendance requirements who could continue to participate in class from home in a hybrid learning environment. Extending this further, consider the capacity for schools in different areas of the country or world that could collaborate on learning through technology. A recent study, “Learning and instruction in the hybrid virtual classroom: An investigation of students’ engagement and the effect of quizzes,” revealed that the ability for students to relate to their peers, as well as their intrinsic motivation, improved when multiple screens and collaborative technology were in place.

As school districts resume full-time, in-person classes, the last thing we want to see happen is that back-to-school means returning to educating students in the same way we did prior to the pandemic. We need to embrace everything we’ve learned during the pandemic, maintain all of the technology and innovation we’ve incorporated, and continue pushing forward.

Hindsight 2020: A Year Filled with Hope

Do you remember what you were doing a year ago today? You might have been sending the kids off to school, driving to work, or shopping for Christmas presents. You most likely weren’t running back in to grab your mask, transforming your dining room into a work-study area for your kids, or angling your laptop just right for the light and background in your bedroom to hop on yet another zoom call. A lot can change in a year. And from our perspective, it’s a year that points to the endurance of spirit, the kindness of strangers, and the ability to transform challenge into progress.

We Will Endure

We’ve worked through challenges to overcome everything from zoom bombs to Wi-Fi inequity. Along the way, we’ve learned that teachers are wonderfully committed beyond all expectation to caring for their students – and that they can get pretty creative in finding ways to do just that – like the teacher laying on the side of the road recording an ant hill for his students using a GoPro. Or the teacher who used his stimulus check to pay his students’ utility bills. Or all of the teachers who showed up this fall – in person, online, and both – still ready to give their students 100% every day.

We Are All Innovators

The saying necessity is the mother of invention has never been more accurate. From parking buses in neighborhoods to deliver WiFi to rolling out new technology to make it easier for schools to safely track and monitor student heatlh, innovative solutions have been in abundance to help students, teachers, parents, and schools have a successful year. Nowhere has that innovation been more apparent than from the scientists who have rapidly developed multiple viable vaccines.  

Hope Is Eternal

Throughout this year, amidst the tears, frustration, and loss, there has been an underlying feeling of hope. From a renewed appreciation for the essential workers in our communities to empty pet shelters across the country, good things happened in 2020. Here are some of the highlights:

Vaccines are being distributed as we speak. Our ability to endure, innovate, and maintain hope will see us through to a BRIGHTer 2021.

It’s Time to Join SpaceX and Aim for the Moon

Our existing education system is like the rocket ship of the past that got us into orbit. That was the engine that built the economy of our very successful country.

But isn’t it past time that we build a new engine to get us to the education moon?

It took a company like SpaceX to use design thinking to reorient the US space program and bring the prowess of space adventure back to the US. They found a new design and new technology to give them the thrust and a competitive advantage.

So, have you found a new design or new technology embedded in bold leadership to embrace the passion for education redesign? This pandemic that we are in is the defining moment that is separating redesign from re-engineering. If you are caught in the crisis, it may be a good time to re-evaluate your redesign program. If you are meeting the challenge of the pandemic with some ease, then your design thinking and planning is kicking in.

How to “SpaceX” Your Education System

Let’s address the whole arena of technology and its role in managing the crisis and in leading redesign. Most technology in schools is 5-30 years old – oops! It may be important for us to define technology, so we don’t create a cohort of defensive readers.

Technology is defined as science or knowledge put into practical use to solve problems or invent useful tools.

When we mention the word technology, it is most often equated with Chromebooks, laptops, and 1:1 and curriculum software. We do not speak of it in its true context and hence will not be able to exploit it to drive the value of the brave new world, the Age of Agility, and learning tuned to the individuals’ learning abilities.

Had schools taken advantage of the existing updates in technology that are already on the market, we would now have virtual classrooms and virtual technology in every school and home, we would have been able to integrate at-home learning smoothly, and we would not be talking about inequity and inequality to the extent we are. If we had built a learning system in our community from the ground up with design thinking, then it would look unlike most schools we see today; so how do we go from here to there amid a crisis and beyond?

The Crisis-Driven Learning Revolution

The amount of money being spent on edtech technology since 2016 has skyrocketed, with a market cap for technology companies sitting at an all-time high in excess of $250 billion. Schools that embrace the integrated learning evolution discover that they can drive sustained success; high connectivity leads to high performance and streamlined learning can empower creativity. Collaboration beyond the classroom is part of the secret sauce.  Let’s rediscover what it is that we need and explore the education landscape.

If you’re interested in learning how Lumen Touch can help you and your district be ready for the present and the future of learning, please get in touch. We’re eager to show you how we can help you save time and money while improving student learning beyond the realms of our current thinking.

What Should the Future of Learning Look Like?

When we start talking about what the future of learning should look like, we need to consider what the future of work will look like, too. What careers are we preparing our students for? What kinds of skills will they need to succeed – not just economically but in such a way as to advance the whole of society? If we look at the big picture, we need to begin developing a generation of tech-savvy innovators who can think on their feet and examine and analyze problems – all while having the flexibility to adjust to rapidly changing needs within their occupations, their communities, and society. The current education system is woefully inadequate to meet these needs.

From Cursive Writing to Coding?

Some schools still teach cursive writing while others are fighting to return it to the curriculum. But the future of learning is centered around STEM, programming, and robotics. Rather than teach cursive, perhaps we should focus on coding. It is a concept that can be introduced on a basic level in kindergarten and built upon through each year. Coding is the language of the future.

From Static Information to Information Filtering?

Today’s students are overwhelmed with information and little time is spent teaching them the skills necessary to determine what information is factual or how to verify legitimate sources. Perhaps not everyone needs to know calculus, algebra, or mitosis. But the future of learning could include teaching students how to manage the information with which they are inundated from every source – and how to filter that information. More emphasis could be placed on analytical thinking, fact-checking, researching, and recognizing manipulation.

Financial Literacy and Economics

Most Americans are carrying higher levels of debt than that which is considered wise. The pandemic and resulting unemployment have only made this worse, and as the likelihood of a recession or a depression looms, learning to manage money more effectively becomes a critical skill. From understanding the economy and the tax system to knowing how to budget, personal finance courses are a great addition to the curriculum.

Mental and Physical Health

From mental health and mindfulness to diet and exercise, schools can take a much bigger role in teaching students how to take better care of themselves and giving them the tools to do so. Removing stigma from mental health can occur when we make emotional and mental health a part of regular conversation. Making exercise a daily habit can start in kindergarten.

Self-Guided and Independent Learning

Should our schools be working hard to put themselves out of business? While we ask this in a very tongue-in-cheek manner, by recognizing the incredible value teachers and schools have, we can begin creating lifelong learners who can continue to develop their intellectual skills long after they leave school. Teaching students to have the discipline and analytical skills essential to independent learning ensures that their K-12 education is only the beginning. Learning how to learn is possibly the most critical skill any student will gain.

Networking and Relationship Building

One of the benefits of students being forced into distance learning last spring was that most students now have a new skill that can carry over into the workplace: the ability to network and collaborate online. From Zoom calls to working with students and teachers on projects from a distance to making presentations online, these are skills used in the workplace today. Should we not be teaching our students how to build relationships, collaborate, and network – and use the tools and technology that make it possible to do so regardless of distance?

We’re at a momentous point in education and going back to what once was just doesn’t make sense. Whether your district is resuming in-person instruction, remaining online, or developing some hybrid approach, it’s time to start introducing topics that will give students the tools they need to be competitive globally as they enter a workforce that will likely look completely different than anything any of us have seen.

The Future of Learning Is Now

Here at Lumen Touch, we are committed to providing the tools that schools need to deliver this kind of future-driven education. One of our latest efforts is a partnership with VEDAMO. We are integrating the VEDAMO virtual classroom into our Bright SUITE and Bright Student™ systems. This will allow teachers to pull scheduling from our systems into VEDAMO for the virtual classrooms, then grades will be imported into our gradebook from VEDAMO quizzes and assignments. Single Sign-On (SSO) will be a part of the integration.

If you’re interested in learning how Lumen Touch can help your teachers and district be ready for the future of learning, please get in touch. We’re eager to show you how we can help you save time and money while improving student engagement.