Applying MOOC thinking to traditional passing rates

mischievous-studentrecent article in The Atlantic discussed the ways in which instructors of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) present their data, such as passing rates.  These courses are clearly a new frontier for education.  While some would argue that they represent the future of education (at least, higher education), a recent backlash and disappointing return on investment are causing some big players to rethink their role.

The author, a MOOC instructor, used some great graphics to show the relative numbers of students who enroll in the course, visit at least one page, watch at least one seminar, etc.  Her message was this: the sheer size of the course and the low barrier to entry make it unfair to count most students as being “in the class”.

Her point is a valid one.  It is clear that the extremely low cost and easy access of MOOCs lead many students to enroll who have neither the time nor the motivation to actually take the courses.  But couldn’t something similar be said for public school classes? Continue reading


Quantifying for Improvement [CROSS-POST]

For the past six months, I have been maintaining the Seize the Data! blog that I created as part of a team of amazing teachers.  The blog is a forum for discussing all things #eddata and #assessment, and also a voice for the powerful data literacy curriculum that we developed with the help of NCCAT, NC DPI, and a data literacy expert.  The post below is a “reprint” of my most recent entry on that blog, because I thought that the Scripted Spontaneity audience might enjoy the topic. 



Personal data collection is becoming a major industry in America.  My wife just bought me a Fitbit Force–a Bluetooth-enabled wristband that tracks movement and captures exercise–to encourage me to be more active.  When I first used it, however, I feared the same effect that happens in our classrooms around data collection.

Sometimes, the focus in schools is so pinpoint-focused on creating and administering assessments that the tests themselves tend to become the goal.  So much attention and effort is put into writing the tests and deploying them, that by the time teachers receive data it is largely summative and irrelevant to their instruction.

My Fitbit Force, however, continuously communicates with my iPhone to share current data, and then it shares those data with other services like  On MyFitnessPal, I can log my diet using an amazing database of foods–commercial and homemade.  I can even scan the barcodes of store-bought foods to enter them into the system.  MyFitnessPal develops a weight-loss plan for me based on calories per day, and then shows me progress during the day.  I can adjust my meals and exercise as my day goes on to ensure that I stay below my daily maximum.

Imagine if we could do the same for students and teachers.  If we could assess them continually and unobtrusively, compare the data to goals that we helped to create, and then provide meaningful feedback to improve mastery (or, in the case of teachers, instruction).  The technology to do this is within our grasp, and should become much more common as the cost comes down.  But, ultimately, this is what good thoughtful teachers do already.  They observe and monitor student learning, adjust lessons to meet their needs, and aren’t surprised by the results of big tests.

That’s why Seize the Data! is a great first step for teachers who want to know more about how to collect the right data and make the best use of it.  The Winter Semester of our online course is underway, but we are constantly scheduling blended learning and workshop-style sessions for schools and districts who want to bring this critical knowledge to their teachers, free of charge.  You can sign up at our Registration page, or come back in February to join an online cohort as they form for our Spring Semester.