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The Data-Driven Classroom: Engaging Students to Improve Performance

December 5, 2016

For a time, the phrase “Big Data” was the hottest buzzword in business. These days, “data-driven” is the new catchphrase, signifying a company’s ability to apply the data it generates to accomplish important business objectives, such as increasing profits, expanding marketplaces and improving sales. Data is also increasingly applied outside the business setting, including in education, where standardized testing remains a controversial but critical tool for officials to gauge knowledge levels in states, districts and schools to make decisions about spending.

But data isn't just a tool at the macro level. It’s also important in individual classrooms, even outside the context of standardized testing. Thanks to new technologies, it’s now possible for teachers to affordably gather and aggregate data in real time to improve student engagement and more effectively cover subject material. It’s now possible for teachers without advanced technical skills to integrate data-generating technologies directly into their lesson plans.

It’s already happening in many classrooms, where teachers are using the same technology corporate trainers use to keep their audiences engaged and focused. PowerPoint is widely used to present classroom material, and now teachers are leveraging audience polling technologies that integrate with presentation software to heighten student engagement while keeping tabs on information transfer in real time.Instructor Lecturing

To understand how these technologies enable the application of data at the micro level in real time, imagine a history classroom where the teacher has the goal of improving student participation across the board, conveying key facts for an upcoming exam and generating data that will enable her to instantly understand where students are in the knowledge transfer process. She’s prepared a PowerPoint presentation on the War of 1812 and is using audience polling technology that enables students to respond to questions using clickers or smartphones.

In this scenario, the teacher might start the lesson with baseline questions to gauge student knowledge about the subject. She can ask students to respond to a multiple choice question and instantly display a chart showing the percentage of correct responses. Thanks to the anonymity polling technology offers, this teaching technique typically inspires high response rates, and since students have a stake in the outcome because they’ve answered the question, they tend to pay attention to the answer.

As the lesson progresses, the teacher can ask multiple choice or yes-or-no questions or even pose more open-ended queries to spark classroom discussion. They can gauge knowledge retention at key points in the lesson – a real-time pop quiz – and get answers immediately. This enables the teacher to know when critical points in the lesson require additional focus and when a topic is well understood so that she can adjust the lesson plan on the fly.

In such a data-driven environment, teachers can also poll students on the effectiveness of various teaching tools, including videos, books, interactive modules and more. Teachers can use the aggregate data they’ve generated from the polling software across multiple classes and lesson plans to continuously improve their approach. When combined with educator commitment and student effort, polling technologies can augment the education process with data – and help ensure students remember the terms of the Treaty of Ghent.

Most of today’s students grew up in a highly interactive world, so teachers who can transform a top-down lecture into a two-way conversation have a better chance of capturing student attention. And as data becomes a more important element in assessing every facet of the educational process – from state to district to school to teacher to student – educators who generate and capture data at the classroom level can apply it to improve performance. In this way, classrooms can become more data-driven – and more effective in transferring knowledge.