Technology, Data and the Untold Stories of Learning


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Recently, I was challenged with the question about what data could be used to support the improvement of learning and teaching using technology. Beyond the discussion of classroom observations, surveys and planners, I spoke about monitoring usage. However, I added a point of caution to this. Many of the applications, especially those that are web-based, offer a form of analytics. The problem with this though is that although it covers what technology is being used, it does not allows account for the how or why. This was a particular problem with the Ultranet. Each meeting we would be delivered the latest statistics with encouragement for students to simply login in. I am a massive advocate for the use of technology, but used blindly for the sack of it, I wonder at times if this is counter-productive.

I was reminded of this a few days ago by Sherry Turkle’s article, ‘Stop Google. Let’s Talk“. Taken from her latest book, Reclaiming Conversation, Turkle continues the discussion she started in Together Alone.

In the article, she describes a world where through our incessant use of social media, we have actually lost the art of conversation. This has not only had an impact on our ability to listen, but to actually empathise with others. The first step, she suggests, is reclaiming our solitude. A part of this is moving from multi-tasking to uni-tasking, where we dedicate ourselves to one thing at a time, rather than spreading ourselves thin.

Coming at the question of data from a different angle, Audrey Watter’s makes the point that it is never neutral. It has its biases and blind spots:

Education data often highlights the ways in which we view students as objects not as subjects of their own learning. I’ll repeat my refrain: education data is not neutral. Opening education data does not necessarily benefit students or schools or communities; it does not benefit all students, all schools, all communities equally.

This is a message that is carried throughout Watters’ book, The Monsters of Educational Technology. A collection of essays which explore various facets of technology, but most importantly the many assumptions we make about the benefits and gains.

In the end, data does not always tell a story in itself. It is interpretative. It does not account for the nuance of personal experience. It does not always touch on how we use it. It does not always tell the full story about learning. To truly engage with the enabling power of technology, it is here that we need to start the conversation, with the question of why.

How about you, how do you use technology? What are the ways you critique this? As always, I would love to know. Feel free to comment below.


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Technology, Data and the Untold Stories of Learning by Aaron Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

5 thoughts on “Technology, Data and the Untold Stories of Learning”

  1. Let’s take this blog of yours Aaron. Let’s gather data to see it if improves teacher learning. Let’s get a committee together to make up some sort of data collecting tool. How would that work for you? If the data showed few people were benefiting would you stop writing it?

    The usefulness of data at its most powerful will address the needs of the learner – when the learner is the driver. The benefit of data is weakest when other people are the drivers. It is true that the learner needs a context to know what data matters, but gradually understanding that is also part of the learning process. We might be striving to apply the data to individuals (I say this to be generous and kind), but the data collected is still one size fits all, top down, specified. How many students are driving their own data collection? Really, how many? How are learners benefitted?

    Would having outsiders assess your blog based upon how others benefit from it help you? Would it not be true that even if no one was to read your blog Aaron, YOU would still benefit enormously? Shouldn’t you be the one to decide what data would accurately measure the value of your blog?

    Now how would you measure that? Should you measure it? Why would you measure it? (I like your blog BTW!)

    1. Thank you so much for you comment Alan. Has really left me thinking. I remember reading Alan Levine talk about measuring the impact of #ccourses. Yeah you could count posts and interactions, but it does not count for the personal thoughts and reflections. I used to think that ‘comments’ was the measure of success, but lets face it, they are becoming passée. Is it hits? What do they actually mean? Does that mean that blogs do’t work? For some that is the case I guess. Will continue wondering.

      1. Maybe blogs are more about the learning of the writer? Maybe the opinions of others doesn’t matter that much? If they benefit then well and good, but if the writer benefits from their reflections or helps them to sort out their thoughts, then that is very worthwhile isn’t it?

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