My son starts school next week, which means he and I will no longer be sleeping in and casually meandering to his day camps with a flexible 9 a.m. start time. I am comforted in anticipating my morning grogginess to know that his teachers will be getting up even earlier. They will be having parent-teacher conferences or finalizing lesson plans when I'm still preparing lunches and nursing my first coffee.
I've always appreciated the hours that educators put in, particularly during the school year. So I was struck at last year's Back to School night when the home-room teacher showed us how to use Power School, the school's online information system that tracks students' grades, assignment completion, and attendance. The teacher encouraged us to log on regularly to check our kids' progress. My first thought was, "That looks like a lot of work."
As the school year drew on, sometimes the teachers got behind in their data entry. This was mildly traumatic for my son when one night when he saw an F on an assignment that the teacher had not yet recorded. And while I confess I rarely looked at his grades, I appreciated the ease with which I could obtain them.
Technology in classrooms is a rapidly growing field, so much so that it is considered one of the ripest markets for Silicon Valley innovators. Earlier this month, the New York State Education Department announced that it would be using eScholar, an online "data dashboard" that uses longitudinal and historical data to track students' progress individually and collectively. The eScholar procurement was partly funded by a Race to the Top grant, which means schools that use it won't have to pay for it for at least two years.
Also this month, the Internet startup Class Dojo announced a new classroom sharing feature for its online behavioral tracking system. The product at first was intended for individual teachers to manage behavior of their kids in one classroom, but the founders have expanded the product to allow teachers to collaborate across the school, just like they do in the break room. The product is free for now, but its creators expect to charge for premium access at some point in the future.
These are just a few examples of the online tools currently out there to help educators and students manage and analyze the complex maze of curriculum and assessments. But how useful is it, really? Is it adding more work to a teacher's day? If so, is it worth it? Who benefits the most from these products? Is it teachers, parents, or principals? What are the most effective ways to use technology in the classroom? What are some duds? How does education technology help educators on a more macro-level, either statewide or district-wide? How much is it worth?