Parents: Let’s Start to Care More about Data in Education

02/17/2017 12:56 pm ET Updated Feb 17, 2017

If you’ve ever seen the movie Minority Report, you might remember the scene where Tom Cruise strolls through a shopping center and is bombarded with advertising images on screens, ads that are personalized based on identity, previous purchases, likes and dislikes.

While this movie was released in 2002, today’s reality is not far from what the movie imagined as a vision of the future. Data is everywhere, and is being used for a wide variety of reasons. We see ads in Google based on our recent searches, we log into Amazon and are greeted by name with a list of recommended items based on previous purchases and we call our credit card company who uses phone number recognition software to access our latest account information. Businesses employ all levels of personalization in the name of relevancy, efficiency and a superior customer experience.

I know this digital world well. Having worked in the advertising technology space for many years, I know that relevancy, personalization and a better customer experience drive increased spending and customer loyalty. Now that I’ve moved from ad tech to ed tech, one of my goals as a marketing leader—and a parent—is to showcase the beneficial role that data can play in the world of educational technologies.

How many technologies are tailored to help our kids become better mathematicians, readers or critical thinkers? Probably a handful. How many of those adapt in real time based on how individual kids answer questions, all in the name of a better learning experience?

If you don’t know the answer to this, you’re not alone. I’m hoping that, collectively, we can start to demand more from the technologies that we buy as parents and from the schools and districts who purchase these programs on behalf of children.

Here are three reasons why we should demand more from edtech:

1. Every learner is different. The way I learned as a child is much different than the way my son and daughter are learning today. What’s more, the way my son learns is very different from the way my daughter learns. Only the best educational technologies will respond differently in kind.

It’s important that we challenge kids enough to encourage them to become better thinkers, but it’s just as critical that we don’t give them questions so difficult that they’re discouraged from persevering through a problem. When educational programs meet students at the right level of learning, our kids are able to have an optimal learning experience that will serve them far into the future.

2. Our schools and educators deserve to be supported by parents and guardians who are well informed about students’ learning data. Districts, schools, educators and parents all want what’s best for our kids. We all want them to do well on their assessments, not just for the sake of getting good test scores, but because ultimately, we hope it will lead to more successful careers and more meaningful lives.

How well do we know how our kids are performing in school? Which technologies are our kids using (and can they be accessed at home)?

3. As parents, we can now have real-time insight into how our kids are learning. Thanks to edtech, we’re no longer limited to just parent-teacher conferences to gain insight into our children’s learning progress. Some programs offer access to a family dashboard where you can see how many lessons your child has completed, how proficient they are in specific topics and how far ahead or behind your kids are in terms of recommended usage. Having instant access to this data can help parents shape how their children learn.

Next Steps for Parents

So what are some easy ways for parents to begin demanding more from the education technologies their kids use at school and at home?

  • Make “screen time” count by selecting technologies that are proven to have a positive impact on learning. There’s no shortage of educational software and apps for children, which can make choosing the right technologies a challenge. Schools and districts often seek evidence that edtech solutions will positively impact learning outcomes – there’s no reason parents can’t do the same. Start by asking educators in your school or district about whether the solutions they’ve chosen are evidence based, or do your own research on vendor websites or on sites such as Common Sense Media.
  • After receiving progress or assessment reports, ask teachers how technologies can help in key areas for improvement. The next time you receive a progress report use this as an opportunity to communicate with the teacher around how you can both use this data to better utilize available technologies. For example, some technologies enable teachers to assign specific lessons to students based on the areas in which they need the most help. What’s even better for meeting every child’s needs are adaptive programs that automatically differentiate those assignments to meet each student right where they are, much like DreamBox Learning does.
  • During winter and summer breaks (and all the holidays and snow days in between), use data to ensure that your kids’ progress is on track, even though school is not in session. For families with internet access at home, find out if the technologies your kids use at school are available to you outside of the classroom. If they are, encourage your kids to use these programs when they have time off from school, and then use the data available to monitor your child’s learning and growth. The best edtech solutions will cultivate connections between home and school by providing parents the same types of progress insights as they’re providing teachers.

As parents and guardians, having all of this data at our fingertips is an opportunity to become better informed about student data and take a more proactive role in how our kids learn--both in and out of the classroom. Let’s embrace the value of relevancy and personalization in our educational technologies as much as we do in other areas of our lives. Because this is where it really counts.

Jen Agustin is the vice president of marketing for DreamBox Learning. Follow her on Twitter: @leadjen

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