In 2020, educators reported a concerning drop in student empathy, physical activity and willingness to learn.
According to Amy Graham and Pasi Sahlberg in that report: ‘Australian educators send us a clear message in this study: classrooms have become emotionally, psychologically and behaviourally more complex places for teachers to teach and for students to learn.’
When I was a high school teacher, I faced pressure around finances and reporting and administration. That was in 2005. Teachers today still face these pressures, with the additional social pressure that our always-on communication channels put on society – as I wrote about in my last article.
Students, parents and teachers have been programmed to both need and provide to each other constant positive feedback and reflection and validation in every area of their life.
This isn’t criticism – it’s an observation of the impact of social media and on us all.
I recently told my teenage daughter that if she needs a break, she can tell her friends that I’ve confiscated her phone for the day so she doesn’t have to feel an obligation to respond!
But I believe that technology also has a role to play in alleviating this stress.
I believe we can use data analytics tools to give teachers time back. To give teachers and students valuable and timely insights on student engagement, attendance, performance, and even on things that you wouldn’t typically think analytics and data can even do. With these insights we can take informed and proactive action to drive improved learning and wellbeing outcomes, as well as facilitate valuable parental engagement in their child’s growth.
Right now teachers are expected to provide such real-time insights on each of their students. But as my colleague Hansa Wijayasundara shared on LinkedIn:
“At the end of the day, teachers are not data scientists or analysts or BI engineers, they’re teachers. We need to let them teach. We need to take that burden away.”
Schools are starting to recognise that their core business is running education and curriculum programs.
We’re seeing schools move away from owning their own technology and infrastructure stacks, or trying to run their own learning management systems in house. They’re engaging specialist partners to deliver these things so they can focus on their core strengths. That’s really healthy.
Reporting outside the box
Going forward, schools are going to be doubling down on reporting on certain intangible, esoteric skills that are beyond the usual reports on performance and examination. Skills like cooperation and collaboration. Problem solving. Determination and resilience. Character. Grit.
These are skill-building areas you wouldn’t normally associate with traditional curriculum. But schools are a great place to prepare students for the workplace and for life in general. After all, the World Economic Forum says the top skills for the future of work will be things like critical, analytical thinking, creativity, and resilience.
How do institutions and organizations know whether they’re improving in these more intangible ways? Businesses like Google are really forward-thinking about this for their employees. And it’s somewhere the EdTech industry needs to be for teachers and students alike.
These aren’t areas you’d normally associate with data analytics. They don’t seem measurable. How does a teacher know whether their students are developing grit, and how their course plan can be shifted to account for that?
In this particular conversation, we also have to keep in mind the ethics of measuring students’ character traits and mental health. We don’t want to reduce children to statistics or bytes of hoarded digital information. We don’t want to invade a student’s privacy.
We have to use the information wisely. Data can be dispassionate, simple numbers – but if we can measure intangible skills and mental health and wellbeing, we should then use that data to promote compassion and care where it is needed.
According to Microsoft and the Economist Intelligence Unit, leading schools have programs that promote wellbeing, as well as the tech tools to measure and monitor it.
The same study found 64% of educators said they lack the resources or time to support students’ well-being on their own, while only 46% favoured these tools that help collect and analyse data about students’ emotional states. We need to close that gap by creating tools that help teachers and students alike.
Wellbeing should no longer be seen as an individual teacher or student issue but as a collective school duty.
So where do we go from here?
There is a growing investment in sentiment data collection and analysis tools which allow students to provide feedback. This gives them a voice in their own wellbeing.
With the right technology, that data can then be put in the hands of everybody that matters, from school executive to heads of department, to classroom teachers, students, and ultimately parents. This allows for meaningful conversations about student welfare and growth and, importantly, early intervention.
Schools must ensure the technology they have is not onerous for teachers. So many teachers struggle to use technology effectively or simply lack confidence – which, in turn, causes them anxiety and stress. They just need the data to work for them.
Schools can address this by leveraging third-party expertise to ensure integrations are simple and sustainable with their EdTech mix. For example, if a school is using a modern LMS, then insights from data should be directly available and easily visualized within that LMS.
Being front-footed and demonstrative about student progress is a strong catalyst for positive communication with the parent body. That’s good for everyone.
Data and analytics can play a role in the conversation around the wellbeing of both educators and students, helping to identify those stressors faster and address them better.