Education Futures Podcast 27: Launching the Student Learning Dashboard

by | Mar 8, 2021 | Education Futures Podcast, Featured

“On top of this learning that you are doing about content that you are also learning this layer about being a better learner, being connected, gathering tools that you will use for the rest of your life.”

In this second podcast conversation with Executive Director Rob Reynolds and Chief Information Officer Stacy Zemke, they go deeper into the Student Learning Dashboard and the specific features students can expect. Starting now, students can take advantage of the tools to make learning visible through badging and skills pages. Later in the spring, TEL will launch the more reflective pieces, such as journaling and goal setting.

Education Futures Podcast 27: Launching the Student Learning Dashboard

Full Transcript

Rob Reynolds:

Hi everybody. Rob Reynolds here again with TEL Education. I’m really excited today to be talking again with my colleague, Stacy Zemke about our Student Learning Dashboard, and what that means for student learning. And now we’re getting ready to roll this out and we want to talk a little more in-depth. The last time Stacy, that you and I talked, we really were talking at a high level about what this represented. Today, I want us to jump a little bit more into the specifics. But as a recap, we’re rolling out the Student Learning Dashboard at TEL as a way, and we talked about last time, to really make learning visible to students. So let’s just start right there. And let’s just maybe talk to our audience in a little bit about why that really matters. Why is it important that we make learning visible to students?

Stacy Zemke:

It’s important for a lot of reasons. I think that learning is a challenge and it’s a mystery to students. And so how do we start to surface that for them? What they’re learning in terms of content in the courses, which is important, but also what are they learning about themselves as a learner? What tools do they have? What skills do they have that they’re developing and refining in their learning, that they can then apply to other things in their lives? They can apply to a job. They can apply to a career. They can apply to a different course.

And so, a lot of it is about starting to see how broader or on top of this learning that you’re doing about content, that you’re also learning this layer about being a better learner and being connected, gathering tools, gathering skills that you’ll use for the rest of your life. And it’s about making learning something that people want to continue to do. You’re going to keep learning in your work. You’re going to keep learning in your hobbies and your life. So how do you transfer those tools forward, use them to become the most efficient, best learner that you can be?

Rob Reynolds:

I love that. And I love the fact that this really allows students to become more involved in the learning process. I think that’s so critical. So, as we roll this out and make this available to students, what are the first pieces or features that they’re going to be seeing? And I think as you’ve said, those features are really focused on making that learning process visible.

Stacy Zemke:

So, start with tracking. How do students track themselves? And of course, right now they mostly think about my grade. And they think of that in terms of just the course. Grade in this course. Grade in this other course, so we’d have that. We want to focus on course progress, showing them how they’re doing, showing them how they’re getting through. But then showing them another level of that, and we’re doing that through badging right now. So our badges are around our 21st kids century skills, that we’ve developed as a list. And so these are skills that are important to anyone who’s going to be involved in the 21st century. I know we talk a lot about careers and we talk a lot about jobs, but really even just to survive, you’re going to be seeing new technologies and you’re going to have to know how to approach them. But aside from that, so if you think about a skill, skills they transcend the courses that you’re taking. Is that the right word, Rob?

Rob Reynolds:

Yeah.

Stacy Zemke:

You’re better with words than I am. If you could see us, I’m using my hands a lot to make this all make sense. But the badges are important because it’s a layer on top of the courses, whereas the course is you think of it as a silo, and it’s about content. It’s about the continent in that course, history, government, English. Skills go over that. And you use the same skill in all those courses, writing, presenting, speaking, communicating. And so those skills are reflected at our badges. And the badges we’ll show the students how they’re doing mastering those skills as they move forward. So that’s the important visual piece.

They can see their course projects, progress. They can see their progress in earning those badges, which are about those skills. And they can see what those skills really mean because we break those down really granularly. You might earn a badge for something like critical thinking. But that critical thinking is made up of five components that are tracked, and the students can see how they’re doing in each of those components.

Rob Reynolds:

So as I look back at my own decades of instructing and administrating, one of the things I’m hearing you say is that this is about getting the students to see at a granular and concrete level, that learning process and what they’re really getting, so that they’re aware of it. They’re aware of it as they go, “Oh, and I’m getting this too.” So that it’s reinforced and they’re not just saying, “Oh, I got to be in this particular course.” I love that.

So as we move from this functionality that students will currently have access to, and you go into the next phase later this spring, what I’m understanding is that you’re going to be then emphasizing beyond what students can see. You’re going to be talking about ways to really then getting students based on what they see to get actively involved in the learning process. And I think that’s one of the most exciting things, because we all know from experience as humans, that unless we become real active participants in something, it’s very difficult for us to really say we learned it.

Stacy Zemke:

Or are engaged with it?

Rob Reynolds:

Right.

Stacy Zemke:

Again, you’ve heard me make this analogy before, I can’t teach you to swim by dumping water on your head and modeling the movements. At some point you’ve got to get in the pool. And so that’s the next step. One, once they can see these different pieces, they’re really starting to engage with them and they become active participants in that learning. It’s one thing for me to tell you, “Hey, in this course, you’re learning about good writing skills.” And you go, “Cool, thanks a lot.” But adding that level where students can engage with that reflect on it. So when you do an assignment, do you have an opportunity to journal about it, to reflect on it?

If I tell you, “Hey, you learn these five things in this assignment.” And then give you an opportunity to think about that and reflect about that and hold that, that’s valuable because now you’re engaged with that as well as just being told that. We’re adding features for students to be able to set their own goals, set their own learning goals. Because I think that oftentimes that all feels done for you. Here’s the outcomes you’re going to learn. Here’s the this you’re going to do.

And this allows them to work on those goals that are given to them, but also build their own goals. What do I want to know more? “Hey, in this course we covered this, not as deeply as I’d liked, I want to know more about that.” Is that a learning goal? Or I feel like I’m not the best presenter. That’s my next learning goal. I want to be a better presenter. So that they can track the habits that make them successful, achieving their goals, and then tie those goals again, to that journaling or reflective experience where they aren’t just doing something that they get a chance to think about, what am I doing as I’m doing this, what’s happening to me.

Rob Reynolds:

And all of this at the end gets wrapped up in the portfolio, so they can share with other people. So not only through the Learning Dashboard are students going to be able to see what they’re learning, become really co-participants in the learning process. But they can be motivated by the fact that at the end of the day they walk away with an actual set of examples and a visual record of what they’ve learned that they can share with potential employers, other educators, et cetera. Which is really exciting. And knowing that what they’re doing can be skewed if they choose to be shared with others can also motivate them even to really do a better job.

Stacy Zemke:

As we often say when people are learning something, if they can teach somebody else that topic or if they can explain it to somebody else, they’ve learned that topic. That’s a paradigm. Kind of the thing we think, “Hopefully there’ll be able to explain to somebody else why the Magna Carta is important.” And the same way, how can they explain to somebody else what they learned and why it was important. And I mean, at a grander scale, the skills that they have, the tools that they’ve gathered in that learning, how can they share that out with other people. And that’s what the portfolios will do visually, but also engaged.

Again, it’s not just about seeing that active engagement for the student, because if they build that portfolio, they’ve had to think about it. They’ve had to put words around the learning that they’ve done. And those are the words that they can use to share with other people when they say, “Hey, tell me what you know. Hey, I’d like to hire you. Tell me what you can do. Tell me what you’re good at. Tell me something that’s been a challenge for you.” They now have those stories in their learning environment that they can share with people.

Rob Reynolds:

That’s excellent. I know one of the advantages that we have at TEL, is that as we’re developing the Learning Dashboard, we also develop the actual curriculum. That’s tied into that at this stage of things. And so we can go in and we do granularly assign learning outcomes to assign skills and competencies, even into a general education course like history based on assignments, et cetera. To do this, and the other advantages, we’re able to prompt students. So I know one question people have is, well, this is all fine and good and great, but what’s going to get a student to actually use any of this? Well, in our world, besides just hopefully we want them to be motivated to become active participants because of the things you’ve already talked about, they’re actually going to receive prompts within the curriculum itself.

Stacy Zemke:

And yes. And that is one of the challenges. I’ve worked with students before to build portfolios. And it’s always done in retrospect, “Oh, Hey, it’s your last semester at school, let’s build a portfolio.” And that’s really hard. It’s difficult to go back and remember, what did I even do in that class? When did I take that class? You’re asking people to reconstruct this really complex learning experience and environment when they’re already out of it. And as we all know, looking backwards and trying to think about what did I learn a year ago? It’s really hard, especially if you didn’t document it.

So, it’s that prompt to document, that prompts to interact while you’re in the middle of it. It’s a great breather too. So while you’re in the depths of taking algebra, and you have a really great exam or you have a challenging exam or an assignment, that you stop and you have a prompt right there to say, “Hey, how am I doing on this learning? How am I doing on engaging with this course?” You get to see here’s the things you should be learning. Here’s the skills you’re developing. How are you feeling about that experience? How do you engage and how do you see yourself building those skills? So the prompts have to be tied in at the time of the event or it really can lose just that really deep, meaningful engagement with the learning.

Rob Reynolds:

I love that. I had a former colleague who used to talk about Wikipedia. And say that one of the brilliant things about Wikipedia were these two things, one, they made it easy for people to contribute, and two, it mattered when you did it, you got to see it. And I think that’s the same philosophy here with the prompts, et cetera. It’s happening, whether… You don’t have to do anything, and this is collecting information. But it’s easy for you to participate essay prompts. You have to write an essay, write a sentence, a couple of bullet points, whatever, then it matters. It’s being collected. You can see it, you can share it. And I think that’s really powerful. So, let’s talk about, when does this become available to students? So we’re rolling this out. What’s the availability, what’s happening.

Stacy Zemke:

So we’re starting with that first step, which was making their learning visible. So we’re starting now with students starting badges, again, based on that really deep connection that really deep tagging that we have of competencies and outcomes to what the students are doing. So they’ll be able to see, not only what they’re learning content-wise, but what they’re learning in those competencies and their badging. And so, that first step is going to be available now, where students can earn badges as they’re moving forward and they can see their progress in those different skills and areas. So not just my progress in the course, but my progress towards my skills.

Then as we move forward this spring, we’ll start layering in those active, reflective points, the journaling, the reflective pieces, setting goals, tracking their goals towards their progress. Those pieces will also be available coming by the end of the spring. And so we’re working through those. And then moving forward that really deep integration that we’re going to have where the prompts are tied to the course, tied to the curriculum. Which we really are so lucky that we control that curriculum and we can embed those pieces right at the moment of their learning, right at the moment of their interaction, those pieces will be moving through this summer. So that deeper connectedness is getting built up over time.

Rob Reynolds:

So pretty much beginning now, these students are taking courses that have access to those first pieces of making it visible. Later in the spring, they’ll have more reflective pieces. And then by fall, any student taking one of our courses will have this as a piece. All of that with the prompts and everything.

Stacy Zemke:

Yes. That really deep web of learning, I think will start to become visible to them when they see, “I’ve learned this skill and these three different,” Who knew? And then sharing those portfolios out. Turning this around and saying it’s not just about what comes to you and how you perceive it and think about it, but now how do you start to turn that back out, and show other people what you know and what you can do.

Rob Reynolds:

And one of the questions I get, because I go out and talk to people is, “I understand that this is part of what you’re offering students in institutional partners, and their students as they take your courses, have you thought about making this available as a standalone product to integrate with other LMS platforms or for other institutions?”

Stacy Zemke:

And I think, yes. This is not just about what we do, but it’s about a way of looking at your learning that can apply to any different system or any place people are learning. So yes, this is a cap or a piece that can be tied into any different LMS. And as our next step moving forward is making this tool and this environment available moving into the fall. And so, in the winter of next year.

Rob Reynolds:

Hopefully, by Q4, we’re ready to share that with people, so that by next spring we can start having people looking and do, or using that with their own systems as well.

Stacy Zemke:

Sure.

Rob Reynolds:

Very, very exciting. Anything else you would like to share with us, any last, whether it’s a… I know one of the questions, things that we talk about a lot now maybe prompt you a little bit, is that one of the big challenges in learning is silos. And so how do you see this as a solution for addressing a lot of that siloed learning that we have now?

Stacy Zemke:

And I think that’s so important. You and I have talked about this before, just in terms of our own learning, like that moment where you saw a course like Hero, I learned about this in that other course, I’m tying something together. What a moment that can be sometimes when you realize that my curriculum wasn’t just, I took a course, and now it’s done. I took a course and now it’s done. That there’s connectedness. That there’s these broader themes that are carried over. And so that moment or that-

Rob Reynolds:

Or is that connectedness. As you were saying that I was just thinking about, it’s a difference between… I remember the first time I visited Buenos Aires, Argentina, and I wanted to get on the subway, [foreign language 00:17:26] and I only needed to go from one point to another, so I wasn’t aware that there were five lines, there were all this whole thing. I just knew how to get from this stop of this particular line to that, I recognized that I could, kind of point of sight; be able to do it, but later when I lived there, I realized it was this whole web of connectedness and I could get any place I wanted to go. I knew all the transfer stations and all of that. And I think what I hear you saying is, what this is designed to do is to make that map, the big map, always available to students so they can see what they’re doing and where else they could go. And the other opportunities, instead of just being stuck today in that one little journey.

Stacy Zemke:

That’s a great analogy. That’s a really good sense of what this is trying to do. You know that I don’t believe that technology is like a cure-all. It’s not a fixer. Technology doesn’t fix things. Technology is a tool that we can use to make things better. And I think one of the challenges that we have as faculty, as teachers, is that we know our subjects really well. We know Spanish, I know information studies, we’re good at those things.

It’s harder, even for us to see these bridges, these connections, and these ties. That there’s something that students are learning in your Spanish class, that would make them better in my metadata course. Though we know those things exist, but I don’t necessarily know what they are. This technology layer enables that connection. So it’s a way of using technology to facilitate this conversation or this drawing of connections or this drawing of this map that you don’t have to be an expert as the Spanish instructor. And I don’t necessarily have to be an expert as a metadata instructor, but that we can use this tool to make connections between what our kids are doing. That’s really important.

Rob Reynolds:

That’s awesome. And just as a reference for anybody listening to this, when Stacy and I say we’ve had multiple conversations, keep in mind that this particular product is the end result of conversations that we started having 10 years ago. And thinking she was doing before that. And we’ve had them casually. And then, in this particular professional work together have been able to really design and build around those. But it’s incredibly exciting Stacy, thank you for helping us talk through this.

Just as putting the final touches on this podcast, TEL’s Learning Dashboard available now to our partners and their students. We have the Making Learning Visible pieces in there now with badges, et cetera, learners scores, progress. We’re going to be rolling out later this spring, the more reflective pieces from the journaling, our prompts, the portfolio. And then, the truly engaging part of integrating that into the actual coursework itself for our courses. So, it’s a great time, this is so much fun. And it’s really great not only to be doing this, but now to be able to start with our students and seeing how this impacts their learning and start collecting that data. So again, I’ve been joined by Stacy Zemke, TEL Education CIO. Thanks so much, Stacy.

Stacy Zemke:

Bye-bye. Thanks for having me.

Rob Reynolds:

You bet.

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