This is cross-posted at the AlwaysPrepped blog. They’re a startup building an awesome product that aggregates data from the best online teaching tools (Khan Academy, ClassDojo, Manga High, etc.) into one hub for teachers. Go sign up for the beta: http://alwaysprepped.com/
Effective teachers are self-reflective. They think critically about what they do and they work continuously to increase their effectiveness. But the habit of improving your skills through critical self-reflection is not unique to effective educators. It’s something experts in any sector do. It matters in education and it matters in education technology. Ed-tech journalist Audrey Waters made a powerful case for the importance of critical self-reflection in edtech recently by presenting “The Audrey Test”, an assessment for techies to identify what they do and don’t know about education. I have to admit that I’ve worked in technology and I now work in education, and after reading her assignment, I’ve got some serious studying to do.
What’s going to be on the test?
The purpose of the test is to ensure that education technology entrepreneurs understand education research and policy in addition to how to build effective internet technology. The test starts off with important questions that gauge the utility of any good tech tool:
- “Do you work closely [with] your potential users (teachers or students, for example) about product development?”
- “Is your tool available across platforms?”
Then she asks test-takers to tackle education theory:
- “Who is Paolo Freire? John Dewey? B.F. Skinner? (Why does knowing these names matter?)”
- “How do things like “self-efficacy” and “stereotype threat” shape learning?”
She moves on to pointed queries on education markets and public policy:
- “How many K-12 students own a cellphone? A smartphone?”
- “Who pays for technology in the classroom?”
Then she closes with focused self-reflection:
- “Are you an autodidact? Is everyone?”
- “Have you ever taught? Have you ever taught online?”
Waters took her cue for the proposed exam from Stack Overflow co-founder Joel Spolsky’s “Joel Test”, a checklist of things that the experienced coder argues effective software development teams must do to be successful.
How do you study?
Do I think that any edtech entrepreneur would benefit from mastering at least 80% of the content on “The Audrey Test”? Absolutely. Do I think that’s what she’s demanding? No. One key point of her post (and the “Joel Test” she is riffing on) is that effective edtech innovators must be self-reflective. They have to ask what’s missing in their projects and they have to think clearly about why they’re trying to solve a certain education problem with technology.
Mr. Pratt self-reflects, deploys technology
At the beginning of this school year, I prepared each of my four sections to begin using our class set of iPads. I had three classes of girls up and running, but my boys class was not meeting my expectations for classroom behavior. There was no way I was going to let them use iPads, I told them, if they couldn’t follow basic procedures for entering the room and preparing for class.
I sat down with a mentor and walked through a typical Teach For America exercise in self-reflection, asking:
- What were my mindsets (beliefs, assumptions) about these students?
- How did those mindsets drive my actions in the classroom?
- How did my actions create student mindsets?
- And how did those student mindsets drive student actions?
A few minutes of honest reflection led me to conclude that I was assuming each day that my boys class couldn’t meet my behavior expectations. This meant that rather than encouraging the block of students that was on point, I was simply waiting for class to go haywire long enough that I declared “No iPads” for yet another day. This reinforced for my off-task students that they couldn’t meet the expectations, so they continued to misbehave. My thinking drove their actions.
I didn’t break the cycle with a new technology tool (even though we had 30 iPads at our disposal). And there wasn’t a specific education theorist I turned to. Instead, I sat down with a colleague and said “What are the gaps in my thinking? How can I get better at managing this class so I can teach with new technology?” My test, like Audrey’s and Joel’s, was about self-reflection. I changed my focus from the off-task students to those who demonstrated they were ready to use the iPads. Showing that I believed in them changed student mindsets and behaviors across the class. That made room for the iPads to support academic achievement.
So if you’re a teacher, a coder, or an entrepreneur interested in education, take “The Audrey Test”, and if you don’t pass, that’s fine. Build on what you do know, go learn what you don’t, and reflect on how you, your team, and your project can continually increase in effectiveness.