Using data to personalize learning at the School of One

When we talk to schools, we often talk about the value of data. We think about data as really being holistically used across the learning environment to transform the classroom…from the way in which you create identity, help with curriculum and create personalized learning experiences. A lot of districts have provided increased access to data to provide clarity to teachers on students’ progress and transparency to parents. In these scenarios, schools mostly use data as a reporting function, not as a way to drive true innovation. The School of One in New York City is an example of administrators radically transforming the way they use data to create authentic personalized learning experiences for students.
I got the chance to visit the School of One last month and it was exciting to see a vision we share with NYC schools about using data to do more…to deliver a transformative learning experience…and actually see it come to fruition.  This week, my team and I sat down with Joel Rose, the lead of the School of One project, to get a report on the results of the pilot. What we learned really affirms what we believed all along…using data to drive action is critical for schools. In order to drive a personalized learning roadmap…you must use the data to optimize curriculum and teacher resources effectively to affect individual student results.
At this summer school math class, they take data from the students’ performance that day and use it to predict and plan the next day’s lessons and the method in which they are going to learn…how are they going to collaborate, whether they will work in a small team, participate in project-based activities, etc.  Teachers get a daily report on how each individual student is progressing…they can track which students are falling behind, which students are moving ahead…and they get a unique schedule and curriculum plan for the next day based on the data analysis. 

The School of One uses the Renzulli framework from the University of Connecticut that allows students to assess what kind of learner they think they are, what kind of learning style is most attractive to them, etc.  Teachers at the School of One want to know where and how the students think they learn best and whether that is truly the most optimal way they should learn. For example, a student may think they soak up knowledge best with game-based learning in small groups, but they actually work better in collaborative groups with large projects. They take the Renzulli work, students’ performance and how they are making headway against the curriculum on a daily basis…then run all this information through algorithms a Microsoft consultant has built with Microsoft Access and Excel and other partner tools to generate a class schedule.
They’ve really created unique learning environments for students that put a teacher where he or she is best skilled. They want to create the most optimal teaching experience for teachers too. In some circumstances, student teachers from the university system help with group collaboration projects, and they use teachers with more experience for specific coaching moments in a 1:1 capacity. So they are optimizing their human capital resources just as much as they are optimizing the student learning opportunities. It’s a real holistic view of the environment – they think about the actual physical structure of the classroom and they think about optimizing for the teacher to create a personalized learning experience.
The challenges School of One will face are something schools face every day. Innovation like this is not easy…it requires a commitment from the leadership and it requires a commitment to change. You also have to focus on scale. School of One is a great project but to get that to be a district-wide initiative on other subjects requires a tremendous amount of work. The School of One has already seen some return on investment…they have really speeded up time to market in terms of getting data back to teachers. It used to take 3 hours to compile the algorithms and get the data back to teachers – now it is less than an hour. They are seeing economies of scale and they think they can scale out.
The last thing I think is important…and this is where products like Microsoft Semblio will come in…when you drive to truly personalize learning, there’s a need for content. If you are really going to commit to personalized learning and commit to a student who likes project-based learning with game design for learning algebra, you need a specific type of content for that. The richness of content in terms of what’s available and how teachers can augment existing content to adapt for the student is precisely what Semblio does…provides teachers tools to update and tweak their core content with access to rich digital resources.
I'm excited to see the School of One concept grow. We’ll continue to see how Microsoft can support the School of One as it expands to three more schools next January. The technology used in this first school pilot was minimal because the focus was on the process of understanding how the students performed each day and what unique content and activities would be needed for each student on the next day to maximize their learning experience. The school district expects the focus of technology to increase as the project expands to more schools and greater levels of personalized learning over the next months and years…and we hope we can help.

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