Moneyball lessons for education (Part 3)

Earlier posts explored how the Oakland A’s baseball team moved from using advanced statistics to better understand players’ performance to the use of big data to further improve their understanding of players (link), and how a similar approach is possible and useful with the advent of digital technology in education (link). The increased use of data in education holds promise, but a potential pitfall of an overemphasis on data is the inability of current data capture and analysis to effectively reflect 21st century skills. Often called the 4 C’s—critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity—21st century skills are deemed “essential skills for success in today’s world” by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a partnership of Apple, Ford, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, NEA, Pearson, and other similar organizations and companies.

Much of the educational software available today will tailor questions based on the student’s ability, allowing students to work within their zone of proximal development. The software is also designed to give students and educators constant feedback (data) on where individual students are struggling and succeeding. This data gives educators a tool that didn’t exist just a generation ago to personalize education for individual students, and is particularly useful in areas where there is one correct answer, as is often the case in math.

This is an important and useful development, but with limits. I am not aware of commercially available software that is capable of assessing critical thinking and creativity. With most educational software, there is often only one “correct” answer to a given problem. But, especially outside math and grammar, students who think creatively will derive and justify unique answers to some problems. Our most creative and critical thinkers will develop their own questions about the problems on which they are working. I’ve certainly never seen a software package that can assess the quality of questions that a student is asking or follow the creative thinking process to an alternate solution.

Educators should use the data that is available to them in such a way that allows them the opportunity to focus on fostering 21st century skills in their students. Technology exists that can replace routine tasks of the traditional classroom, but it doesn’t exist to promote 21st century skills in our students. Honing these skills within the framework of an integrated curriculum is where teachers in a modern classroom should focus their expertise.