Developing sustainable and scalable data-informed approaches to support technology-related classroom practice

With increased availability of digital data through new technologies, such as web enabled cameras and eye gaze tracking, it would seem possible to develop a better understanding of technology integration in teaching and learning. However, even though a wide range of data is available, understanding the complexity of technology integration in classroom teaching and learning has continued to be difficult (Howard et al. 2018). The technological innovation presented in this case study broadly addressed how digital technologies were used in teaching and learning, in the classroom. To do this, participatory research was designed to capture educational data in the live classroom to inform learning. Researchers worked in close collaboration with a secondary school in Sydney to develop the research and test new research approaches using digital technologies. The methods developed were initially developed through work at a single school. Plans for scaling up to a larger group of schools in the New South Wales (NSW) Department of Education were underway when the COVID-19 outbreak occurred and ceased all school-based research.

The initiative to improve educational technology integration was a grassroots initiative driven by three teachers participating in the original study, one from Science and two from History. All three had worked with the researchers previously on a different observation data collection. They wanted to continue with classroom observations and focus on improving how they used digital technologies, such as Microsoft OneNote as a class resource and electronic workbook, in their practice. They were keen to participate in long-term observations of their practice to understand how digital technologies were used in their classrooms over time. The school leadership was very supportive of research and teachers continuing the classroom observations, in whatever capacity they wished. Digital technology innovations in their teaching practice were driven by the teachers and were loosely aligned with the school's overarching aim to provide high quality teaching to the students and to increase technology integration. The teachers decided to use the research as part of their professional learning, specifically how to support students' learning processes through digital technologies.

An incredible amount of educational data is continually collected by education departments, institutions and digital technology providers. However, identifying meaningful uses of educational data to inform teachers' practice has proven difficult, particularly technology integration. The researchers have argued that for data to be meaningful to stakeholders it must be close to the practice being studied and/or changed, such as capturing full learning and teaching processes and practices (Howard et al. 2019). To identify how to do this, stakeholders need to be involved in the research design and data collection process to ensure what is captured will be representative of what they wish to change. The aim is to use educational data to inform technology-enhanced learning, in ways that can be meaningfully reported and visualized to support educators (Merceron et al. 2015).

The research began with collecting continuous video and audio data in the classroom, looking at speaking patterns and the teachers' movement during lecture and small group tasks using laptops (see Howard et al. 2019). Observations were conducted over weeks using a web-enabled observation kit that can be controlled through an online interface. The system does not require any resources after being installed and observations can continue indefinitely. The teachers wanted to know more about how Microsoft OneNote was being used by their students and interaction occurring in the physical space at the same time, such as student discussions or soliciting support from the teacher. Separately, methods of analysis of streamed educational data developed in another project were being adapted for this initiative. This would require user-profile log data. All parents and students had given their permission for log data to be used in research. However, to access streaming educational data it was necessary to engage with the Department of Education, as this type of educational data was held centrally in NSW.

Analysis of the physical classroom movements and speaking patterns when using digital technologies were developed in consultation with teachers. Some findings resulted in teachers changing their practice when students were using the laptops to improve classroom arrangements, methods of group questioning, providing student support and their own lecture style. They were able to link these changes to their own desired pedagogy, e.g. more student-centred questioning. School leadership was also given the analysis for their own interpretation, which they discussed with the teachers as part of their professional learning.

The new practice of observing technology-enhanced learning and using the outputs to change classroom practice has been sustained in the school for the last four years, in that the teachers have continued to work with the researchers to collect data on their practice to observe how students experience and engage in new digital technology integrated lessons, such as a new unit on pulleys in Physics. Teachers have given feedback on visualizations and the relation of data to their practice, and they have shared visualizations with their students for feedback. In each year the researchers and teachers negotiate what will be observed, what they would like to know about in their teaching. Observations, collaborative analysis and development of data collection methods are ongoing.

In 2019, discussions started with the school and the NSW Department of Education to scale the classroom observation methods to other individual schools and to groups of schools across the state. As a second pilot study, scaling the classroom observation to another school context was planned. A primary school using a flexible learning space set up was selected, where the teacher wanted to answer similar questions about how students were using laptops. Specifically, how different groups of students, e.g. gifted and talented, students who likely to be distracted, used chromebooks in lessons. Observations were delayed to the last term of 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The NSW Department of Education wanted to explore how educational data can be used to inform teacher's technology-related professional and school development. It was determined that classroom observation data of teaching practice and learning processes would be triangulated with department log data, to provide context for patterns observed in Microsoft OneNote data. The Department wanted to trial the approach in 20 schools to inform School Improvement Plans, the new state-level Digital Transformation Project and to support an incoming Digital Maturity Framework which was planned for implementation in 2020. However, while close collaboration with one or two schools is not resource intensive, setting up the same relationship with 20 schools would require considerable time and resources, which makes scaling up to a system level difficult. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic this project is currently on hold until 2021.

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