Data Is the Personalized Learning Game-Changer Says Secretary Duncan

Tuesday’s White House Datapalooza Event brought together a packed room of education innovators, self-professed “data nerds,” edtech “rockstars,” and national education leaders — including Secretary Arne Duncan, Jim Shelton, Todd Park, Ross Santy, Karen Cator, and Richard Culatta.
The event was an inspiring mix of solutions that combine existing, open data resources with the latest technologies in order to solve longstanding problems such as the complexities of tailoring instruction to individual student needs for teachers and navigating the college application and loan process for students.
From Secretary Duncan’s opening, across each presentation, and through Cator’s closing remarks,  personalized learning was definitely the common thread, especially with Cator noting that data is the “rocket fuel” to enable personalization. This echoed Secretary Duncan’s earlier assertion that using data in new ways to personalize instruction is the “game-changer” that education needs.
And, the game changers definitely showed up to play.
Participants were taken through two, 90-minute segments of short presentations by 24 different speakers, each tackling a different piece of the student data puzzle. Overviews from Agilix Learning Services, eScholar, Personal, Rezolve Group, BecomeAlum, Knewton, Alltuition, and Mozilla delivered on the goal of showing us that personalized learning at scale is possible (and already happening).
Although every presenter dazzled the audience (and earned a “Super Cool” cheer from emcee Todd Park), there were definitely some stand-out highlights.
Participants were touched by the presence of Alfredo, the high school student who took the stage to thank the audience for making his college dream a reality through data tools that made the FAFSA more manageable as an English-language learner. Then, we were blown away by the research showing that pre-populating the FAFSA with existing tax data reduces complete time from 13 hours to 10 mins.
We were wowed by the potential of universal authentication and the statistic that 12 minutes and 40 seconds of each 50 minute class time is eaten up by teachers solving login and access problems. And, we were amazed by the potential of learning analytics to collect more information about each student than any other entity has collected online about anyone else, ever.
Even with the shiny, new solutions and cool behind-the-scenes tech tricks, perhaps most motivating were Jim Shelton’s words as he reflected back on a conversation with Joel Klein and related it to the topic at hand: “1,000 flowers blooming, no garden yet.”
Shelton is right. While there is a rich and fertile landscape of existing solutions to various student data pieces, we’ve yet to realize a full-scale solution that combines the best and brightest into one universally-accepted and widely-adopted system to personalize learning for every student from preschool through college and career.
Digital Learning Now! coordinated the release of the second paper in its DLN Smart Series with the Datapalooza event, because the paper speaks to this exact problem. “Data Backpacks: Portable Records & Learner Profiles” lays out the inadequacies of existing student data system and provides recommendations and immediate action steps for moving the field closer to a universal, fully-scaleable solution. The paper describes a new minimum standard for the “official transcript” and details an expanded “learner profile” that draws from multiple sources to form an cumulative and comprehensive collection of each student’s strengths, weaknesses, preferences and motivations.
“Data Backpack” features many of the same solutions presented at Datapalooza, including the USDOE’s own MyData Initiative. The aim of the MyData Initiative is about giving students and their families access to human-readable and machine-readable data, wherever that data may be through a data download “button.” Many of the presenters at Datapalooza announced MyData Button functionality at the event, including Pearson’s Powerschool whose 10 million student records will allow MyData downloads later this month.
All told, while it’s certainly exciting to see what solutions are out there and to realize that real students are currently being served by these solutions, we can’t rest until these opportunities are made the norm, rather than the exception.

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