Continuous Improvement

Source: EdSurge, Mar 2013

The fifth report recommendation states that the people who use digital learning resources should work with education researchers “to implement resources using continuous improvement processes” (p 89).

 “Education practitioners will think about their activities as cycles of implementation, data collection, reflection, and refinement and constantly seek data and information to refine their practice” (p iii).

… the process of continuous data gathering that informs cycles of improvement is fundamental to making an intervention sustainable. Tony Bryk, president of the Carnegie Foundation, argues that this work “should be structured as many rapid iterations of small changes, what he calls ‘rapid iterative small tests of change’” (p 23). These small changes can be “implemented quickly, can be tested repeatedly in multiple contexts to make sure they are really improvements, and are unlikely to do harm.

… this process of data-driven continuous improvement is what highly effective teachers do in their classrooms everyday. Such teachers adapt their teaching to make it useful for everyday instruction and they gather data (usually as formative assessment results) to make constant improvements to their own pedagogy. In high-performing schools, teams of teachers collaborate to scale effective methods across departments and buildings.

Stumbling Blocks are Actually Building Blocks

Everyone working in education–not merely education technology–needs to understand the importance of rapid-cycle iteration to gathering evidence and improving any sort of intervention. The tendency in schools to try a product, project, or approach, find that it doesn’t work as anticipated, and then throw up hands and say “We’re not doing that again!” is not only a waste of time and resources, it’s a lost opportunity for educators to learn about how to improve an intervention and build it again better–a necessary cycle of innovation to creating effective solutions for students.

Policy makers and grant makers need to fund and champion work that incorporates this design thinking approach to implementation. The report’s fifth recommendation states: “Even for a mature intervention for which extensive prior research has demonstrated effectiveness, education stakeholders should consider ongoing data collection and reflection as long as the stakes are high” (p 80). As long as the goal is to get students ready for college and careers, the stakes are high. Therefore, ongoing analysis and reflection are imperative and fundamental elements of education innovation.

In each of these examples, the design-based approach to continuous improvement involves multiple stakeholders sharing and reflecting on many kinds of evidence. But in common practice, designers, researchers, technologists, and teachers work in silos. Or at least, they hang out all too infrequently. Innovators who can successfully cross disciplines, on the other hand, have the potential to build powerful education interventions by combining evidence and problem-solving approaches from different professional communities.


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