During the Association of Test Publishers’ inaugural EdTech and Computational Psychometrics Summit (ECPS), for which Alpine was a sponsor, Tracey Hembry, Ph.D. hosted a “Peas in a Pod” discussion called Teachers: The Critical Link. Related to that discussion and her experience consulting with various stakeholders as the Director, Education and a Senior Psychometrician, Tracey shares with us some points to consider as we look ahead to 2021 and beyond.

To be sure, 2020 has been challenging in a long list of ways. Many of us have had to navigate and implement drastic changes to the way we live and work—often with short notice. Some of the changes are arguably beneficial. Innovations and technological solutions that were previously viewed with skepticism have been widely adopted during 2020’s unprecedented circumstances. Examples span our everyday lives as well as our industry, from apps to support contactless pick-ups at retailers to online learning tools and systems. While such innovations existed prior to 2020, their use has grown exponentially. Now that we have adopted them on a large scale, it is hard to imagine that they will be abandoned in a post-pandemic world.

With this reality in mind, at some point our thinking must shift from “how we implement the solution” to “how we maximize the solution”. To date, during this wild year, much of our time and attention has focused on the logistical implementation details related to technological solutions during the pandemic (for example, attending to access and security as solutions are deployed). This is understandable and necessary. However, as these solutions remain in use and we overcome initial start-up challenges, we should shift attention to evaluating the experiences of all stakeholders, maximizing the benefits of the solution, and addressing any potential challenges or shortcomings.

In education, a wide variety of software solutions have been implemented on a large scale to permit academic school years to proceed while meeting requirements to social distance. Despite the challenges in implementing online learning solutions on a large scale in a short time period, unexpected benefits have been revealed. For example, students who previously hesitated to contribute to class discussions may feel more comfortable participating in the online learning environment. However, there are challenges as well. While some online learning systems provide rich data and feedback to educators, many educators have limited understanding of and have been provided minimal training in data literacy. This was evident prior to the pandemic where many educators struggled to understand, interpret, and utilize data from state and local assessments. Now, educators are given even more data and feedback from online learning systems. While psychometricians and other data fanatics are overjoyed by the prospect of more data, many educators find it overwhelming.

In order to harness the power of these learning tools, we need to provide educators the training and information needed to understand the data they are receiving as well as the appropriate implications for the instruction they provide. The full benefits of the online learning systems and their rich data can only be achieved with such support of the educators we are asking to use them.

Similar concerns exist about online learning provided by certification or staff development programs where training has moved to remote instruction. This change in instructional mode for trainers is not inconsequential. Like educators in the K-12 setting, trainers need support to implement the online learning tools, understand the information and feedback captured within the system, and use it appropriately to inform instruction. Such support is essential to realizing the full potential of the newly implemented online learning tools. Without such support, training could be inhibited rather than enhanced, which then negatively affects the knowledge and skills of incoming candidates and the workforce.

We must recognize that “going live” with a new system is just the beginning (even when it feels like it took a Herculean effort to get to this point). To maximize the new systems and solutions, an environment must be created in which all users are considered and supported. When it comes to online learning systems, both educators and trainers need 1) to have the knowledge to efficiently navigate and utilize the tool so that it enhances rather than inhibits learning and 2) to understand the information captured by the system and use it appropriately to inform instruction.

To identify how to maximize the recently introduced solutions for your program or environment, input from multiple stakeholders will be necessary to make sure that all aspects have been considered. In addition, input from someone outside of the program or independent from the program might be helpful. As we move into the new year, we all have the opportunity to move past the initial upheaval of the pandemic, carefully consider our new solutions, and create environments to maximize these solutions. By accepting these new realities and striving to maximize the innovations implemented in 2020, we each have the opportunity to enhance programs and organizations for the benefit of our stakeholders, ultimately improving their experiences.

Feel free to contact Tracey directly at tracey.hembry@alpinetesting.com if you’re interested in discussing the new normal for your program or organization or if you would like feedback on maximizing recently implemented solutions.

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