Teachers achieving “Conscious Competence” with technology

What can be done to ensure that technology truly improves learning outcomes?

For the last twenty years, educators, governments, technology companies and publishers have built a narrative that by introducing a new technology, be it a digital book, LMS, SIS, PC, tablet or iPad, there would be an immediate improvement in student learning.

The reality to date is that no-one has established an accepted nexus between learning outcomes and the use of technology. In 2012 Higgins and his colleagues, in their meta-analysis of the numerous studies on the impact of digital technology on student learning, concluded, “Taken together, the correlational and experimental evidence does not offer a convincing case for the general impact of digital technology on learning outcome” (Higgins et al, 2012).

Apparent from multiple teacher surveys, a large proportion of teacher-technology skills lie somewhere between Conscious Incompetence and Conscious Competence. That is, somewhere between teachers being aware they lack specific technology skills and knowing the skills they have are not second nature or fluent. This being the case, the foundations on which technology can be relied on to support stronger learning outcomes, need to be shored up.

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We believe the tipping point at which technology will significantly contribute to stronger learning outcomes will be when teachers reach the level of Unconscious Competence with technology. This is when teachers, as a natural part of their professional repertoire, enhance pedagogy and student outcomes by blending the art of teaching with efficiencies and data delivered by supportive technology.

We have five suggestions we think will help technology improve learning outcomes.

1. Support teaching with technology.
Research has proven that teachers have the biggest influence on learning outcomes, not technology. It is however, far easier to make technology accessible than it is to lift teacher skills into a state of unconscious competence. We must refocus on supporting and encouraging teachers with intuitive tools that build capabilities to better inform teaching and learning.

2. Start measuring learning – stop the fixation on managing learning
Learning management is not learning measurement. For too long we have invested in technology that does not inform daily teaching and learning in an exacting context for each student. The idea that ‘I have taught it because it’s in the LMS’ has become a proxy for ‘they have learned it’, without a need for any independent check on what (if anything) has actually been learned. Technology needs to help teachers assess and measure learning.

3. Give teachers the tools to personalise teaching.
We would argue that the perceived need for more standardised ‘digitised’ curriculum content detracts from teachers focusing on having the answers to three critical questions every day. What does each student know now? What is each student ready to learn next? Where should I target and adapt my teaching? Personalised teaching happens naturally when teachers with an unconscious competence for technology are supported with quantitative capabilities.

4. Leverage data to inform teaching.
The most under-utilised, un-leveraged asset of every school is the learning data it produces every day. Schools must build a data capability and culture to surface data insights and help teachers to target teaching, improve feedback and learning outcomes. According to Scottish writer, Arthur Conan Doyle, “It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data”. Yet, for centuries, the education industry has implemented teaching practices without any data to prove its efficacy.

5. Extend strategic outcomes with data and technology.
Improving teaching and learning outcomes using data is operationally very effective. The same data builds the foundation of the next strategic step. Machine learning and assistive intelligence (commonly referred to as artificial intelligence) offer capabilities to scale finite teacher resources to automatically predict outcomes from captured learning data. A new teacher-dedicated digital assistant can suggest, adapt and prescribe personalised learning on demand.

Mark Stanley – CEO – Founder – Literatu


Grattan Institute’s Adaptive Education Report

We welcome the Grattan Institute’s recent report, “Towards an adaptive education system in Australia.”  In it, researcher Peter Goss argues that “our current education system is not fit for purpose given the complex challenges it faces.”  These challenges are familiar to anyone interested in Australian education: the flat or backwards performance on important tests, the number of students not finding success after high school and inequality between schools.  Goss rightly identifies the two key aspects to addressing these are that changes to education must be systemic and based on real evidence.

“The status quo is not working”, says Goss.  We see this in NAPLAN Band ranges

Many have been arguing this case for years and championed specific pedagogical approaches such as Problem-based Learning, Understanding by Design and STEM to name only a few.  In fact, I have been involved in many of these initiatives – and saw them fail to make the systemic change required and advocated for by Goss.  We are past the era of needing “new ideas,” but instead need to put these (and many other) ideas to the test.  The “Adaptive Educational” model put forth by Goss will be familiar to those who have pursued a “closed-loop” or “continuous improvement” process.  But like Goss, we find few such efforts used in ways that effect whole-school or sector change.  This is not for lack of trying on the part of schools and teachers, but from a lack of good data.

Fortunately, the ability to use data as evidence is more possible today than it was a decade ago.  The main reason for this readiness is twofold: a growing cultural appreciation of “Big Data” and as well as the sophistication of the tools required to make these data insights available to schools and their communities.

For over four years, Literatu has been developing powerful analytical software for schools and we can confirm a general “flat or backward” direction of student performance in NAPLAN scores.  But we are seeing something very powerful as well.  School leadership teams and whole staff rooms are excited and energised to engage in just the targeted type of teaching identified as essential by the Grattan Institute’s report.  At issue was not an unwillingness of schools to take such action, but the fact that students’ learning gaps were buried in spreadsheets and hard-to-use software.  What seems to be a dawning realisation by schools that “there must be a better way” has happily led to a boom in schools’ use of Literatu’s NAPLAN Explorer.  This diagnostic tool provides easy access to detailed information in a friendly dashboard so that classroom teachers – not just school leaders – can quickly gain insights that naturally lead to targeted teaching and differentiation.  What’s even better is that these teacher actions generate new data on student performance which feeds-back to validate or challenge the effectiveness of the interventions trialled.  This is such an exciting time to be an educator because after decades of working “in the dark,” real evidence is at our fingertips and a single-click away.  To repeat a very apt phrase, data-inspired teaching “is like what you’ve always done, but unlike anything you’ve done before.”

We encourage schools interested in seeing how easily teachers can grow an adaptive educational system to contact us for a friendly online demonstration.



Invitation to Contribute – Essay Samples

Literatu is a software platform that helps schools “transform data chaos into student success.” We do this in a few key ways:

  • loading and analysing the diagnostic tests schools already use,
  • giving teachers analytical insights into patterns and details of students’ learning gaps
  • facilitating online assessments For, As and Of learning
  • applying algorithms to make predictions and prescribe adaptive learning activities

We are currently sponsoring an essay contest for the Future of Technology Summit featuring speakers such as Steve Wozniak and Ray Kurzweil who will also help choose the winning essays.

Our goal for running the essay contest is to apply advanced analysis and analytics to the students’ essays in an effort to improve their success and enjoyment of writing.

Here’s where YOU come in!  We need a sample of student essays to train and tweak our analysis engines.

We need a common collection of + 100 essays on the same topic from a year group (9-12).  Because our timeline is VERY tight (the contest closes in less than a month), this would only work if the essays were already completed and archived – perhaps a common task that’s already in a shared folder or online system. Obviously, the essays need to be digital (docs, PDFs, online links).  We need them ASAP – hours and days, not weeks!

In return for your and the students’ participation, we will provide very interesting feedback related to basic textual analysis, but also sentiment, tone, wordcloud, etc.  We do not need any information on the students, just an identifier so the feedback goes to the right student.

If you are interested, we would be happy to publicize your school or group’s participation in press releases and posts.

Your students are also welcome to join in the Essay Competition which asks students about their vision for the future of technology with this prompt:

 Reflect on how technology touches your life and how rapid advancements might change the way we live, learn, work or connect with others in the future. 

Thanks for considering this!

What’s all this about AI?

AI – huh?

Seems like everyone’s talking about AI these days – Tesla cars, Amazon assistants and Apple Homes are just a few – oops duck – here comes another drone delivering pizzas.  Who knew the Jetson’s future would be like this?

Ok – so the reason I’m being a little silly about what is and will become an issue with serious consequences for many people and their livelihoods is because it’s easy to think Artificial Intelligence is just for the big tech companies who seem to run everything and get to do what they want.

But we in education don’t have to be afraid and, I think, we need to flex our muscles and let it been know that instead of making education and schools more “alien,” we want AI that humanizes what can sometimes be an educational system that’s a little mechanical.

The animation above is meant to highlight this. Don’t let people – especially software companies – tell you that every classroom teacher now needs to put on a beanie and become a data geek.  The beauty of rich data, well-plumbed, is that it stops being “information” and becomes… “actionable intentions” and “awesome insights.”

Data and analytics isn’t about scary maths, it’s about people and making learning more effective, engaging and fun.

NAPLAN and Career Aspirations


A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald, Year 5 NAPLAN scores could shape career goals: study, by Pallavi Singhal shares research from Professor Jenny Gore of the University of Newcastle.  The main focus of the study seems to be the correlation found between Year 5 NAPLAN results and student aspirations.  Clearly “typecasting” students and their ability and potential is never helpful, but the last line of the article particularly resonated with the work we do at Literatu.  Out purpose is to create clever algorithms that spin analytical insights making it easy for teachers to see the real gaps in student skills – completely moving away from those unhelpful blanket statements about being “good” or “bad” in maths or English.  We need to move far deeper into NAPLAN than the band scores if we hope to help lift the very typical “flat line” we see quite often.

So what was the last line?:

“It’s a messy, complex world we work in, in teaching.”

True enough, but I thought this should not be a lament, but a starting point given our promise to schools:

“Transform data chaos into student success.”

And this is the current reality!

Horizon Report 2017 – Upcoming Trends

The Horizon Report is a useful marking of near and long term trends in educational technology. The Preview version is available for K12 and highlights some interesting things. Of particular note is the mid-term trend related to the growing focus on measuring learning. “Mid-term” is estimated to be adopted widely in 3-5 years. As an early leader in this area, we’re glad to see such growing attention and interest:

The passage on Measuring Learning states:

The proliferation of data mining software and developments in online education, mobile learning, and learning management systems are coalescing toward learning environments that leverage analytics and visualization software to portray learning data in a multidimensional and portable manner.

We believe that when teachers have access to clever and easy learning analytics, it empowers them to either act on or challenge their instincts. We like to call what we do “AI,” but instead of “artificial intelligence” we try to make it more real and less scary: how about “Awesome Insights” or even “Actual Information”?

We’d love to hear from you about what you’re looking for as data-informed support.