I recently read and then reread a story in Wired magazine titled “Harnessing the Power of Feedback Loops,” which is essentially about how to use technology to provide people with immediate feedback about their behavior or performance that prompts them to take positive action.
The story begins in a school district having chronic problems with drivers speeding through school zones and hitting walkers and cyclists. Local officials tried several tactics but were unsuccessful in curbing the safety problem until they installed driver-feedback signs with digital displays telling motorists how fast they were driving. The approach worked. The average speed of drivers dropped, as did the number of cars hitting walkers or cyclists. It was a simple solution to a difficult problem.
Yet the feedback-loop approach to solving problems is far from commonplace in society, especially in K-12 education. Sure, schools are collecting tons of data, but it is the rare school district that has figured how to collect data and provide quality, real-time feedback that pushes administrators, teachers, and students toward better behaviors and performance on a daily basis. (The Wired article, unfortunately, does not address K-12 student learning.)
We’ve written about this concept in different ways in the past. What we’ve found in our reporting is that although many schools embrace the idea of feedback loops, most don’t have a clue about how to put such a concept into action. So they take no action at all.
Yet there are a handful of exceptions that appear to be figuring out how to do it. In this issue of Digital Directions, Staff Writer Ian Quillen writes about one of those exceptions, the Mooresville Graded School District in North Carolina. It has engineered a districtwide “digital conversion” that emphasizes the use of digital tools for learning and constant performance feedback, combined with an initiative for teachers to get to know their students better.
Test scores are improving in Mooresville, and the district is attracting monthly visits from education leaders across the country who are looking for feedback on their own plans for how to use digital tools and human resources to prompt administrators, teachers, and students to take actions leading to better behavior and higher performance.
A version of this article appeared in the October 19, 2011 edition of Digital Directions as Feedback Loops for Better Schools