I don't usually examine specific individual education apps – they don't tend to be that exciting and are generally replaced by something new relatively quickly. However, because of the reach of Pearson's textbook publishing empire and their partnerships with Knewton and Apple, the new Pearson Dash teacher app is one worth considering, not because it is inherently amazing, but because it suggests what the future of teacher technology may look like.
A Dash of Teacher Support
The Dash app provides a handy tool for teachers to use in conducting their day-to-day educating. All of the resources for delivering Pearson-designed content are available with a swipe or touch on an iPad loaded with the app. The tools are divided into three sections:
- Teacher Content – This is the meat of the app, allowing teachers to browse units, chapters, and sections containing all of the resources necessary to plan, deliver and assess lessons.
- My Teacher Training – Contains professional development tools and resources to help teachers become skilled in using the app.
- Student Utility – This section contains an interactive classroom seating chart which allows the teacher to drag and drop students into different seating configurations, to take notes on students, and email those as necessary.
The Pearson Dash app is a one-stop-shop which allows teachers to plan their lessons, deliver them, adjust on the fly, assess student learning, and manage the classroom, all from the convenience of a single app. The main uses are:
- Lesson Prep – Lesson resources are organized into folders containing objectives, expectations, lesson plan summaries, differentiated instruction options, ELL support, and background information.
- Teaching – The app compiles all the necessary resources into one location: student guides, quizzes, external connections, resources for the activation of prior knowledge, pre-reading activities, vocabulary (presented in print, photos, or through multi-lingual recordings), and key terms – all of these can be accessed on the iPad whenever they are needed. This ready availability of materials and information allows teachers to adjust lesson on the fly, provide differentiation as needed, and conduct remediation on an individual basis in the flow of the lesson.
- Assessment – Pearson Dash contains quizzes and tests and their answer keys, all aligned to the content.
A Good Start
While this is far from a perfect application, it does provide an excellent starting point for examining the ways in which technology can be leveraged to support teaching and learning. Providing a single source for all of the information and resources that a teacher would need to conduct a lesson is an exciting innovation, and it is one that should make the daily grind of teaching easier and instruction a more unified experience, while still allowing for some flexibility to adapt on the fly. Here are the main innovations of Pearson Dash and how they can and should be taken further in order to make technology-aided teaching an even more rewarding experience for educators and their students.
Portability – While the current incarnation of the Dash app is an excellent use of the ability of the iPad as a teacher resource and as a presentation medium to students, Pearson seems to have limited this by locking down the content. While Pearson's content may be of excellent quality that is aligned to Common Core standards, there needs to be options for teachers to remix the content to suit their own teaching style, learners, or other particular requirements. At the very least, a note taking function needs to be included with the planning tool which incorporates a drag-and-drop functionality for the content in the lesson allowing users to incorporate non-Pearson content into the lessons.
Connectivity – The iPad is a networked device and the Pearson app needs to take full advantage of that capability. This and future teacher tools should link to web cameras, YouTube and other online videos, discussion boards, and online educator communities. An excellent feature would be a collaborative function where teachers could comment on, modify, remix, or add to the existing content through a social interface. Currently, the Pearson Dash app does not take advantage of the platform on which it is housed. This is a major missed opportunity.
Student Tracking – Pearson Dash has the most basic tools to help teachers manage their classrooms, seating, and basic note taking. This is another missed opportunity that should be addressed in the future, particularly when the link between Pearson and the Knewton adaptive learning platform is factored in. One of the most powerful (and frightening) capabilities of Knewton is its ability to track student learning and adapt lessons to their changing needs and capabilities. Having this level of individual adaptability on a portable device would be a very powerful tool for teachers. While this may be a bit of a reach for a traditional classroom, a system like the teacher toolkit available in The Khan Academy would be a very realistic piece to include in an app like Dash. This video explains the depth to which student data can be captured and leveraged by teachers to better help students learn.
Including similar functionality within the Dash app, or those which come after it, would make it an extremely powerful tool for the classroom teacher to manage individual student learning.
The current incarnation is a good beginning. It shows us some of the potential for learning when teachers have convenient access to the materials that they are using. There is certainly room for dramatic improvement though. One of the most frustrating things about so much technological innovation is in the failure to fully implement the most logical and powerful features available. Dash missed the boat on flexibility, social networking, connectivity, and student tracking tools. These are all technologies that are available and that could have been included in the initial release, but were not.
Pearson has control of a significant percentage of the curriculum around the world and they now have an app that supports it. They are well positioned to push the future of powerful teacher tools. They have come up a bit short with Pearson Dash, but the future still looks bright for hi-tech integration of powerful classroom apps that allow teachers to effectively incorporate a wide range of the latest technology in their daily teaching.
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