“We can transform education with technology”

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Connecting students and teachers in real time, as learning is happening, is the goal of the two assessment apps Socrative and Classtime. Caroline Smrstik Gentner talks with the apps’ creators about how EdTech can improve teaching and learning.

Caroline Smrstik Gentner: Has it been easier since the COVID-19 pandemic to get schools interested in your online assessment tools, since people have become more familiar with technology?

Abdul Chohan, Socrative: Many schools have stuck with Google or Teams rather than seeking out tools that are specific to a given task. If they want to conduct an assessment, they just use a Google Form because it’s something they know. When I speak to schools, my goal is to change mindsets.

Jan Rihak, Classtime: We’re having more substantive discussions with educators and administrators. Pre-pandemic it was black and white – some would say they didn’t want technology in the classroom, period. Now it’s a more mature discussion. And we have benefited from the fact that so many have jumped on the well-known tools you mention, Abdul, because schools eventually discovered that these tools may be good first paving / emergency aid during the pandemic, that can then be meaningfully expanded with didactically tailored and better suited tools.

AC: Exactly. It’s encouraging to see that discussions are now taking place in many countries at the policy level. Today’s EdTech workshops aren’t about futuristic visions like augmented reality and coding, but about very down-to-earth solutions. The essence of learning is direct instruction: teaching, assessment, and feedback. These are things teachers do every day, in every classroom and in every country. If we can contribute technology that increases efficiency, saves time, and enhances all three areas, we can transform education.

“The essence of learning is direct instruction: teaching, assessment, and feedback. If we can contribute technology that increases efficiency, saves time, and enhances all three areas, we can transform education.”

Abdul Chohan

JR: The online and physical class experiences need to complement each other. Since teachers can provide feedback in various ways, whether one-on-one or in a class debrief, in detail or focusing on just a few points, we didn’t want to insist that they use a specific method. With Classtime, we set out to focus on very specific areas where we’re sure we can add value, such as correcting exercises the students have completed or providing teachers with data snapshots. In that we want to be very focused, and not too broad or complex. If tools like Socrative take a more holistic approach, that’s exciting. We’ll observe this and learn from you, too.

AC: Technology allows us to monitor student learning in real time, and helps us do things we couldn’t before. Classtime does this really well, because teachers see the response of every student, not just the few who put their hands up or nod their heads.  


AC: Socrative is simple and reliable. I think those are the two necessary ingredients for any successful technology.

JR: Classtime combines ease  of use with didactical / pedagogical versatility and richness.


JR: Using a digital tool in a complementary fashion can make traditional teaching approaches so much richer. For example, one teacher posed an open-ended question about social Darwinism in the 1920s, asking the students who is responsible for the well-being of poor people. It was always the same handful of students who raised their hands. But with Classtime, the same teacher could engage every student in thinking about and expressing an answer or opinion, and suddenly the teacher had 25 different prompts for a rich discussion. And students who typically remained silent in class saw their answers being hotly debated and started to participate in the discussion.

AC: The Socrative quiz feature, for example, which produces reports for the teacher, shows the distribution of correct and incorrect answers: “In a class of 30, five students answered the first question one correctly while 25 got it wrong, and these were their answers.” It’s a one-page snapshot. I showed this to a teacher, and several months later she told me that her entire learning and teaching experience had changed because of that one feature. The report was telling her where she was going wrong, she said; for the previous ten years she had believed that the students were understanding and they weren’t. The information in that simple dashboard caused her to change her day-to-day teaching.

CSG: Both Classtime and Socrative have features that invite playfulness as well as competition. Is this gamification what makes them attractive to students?

JR: Getting students really engaged is essential for learning. For some students, it’s enough to receive immediate feedback telling them that they’ve done something correctly or not. If gamification is the way to engage the few who wouldn’t otherwise be interested, that’s a good thing. Classtime also offers collaborative challenges and competitions that don’t include individual scores; it’s the whole class that succeeds in solving a puzzle or getting a rocket to the moon.

AC: The collaborative element is pretty powerful, and can result in a lot of learning. Sometimes feedback comes in the form of a green box that pops up – which has much the same effect as getting a like on Instagram. What seems to be most important is how quickly students and teachers receive feedback.

CSG: Why is the speed of feedback so critical?

AC: There’s no way a teacher can give provide feedback quickly to as many as 30 students; technology is much better than humans at that. I’m shocked when I don’t see this type of technology used in the classroom. Teachers are still handing out worksheets, grading them, and then returning them a week later, which is like in the stone age.

Discussing digital strategy with school administrators, I always challenge them by pointing out: Your product is learning, and you have to determine whether learning has happened.

“Discussing digital strategy with school administrators, I always challenge them by pointing out: Your product is learning, and you have to determine whether learning has happened.”

Abdul Chohan

JR: When there’s a lack of learning and a lack of student engagement, and when we have proven ways and approaches to address such challenges with technology, teachers and schools need to do something about it. More and more are taking up the baton.

AC: It’s about workforce development. Technology changes constantly, and if you don’t empower teachers, then six months or two years down the road there will be an enormous gap between technology and teacher skills. At that point, simply bringing in technology will be viewed as “change”, which is scary.

But if you invest in your workforce, development will happen develop incrementally, because all these platforms release an update every six to eight months. That results in gradual changes in teachers’ practice, thinking, and skill levels. It’s not just about students. It’s about equipping teachers with an understanding of what technology brings to the table, where to use it, and where not to use it. That’s quite powerful.

“When there’s a lack of learning and a lack of student engagement, and when we have proven ways and approaches to address such challenges with technology, teachers and schools need to do something about it.”

Jan Rihak

CSG: How do these rapid assessment methods change what teachers can do?

AC: Designing activities for students becomes completely different, because we’re always asking them what they’re thinking. The magic of technology is the ability to eliminate the guesswork and the cognitive demands of analyzing and understanding the paths of 30 different students.

JR: We can also improve the quality of questions or challenges posed to the students. Think about how a platform such as Classtime or Socrative could recommend to the teacher more metacognitive demands. When the machine recognizes that a question requires calculation, it can prompt the teacher to ask the student to predict or estimate the answer before throwing themselves into the calculation, or think about the solution strategy first. There are many more examples how we can improve assessment questions and challenges and make them more engaging and beneficial for the students.

“Used well, EdTech can help more schools be outstanding.”

Abdul Chohan

AC: Good schools are consistent; outstanding schools are consistently good. To be consistently good you don’t have to be amazing – but a school that can deliver a good learning experience in every classroom for every child is an outstanding school. Used well, EdTech can help more schools be outstanding.

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