“Teachers are required to use some of the worst software I have ever seen.”
This quote from Lane Merrifield, co-founder of Fresh Grade, in his recent talk at TEDxWestVancouverED, sure resonated with many teachers and administrators in the room. Given the user experience in our province around some of the required software systems over the last twenty years, I know why people think this.
When I first heard people talking about FreshGrade – it was through my cynical experience of other recent technology software that I entered the conversation. Really – we need another e-portfolio system? Don’t we already use several in the district. But this is different, I was told – it just works.
Over the last year we have had a growing number of teachers use FreshGrade in their classes. Unlike previous initiatives where we provided the tool to everyone, it has been very organic. And it has that word of mouth excitement one rarely gets in the world of education technology. All of us who have seen the power of digital access in a classroom have got our hopes up only to have a far too often OPUD (over promise, under deliver) from our digital tools.
This feels different.
I have seen the power of FreshGrade with my younger son, who attends school in another local school district. This is my ninth year as a parent in the school system, with four kids from grades 1 – 8. I have seen more of my younger son’s thinking, learning and engagement in a month through the FreshGrade app than collectively with all the other teachers over all the years. And this is not an indictment of the other classes – there were photo sites, blogs, emails, newsletters and a host of other tools, but the way this experience truly engages me in the communication of student learning is different.
It is not just me noticing what is going on. Michelle Hiebert from Abbotsford blogged about what she was seeing with FreshGrade last spring, Ian Landy (the Cal Ripken of BC edu-bloggers for his daily posts) has regularly written about his experiences as a Principal with it in Sorrento, and Tracy Sherlock even covered it in the Vancouver Sun.
I would say this is the only time I have seen a piece of software grow like this in its use with teachers, but that would not be fair. Right now we are seeing similar growth in the use of a variety of Google Classroom tools. And again the comments I continue to hear are that the tools do what we want them to and they make sense for teachers and schools. Maybe we are getting to a new place with software in education – as we become less reliant on trying to make tools created for something else work for education, and embracing tools designed for learning.
I look back about a dozen years to when the portfolio came and went in British Columbia as part of the grad program – and it was too bad. Part of the vision of the 2004 Graduation Program was having every graduating student present a portfolio to school and community members. There are many reasons why it failed, from poor resourcing to a design that made it really just a collection of boxes to check off. More than anything, I think it failed because the technology was not ready for the vision.
I regularly challenge people who suggest that many teachers are anti-technology and just don’t want to enter the modern world. The teachers I know and work with want to use technology that allows them to do things not possible without the technology and make learning more relevant and engaging.
Looking at the growth of FreshGrade in our district is showing that to be true.