The app of me (and you)

I’m chewing on this idea of the pervasive data layer that Dropbox is pushing and what might be possible if we move off the file-centric way we currently work. I have a hunch we might be able to change the way we teach and learn in schools.

Right now, student work comes in the form of assignments, discrete objects, that are individually assessed. At the end of the year we have collections of files–Word or Google docs, for example–that represent each student’s learning (and indirectly, the teacher’s teaching.) Learning, however, isn’t an aggregate of anything; it’s a process, something smoother, homogenous and ongoing. I wonder if we could better represent that with an app.

Suppose each student has an app (maybe several apps for different subjects) that teachers can install on their smartphones and that app is connected to the student’s Datastore, to use Dropbox’s term. The way to picture this is to think of an app like RunKeeper and then ask, “What if this were ChemistryKeeper?” I’m not sure exactly what that would look like when we opened the app, but we can imagine it could show richer, more nuanced data about student understanding and skill development than any single assignment or even collection of assignments could. This would, of course, be something different from a grade book that merely reports current marks and grade point averages. RunKeeper, for example, records my time and distance–analogous to grades–but also lets me add comments and photos which add a great deal of contextual information and it gives me interpretation of my performance in the form of statistical analyses. Most importantly, it shows current state, not snapshots of the past.

What bothers me about assignment-based work in schools is that assignments tend to become ends in themselves. Would an “app of me” change this for the better? Can we move away from file-centric work?

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