Already a fast-moving and dynamic field, Education Technology demands our attention now more than ever. Facing the pandemic, schools and educators are seeking ways to come together as a community, support each other using new technology, try innovative pedagogies, and provide more diverse opportunities for their students to learn and thrive. EdTech tools have a critical role to play.
Tracker Apps is one such company hoping to make a difference in the future of education. They offer two complementary products: Skill Tacker and Service Tracker. Skill Tracker is a platform that enables students and teachers to track student progress with regards to ATL skills, easing the workload of teachers and coordinators and empowering students to log, track, and take ownership of their journey through skill development.
Service Tracker, meanwhile, is a journal, logbook, and guided reflection process that allows students to record their Service Learning plans, activities, experiences, and reflections—facilitating adherence to the five stages of Service Learning in all projects.
To better understand the way Tracker Apps can support students on their learning journey and how EdTech companies are responding to the pandemic, we spoke with the CEO and founder of Tracker Apps, Dr. Sally Hirsch. An international educator with experience working in schools and universities worldwide, Dr. Hirsch shared her insight on adapting to remote learning, the changing valuation of ATL skills, and the centrality of reflection to learning success.
The team at Tracker Apps must have seen a lot over the last couple of years! How have you adapted your product to user feedback and to fulfill different needs, especially since the pandemic?
The Tracker team combined has more than 50 years of international education experience, so we are experienced, but we certainly do not know it all! During the pandemic, we increased our resources and support around online learning, prioritizing student and teacher skills needed for it to succeed. Online learning means much less opportunity for teachers to pick up on visual, verbal, and physical cues from students as to whether they understand the class material or need additional support.
We strived to show teachers how our products could be used to get this informal feedback from students, whether during a lesson or when the student was working independently. Teachers cannot enhance their practice if they do not get feedback from students and grades are not enough. Qualitative data directly from the students is an excellent way to see if students actually experience what the teacher intended for them to learn and our software can help collect this data.
In addition to more widely accepted learning outcomes, do you feel the importance or understanding of ALT skills has changed due to the pandemic?
To some extent, I feel that ATL skills are still seen as something extra rather than an integral and essential part of being able to learn. Content is so accessible thanks to the internet, but if a student does not have the skills to investigate, analyze, communicate and critically think about what they are reading and seeing, then having all this content is not particularly helpful.
If we look at the research that is starting to emerge around student success in online learning during the pandemic, we see that students who have high levels of metacognition and self-management skills have succeeded in these very trying circumstances. No one is born with these skills—they are skills, not talents—and so it is vital that students have frequent and structured opportunities to learn and practice these skills both at home and in school.
Encouraging student reflection on progress and Service Learning initiatives is an integral part of Tracker Apps. How do you think having a grounding in reflective practice has helped students navigate the pandemic and remote learning?
I would like to share one of my favorite quotes from Ryan Holiday, who highlighted how Stoicism can support personal growth. He writes that “Only what you measure and record can be monitored; only what you put up for reflection can be learned from.” During these times of stress and uncertainty, adopting a daily practice of recording and reflecting on what you have done can bring a sense of stability and control, as well as promote personal growth.
In education (and in life), we pay attention to what is recorded, and it is unfortunate that the majority of the time, this is a grade or score. Nike’s global running head coach Chris Bennett says that we should measure success in as many ways as possible. Imagine the possibilities if we valued student success in a multitude of ways, such as skill and character development, Service Learning, personal growth, and academic performance? When students have a deep understanding of who they are, their skills, talents, attributes, and values, they can set goals and achieve success more easily.
EdTech definitely has a critical role to play going forward; what are companies like Tracker Apps doing to help lessen the digital divide and make remote learning more accessible?
As a company working with schools around the world, we know the digital divide looks very different depending on where you are. One of the most important steps we can take is to listen to what students, teachers, and schools need. There is absolutely no point in a company like ours coming in and offering free apps or laptops if a school does not have access to reliable electricity or an internet connection. So often, assumptions about a school or a community’s needs are made, and we do not take the time to listen or learn from the people who are there.
Whether it is EdTech or not, any company wants highly skilled and resourceful employees, so investment in education will help everyone. I would encourage companies to have an ethical and effective corporate social responsibility program that can be a part of solving the digital divide.
What are your hopes for the future of Tacker Apps?
We would love to be a part of an educational revolution that prioritizes student agency and places equal value on social, emotional, and academic development. As a company, we want to be the go-to technology for young people to track their learning, engage in reflective practice, and set goals from the time they start secondary school to graduation and beyond.
A big thank you to Dr. Hirsch and Tracker Apps; you can learn more about their customizable software applications here.