What is a Classroom Learning Platform?

By Ben Toettcher, Training Director at Spiral.ac
ben@spiral.ac | @bentoettcher

A classroom learning platform (CLP) is a digital platform that boosts learning in classrooms. They integrate with learning management systems (LMS), and extend digital student response systems (SRS) to cover everyday learning activities.

Student responses at heart

There’s a heart that drives the CLP: the student response system (SRS). Student response systems have been in education for thousands of years. The latest analogue incarnations, the slate and more recently the mini whiteboard are still, according to Dylan Wiliam, the most powerful technology in education. The trouble is few teachers use a mini whiteboard for formative assessment. 30 mini boards can be hard to read all at once. Similar answers aren’t grouped so polling is impossible. Text can be illegible. So the edtech industry came up with clickers. Clickers are fabulous. They do one thing well. And importantly they don’t do other things, like connect to the Internet. You can ask multiple-choice questions superbly. But that’s where it stops; you can’t connect to the internet. Many teachers now want their students to be able to. CLPs replicate SRSs by using Web 2.0 technology. The same sort of code that powers Facebook, opens up a line of communication between teacher and students devices.

Mirrors everyday learning activities

The third thing CLPs do is mirror everyday learning activities (ELAs). These are presentations, video quizzing and group work. This also covers reviewing work for analysis.

Video

CLPs also handle video. Any video over 1 minute needs breaking up. Asking questions during video playback is essential to ensure students watch the video. Questions during video IS flipped learning. Prepare your students for the lesson to come. Then see what they know, teach them something that builds on what they know. Then check they’ve understood it. To do that efficiently you need a CLP and you start with flipped video.

Quiz

The quiz is the staple of many lessons and rightly so. Low stakes quizzing feeds formative assessment. Being able to ask true/false questions, answer on a scale, to poll the class, or ask short answer or long answer questions gives teachers insight only otherwise received by mind-reading. Quizzing starts positive feedback loops. With SRSs teachers can feedback to students, individually or as a group. Dylan Wiliam is right that ‘the only good feedback is that which is acted upon’. Good CLPs allow students to improve their answer and resubmit. Improving on original answers is a pretty good definition of learning. At architecture school, preconceptions were bad. Iterations at different scales were good. The same with classwork.

Presentations

Most teachers use presentation software at some stage in a lesson. PowerPoint or Google slides are good, but limited in their interactivity. You can now ask a question in GSlides but it’s very clunky. I’m sure that will improve. But until it does, CLPs allows teachers to ask questions during presentations and handle responses in a logical way.

Group work

The final ELA is group work. Teachers love to put students into pairs and groups. It makes their class more manageable and we instinctively think learning how to collaborate is good for society. However, you lose track of which students are doing what work. Losing individual feedback in the name of collaboration is too great a sacrifice and mavens have advised limiting group work to pairs. But learning how to work in a team is important. So the best CLPs allow teachers to track individual contributions when students are working in teams. Teachers can feedback to particular students and give a group mark for how well the group collaborated.

Review

The final, and most important learning activity is reviewing work. CLPs observe and record the lesson for you without being the focus of the lesson. It is therefore a true record of what went on for later analysis. Review can be by a teacher, to gain insight into how their class is doing. It can be by a principal looking for exemplary teaching for their next CPD session. But most importantly it should be by the student. We want our students to be able to regulate their learning. If a student can see their answers improve because they acted on the feedback a teacher gave them in the lesson, students will develop a growth mindset in a real way, over time, step by step.

Not an LMS – but works with one

LMSs organise students into classes, provide a platform for homework and a line of communication for parents. Used well, they free up more time for classroom learning. Flipping some of the direct instruction of a lesson should give teachers more time to concept check in class. So any Classroom Learning Platform should integrate with your LMS. This is possible as there is a standard that means all educational software can speak to each other: the LTI standard.

Put them altogether

If you put these three elements together you have a Classroom Learning Platform. CLPs will replace student workbooks in most schools before the decade is out. At present, there are two options: Spiral.ac (the company I work for) and Nearpod.

Nearpod

Nearpod has traction in the US where they have been linking with districts. All their features are built into one presentation app. It’s like PowerPoint on steroids.

Spiral.ac

Spiral has a different user experience. We’ve split up the everyday learning activities into separate apps. If you want a quiz, in 3 clicks you have 30 answers. Wants to set up a group task? 4 clicks. We’ve designed each everyday learning activity to break up the experience for the student. That generally improves engagement. Sign up for free here and use your smartphone, or incognito tab, as a student to test a new activity.

 

A comparison of classroom learning platforms.

A comparison of classroom learning platforms.

 

Change is good. The time to elevate classroom learning to a digital platform is now.

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