Thursday 5 October 2017

Measuring Impact

Measuring the impact of teaching was a key question buzzing around the board a couple of years ago... here are some thoughts on that, which resurfaced recently at a local EdTech camp.

How does one measure the impact of a meteor at its crash site? Or measure the ripples of a splash? Can it be reproduced? Consider this: when you throw a stone in to calm waters, it makes ripples, and you can easily see the impact of that thrown stone. Throw another stone, while the ripples are in motion, and you don't see the same impact, but a potentially interference of the impacts; throw many stones and it's almost unrecognizable the breadth of that impact.

When it comes to "impact" the notion that I hear more and more often has to do with replicability, in that can the same type of meaningful impact be made across the board. Impact takes on two forms, long or short term, which lead directly to depth or breadth, and converts to immediate results or a sowing of sorts that produces results later down the road.

There are times when impact cannot be seen immediately and won't be recognized for years to come... much is the case in teaching, where I've now seen the impact that I've made in the lives of students I taught in my early years that I have recently bumped in to, and they recall what insights that I as a teacher have brought to them. A life changing impact cannot be measured in the immediate.

A more recent email from a former student exemplifies this:

--- begin email ---

Hi Mr. Chun,

You taught me many years ago, and I will never forget how amazing a teacher you are. You have had a profound impact on my life. I wish I knew a way to express all of my gratitude and appreciation for everything you taught me, more than just the curriculum.

Truly, thank you, for teaching me, and for putting up with me. I enjoyed making calculators on the breadboards and building with the lego robot kits, and I would never have been the programmer I am today without you. I asked a lot of questions, and you always had answers, where others would get tired of me very quickly. I still remember the stories you told of your time before teaching: Crispy Christie and the hot-swappables, Korn's website and the music making your team feel violent.

Because of you, I can confidently tell people that I don't write code in a specific language, I understand the concepts and look up the syntax and I can program in almost any language.

I hope you can keep making an impact on students' lives the way you did with me.

Best wishes and eternal thanks,


--- end email ---

Long term affect is the true measure of impact... can it be quantifiable? sure, but does that really matter? I believe that the quality of the impact is unique and cannot be reproduced, nor should it be... we are individuals, unique and beautiful on our own. I consider it a privilege and an honour that I was able to actually witness this type of impact. I've received letters of thanks in the past from students, but nothing to the degree of this kind of impact years after I've taught a student. It truly encourages me to see that I am and have been doing something right.

There's an illusion of scale, and the notion of scalability, when it comes to reproducing an action which garnered a positive result. Too often we look to replicate a positive impact. Is it possible to encapsulate the environment and all the circumstances in which this student was so positively impacted, and then scale it upwards to a system wide type of teachable strategy? I guess it could be. Is it as rewarding? Possibly. Is it individualized? Not really. I've come to believe teaching has a lot to do with personalization, which relies on engaging the learner.

When one puts this in to perspective of short term versus long term, the short term is really about determining an assessment of the student, whereas the long term is about seeing the fruit. Much like sowing seeds, there's no way to tell immediately whether or not the seed has produced good fruit. It takes time and it might not be something as a teacher that I might not see with the students that pass through. Again, letters like the above are true blessings, and are reminders of why I switched in to this profession of teaching: it's all about impact...I just don't get to see it in all of its beauty; it takes a while for that seed to bear fruit. That process, in my honest opinion, can not be replicated, nor scaled.

The measurement of the impact of good teaching isn't done at the report card stage... it happens much later in life. It's a journey filled with failures, milestones and celebrations, which has lasting effects far in to the future.

Here's to the future of all the students I have the privilege of playing a small role in their journey called life.