New Tool Helps Educators Know How Well Students Are Taking Ownership of Learning Online and What Can Be Done to Support Them


(The RAND Blog)

Teenage girl with hearing aid having online school class at home, photo by Sladic/Getty Images

Photo by Sladic/Getty Images

Nearly all K–12 students across the United States have been undertaking remote learning since March. Now more than ever, students are being asked to direct their own learning without an educator physically there to prompt and support them.

This is big concern for educators, and rightly so. Not all students have mastered the capacity for self-regulation; good study habits and the ability to persevere on challenging tasks are skills that need to be learned, as is peer collaboration and online communication. In addition, students should be able to make well-informed choices about their learning and monitor their own progress when working online. The ability to take ownership of one's own learning is a lot to ask from students whose school-day routines have been significantly interrupted. However, some school systems may have built more of a foundation for students to be able to take ownership of their learning compared to others.

We've recently designed and released a new tool to help educators assess how well their high schools have been supporting and laying the foundation for student-centered learning, as well as how much students are engaging in student-centered learning. The Measuring and Improving Student-Centered Learning (MISCL) Toolkit, developed with support from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, enables high school leaders and teachers to gather information about the extent to which student-centered learning is happening remotely now, and plan for improvements to student-centered learning in the future.

The MISCL Toolkit measures the extent of the following student-centered learning strategies that may be particularly important in the face of remote learning:

  • Is learning personalized?
  • Is learning challenging and helping students master their coursework?
  • Is learning happening anytime, anywhere?
  • Is learning progress being monitored through use of data?
  • Is learning student-owned?

All of these areas of student-centered learning could support student engagement and progress during this period of remote learning, which, for many students, may extend into the next school year.

The MISCL Toolkit includes survey instruments for high school students, teachers, and school leaders that can help gauge student-centered learning. The surveys can be used individually—to gather input from students, for example—or holistically—to gather information from students, teachers, and leaders. The surveys are designed to be administered online. The toolkit includes an online application that generates reports to help users easily analyze the data.

Our recent research to gather evidence of usability, validity, and reliability of the toolkit suggests that the surveys could be a useful tool to help teachers gather important information from their students about the student-centeredness of their instruction. Our study found:

  • Users of the toolkit in multiple school contexts found it to be useful and the information it provided helpful.
  • The surveys measured student-centered learning strategies as intended.

Because these surveys are intended to be administered and analyzed online, they could be given to students and teachers while they are learning and teaching from home right now. Thus, they could give educators rapid, much-needed insight about how much support students will need with online learning now and in the future should schools need to respond to second-wave COVID-19 disruptions in the fall.

Julia Kaufman is a senior policy researcher at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation, with expertise in education policy, program evaluation, education reform, curriculum design, and teaching. Elizabeth D. Steiner is an associate policy researcher at RAND, with expertise in education policy, policy analysis, program evaluation, and qualitative methods and analysis. She is also a member of the Pardee RAND Graduate School faculty.

Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.