The Quantified Self in Education


Fitbit, a tiny sensor to measure steps taken, calories burned, and sleep. Photo used under CC, attributed to Pete Markham

A unique trend has begun to emerge in wearable technology. Most are referring to this as the “quantified self.” In short, it is the idea that daily, mundane activities, which we have previously paid no attention to have become interesting as technology has found a way to quantify them. Thus, I use a fitbit to count my daily steps. This information can then be catalogued and preserved for future reference. In and of itself, this is only minimally interesting (traditional pedometers have been around for years but have never seen the media or social buzz that products like Nike Fuelband, Fitbit, or the Jawbone Up have). The fascinating part of the data emerges when you can connect that information with other large data and see personal connections. I can look at how many steps I walked in a given week, see how many calories I consumed, how many miles I ran, even how well I slept! This creates an overall picture of me as a person…and it’s fascinating.

I wonder, though, how this mentality can be adapted to education. We certainly have the means to integrate various measurable statistics within the learning process. We have been gathering testing data for decades. That data is perceived as being mostly punitive, though. Perhaps more importantly, its not used by the student at all. What if we could develop a system to allow students to gather information on their learning and combine that information with other important factors of their lives? What if our educational progress became one more component to our quantified self?

In our current K-12 testing climate, regardless of where you philosophically stand on any given test, I think we can all agree that we should continue to strive to be better. Perhaps the question, though, isn’t in the kinds of questions we are asking our students, but actually in the responses we are giving them.

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