The education industry’s new teacher: Sports

Soccer player running with ball

Technology is driving the sports industry, making it easier to gather player insights. Can it do the same for student performance?

The sports industry has changed drastically in recent years with the implementation of technologies that improve player and team performance. NFL teams now use digital playbooks to enhance training and communication, the NHL is planning to introduce smart puck technology in 2019 to track movement on the ice, and most recently at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, all 32 teams used Electronic Performance and Tracking Systems (EPTS), technologies that give coaches, analysts, and medical teams access to player statistics and video footage, such as player positioning data, speed, passing, and tackles. With high stakes competition in every game, coaches can rely on EPTS to help them make informed decisions. And sports coaches aren’t the only ones using technology to gain insights and drive results. Just ask a teacher.

Teachers and coaches embrace technology

According to a 2016 survey by Edgenuity, provider of online and blended learning services, 91% of teachers believe technology provides a greater ability for them to tailor lessons and homework assignments to the individual needs of each student.

By implementing technology in the classroom and learning how to use new apps and platforms, teachers are able to stay on top of learner progress and provide immediate feedback that will improve performance. Teachers, like sports coaches, have to learn about the latest technologies so they’re able to build the skills and the talents of others.

Technology affects everyone

In 2016, FIFA invited the soccer industry to Zurich to learn more about new technologies like EPTS that would impact the game. Johannes Holzmueller, FIFA Head of Football Technology, believes the advantage of wearable technology is the amount of data people can access. His colleague Marco van Basten, FIFA’s Chief Technical Development Officer, notes that data informs players on their performance, it gives doctors insight into player health and wellbeing, and trainers can use it to recommend player substitutes.

With innovative technology, a community of people interested in the soccer player’s abilities can work together. The collaboration and involvement look similar to the way teachers, parents, and administrators work together to do what’s best for the student. Cutting-edge technology affects an individual’s entire ecosystem.

Keller Battey, a first grade teacher in Atlanta, Georgia, relies heavily on technology to help her track progress and personalize teaching. “Technology helps all students,” Battey says. “If a student is above grade level, I can extend a skill or a lesson and if a student is struggling then I can remediate. I know exactly how my students are performing and so do their parents. The data is all there.”

Industry innovation

Education companies, large and small, are listening to consumers and have focused on the benefits of providing data and analytics to help teachers and students achieve success. Pearson’s Intelligent Essay Assessor (IEA) is a prime example of a capability that meets the needs of teachers and students.

IEA is a suite of automated essay scoring capabilities that can analyze open-ended responses from learners and then assesses the content knowledge and understanding. It uses a range of machine learning and natural language processing technologies to evaluate the content and meaning of text and feedback is immediate, allowing teachers to monitor ongoing progress at an individual and class level.

The goal of technology here is to ensure correct evaluation and accuracy. In this year’s World Cup, the new Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology performed in a similar capacity.

Technology as a supplement

VAR was created to ensure fairness and identify any errors on the field. Video Assistant Referees work in a team of four, and each referee undergoes extensive training to support match officials in the decision making process.

FIFA referee Mark Geiger has been a VAR since the project started in 2016 at the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan. He says, “When you have a critical decision in a game…they’re there to tell you ‘check complete.’ It’s the two best words for a referee to hear because now you know your decision was correct, and you’re able to go on with a lot of confidence.”

VAR technology proved to be a controversial topic at the World Cup, and though it may undergo improvements, the technology is here to stay. At the closing news conference in Moscow, FIFA president Gianni Infantino touched on the technology at the games. “This is progress, this is better than the past,” he said. “VAR is not changing football, it is cleaning football.”

A similar sentiment is expressed by education leaders who assure consumers and educators that technology doesn’t exist to replace teachers; it exists to support them. Tim Hudson, SVP of Learning at DreamBox, told Business Insider, “It’s important that we listen to teachers and administrators to determine the ways technology can assist them in the classroom.”

The VAR room

The VAR room (FIFA.com)

The impact of technology

In all industries, technology is causing disruption and calling for new ways of working. The sports industry and the education industry are no exception. Just as high-definition cameras and new innovative equipment have improved the integrity of the game and athletic performance, so too have automated scoring and interactive tools benefitted learners and their academic performance.

It seems that technology is advancing the field of sports and education, and it would be wise for each industry to monitor the progress of the other so they know how they can grow and where they need to focus. After all, it’s what they do for players and students.

Robin Beck

Robin Beck

About the author

Robin Beck is a former teacher and a staff writer for Pearson. She resides in Atlanta.