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  • Writer's pictureAmy Burvall

Flat Iron Pedagogy: Affective Data Meets Differentiation

curling iron

The other day I was enjoying a rare moment of #whitespace at the hair stylist’s when he disclosed something that blew my mind. It wasn’t the latest local gossip or Game of Thrones spoiler but rather, something about the technology he was using:


Here’s the thing, I don’t regularly flat iron my own hair because I’m afraid I’ll burn it off, and after having had chemo-induced baldness for a few years of my life I don’t think that’s a chance I want to take.  He told me that this unassuming hybrid of metal and pink plastic possessed some sort of “smart” feature whereby it could sense the TYPE of HAIR and adjusts its magic accordingly. That’s right, the flat iron was


I absolutely could not fathom how it could do that, but my stylist swore by it – apparently Ironman here determines what kind of hair you have (curly, thick, dry, brittle, fine) and just switches it up to match. It’s too “smart” to fry your locks and can stand up to even the most resistant strands.

I started thinking how great it would be to be able to understand my students’ needs in a similar way. Could there be some diagnostic test, some way to easily get affective data that could assist me in tweaking my lessons, activities, and assessments?

digital life

Moreover, how could I use that information to help craft customized learning pathways (with the students by the way)? The incomparable Steve Wheeler , (a must to follow on Twitter!) writes about this in his blog often.

Brad Ovenell-Carter, whose work I admire very much, toyed with a thought experiment about affective data collection. He suggested an app or perhaps a hashtag system to gain such data, but in recent conversations has even suggested environmental cues such as triggering Philip’s HUE lights.

Yesterday I was chatting with Damian Rentoule, our Middle School principal and more importantly, father of a teenage daughter. We were discussing our increasingly VISUAL CULTURE and the popularity of the Snapchat app. I’ve had a student tell me, for example, that “texting is too tedious” and she’d rather use Snapchat to communicate mundane status updates such as “I’m on my way”, or “stuck in traffic”. Snapchat’s success with my high school students  intrigues me for many reasons, including the fact that it is inherently

“anti-what-photography-is-supposed-to-do” (preserve fleeting moments – instead it fleets moments for you!),

and it doesn’t allow for amelioration of images (augmentation with text and drawing, yes, effects + prettifying, no)

The general consensus by my teen students, by the way, is that the “fugliness” and “realness” of such photos appeals to a generation floundering  in fancy filters.


What if we allowed students to snap shots of their mood or work and contextualize with a few descriptive words? (or Instagram or Vine for that matter, and call it “datatude“?)


As for now, I plan to DIFFERENTIATE by offering a lot of CHOICE in how my students may demonstrate their learning. I’ve done this with projects for as long as I can remember but much of my other assignments, like reflections and addressing questions, as been text-based. A few years back, I began to understand the power of VLOGGING (video-blogging) as a wonderful assessment and reflection tool. I’ve presented on the benefits of vlogging several times, and if you are interested you can

JOIN MY VLOGGING COMMUNITY ON G+ (lots of resources!)

This year I’ve been exploring the use of SKETCHNOTING and other VISUAL THINKING METHODS as I myself grow in this area. Brad Ovenell-Carter created a G+ community to highlight this type of communication, and particularly showcase student work in his

SKETCHNOTE SCRIBES (to which I regularly contribute)

I see all my assessments as (at least) 3 pronged – the “3 V’s” so to speak:

THE VERBAL (such as blogging, because it must be globally shareable)


THE VOCAL (such as Vlogging)


THE VISUAL (such as Photography or Sketchnoting analogue or digital and uploading to blog)

visual thinkig

Of course , DIGITAL STORYTELLING is something of a combination of all three, but I am talking more about the day-to-day demonstrations of learning.


The point of the flat iron is to make one’s hair smooth and manageable, and thus more appealing. I think some system- if we can come up with it – of affective data capturing would indeed make our students’ learning experience more manageable.  At the moment, I’m hoping that offering more choice in the fundamentals of assessment types will not only be more appealing to my students and me  but “smooth out” our learning paths…

What do you think? I am interested in hearing your ideas and perhaps having you join one of my G+ communities to share resources and dialogue.

#affectivedata #BradOvenellCarter #DamianRentoule #data #personallearning #snapchat #Google #digitalstorytelling #SteveWheeler #vlogging #flatiron #sketchnote #G #differentiation #choice #assessment #pedagogy #visualthinking #HUElights

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