A kind word from a teacher after class or a morning greeting from the principal helps students feel like they belong. However, many students struggled when the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted in-person learning because they lost many of their daily interactions with trusted adults at school.
Teachers told us that they needed a way to maintain relationships with their students while schools were closed and strengthen them when students returned to the classroom. So, we set out to build a tool to help them. We worked with teachers, researchers and our partners at Gradient Learning to develop and release a new tool to help teachers and students connect and build trust.
Launched in 2021, Along is a teacher-student connection builder that gives educators an easy and meaningful way to check in with each student — and know them on a deeper level. Along is based on what we know from research: when students have positive relationships with their teachers, they are more likely to feel motivated and engaged in school, develop positive social and emotional competencies, and perform better academically.20
How CZI Supports Along
CZI’s educational technology team built and continually evolves Along. Ahead of the 2023 Back to School season, Along launched new features — conceived in a co-building workshop with educators — which help teachers capture student perspectives on their learning, view insights on individual or whole class responses, and receive suggested next steps on how to integrate student input. Along’s content and workflows make it even easier to adopt across academic and advisory settings to create even more engaging classrooms and improve outcomes.
A Model for Education Technology Development
Along illustrates the good that can happen when learning scientists, educators, students and community partners join us in product development to co-build new tools that address challenges faced by teachers and students in the classroom. Research transforms from theoretical to practical, and technology tools are shaped by the lived experiences of teachers and students. This collaborative approach remains the model for our technology investments.
First, Along makes learning science research actionable for educators. We worked with Search Institute to make sure the product was truly grounded in research on the critical importance of strong developmental relationships between educators and students.21
Second, we partnered with a range of experts to ensure that Along’s content and user experience were accessible across a range of abilities, promoted positive racial and cultural affirmation, and were inclusive of teacher and student feedback. These organizations include Black Teacher Collaborative, Character Lab, Greater Good Science Center, GripTape, Re-Imagining Migration, Teach Plus, Understood, and UnidosUS.22
Third, Along is rooted in our commitment to creating edtech products that solve for educator needs — to support their efforts to unlock the full potential of every student. To inform our latest features, this summer we conducted extensive user research including co-building sessions with educators in Kansas City school districts, thanks to a partnership with Leanlab Education.23 Their input helped shape how the new features invite and integrate student voice. We also added a new partnership with Transcend, an organization with deep expertise in elevating student voice to transform school communities. Many of our new questions to invite student input are inspired by their research-based Leaps survey.24
Finally, from the outset, CZI developed Along with safety and privacy in mind. Rigorous security and privacy principles guide all of our work and development. We regularly evaluate our policies and practices to improve security and to align with the latest practices of the security industry. In recognition of our strong approach, Along has earned iKeepSafe’s Privacy badges for alignment with guidelines surrounding the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).25
Stronger Connections, Improved Outcomes
Along is helping students and teachers across the country create powerful connections. According to research, it’s these relationships that can lead to improved academic outcomes.26 Already, students have provided more than 270,000 reflections in response to teacher questions, with teachers using more than 15,000 unique reflection questions with students.27
A spring 2023 survey of more than 700 teachers and students using Along found that large majorities of both teachers and students agree that Along helps them build relationships. Nearly 9 in 10 (89%) teachers who responded agreed that Along helps them find time and capacity to build relationships. Almost three-quarters (72%) of students who responded agreed that Along helps their teacher get to know them.28
In recognition of the value Along provides to teachers and students, the teacher-student connection builder received a Special Mention on the TIME Best Inventions of 2022 list; and was named a World Changing Idea finalist by Fast Company, a 2022 Best Tool for Back-to-School by Common Sense Education and a winner of a District Administration’s 2023 Top Ed Tech Products Award.29
CZI will continue to collaborate with educators to develop new features in Along that give teachers more actionable insights about who their students are as individuals and how they experience the classroom. We use the collaborative process pioneered with Along as a model for developing additional tools that enable teachers to implement research-based best practices in the classroom to support student success.
“Our classes are packed … which makes it really hard to meet individually with students. Along gives me a way to connect using questions that are already formulated. This is my way to establish in a safe way that I’m here as a teacher, and as someone you can trust and share with who is not your parent. I want them to have a connection with me and I want them to have a moment of reflection about themselves, to really be able to see themselves.”