Technology’s Role in Math, For Example

Developing math fact fluency requires more than memorization.

GUEST COLUMN | by Dennis Pierce

CREDIT Origo Education.pngFor years, students have been taught to memorize their basic math facts for multiplication and division. But next-generation learning standards require a deeper understanding of what that really means.

If students don’t have a mental picture for what “9 x 3” represents, and they’re just trying to remember that the answer is 27, then what are they going to do if they forget this fact—and how are they going to apply this knowledge to larger and larger numbers?

Students need visual models to give them a conceptual understanding of these strategies.

Getting to Fluency

Fluency requires more than just memorizing isolated math facts. Students need to see how these facts are connected, says math education expert James Burnett—and they also need strategies for solving these problems.

“If we give students a strategy, and they forget an answer, then they have a way of recreating it,” says Burnett, who is the president, co-founder, and senior curriculum author for Origo Education, a developer of standards-based elementary math education, curriculum and digital products. “And if students have a thinking strategy, they can use that same strategy to do calculations with greater numbers.”

For instance, one strategy would be for students to use their knowledge of tens facts to figure out facts involving five. Because five is half of 10, then the product of any number and five would be half of that same number when multiplied by 10. “If you know ten threes is 30, then five threes must be half of 30, or 15,” Burnett explains.

Once students know their tens and fives math facts, they can use a strategy known as “build up” or “build down” to learn their sixes and nines facts. Students can derive their nines facts by building down from a known fact involving 10.

For example: “9 x 3” is the same as “10 x 3” minus three; 30 – 3 = 27. Similarly, students can derive their sixes facts by building up from five: When students know that “3 x 5” is 15, then they also know that 3 x 6 is just one more three, or 18.

What’s more, students can learn their twos, fours, and eights math facts by doubling numbers once (for twos), twice (for fours), or three times (for eights).

In other words, “two times three” is the same as “double three,” or six. “Four times three” is the same as “double double three,” which is also “double six,” or 12.

Armed with these kinds of strategies, students can apply them to solve multiplication problems involving greater numbers.

Try This On For Size

“Say you have a T-shirt that costs $19,” Burnett says. “You want to buy three shirts. How much does that cost? ($57). How do you figure that out in your head?

“Well, 19 is one less than 20, so if you know 20 threes is 60, then 19 threes must be three less than sixty (57). In this way, we are ‘building down’ from a known fact involving 20.”

And once students have mastered their basic multiplication facts, learning division becomes easier as well.

“The number one strategy for teaching division is to think multiplication,” Burnett says. “If you are faced with ‘30 divided by five,’ and you know five sixes are 30, then you also know 30 divided by five is six.

“Use your understanding of multiplication to figure out your division facts. Again, having an understanding of the connection between the operations assists with the learning of the facts.”

But just talking about these strategies isn’t enough.

Visual Models for Conceptual Understanding

“Students need visual models to give them a conceptual understanding of these strategies,” Burnett notes.

“If you just say, ‘Well, you don’t know your fives, but you know your tens, so all you have to do is multiple by 10 and half it,’ then all you’ve done is given the students another procedure for which they don’t understand why it works. You’ve got to give them visual pictures so they understand why the strategy works. For this particular strategy, it is good to picture an array of dots.”

In a Nov. 28 webinar hosted by edWeb, Burnett will demonstrate easy-to-make visual aids and games that can help students master these basic math fact strategies for multiplication and division.

During the webinar, Burnett will show attendees how to introduce each strategy using something concrete or pictorial; reinforce the thinking associated with each strategy through games and activities; practice each strategy to help students develop automatic recall of basic multiplication and division facts; and extend each strategy by applying it to numbers beyond the number fact range.

“That’s the sequence of steps we take students through within our curriculum materials. Every good program will do exactly that,” he says.

Dennis Pierce is the former managing editor of eSchoolNews where he worked for 17 years. As a veteran education technology journalist, he has a unique ability to see the big picture regarding technology’s role in education. Contact him through LinkedIn.

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Confessions of a Technology Evangelist

Or, how AR and VR will (really) transform education to create a meaningful future.

GUEST COLUMN | by Todd Richmond

CREDIT IEEE image.jpgI was recently asked to give a keynote talk on virtual, augmented and mixed reality (VAMR) for a group of K-12 teachers, administrators, and CTOs/CIOs.

The first two talks – one by an architectural firm and the second by the educational arm of a VR company – lauded the impact that VR was having in their industries, and painted an exciting picture of remote collaboration, rich sensory experiences, and improved communication and learning.

These are tools—albeit profoundly powerful ones—that need to be understood and used in meaningful ways.

Then I got up and served as the wet blanket – a reality check on where we really are today, and offered cautionary tales on technology hype and early adoption.

I opened the talk with a confession: I used to be a technology evangelist, but now—after a few decades of being in the trenches—I’m much more of a technology realist.

Computers in the classroom, mobile, and now immersive – each held out as a “silver bullet” that will magically transform the classroom and education.

But the reality sets in, and we find that these are tools—albeit profoundly powerful ones—that need to be understood and used in meaningful ways. That said, even a realist can be excited about the possibilities.

Here’s why.

Real-time Collaboration

While still clunky, we now can interact in shared virtual environments while being physically located mostly anywhere.

This means that a “classroom” can extend far beyond four walls, and “group projects” can now include students and mentors that are spread around the county, state, and around the world.

It really does begin to enable borderless education, and the possibilities around language study and cultural understanding are particularly exciting.

The same technological advances will change the workplace in similar ways, so the good news is that the shared virtual educational environments can seamlessly transition into shared workplace environments.

Almost Like Being There

As the saying goes, those that ignore history are doomed to repeat it. One challenge is that history is historical, and can be difficult for a student to engage and understand, particularly devoid of cultural associations and experience of the various locales.

VAMR provides the opportunity to immerse students in places and events.  While the efficacy and educational outcomes are still being studied, we know that the first step to understanding is engagement, and VAMR currently excels at that task when done right.  

Driving Admissions

One strong capability of VR is to allow a user to become embodied in a place (assuming a well-crafted virtual environment).

Educational institutions who are looking for prospective students have historically used print materials combined with perhaps video to give a taste of the place.

Beyond that, a visit to the physical space is the only way to give a more immersive experience. Virtual tours can give prospective students (and parents!) a much deeper insight into not only the facilities, but the culture of the school and campus.

This also can enable a “life-long” connection with the school, as students can begin their interactions before beginning their studies, and continuing after matriculation, graduation, and then as alumni.

The Empathy Machine (?)

Many have described VR as an “empathy machine”, due to the ability to embody characters in virtual (or 360 video) environments. While VR certainly helps increase awareness of the situations and environments of others, whether that leads to empathy is still an open question.

In fact, there is a danger of what I call “false empathy”, wherein a VR user takes their experience as equivalent to “being there” and then assume that they truly understand the plight of others.

It will be important that educators strive to find balance and temper digital experiences with an eye towards what levels of transference are possible.

The Tyranny of Literalism

My wife is an artist and faculty at CalArts. We often discuss education, particularly in light of a rapidly changing digital world. One course she teaches is called “Vigor and Rigor.”

For her, it often relates to having a group of highly vigorous young art students and getting them to understand that art is not just a noun—it is a verb that includes practice and process, both of which require rigor.

My applications are usually the opposite, as I work with a variety of scientists and technologists who have been steeped in rigor for years, but have shed some of the ability to color outside the lines.

We as a society tend to increasingly suffer from “the tyranny of literalism”, where we accept things at face value, and don’t really do much critical thinking or deeply consider issues of abstraction and representation.

One fear with VR is that it may take the place of the imagination, moving ‘theater of the mind’ onto the headset.

Recognizing that possibility, we need to build tools and experiences that instead challenge our thinking and augment our creative abilities and outputs. And it is critical to include artists in the process, as they are trained to work through issues such as abstraction, which are key to breaking down and understanding complexity.

The Chinese have the concept of Yin/Yang – that for every force there is a counter balancing force. Day and night, hard and soft, dark and light, good and bad – you can’t have one without the other.

It is important that we keep this dynamic in mind as we develop educational applications for VAMR. If there is great power, there also is the potential for abuse, negative training, and other downsides.

It is critical that developers and educators remain cognizant of the downsides as we embrace the new capabilities that can and will transform education. In a spirit of thoughtful experimentation rather than “easy solutions”, we can and will invent a meaningful future.

Todd Richmond, IEEE Member, currently heads University of Southern California’s Mixed Reality Lab as its Director, where he works in a variety of areas related to emerging disruptive technologies (Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Mixed Reality, Artificial Intelligence) and their implications and applications for training, learning, and operations. Future environments for communication and collaboration, immersive technologies, interactive education, and visualization and analytics—are some of the areas in which Todd and his team focus. He is also research faculty at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, working to better understand VAMR. He earned a B.A. in chemistry from the University of San Diego and a Ph.D. in chemistry from Caltech, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship in protein engineering at UC San Francisco.

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The Technology and Learning Conversation Has Shifted

From transactional use to transformational learning experiences, 6 critical factors for teacher success.

GUEST COLUMN | by Randy Ziegenfuss

CREDIT Salisbury Township School District image.jpgIn a previous article, I shared a framework we’ve engaged to guide our digital transformation over the past seven years.

During that period of time, I’ve often noted that the balance of conversations between technology and learning has shifted.

Conversations about learning are more prevalent now than they were at the beginning of our work, and as a result we are seeing more examples of deeper learning with technology.

Once teachers and leaders have started reframing their understanding of powerful learning, only then should they push their thinking to determine how technologies can make that learning even more powerful.

Before we started having more intentional conversations about learning, the majority of technology use was transactional – reinforcing the efficiencies of learning, often moving information from digital sources into the minds of students so they could continue achieving on traditional assessments.

We saw a dominance of activities where learners researched a topic (often selected by the teacher) around questions (selected by the teacher) and demonstrating their learning through presentations (sometimes with a few choices to select from).

It seemed like a good start, but it wasn’t long before our transformation had plateaued.

We Started Asking Questions

We wanted to figure out how to support our teachers in creating more transformational learning opportunities. So as all good leaders do, we started asking questions.

After collecting data, largely through classroom walkthroughs, surveys and focus groups, one primary question emerged:

What are the critical factors of success for those teachers creating transformational learning experiences?

Driven by this question, our Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning, Lynn Fuini-Hetten, and I set out on an action research project to find an answer to our inquiry.

As a result of this work, we identified the following six critical factors of success:

  • social networking
  • peer networking
  • professional learning opportunities
  • safe, risk-taking environment
  • motivation – internal and external
  • Personal teaching/learning philosophy

Through pursuit of this inquiry in our own context we also learned that we needed to create professional learning opportunities, for teachers and leaders, that reflected the kinds of technology-rich, deeper learning opportunities we wanted for our learners in the classroom.

FETC link.jpgLearn more from Randy Ziegenfuss and other leading analysts, thought leaders, and educators at the 2018 Future of Education Technology Conference, January 23-26 in Orlando, Florida. 

Since then we have shifted our professional development from a technology-centered focus on tools to one that is creating a culture of conversations and work rooted in learning. Technology still plays a significant role in what we do in the classroom, but our focus has shifted to our collaboratively created Profile of a Graduate and learning beliefs.

We began our transformation work with the idea that technology would improve the efficiencies of a transactional learning model. We should have asked ourselves what we wanted to see change around learning in the classroom:

As a result of our learners using technology, what do we expect to be different about learning?

This is a transformational question.

Our misstep is not uncommon.

We can see this flaw in thinking in many of the recent (somewhat lukewarm) studies on the impact of technology in education.

At the Center of Learning

Read the studies from the OECD and SRI, then ask yourself what the actual learning environments looked like.

While it isn’t always clear, they were likely more traditional transactional learning environments, not the deeper learning environments we yearn for.

If that were the case, why would we expect to see a great impact of technology on learning?

How can you start shifting your thinking from technology-centered to learner-centered? Ask yourself how learning will be different as a result of using technology.

We did and then expanded our understanding of what learning could look like through Education Reimagined and their 5-point “north star” for powerful learning environments.

Learning is…

  • Competency-based – When the learner works toward competency and strives for mastery in defined domains of knowledge/literacies, skills, and dispositions.
  • Personalized, contextualized and relevant – An approach that uses such factors as the learner’s own passions, strengths, needs, family, culture, and community as fuel for the development of knowledge, skills, and dispositions.
  • Characterized by learner agency – Learners are active participants in their own learning and engage themselves in the design of their experiences.
  • Socially-embedded – Rooted in meaningful relationships with family, peers, qualified adults, and community members and is grounded in community and social interaction.
  • Open-walled – Acknowledges that learning happens at many times and in many places and intentionally leverages its expansive nature in the learner’s development of competencies.

We have also found it effective to engage teachers and leaders in thinking about their own powerful learning experiences, whether as K-12 learners or adult learners.

After identifying personal experiences, ask teachers and leaders to reflect on what made their identified experiences so powerful.

Chances are great that what they identify can be connected to the five learning beliefs outlined above.

Focus and Framing

Once teachers and leaders have started reframing their understanding of powerful learning, only then should they push their thinking to determine how technologies can make that learning even more powerful.

To support this thinking, I like to use the six questions posed by Alan November:

  • Does the assignment/unit build capacity for critical thinking on the web?
  • Does the assignment/unit develop new lines of inquiry?
  • Are there opportunities for students to make their thinking visible?
  • Are there opportunities to broaden the perspective of the conversation with authentic audiences from around the world?
  • Is there an opportunity for students to create a contribution (purposeful work)?
  • Are there opportunities for students to self-assess?

We have a whole host of technologies, apps and emerging technologies at our fingertips in education—from productivity to assessment; virtual reality, augmented reality—and powerful technologies yet to come.

We should not be distracted by devices and tools. Instead, it is our responsibility as leaders to frame technology’s use in the context of powerful learning.

Thoughtful questioning always begins with grounding the thinking and conversation in learning.

Not teaching.

Not technology.

Teaching and technology play important roles in the conversation, but if we want the most powerful experiences for our learners, we have to think about changes in learning first and foremost.

Randy Ziegenfuss is Salisbury Township School District superintendent. Previously a classroom teacher, department chair, tech integration specialist, director of technology, and assistant principal, he is currently adjunct professor of education at Moravian College, his alma mater. He teaches courses in assessment and technology. He earned his M.A. from Teachers College in Technology Leadership and a doctorate in educational and organizational leadership from the University of Pennsylvania. Follow @ziegeran, and visit or listen in to and

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Cool Tool | New i-Ready Lessons

CREDIT i-Ready.pngPlory, Yoop, and Snargg. I’m in! Phonological awareness and high-frequency words are important building blocks for young students as they develop their reading skills. To support these early learners, Curriculum Associates recently added more than 75 new lessons addressing these skills to its award-winning i-Ready program, which is used by nearly 5 million students across the country. The new online lessons—focused on phonological awareness for Grades K-1 and high-frequency words for Grades K-2—are built in HTML5 and accessible on iPads, Chromebooks, and desktops. Students complete an activity, and the lesson responds dynamically to the results. Incorrect answers prompt targeted instruction to improve understanding, and correct answers bypass instruction and prompt deeper practice of that skill. By quickly assessing students’ needs and guiding them to remedial instruction or practice when needed, the lessons ensure efficient use of students’ time. The lessons, which were extensively tested by students and designed to maximize engagement, feature two curious aliens, Plory and Yoop, and their pet Snargg, who lead students on a learning expedition. These interactive, animated characters reinforce concepts in a fun, participatory way and guide students through research-based instruction that meets the rigor of the K-2 ELA standards. Learn more.

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When the ‘SCI’ is the Limit

Applying technology to an all-too-common financial barrier for students.

GUEST COLUMN | by Barbara Freeman and Reginald Berry

CREDIT World Bank education.pngFederal student loan programs were founded on the premise of access and equity.

The aim: to enable young people to finance their education in order that they can pursue their life goals and dreams, irrespective of their socio-demographic or financial background.

Yet many young students study and hopefully graduate from postsecondary education with high levels of debt and financial insecurity.

The model, which could help student borrowers avoid economic distress by placing them on the right path when the student loan is initiated, is aimed at supporting students dynamically throughout the student loan process.

This places stress and strain on their lives and can diminish their ability to compete on an equal footing with others less encumbered with debt.

The Struggle is Real

Student loan defaults are substantially higher than defaults on mortgage, auto, and small business loans, and credit card debt.

Borrowers struggle with student loan repayments for many reasons. Some are macroeconomic: escalating tuition costs, slow and disparate regional economic growth, and a difficult job market for entry-level positions.

Other explanations relate to low levels of financial literacy or borrowers’ attitudes and decisions about how to handle student loans.

Graduates tend to prioritize repaying car loans and credit cards over student loans because they are more tangible.

Many students do not understand the complicated student loan options or what it means to default.

Others do not comprehend the growth in the size of loan balances during the college years or fail to realize that they may struggle to secure a well-paying job after graduation.

Still others do not know that their loan must be repaid if they drop out of school.

A Range of Circumstances

Numerous studies enable us to readily identify the range of circumstances that most commonly affect the probability of students’ ability to repay their loans and which factors are most likely to lead to default. The data is robust and can be captured in a few bullet points.

Default is most common with students:

  • who drop out of college and fail to complete their degree;
  • who complete only a certificate;
  • who have small loan balances—students with balances of $5,000 or less are most at-risk of default and student with balances of less than $10,000 account for 65% of all defaults;
  • who attend school part-time or on a path that will take them more than the typical four to six years to graduate;
  • who attend a for-profit institution (both two and four year) and are the first in their families to get a college degree, typically from a family with income of $40,000 or less;
  • who attend an institution for higher education that is ineligible for Title IV funding; and
  • who receive Pell grants as opposed to other means of financing.

The federal government possesses massive data that can be used to monitor, and potentially mitigate, these risks.

The Data is Already There

Publicly-available data can be drawn from the US Department of Education Financial Student Aid’s National Student Loan Data (NSLD) and Cohort Default Rate (CDR), the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) data on personal characteristics, and earnings data from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Social Security Administrative (SSA) databases.

Although these data are highly reliable and provide strong analytic value, some data are static and lagging, and individual loan transaction-level details and granular loan performance data are proprietary to the loan servicing companies.

A bipartisan bill, The College Transparency Act of 2017, has been introduced that has the potential to address these issues. It calls for the strengthening of transparency in federal reporting and accessibility of unit-level outcome data (e.g., enrollment, retention, completion, and post-college outcomes).

Even without policy change, federal data can be supplemented by drawing on alternative data points, such as students’ phone and utility records, social media, or psychometrics assessments.

Why Wait?

But why wait to put these available data to work while substantial progress could be made in the near term?

The Student Credit Intervention (SCI; pronounced ‘sky’) is an educational credit intervention for students in the early stage of development.

SCI is a data-driven, predictive model that analyzes borrowers’ attributes and decision-making patterns, identifies critical points at which default is most likely, and uses this data to provide targeted, relevant, and ongoing support to borrowers.

The model, which could help student borrowers avoid economic distress by placing them on the right path when the student loan is initiated, is aimed at supporting students dynamically throughout the student loan process.

Similar to Credit Scoring

The SCI draws on modeling techniques similar to those used in credit risk scoring models.

Models that most of us know, if not by name (FICO, Experian, etc.) then by the fact that they determine whether we qualify for a loan or a mortgage and the terms of the loan.

Typically, credit risk scoring models predict the probability of default within a two-year period or less; creating bands correlated with specific short-term default probabilities. Similar to credit models, the SCI model segments the borrower population and uses a short-term indicator of student loan default.

You may wonder, “Why use a short-term measure when student loans are long-term debt (or more aptly long-term investments)?

The reason is that short-term predictors provide important information that can be used as a basis for determining the appropriate short-term action or intervention that can help students prevent longer-term problems (see Figure 1 below).

The SCI Model

The SCI model is comprised of a series of individual models, grouped along a dimension according to known risk factors (e.g., financial stressors, academic difficulty). Key Risk Indicators serve as an early warning signal of increasing risk exposure, as exemplified in the following table.

Grouping Dimension Risk Factors Key Risk Indicators
Financial Stressors Size of loan balances, decline in credit performance (when available), loan repayment status, etc. ·       A missed or postponed payment

·       A late payment

·       A decline in credit score

Academic Difficulties Change in GPA, drop in credit hours, extending time to graduation, dropping out of college, etc. ·       A low first-semester GPA

·       A drop in the number of credit hours per semester

·       Dropping out of college

Family & Housing Issues Death in the family, poor health or caregiving issues, homelessness, etc. ·       Poor health

·       Poor health of a family member or family death

·       A change in housing arrangements indicating homelessness

Post-Graduation Difficulties Unemployment, low income, public service professions, economic downturn, etc. ·       Period of unemployment

·       Employment in public service

·       A downturn in the economy

Like credit scoring models, SCI also provides a simple numeric scorecard; except scoring is based on student risk factors and the Key Risk Indicators are designed to trigger alerts to help the student borrower avoid distress.


A key task is to determine the optimal cut-off thresholds for the SCI scoring model. Using these thresholds, the SCI can auto-generate recommendations based on each student’s needs and provide guidance based on the estimated likelihood of various events occurring.

Targeted, relevant, and ongoing support can then be provided to borrowers in order to help them better understand the decisions that they need to make at a given point in time, based on their actions and circumstances.

Warning Signs

Students who are showing warning signs that they may be headed toward trouble can receive greater attention and be provided with the type of information that could lead them down a manageable path.

For example, a text could be sent if an indicator was triggered for a late payment; or if a student is dropping classes, a student could receive a message that helps them understand that additional interest will be accrued (the loan will cost more!) as a result of extending the amount of time until graduation.

In more serious cases, a counselor can be assigned to provide guidance.

Real Help for Students

CREDIT Barbara Freeman Table1.png

SCI could also be used at the start of the loan process to better inform loan originations, enabling the government and other lenders to provide borrowers with a fair and appropriate loan product and terms (e.g., flexible income-driven repayment plans), which could be customized to the student’s individual needs rather than providing them with a one-size-fits-all product.

Figure 1 (above) provides an illustration of the SCI Scorecard, working in conjunction with existing credit information.

Sufficient information can be obtained today from the FAFSA and other available data to create a first generation SCI model.

Student borrowers clearly need help.

So, why wait to help students when we can do something now?

Barbara Freeman is a Visiting Scholar at the University of California at Berkeley and a consultant to the World Bank. She co-founded KPMG Consulting’s Risk Management practice in the Asia Pacific region and is the co-creator of multiple educational interventions. This article was co-authored by Reginald Berry, who helped develop the federal sector business for FICO and has worked with the SBA, EXIM Bank and Treasury regarding credit risk issues. Special thanks to Doug Criscitello and Kyle Shohfi from the MIT Golub Center for Finance and Policy for their helpful comments. Contact Barbara through LinkedIn.

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School of Thought for Innovators

This ‘farmer’ has an interesting crop, and you’ll never guess what it is.

GUEST COLUMN | by Nancy Conrad

CREDIT Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge.pngThe occasion was an advisory board meeting of a young tech startup company.

The group attending was filled with brilliant, millennial tech-wizards, entrepreneurs, success stories—and me.

As dinner was served at a beautiful table, in a magnificent penthouse apartment in Gramercy Park, they each introduced themselves.

One by one, they told the story of the company they created, got funded, took public and sold for boatloads of money.

It is bold, it is audacious and it is transformative.

All were excited to be there—maybe this startup could be the next big thing.

I sat silently.

I was completely immersed in their stories of success, when all of a sudden, I was next to introduce myself.

What the Sam Hill was I going to say?

Then I heard myself respond: “I am a farmer.”

There was total silence.

“Oh, and what do you grow,” they asked.

Without hesitation I proclaimed, “I grow unicorns.”

Let me explain.

Unicorns are a dynamic group of disruptive companies valued at $1B or more. Facebook, Amazon and Google are paradigm examples.

The question is, how do you grow unicorns, the companies and the visionary leaders who create them?

Traditionally, we have subscribed to the theory that there are two ways to think about a challenge: inside the box and “outside the box”.

FETC link.jpgLearn more from Nancy Conrad and other leading analysts, thought leaders, and educators at the 2018 Future of Education Technology Conference, January 23-26 in Orlando, Florida. 

But, to grow unicorns, we must embrace the new idea that there simply is no box. It is bold, it is audacious and it is transformative.

‘No Box’ School of Thought

When the Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge was created twelve years ago, we designed our program based on the concept of no box thinking.

The annual Challenge is an online global competition for students ages 13-18. Working in teams of 2-5, our students create commercially viable products to solve complex global, national or local issues in one of four categories:

-Aerospace & Aviation

-Cyber-Technology & Security

-Energy & Environment, and

-Health & Nutrition

At the core of our competition is the opportunity for students to learn how to think, how to learn, how to be no box thinkers and how to potentially become unicorns.

Our desire to provide our students with tools and resources to solve real-world challenges created an opportunity for us to use ourno box’ thinking skills.

A Global Collaborative

The result is an online, organic framework called The Conrad Design Method (CDM): Sprint 4 STEM. This digital platform is where students can collaborate across the globe with teachers, other students and subject matter experts to understand innovation and experience entrepreneurship.

CDM: Sprint 4 STEM aligns seamlessly with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

These standards require students to undertake design projects related to major global, national or local issues, design solutions, test and refine to identify the best solution to a challenge.

Inspired by the Google Ventures Design Sprint, CDM: Sprint 4 STEM offers a real understanding of how to integrate these standards with no box thinking and practical learning skills.

Our five-phase organic collaboration framework is for teachers and student teams to understand and accomplish their innovative and entrepreneurial solutions. Step-by-step, teams identify and understand a problem, sketch solutions, prototype and validate.

To create this method we utilized an off-the-shelf-system, Trello, to visually present curriculum and guide student teams and their teachers through each step of the design process. Through the CDM: Sprint 4 STEM students and teachers gain access to on-going personalized lesson plans, subject matter experts, training modules and online support. This platform also provides the framework for teachers and students to share and guide each other.

Shark Tank Meets Academy Awards

This year’s Challenge marked the launch of the CDM: Sprint 4 STEM.

While the platform is new, the method is not a new concept to our Director of Education and Professional Development, Claude Charron.

He has fine-tuned the process for over three years with hundreds of students.

As student and teachers engage with others across the world, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Our system encourages student teams become no box thinkers.

Students who become finalists in our competition are invited to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex where they present their products before industry leaders. This is a Shark Tank meets the Academy Awards for global high-school students.

Every year, students exceed our expectations with their innovate no box solutions to challenges in sustainability.

With this fantastic new tool at their fingertips, I cannot wait to see what our students create. Who knows? We may even be meeting the next generation of unicorns.

Nancy Conrad is Founder and Chairman of the Conrad Foundation and the Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge. She created the Conrad Foundation in 2008 to energize and engage students in science and technology through unique entrepreneurial opportunities. As a leader in transformative education, she has testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology detailing how the Conrad Foundation exemplifies the use of partnership and mentorship to improve STEM education. She has been named one of the top 100 leaders in STEM Education. Ms. Conrad serves on the Board of Directors of the Presidential Scholars.

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Generation Alpha

Teaching and learning with post-Millennial students.


CREDIT Nexed.pngDuring my years as an elementary school vice principal, I had the opportunity to wander in and out of all the classrooms in the school—ranging from junior Kindergarten to Grade 8.

I was always struck by the time and care quality teachers put into their individual classroom setup; from the bright colors and play-based activity centers of the Grade One classes, to the beanbag chairs and ‘contemplation corners’ for the Grade Sevens.

No one classroom looked the same, and the changes in the ‘look and feel’ as students grew older and matured was no random act.

So how do we move forward to build an LMS that engages its youngest users? There are platforms becoming available that do just that.

It was done by informed educators backed by sound pedagogy.

As educators, we have always known that children of different ages live and learn very differently.

What is meaningful, relevant and engaging to an eight-year old is far removed from what inspires a 15-year old.

And the classroom environment in which these children learn reflects this.

Gen Alpha

In 2017, elementary schools educators are now teaching what is known as ‘Generation Alpha’—the children of Millennials. These are children born starting in 2010. This was the year the iPad came out; Instagram was launched—it was know as the ‘Year of the App’.

Our Generation Alphas has lived and learned with technology since the day they were born.

FETC link.jpgLearn more from Mark Wu and other leading analysts, thought leaders, and educators at the 2018 Future of Education Technology Conference, January 23-26 in Orlando, Florida. 

We are now living in an age where the technology we are using with our students—the types of physical devices and the kinds of software applications we choose—represent yet another environment in which children are expected to learn.

And so enters the Learning Management System.

The Big Business of LMS

An LMS allows for the delivery of ‘online’ courses and materials.

An educator creates a course, adds students and content. They can hand out and grade assignments and keep track of marks and other student data.

Often, they have a social component as well, with text chat, and ‘Facebook style’ posting and commenting.

LMSs were first developed for corporate and post-secondary institutions. This is still where LMS use is most prevalent, with Blackboard, Moodle and Canvas being the most commonly used.

But slowly they have became adopted by secondary and now elementary schools, with platforms like Edmodo and Schoology being developed more specifically for younger students. In 2016, 75 percent of K-12 districts in the United States used an LMS.

LMSs are big business.

With a market predicted to be worth well over $7B by 2018—and with K-12 just a portion of that.

The question that must be asked by educators of our Generation Alphas then, is: are we keeping the learning needs of our younger students firmly in mind when a district chooses an LMS? Are we using sound pedagogy?

A ‘Facebook for Education’

Early in 2017, the K-12 LMS Edmodo had 75 million worldwide users: teachers, students, parents and school administrators—and has been called ‘Facebook for Education’.

Founded by two Chicago school district ‘IT guys’ and launched in 2008, it brought K-12 teachers and parents into an interface they were comfortable with, knew and understood.

So while it was one of the first LMSs to address the unique needs of K-12, the design focus was clearly not on younger students.

There are not a lot of Generation Alphas using Facebook.

In fact, the age group of 13-17 is the smallest percentage of Facebook users. The Edmodo user experience was certainly not created with the elementary school students’ experience in mind.

Moving Forward

So how do we move forward to build an LMS that engages its youngest users? There are platforms becoming available that do just that.

Using game-based and quest-based learning strategies, they are blurring the lines between games and learning management; taking the necessary features of an LMS—but blending them with gaming elements.

Emerging platforms such as Rezzly, originally developed at Boise State University, are partnering with forward thinking districts like Fullerton—a K-8 district outside of Los Angeles.

Together, they have created a quest-based learning platform called iPersonalize where ‘students participate in self-paced, personalized individual and collaborative quest-based learning experiences.

They team up, earn experience points, and level up.

As Fullerton Superintendent Bob Pletka puts it:

“Education is experiencing an engagement crisis where students are increasingly tuning out of traditional educational systems. The focus on proficiency rather than mastery has also taken a toll on students’ passion and desire for learning. One argument might be that it’s just this generation, but when we look at statistics in other areas, we see that these same students are spending on average fourteen hours a week in gaming environments, sacrificing time and energy on systems that seemingly have no real value and yet they are engaged and passionate about learning in these gaming environments.”

Evolving towards game-based learning management?

Good news for our Generation Alphas—and perhaps a glimpse of what’s to come for Learning Management Systems in K-8.

Mark Wu is the co-founder of Nexed, a virtual world enabling authentic learning. He has been working with diverse groups of students for more than 15 years as a classroom teacher, special education resource teachers, and school administrator.

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The Tenets of Educational Technology Leadership

An opportunity for success—and some helpful principles on which to make it happen. 

GUEST COLUMN | by Matt Harris

CREDIT FETC image.jpgEdtech leadership, worldwide, is a growing market.

The complexity of schools, the challenges of modern learning, the ever-changing nature of technology, and the perpetual need for leaders in education has created an opportunity.

However, success in edtech leadership requires a set of skills and competencies that span more areas than you’ll find in most educational leadership positions and perhaps leadership in other fields as well.

Over a series a posts, I hope to expound on the key tenets of Educational Technology Leadership as a means of helping aspiring leaders identify and fill the buckets of experience and knowledge they need to be a success.

FETC link.jpgLearn more from Matt Harris and other leading analysts, thought leaders, and educators at the 2018 Future of Education Technology Conference, January 23-26 in Orlando, Florida. 

In each post, I will go into detail about one element of edtech leadership, discussing its key components, real life examples, and ways in which to grow and develop.

These are the Tenets of Educational Technology Leadership:

  1. Leadership – That undefinable state of having presence, communicating, curating talent, and developing shared vision.


  1. Management – Keeping a finger on the systems, plans, and people needed to keep the department and school moving forward.


  1. Information Technology – Competencies in computing, networking, servers/clients, systems, backups, cloud services, etc.

CREDIT Matt Harris EdTech Digest.png

  1. Educational Technology – Being a pedagog, with understanding of where technology crosses over curriculum to enhance teaching and learning at all levels.


  1. Systemic Thinking – Being able to see the whole forest that is a school while keeping knowledge of the trees.


  1. Professional Learner – A commitment and adeptness at learning for individual and organizational growth


Through the explanation of each of these tenets, I hope to show that each is reliant upon the others. Further, though they are specific skillsets all of which an individual may not possess, there are ways to build knowledge or organize an edtech team to compensate. Very few people have them all at an expert level.

As an educator and leader in current times, I hope this will be of great use to you.

Matt Harris, Ed.D., is Deputy Head of School for Learning Technology at the British School of Jakarta, Indonesia. He also works as an educational consultant for schools and Ministries of Education in the Middle East, Africa, North America, Australia, and Asia. Matt has a deep passion for all things edtech. Contact him through


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Backing Up to Get a Wider View of EdTech Funding for Your School

How a total cost of ownership approach to edtech can affordably power learning.

GUEST COLUMN | by Charles Duarte

CREDIT Diamond Assets image.pngDigital learning, though still in its youth, has been shown to enable students to learn more quickly and adeptly, while improving instructional technique and optimizing instructor time, according to the MIT Office of Digital Learning.

This is echoed in a survey by Harris Interactive, which shows that 96 percent of teachers think edtech increases student engagement in learning and 92 percent would like to use even more edtech in the classroom.

In order to create, promote, and sustain a dynamic digital-age learning culture— school districts must factor in TCO when purchasing edtech devices, and embrace financial-sustainability best practices.

As more schools embrace the use of technology in the classroom, with many moving towards a 1-to-1 digital learning environment, school districts are faced with how to fund a sizable investment for devices that depreciate in value over time.

What Costs More

Many schools focus only on initial costs, leading them to purchase what appear to be lower cost devices.

The structural integrity of lower cost devices is a key consideration that often is overlooked.

When schools make decisions based purely on initial cost, they often neglect to factor in future repair costs and residual value.

Unfortunately, this can end up costing the school district more in the long run due to minimal future residual value, exorbitant repair costs, lost instructional time and a poor educational experience for students.

A Better Approach

A better way to purchase technology is to look at the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of a device over its lifecycle and adopt a lifecycle management approach to edtech that ensures devices are refreshed at the optimal time and the classroom benefits from the best learning experience.

A TCO approach to funding edtech devices takes into account both the cost of devices and the learning experience that the devices enable. It starts with the identification of educational goals for the digital learning initiative. In general, having the latest hardware and software creates the opportunity for schools to meet their digital learning goals by removing the variable of outdated, more constricting technology.

A Key Criterion

Once the goals are determined, devices should be evaluated based on their ability to help instructors reach their digital learning goals.

For example, will a laptop or tablet provide the desired learning experience? Do certain devices provide needed software or services that others don’t?

Before Determining TCO

Once appropriate devices are identified, school districts should chart several items to get the TCO:

  • The initial investment—this is the total upfront cost to purchase the devices, along with any discounts for bulk orders.
  • Residual value at increments—chart the residual (buy back) value of the devices in two stages: after two and three years.
  • Wear and tear—the residual value of devices can be impacted by damage and wear and tear, sometimes substantially. This “reconciliation” factor can reduce the residual value of devices significantly, by as much as 25 percent.

Once these items are charted, it will be easy to determine the TCO. (See sample graph)

For example, some schools may select one device because it has a lower upfront cost, not realizing there is little to no residual value for that device in the future. When looking at the TCO of technology, often higher priced devices that maintain their value are a better choice because that residual value can be tapped to buy down the cost of future devices.

CREDIT Charles Duarte for EdTech Digest.pngA REFRESHING VIEW. School districts that buy devices based on upfront cost may end up paying more when it’s time to refresh technology. In this chart, the device with the higher upfront cost also has a higher residual value. When refreshing technology after three years, the district will have spent less money on the device with the higher initial cost. The cost differential is greater when breakage costs are factored in.

This exercise also is helpful in adopting a lifecycle management approach to digital learning devices, which plans for technology refreshes six to eight years in the future, and can further reduce the cost per user of devices and software.

It also takes into account the optimal time to trade up devices, so students and teachers have access to current tools. Historically we have found that there is enough equity in some devices after the second year to pay off the third and final year’s lease payment. This allows school districts to purchase more current hardware and software to ensure that educational goals for digital learning are being met.

The Folly of Frugality—and the New Frugality

It’s important to understand that there are costs associated with keeping technology too long. Frugal school districts often purchase devices with the idea of keeping them as long as possible, missing out on the ability to leverage the residual value of devices to buy down the next purchase.

Because technology is changing so rapidly, older devices—while still working—can’t take advantage of newer innovations in classroom management and other functionality.

In order to create, promote, and sustain a dynamic digital-age learning culture—school districts must factor in TCO when purchasing edtech devices, and embrace financial sustainability best practices.

As good stewards of tight budgets, it’s important to consider how hardware and software help reach the goals of digital learning as part of any financial evaluation.

Charles Duarte is Vice President at Diamond Assets where he works with schools to maximize the residual value of their Apple devices. He has taught grades 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6 and has implemented two different 1:1 digital learning initiatives while serving in a variety of district leadership roles. Charles can be reached at

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Secrets of a Lasting EdTech Company

Cliff King walks us through four decades of grit, growth, and success in building something of enduring value for customers and a community.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

Cliff King of Skyward.pngIn the early years of the company, there were only a handful of employees, “so we all had to pitch in and do a little bit of everything,” remembers Cliff King, the CEO of Skyward, the Wisconsin-based software company founded four years before Mark Zuckerberg was born and when Jimmy Carter was still president. The 580-employee firm specializes in K-12 school management and municipality management technologies, including Student Management, Human Resources, and Financial Management.

“Some of us were coding software, answering phones, making sales calls, and even going to schools and districts to install software and train end users,” he recalls.

Many of those early employees are still with Skyward today “and we all remember what it is like to be on the front lines with customers. One of our base philosophies is to treat others the way we want others to treat us.” This philosophy has been a cornerstone of their success.

Your company has a unique history, and is older than most edtech companies.

Skyward Logo.jpgCliff: Skyward has been around since 1980 and our first customer, Merrill Area Public School District, right here in Wisconsin, is still a customer after all these years.

That’s something we’re very proud of.

Even though we’ve been around for a long time, the company is well positioned for many more years of growth and success.

In March of 2016, you moved to your new world headquarters in Stevens Point, Wisconsin.

Yes, and In November of 2016 we announced our new Qmlativ platform which is receiving great reviews from customers.

Even though we’ve been around for a long time, the company is well positioned for many more years of growth and success.

Most recently, we reached a major milestone by partnering with our 2,000th customer. This was extra exciting because that customer happens to be Orange County Public Schools, which is the fourth largest district in Florida and the tenth largest in the United States.

What values persisted through the years? How is Skyward 2017 the same as the 1980 company?

CREDIT Skyward 01.pngCliff: Edtech is a fleeting industry. In the past 37 years, many companies burst on the scene only to vanish just as quickly because they made the mistake of thinking that a software product was all that mattered.

We’ve always done things a bit differently.

We’re always striving to make our software the absolute best it can be. Beyond that, we provide the kind of service and support we would expect to receive ourselves, which creates a better experience for our customers.

Our founder Jim King always said we needed to make our software products easy enough for our mother to use them.

We continue to emphasize this in our product development.

An easy-to-use software product is essential for success.

When we create software, our best resource has always been our customers. We are not the experts – our customers are – and we find that listening to their concerns goes a long way in creating our innovative products based on their needs.

As we move forward, we will continue to listen to our customers’ needs.

Thus far, these two strategies have been an effective way to deliver the software tools that school districts need to do their jobs efficiently.

When did it become apparent there was a need for what you provide? What is the history on that?

Cliff: When my brother Jim and his wife Jean started the company on September 1, 1980, they never dreamed the company would become what it is today.

Jim was an entrepreneur and wanted to be his own boss rather than work for someone else. His initial goal was focused around developing software for the new mini-computer market that emerged in the late 1970s.

Jim was an entrepreneur and wanted to be his own boss rather than work for someone else.

Our first school district customer was Merrill Area Public Schools (MAPS) in November of 1981. They were looking for a software package to calculate salary negotiations compensation costs for their district.

Up until that time, they did this all by hand and it took several days for them to complete the calculation. In addition to taking a lot of time, the potential for errors was quite high.

In late 1981, I became the first full-time employee of Jim King and Associates, as the company was known back then.

We created the Personnel Salary Negotiations software product according to the specifications that Merrill gave us and we had a functional product in January of 1982.

When we first heard about this project for MAPS, we also learned that there were 50 other school districts in the state that used the same type of computer. We saw an opportunity to capitalize on our programming efforts with our Salary Negotiations product.

At the time, we assumed that all school districts operated the same way.

Once we completed it, we sent out an invitation to all 50 schools to come see our new Salary Negotiations product that we had developed. We had high hopes that all 50 schools would attend.

Unfortunately, only three districts attended the demonstration.

We did the demonstration by running several different salary negotiations packages, tweaking just a few of the salary and benefit parameters that were part of the current salary package that MAPS had offered. Within 15 minutes, we had calculated all three packages with 100% accuracy in the cost estimates of each of the plans.

Interestingly, the plan that all three districts thought would be the costliest turned out to be the least expensive.

Needless to say, MAPS was very pleased that their district had a computer program to address bargaining with all of their unions and the three schools that were there all purchased the software.

Once we began to implement the software at each of the schools, we quickly found out that not all school districts work the same. We needed to create a parameter file to control how the software would work at each district.

To this day, we have one version of our software product that all of our current 2,000 customers use to run our ERP and SIS software products.

After we created the Salary Negotiations software product, we begin hearing about other needs that our customers had when it came to software.

We created a report writing system that allowed districts to easily run reports from their accounting system and budget for next year. We kept adding customers for both products and then the state of Wisconsin went from a cash-based accounting system to an accrual-based accounting system that included finance and payroll.

All the districts that had an accounting system would need to upgrade their current cash-based accounting products for an accrual-based accounting system.

CREDIT Skyward 02.pngWith the success that we were having with Wisconsin school districts, we announced that we would develop an accounting software system to meet the new requirement of the state of Wisconsin. Once we created our accounting software, other districts within the state were interested in our new product because it was less expensive, easy to use, and allowed the district to do more with less.

After we created the accounting system, our customers kept coming up with other systems that they needed so we would listen to what they needed and create software products that met their needs.

In 1984, Jim King and Associates became School Administration Software, Inc.

As you can imagine, that name was a mouthful and our customers referred to us as SASI. This was how we continued to grow the company in Wisconsin during the early 1980s.

In the late 80s, we started to get interest in our software products via word-of-mouth testimonials that our customers would share with their contacts outside of Wisconsin. As a result, we gained customers in both Minnesota and Illinois.

Throughout our company’s history, we continued to grow our business using this same philosophy.

We officially became Skyward in 1994.

As I mentioned earlier, when we were School Administration Software, Inc., our customers referred to us as SASI and we began using this acronym in some of our marketing materials. We received a letter from one of our competitors stating that SASI was too close to their trademarked name and we needed to change the name of the company.

Rather than employ a marketing firm for this, Jim decided to hold a contest amongst all employees to create a new name for the company. He had a couple of limitations that he wanted in the new name, one of which was that it could not be longer than 10 characters or 2 syllables. He offered $1,000 to the employee who submitted the winning name.

Our nephew knew that Jim had the nickname Sky King when he worked at the Schlitz Brewing Company.

Sky King was also an early 1960s television series I used to enjoy as a child about a pilot who used a plane to solve day-to-day issues.

With this knowledge, our nephew went to all the sources he could find to help him come up with a new name for the company that would be close to Sky King.

Jim chose Skyward and my nephew received $1,000.

Today, our software products are used in more than 2,000 school districts by over 7 million students. All our customers use the software built on a single set of source code to operate more efficiently and to create the Federal and State reports they need to receive their funding.

Today, our software products are used in more than 2,000 school districts by over 7 million students.

We provide all of this functionality without necessitating a dedicated programming staff to support it. It becomes an easy decision for a school district to select our product versus any of our competitors.

Any district not using our software on our secure cloud-hosted environment is spending more money than necessary to meet their administrative software needs.

What key lessons have you learned over the years as a company?

Cliff: Probably the biggest lesson we’ve learned is to listen to our customers.

Competitors come and go and we do pay attention to what they are doing with their products.

But we’ve always felt that if we listen to our customers and respond to their needs first and foremost, everything else will take care of itself.

It sounds simple and it’s a bit of a cliché, but we always try to treat our customers like we want others to treat us and that really comes down to listening to them and providing them with opportunities to give us input on our products and services.

Will it be 40 years in 2020? Anything planned for that?

Cliff: We have not really talked about that yet, but we will start planning our 40th anniversary celebration sometime next year.

How has your company impacted your local community and drawn and developed talent locally?

CREDIT Skyward 03.pngCliff: This could probably be a separate article all by itself.

Skyward currently has more than 580 employees and the population of Stevens Point is about 26,000.

We work very closely with the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP), Mid-State Technical College (MSTC), and even the local K-12 schools to help educate local students about careers in technology and job opportunities available right here in their backyard.

Skyward currently has more than 580 employees and the population of Stevens Point is about 26,000.

I also chair the Central Wisconsin IT Alliance (CWITA) which brings local business leaders together to promote our area for careers in IT or computer science.

Lastly, we have an incredible internship program through UWSP and MSTC and this has provided a great pipeline for talent for not only our IT and developer positions, but nearly all areas of the company.

How has Skyward stayed young; in other words, kept up with the times – regarding technology, philosophy, business model?

Cliff: Our philosophy is to hire interns, recent graduates, and seasoned professionals and teach them the Skyward way of doing things. Most employees who work here enjoy our culture so much that they choose to stay.

Our company promotes from within, giving all employees a clear vision of what they need to accomplish to earn more responsibility and compensation.

When you are growing as we are, we are always looking for the newest technology to ensure our product continues to meet our customers’ needs. We view that as an advantage and our culture here is very open so even the employees who are at the very beginning of their careers are encouraged to share their ideas.

In 2017, a young professional networking company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin recognized our company as one of the top 10 places to work in Wisconsin for young professionals.

What is your perspective on the explosion of edtech companies and activity in the last 3 to 5 years?

Cliff: I’ve always believed that competition is a good thing.

Education leaders are smart.

They do their homework before they implement new products and solutions, so the companies that are providing good value will thrive and the ones that aren’t won’t.

In the last few years, there’s been an increase in the amount of private equity money pouring into edtech and that can actually hurt competition as the big companies swallow up the smaller ones.

Education leaders are smart. They do their homework before they implement new products and solutions, so the companies that are providing good value will thrive and the ones that aren’t won’t.

We view that as a positive for us because we feel we can always give our customers a better experience than they’ll get from a vendor that’s going to change owners and leadership every few years.

What do you believe is the state of education these days?

Cliff: I get a little frustrated with all the doom-and-gloom articles I read about education.

The educators I meet at our user conferences and other events are some of the most dedicated and passionate people I have ever met.

They have so much on their plates and so many more things to deal with than the educators had when I was in school.

Making sure our children and grandchildren are receiving a good education is the most important job in the world. We always try to remember that and hope we are doing our part by delivering tools that will make their lives a little easier.

CREDIT Skyward bldg.pngWhy is it so important that Skyward and other companies in education continue to flourish?

Cliff: Nothing is more important to the future of our country and our communities than education. Today’s kids will be the leaders of tomorrow.

Teaching is a difficult and often thankless job so it’s important that edtech companies do everything they can to make the lives of educators easier and give them the tools they need to help them do their jobs more effectively.

We need to do everything we can to make sure that our best educators stay in the classrooms and district offices because that is where they can make the biggest impact on kids’ lives.

What do you believe is the role of technology in education? What makes you say that?

Cliff: Technology needs to make things easier for educators.

It needs to be easy to use and it needs to save them time and hopefully also save districts money.

Educators are like everybody else today in that they are all being asked to do more with fewer resources.

Edtech companies that create solutions that do that will stand the test of time.

Educators are like everybody else today in that they are all being asked to do more with fewer resources. Edtech companies that create solutions that do that will stand the test of time.

I see a lot of products in our space that are impressive on the surface but don’t have much substance when you strip away the fluff. If it’s not making things easier for teachers and office staff, you can bet it won’t be around for very long.

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to:

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4 Pillars on Which to Build EdTech

Creating dynamic, digital, and interactive learning experiences tailored to learner needs.

GUEST COLUMN | by Tracey Roden

CREDIT IStation image.pngChildren are born into a world swimming in technology; most have a space in the digital world before they are even born.

Parents share information and images of ultrasounds on social media and through email to relatives and friends anticipating their little one’s arrival.

After birth, their lives are documented through more social media shares, blogs, online scrapbooks, and videos that all document their life through technology.

Kids are growing up in a world where most of the information and entertainment they receive is via a technology source.

With the art of teaching changing, teachers must use their content knowledge and instructional experiences to develop learners with the skills necessary to be successful in the rapidly changing 21st century.

It is clear that technology plays a large role in children’s lives. It has changed the way we acquire information, communicate with friends and family, document events, seek entertainment, even the way we shop. It isn’t surprising that ultimately technology is pushing change in the way children are taught and shape how they learn.

A Responsibility and a Challenge

Our growing digital world makes traditional ways of teaching outdated. With the art of teaching changing, teachers must use their content knowledge and instructional experiences to develop learners with the skills necessary to be successful in the rapidly changing 21st century.

Teachers and students alike must embrace the numerous pathways to learning regardless of age or grade, and as the digital age continues to gather speed, technology is the perfect avenue to create meaningful experiences to accomplish educational goals.

Creating effective teaching and learning environments in an ever changing digital world becomes a critical responsibility and challenge for today’s leaders in educational technology.

Not only must they develop technologies that embrace a structure that creates flexible learning to meet the needs of each learner, they must also recognize the unique role of the teacher to further the learning experience and motivate students in a way that technology alone cannot.

Creating High-Quality Experiences

The phrase “Science of Learning” became a commonly used term in the field of education with the publication of How People Learn, a report from the National Research Council. The Science of Learning is less about what children should learn, and more about the best ways in which children learn the strategies necessary to be successful in the 21st century. Awareness created from the Science of Learning recognizes the capacity of technology to impact learning in today’s classroom.

Kathy Hirsch-Pasek’s research report, Putting Education in “Educational” Apps: Lessons from the Science of Learning, highlights challenges and emphasizes ways for developers of “educational” apps to create high-quality educational experiences for learners.

As the research from the Science of Learning suggests, children learn best when they are cognitively active and engaged, when learning experiences are meaningful and socially interactive, and when learning is guided by a specific goal.

Educational technology that applies these principles is more likely to result in meaningful learning. Hirsch-Pasek calls these principles “pillars” that represent core of the learning sciences.

The four pillars are:

  1. Active Learning. Active learning means that the learner plays an active “minds-on” role in knowledge building activity.
  2. Engagement in the Learning Process. Engagement means the ability to stay on task without distraction. Engagement is reinforced by extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, meaningful feedback, and with few unimportant interruptions that do not enhance the overall learning experience.
  3. Meaningful Learning. Learning is meaningful allows the learner to connect new material to existing knowledge and experiences while having a purpose to apply what they have learned.
  4. Social Interaction. Social interaction allows the learner to interact with others, in high-quality ways, around the learning experience to apply knowledge and gain meaning.

By applying these pillars of the learning sciences, developers of educational technology can create dynamic, digital, and interactive learning experiences that are tailored to the needs of each learner.

A Generation of Thinkers and Leaders

Today’s educational systems are not built on this knowledge, therefore most of educational technology used in these systems is designed with a “teach to the test approach,” without much thought on how children actually learn.

By moving towards teaching approaches and structures that create flexible learning environments, educators are empowering students to further their learning experience, and in turn facilitating the next generation of thinkers and leaders in not only the United States, but the rest of the world as well.

Tracey Roden is VP of Curriculum & Research at Istation, an award-winning comprehensive e-learning program used by more than 4 million students and educators around the world. With more than a decade of experience in educational technology, Tracey has served in various director and managerial roles in the areas of research, curriculum, instruction, product knowledge and training. She believes every child should be provided opportunities to succeed. Prior to working in the educational technology industry, she served as a classroom teacher and literacy specialist. Contact her through LinkedIn

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Trends | 2017 Digital Study Trends

CREDIT McGraw-Hill Education survey digital trends 2017.pngMcGraw-Hill Education just released the results of their 2017 Digital Study Trends survey, the latest edition of an annual report examining the ways college students are using technology in their studies, and the perceived impact of tech-enabled studying.

According to their survey, an overwhelming majority of students feel digital technology positively impacts their schoolwork – helping in several different ways (with some variation among student populations) – and more than half of students prefer classes that use digital learning technology. Other key findings:

  • Ninety-four percent of students surveyed found that digital learning tools helped them retain new concepts, and more than half thought it helped them better understand concepts they didn’t know.
  • 60 percent of students felt that digital learning technology improved their grades, with a fifth indicating the increase was “significant.”
  • Students in STEM subjects were more likely to indicate a positive day-to-day impact on their studying and grades: 72 percent of respondents in physical sciences, 65 percent of respondents in biological sciences, and 64 percent of students in engineering, math and computer science reported an improvement in grades from using digital learning technologies.

Learn more.

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5 Collaboration Tools Teachers Shouldn’t Live Without

A 7th-grade math educator shares the tools she uses to stay connected with fellow educators, experts, and her students.

GUEST COLUMN | by Stacey Ryan

CREDIT Lightspeed Activate.pngConnected educator month just happened, but in reality, the connecting never ends.

“What does it mean to be a connected educator?” is a question someone recently asked me. 

It made me pause.

I concluded that a connected educator is: one who seeks collaboration with other educators, experts, and students, both locally and around the world.

Thanks to modern technology, collaboration has become more efficient and manageable.

There are a variety of benefits to using tools that connect us with experts all over the world, with teachers in the classroom next door, and face-to-face.

There are a variety of benefits to using tools that connect us with experts all over the world, with teachers in the classroom next door, and face-to-face.

Part of preparing students for the real world is teaching them to collaborate and problem-solve while working with others in small groups. I am continually working to discover new resources and tech tools that make a positive impact on my students.

After 17 years in the classroom, I’ve gravitated towards tools that have multiple uses, help me make assessments easier, and encourage students to collaborate and provide feedback.

Here’s a list of tools I can’t live without. 

1) Lightspeed Activate System: This classroom audio system provides a clear picture of what students know and understand. Designed to monitor students during small-group discussions, the two-way pods are the size of a glasses case and double as hand-held microphones, making it easy for students to pick them up and take them wherever they may be working.

By “dropping in” on students’ learning conversations, I am able to listen to them collaborate and share their ideas in an authentic and natural setting.

When students do not actively answer or participate in a whole-group setting, it can seem as if they don’t have a strong conceptual understanding of what they are learning.

By capturing students’ learning in a small-group setting and without the teacher at their side, I am able to hear my students think aloud and readily verbalize what they know. 

2) Google Classroom: Google Classroom is an important component of my students’ blended learning experience. I use the platform to share resources, instructional videos, and games for remediation and enrichment. In return, students can access our class content anywhere and anytime. Students can submit their work, collaborate with others, and share resources with the click of a button. Google Classroom is helpful for absent students to access lessons and content from home, and to get back on track when they return to school. Because each student has their own profile, I also have the opportunity to differentiate instruction and maximize class time for all students.

3) Kahoot!: Using this game-based online learning platform, students can work individually or with a small group on any device to respond to questions related to our class content. Kahoot! is an excellent way to increase student engagement and promote excitement for learning, because students are highly motivated by the game-based component. They receive instant feedback after each question, and as the teacher, I am able to see the number of students who answer each problem correctly.

This allows me to address misconceptions right away, and gives me valuable feedback about students’ understanding of concepts.

It also promotes conversations and reflection after each question. I can then download students’ results at the end of each game and use the results as feedback for future planning as well as alternative assessment.

4) Mini dry-erase boards: These may not be high-tech, but my students use mini dry-erase boards on a daily basis to practice, share ideas, and show what they know. The boards are a quick way to gather formative assessment data and get a large-group snapshot of individual and whole-class understanding. By taking a quick visual assessment of students’ work and responses, I am able to adapt instruction in the moment to best serve students’ needs, understanding, and misconceptions. I am able to easily and subtly check on students all over the room from any vantage point.

5) Skype in the Classroom: Using Skype is one of the easiest and most impactful ways I have found to connect what students are learning in class to the world and their future careers. Last year, my students were able to Skype with Olympic and Paralympic athletes who shared how they use math in their careers, along with lessons about grit, goal-setting, and growth mindset. We also connected with a video game designer to help launch our Hour of Code activities. These types of experiences help students envision how what they are learning in school is relevant to the world and their future.

Being a connected educator directly impacts my students every single day.

I am able to collaborate with, learn from, and gain ideas from other educators.

I stay current on education trends and best practices by connecting my students to other classes or experts to help make what they are learning in class more meaningful and relevant.

Technology allows me to take student learning to new levels.

If we want our students to collaborate and be lifelong learners, they need positive examples and role models who also believe in these practices.

Stacey Ryan has been an educator for 17 years and is currently a 7th-grade math teacher at Andover Middle School in Andover, KS. Her passion is facilitating school innovation, real-world projects, blended learning, and leadership development to make learning relevant and meaningful for students. Follow @sryanalr

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For Long-Term Success, EdTech Needs to be Part of a School’s DNA

Starting early with curriculum and pedagogic models, how to effect authentic change.

GUEST COLUMN | by Matt Harris

CREDIT EdTech Digest.pngWe know that educational technology (edtech) offers the potential to enhance learning to meet the needs of contemporary students.

It does what education is supposed to do: it provides skills, knowledge, and experiences that emulate the information rich world in which students live.

And schools will often jump in with both feet to leverage this potential.

The Common Model for EdTech Implementation

In most schools, the adoption of edtech is considered a special event.

Often it will begin with a pilot program of devices, then a short term strategic plan (with heavy emphasis on costs) to implement technology more broadly, and finally celebration of accomplishment as amazing activities and projects stream out classrooms.

For a school to have a truly sustainable and impactful edtech program it almost needs to be invisible.

Schools will then earmark funds for tools and personnel, bring in trainers to support technology tools, and they create departments and evaluation structures to ensure edtech is monitored.

During this phase, schools will often highlight their strategies and accomplishments. They will publish a roadmap for edtech in the school, emphasizing their purpose and plans for the program.

They’ll show something cool the students have done using their devices.

Many will hold parent sessions to discuss the implication of technology on the home-school bridge. Others will go further and include technology integration into their teacher evaluation processes. Many ask teachers to identify how they will increase their use of technology for learning.

Sadly, this is where the edtech journey culminates for many schools.

The Absence of Authentic Change

This is not true and lasting change as it doesn’t fundamentally improve the learning experiences for students. In fact, it subjugates edtech, and its potential, to a lesser position in the hierarchy of pedagogy and learning activities. Edtech becomes an add-on for a school that requires special care and feeding. It doesn’t become a core practice of the school.

FETC link.jpgLearn more from Matt Harris and other leading analysts, thought leaders, and educators at the 2018 Future of Education Technology Conference, January 23-26 in Orlando, Florida. 

Without an eye towards authentic change and sustainability, even the most exemplary edtech programs will hit a wall. The initial excitement about technology for learning will fade and focus will shift from commitments to the future to returns on investment and eventually cost cutting.

Sustainability and the School’s DNA

To truly impact student learning with technology, schools need to look at the long game and insist that their programs become part of the school’s DNA.

First, during program inception, strong focus should be given towards sustainability. Most schools that embark on the edtech journey will be able to manage logistics, professional development, budgeting for devices at the outset.

Instead, they should look deeply at what happens in year three once the “honeymoon” period is over.

They should consider altering their expense and capital budgets to include expansion of technology tools and replacement of devices. They should fund depreciation on the devices and be prepared to replace a third of them every year in perpetuity. Clearly delineated funds should be reserved for annual training on new systems and the employment of education technology coaches. These funds should be reserved year over year to avoid either large unplanned expenditures or cancellation of elements of the program.

Second, edtech should be included in all academic planning. As curriculum is developed and term plans are finalized, the edtech personnel should be part of the discussions. Technology skills should be part of student evaluation with an eye towards application and independence rather than tool specific knowledge. The technology should move from being an add-on to learning to an accepted tool, similar to textbooks or resource specialists.

Importantly, there needs to be a balance. Many schools will err on the side of one time learning projects with heavy use of technology tools as a marker of edtech success.

This is not always the case.

Technology can be used for amazing student work, but it must fit into the curriculum and pedagogic models of the school to be truly integrated into learning over the long term. It is very easy to use it for a wonderful project in year one, then ditch it in year two because the time is needed for something else.

Instead, technology projects should be seen to integrate and supplement other forms of learning activities. Large-scale projects should use technology to create a holistic experience for students that focuses on several areas of learning.

Finally, schools need to change the way they call out their edtech.

The most sustainable edtech programs will be found in schools that implant technology into their core learning documents and practices. You will find reference to it in the school’s mission and vision, hiring and appraisal procedures, and in school reports. However, this reference is always on par with other learning and operational approaches.

Technology goals should be removed as a highlighted element from teacher evaluation. If technology is highlighted, then it isn’t integrated in the learning DNA of the school. Instead include it as a line item as you would differentiation or formative assessment.

Also, report cards should talk about creative and responsible uses of technology rather than specific skill development. And when a school highlights their edtech success, avoid discussions about the iPads, but rather what the students experienced and learned.

The Long Game

For a school to have a truly sustainable and impactful edtech program it almost needs to be invisible. An outsider should have to search for technology in school publications rather than be greeted by it at first glance. They should feel its presence in a classroom instead of having teachers specifically call it out.

And all members of the school community should be comfortable in the belief their younger students will receive the same edtech experiences as the older children as they progress through the school.

Impactful edtech is not a one-time event.

Matt Harris, Ed.D., is Deputy Head of School for Learning Technology at the British School of Jakarta, Indonesia. He also works as an educational consultant for schools and Ministries of Education in the Middle East, Africa, North America, Australia, and Asia. Matt has a deep passion for all things edtech. Contact him through

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How to Teach Math Without Worksheets

An engineer’s perspective on making a digital shift in the classroom.

GUEST COLUMN | by Marie Mérouze 

CREDIT Marbotic.pngWhen looking for alternative ways to teach math, avoiding the use of worksheets seems like it would be a simple task considering technology is constantly changing the learning environment.

E-books and typing are easily inserted into reading and writing lessons, but finding an innovative angle to teach math in a way that equates with the way students learn can prove to be more difficult.

Take it one step further to develop the most engaging lessons by using applications that pair both technology and hands-on activities.

Students are tired of completing worksheet after worksheet, just like you’re tired of assigning and grading them. And while some schools have minimized this problem with a no homework approach which prevents worksheets from being sent home, they are still used daily in classroom settings.

Although worksheets make lesson planning simple and are easily accessible, it’s time to get more creative during math lessons. To help, we’ve compiled three ways to put worksheets aside and reinforce math principles in a fun way.

Use educational technology

In today’s digital age, there are plenty of educational tech tools available and the number of apps and tech toys made for education is constantly growing.

Technology today can be educational while incorporating ways to make math fun for students. While seeking a fitting app or tool for your classroom use, it’s important to list out educational standards the tool or app must have.

Search for applications that increase engagement. They should be fun for the students, but they should not distract from the math lesson at hand. Combining technology with your lesson plans helps those visual learners. Take it one step further to develop the most engaging lessons by using applications that pair both technology and hands-on activities.

Include hands-on experiences

While technology is great, take a moment to look back through history. Before calculators were on every tech device, math problems were solved with an abacus. This tool made of columns of stones and beads representing units, while outdated shows the importance of using physical objects in math. Hands-on learning through physical objects gives kids a visual representation of numbers which allows them to be creative while learning basic addition and subtraction.

Visualize how difficult it is to teach someone a new game without being able to physically demonstrate how it is played. It would be easy to explain the rules, but people need hands-on demonstrations to fully understand how to play. Giving students a hands-on experience helps them understand and retain the basic rules of math.

Merge math with other subjects

You probably have a designated time to teach math, English, science, and so on. But, having a schedule does not mean it can only be taught during ‘math’ time.

Math can be incorporated with most subjects in order to help students obtain a deeper understanding of numbers. For example, include math into an English lesson by having students write and read story problems and even solve them. This not only allows students to work on their creative writing, but also combines reading and math, allowing students to practice multiple skills at once.

When seeking other ways to combine and punch-up lessons, try getting active. Use recess, or class time to play games like basketball or kickball, that encourage students to practice counting while keeping score. Using some class time for these activities gives students a creative way to practice math principles while taking a small break from the monotony of the classroom. You can insert math into games you already know or try creating your own, or even mix math into everyday activities, like counting off by 2s or 3s in line, or solving a quick addition or subtraction problem before entering a classroom.

While worksheets are still used in many classrooms, there are always creative ways to teach and reinforce math lessons. Revamping lesson plans with new activities for your students will not only renew their engagement but, you might also discover a new teaching method to incorporate in other subjects.

Remember to keep it simple but still challenge yourself to insert creativity and fun into lesson plans.

Marie Mérouze is the founder and CEO of Marbotic, an IoT startup focusing on the creating of connected devices for children. Marbotic has two flagship products: Smart Letters and Smart Numbers. Marie has her Masters in Engineering from Ecole Centrale Paris, an engineering graduate institution. She worked at an e-learning company for children for ten years before founding her own company.

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3 Ways to Streamline Higher Ed Tasks

Digital transformation has at last made its way to higher education, and staff need to take advantage of the perks.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jamie Riepe

CREDIT Signal Vine img.jpgIt’s no secret that higher education staff are often spread thin across their many responsibilities – from managing student enrollment to overseeing residential life to directing financial aid and back again. Digital transformation has at last made its way to higher education, and staff need to take advantage of the perks.

From staff organization to student communication to online learning experiences, tools that bring higher education into the digital age are becoming more commonplace.

The benefit?

Streamlined processes, and ultimately, improved staff capacity over time.

From staff organization to student communication to online learning experiences, tools that bring higher education into the digital age are becoming more commonplace.

In the case of uAspire, an organization that helps students find affordable ways to access postsecondary education, staff implemented a student texting strategy that increased advisor capacity from 300 students per advisor to a caseload of more than 1,000 students per advisor.

With all the digital tools available today, it’s important to uncover which ones will be the most beneficial to higher ed staff in areas that need it most. Below are a few key insights your institution can use to effectively embrace digital transformation and streamline processes for staff:

Streamlining staff organization

There is a significant need among higher ed staff for a streamlined system of communication.

With dozens of admin-related deadlines and important student-related events happening at any given time, multiplied by hundreds and even thousands of students, the task of effectively communicating important information across campus quickly becomes overwhelming.

A system that combines automated and personalized messaging is a great way to get important messages out across the board, while still maintaining a one-on-one feel.

This means that email no longer cuts it.

Higher ed staff need to enter the digital age and say goodbye to archaic methods of linear communication, like email, which students delete without reading, and implement a more intuitive system for cross-campus communication. Build in additional support features – like instant message options and tutorial videos for staff – and you’re golden.

Streamlining student communication

We’ve established that email communication is on its way out the door – so what is the best way for higher ed to reach students with messages they will actually listen and respond to?

First of all, messages must be clear and to the point.

If students see paragraphs upon paragraphs of text, they are likely to ignore your message altogether.

Only the most relevant information – who, what, when, how, etc. – is necessary.

Secondly, make sure to personalize your communication.

Students don’t want to feel like you are blasting out blanket messaging – and they’ll be able to tell if you have. A personal touch and being available to respond back quickly will make students much more likely to engage with your message.

Finally, personal touches can go too far if you use too much shorthand. Students want to be spoken to like an adult, so avoid certain abbreviations like “u” for “you” and “2” for “to.”

Streamlining the online learning experience

Online learning has grown in popularity over the last few years – to the point that some universities exist exclusively online.

According to a recent report from Online Learning Consortium, one in four students in higher education is taking an online course.

For students who opt in to online learning, engagement is critical. Staff need a specific plan in place to make sure each student feels connected and appreciated.

To accomplish this, staff should set a specific schedule for checking in with students and stick to it, whether that’s weekly, bi-weekly, or mid-course. Determine what those check-ins will be: touching base to find out how each student is handling the course load, opportunities for feedback about the course, “getting to know you” sessions, etc. And don’t make it all about checking in – help students set goals and motivate them by rewarding their individual successes. The ultimate goal is to recreate the feeling of a classroom virtually.

There are several areas within higher education in which implementing digital tools can help make life easier for staff.

With all the options available, it’s important to be intentional about creating an effective strategy that focuses on the areas that could benefit the most from digital transformation: staff organization, student communication, and online learning environments.

With the right tools in place, higher ed staff capacity has the potential to increase, creating even more opportunities to help students reach their goals. 

Jamie Riepe is Chief Revenue Officer of Signal Vine, an enterprise text messaging platform transforms the way higher education institutions reach and engage students. The company serves more than 200 higher education organizations, including the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, University of New Mexico, and Austin Community College.

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The Adventures of Alice in Jakarta

An international school educator rekindles a passion for exploration in her students and herself.

GUEST COLUMN | by Stephanie Mathews

After starting the British School Jakarta, with an Apple one-to-one student laptop program, I wondered how I would manage to keep up with the technological demands.

After I met my year 7 class, it was clear these 11 year olds were already light years ahead of me in their understanding of all things technical: apps, platforms, collaboration tools and creating multimedia resources.

When approaching our ‘Inanimate Alice: Digital Storytelling Unit’, my ‘wonder’ increased to a slight panic: how could I ever ‘teach’ these pupils anything new?

Luckily, my school’s Technology Coaches were on hand to help out. They worked with me during the initial stages of my planning and suggested ways we could support students in both studying Digital Stories and creating their own.

I’m excited about teaching the unit again; no longer fearing the unknown, simply waiting for the inspiration and creativity technology once again evokes.

Though initially, I taught traditional methods of story study: analysis of character, plot, sentence structure and vocabulary, the change to a digital medium allowed for new knowledge. For example, analysis of meaning presented through mise en scène (arrangement of scenery and stage props), audio and visual media design.

Before I knew it, I had A-Level analysis terms being used in a Key Stage 3 class!

The change to multimedia storytelling revealed new opportunities to deepen student understanding of the original analysis skills.

They were able to decipher the application of pathetic fallacy via color and props; they were able to detect the subtle change in non-diegetic and diegetic sounds to indicate fear; they were able to appreciate the impact of a long-angle camera shot to depict the vastness of Alice’s unknown setting and emotion.

Studying through a Digital mode also amplified students’ emotional engagement with the plot.

The most exciting opportunity technology offered was for students to apply their newfound knowledge by creating their own Digital Stories.

No Worries

As a ‘non-tech-savvy-teacher’ this section initially worried me, but I learned that I don’t need to have all the answers: students were happy to explore their own choices in the technology they used. This exploration was greatly enhanced and supported in class with assistance from our Tech Coaches.

We wanted the learning to be as authentic as possible, so their Digital Stories focused on students’ Jakartan experiences; some took inspiration from the stories of pupils at Sekolah Bisa! – a micro school established by a BSJ CAS project with the goal of changing the fate of children from local kampungs (villages).

Students recorded their own footage and interviews as they, some for the first time, began to truly consider the disparity of their lives from those in their country and broader communities.

As part of our school’s Digital Citizenship Program, students were taught about usage rights and encouraged to film as much of their own material as possible. The English Department also teamed up with the Computer Science Department so that students could share footage and learn how to upload their videos to YouTube.

The staff collaboration across these departments was also a new experience that the technological input provided.

Leaders, Collaborators, Independent Learners

Through completing their Digital Storytelling, students became leaders, collaborators and independent learners. Some lessons, I would see them for all of a minute whilst they quickly detailed their ‘filming schedule’ then disappeared around the school to create.

Students had a flexible choice of tools and technologies and were empowered to recognize and utilize their strengths as they applied their media knowledge to a real-world dimension by creating and presenting their own disrupted childhoods or those from Sekolah Bisa!

The Digital Stories unit really showed me the benefits a technology rich environment. I could never have imagined the outcomes as they were and so I learnt the power of putting students in control: it reaps learning opportunities you can’t design.

Essentially, technology transformed my role as an educator, moving me away from the forefront of learning to simply the starting point. This learning community — created by students’ independence and engagement — enabled them to deepen their understanding of storytelling and digital skills as they provided each other support, guidance and critique.

Skills and Tools They’ll Use

Yet, more importantly, students developed transferable skills they need in the real world with the tools they will also need to use.

Moving forward, our Tech Coaches are already trialing out and researching new, more modern and innovative tools students can use in their own Digital Story creations next year.

In particular, we want to develop students’ understanding and use of digital sound and hope to team up with the music department in their creations.

I’m excited about teaching the unit again; no longer fearing the unknown, simply waiting for the inspiration and creativity technology once again evokes.

Stephanie Mathews is assistant faculty leader at the British School Jakarta in Indonesia. She has been a literacy coordinator, taught English and has her Master of Arts in Education and Leadership, as well as Google Educator Level 2 certification. Contact her through LinkedIn.

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The Vital Importance of Connecting College Students with Industry Experience

Re-examining current education models with ‘competent producers’ in mind. 

GUEST COLUMN | by Randy Swearer

CREDIT McGraw Hill.pngColleges and universities are a stepping stone between childhood and adulthood, a launch pad into professionalism and an educational haven for acquiring the necessary skills to lock in good careers.

And yet, they are failing to leave undergrads feeling confident in this professional capacity, especially when it comes to using specialized industry technology.

According to McGraw Hill Education’s 2017 Future Workforce Survey, fewer than half of college students today feel very or extremely prepared for their professional careers ahead and only thirty-seven percent acquired skills in industry technology, signifying a major problem with the way our colleges and universities are preparing students for the future.

With the labor landscape constantly evolving, it’s more important than ever before to provide students with access to a myriad of experiences both inside and outside the classroom.

Until we can amend the current education model to include more hands-on industry training and skills, students are left to seek out internships and experiences outside of university walls to prepare them for the future.

Sixty-three percent of the students surveyed indicated that they would have felt more prepared for the workforce if they had participated in more internships and built up more professional experience during college.

While some of the responsibility remains on students to seek the critical experience to prepare themselves for the future, society as a whole can and should do more to ready students for what lies ahead.

This is especially important as industry experience is no longer an option, but rather an essential component of preparing for future employment.

According to The Graduate Market in 2017 – an annual report on universities and the employment market in Britain by High Fliers Research – two-fifths of recruiters hoped to attract more applicants for specific job functions, particularly those with engineering or other technical vacancies.

Students, universities and businesses must come together to ensure the current generation is prepared for the realities and possibilities of future careers.

A Winning Approach

One former NFL player and a former competitive soccer player decided to take matters into his own hands after graduating from Virginia Tech’s School of Architecture. Upon realizing their mutual appreciation for design, Kevin Jones and Alex Barrette decided to build their own design consultancy firm – Joba.

With strong roots in Virginia, they sought to create a local design hub so that future Virginia Tech students would have the opportunity to directly connect with the design and tech industries without relocating to major cities like New York or San Francisco.

Joba welcomes the opportunity to work with interns, teaching them how to use professional design software, like Autodesk’s Fusion 360, among others.

By hiring students, Joba fostered an environment where students are awarded the opportunity to have a meaningful and valuable experience setting them on a path for professional success. Both having had professional sports experience, Kevin and Alex knew what it was like to be part of a team and to have a larger goal in mind aside from individual objectives.

They leveraged their athletic experience to create a sense of camaraderie among their staff, allowing their interns to develop equally significant soft skills (like the ability to collaborate and work well with others) while also honing in on vital technical industry experience.

Fast Track for Success

In the UK, Autodesk is leading a Future of British Manufacturing Initiative which is a collaboration between key UK organizations that’s focused on increasing competitive advantage by removing the barriers to true productivity and innovation.

The Fast Track Program is one element of this initiative which enables student experts from the U.K.’s top design and engineering universities to intern as “digital catalysts” in established businesses and expedite their adoption of digital technologies.

It also increases the ability of those companies to develop innovative, connected products. The program quintessentially brings together students, universities and businesses for a rich experience that benefits all involved.

Just Doing It Now

PENSOLE™ Footwear Design Academy  is another example of how students can refine their design and technical skills while gaining industry-relevant experience. The program teaches students the entire footwear design process from concept development to prototyping and branding and the hands-on environment exposes students to a real-life work environment.

As a result of the PENSOLE program, there are already nearly 250 graduates working professionally for world renowned footwear companies such as adidas, JORDAN, Nike, North Face, New Balance and Under Armour.  PENSOLE founder, D’Wayne Edwards took things one step further by partnering with YouTube Red to launch the channel’s first-ever, unscripted competition series: Lace Up: The Ultimate Sneaker Challenge.

Twelve students from around the world were awarded the chance to design, develop and produce the next ‘it’ sneaker for NBA star James Harden and adidas. The series emphasizes a mix of design and professional skills with adidas manufacturing an exclusive limited run of the final winning design which is slated to become publicly available in November.

Setting Students on a Successful Path

With the labor landscape constantly evolving, it’s more important than ever before to provide students with access to a myriad of experiences both inside and outside the classroom. In doing so, we are setting students on a successful and fruitful career path.

Initiatives like Joba’s internship program, the Future of British Manufacturing’s Fast Track Program and PENSOLE Footwear Design Academy help ensure the next generation is receiving invaluable opportunities to prepare for future careers while also exposing industry professionals to fresh ideas and a skilled talent pool to help close the impending skills gap.

Randy Swearer, Ph.D., is the vice president for Autodesk’s global Autodesk Education Experiences team. He empowers students on a journey of lifelong learning through problem-solving, collaboration and design thinking. He was dean of Parsons School of Design and provost at Philadelphia University, bringing with him education experience that is as deep as it is wide. He also served as the deputy director of the design program of the National Endowment for the Arts, and was the Design Division head in the College of Fine Arts at the University of Texas. There, he was awarded a Texas Excellence Teaching Prize. Randy received his Ph.D. in anthropology and urban studies from Union Institute, an M.F.A. in design from Yale University, and a B.A. from Wesleyan University.

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First STEM. Then STEAM. Now, STREAM.

Catholic School principal starts early, stays diligent on transformative full-tech journey.

GUEST COLUMN | by Monica Haldiman

CREDIT Sacred Heart Roslindale Verizon.pngImagine you’re in a classroom, but instead of children sitting quietly at their desks, they are testing a model bridge built from pasta and glue.

The teacher hands out paper for the students to use to take notes; paper they made themselves.

And in a room down the hall, pre-K students are learning rudimentary coding skills.

The school’s leadership worked with community and tech partners to develop a three-year strategy using pedagogical teaching techniques.

This educational environment prepares students for the jobs they’ll hold in 15 to 20 years – highly skilled technology jobs that don’t yet exist.

In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that by 2020, 77 percent of all U.S. jobs will require computer skills. This percentage will only increase – a troubling statistic when mastering technology skills isn’t a requirement in most schools.

Five years ago, Sacred Heart School embarked on a mission to modify its strategic approach to prepare students (or as we call them, scholars) for the 21st century workforce by directly integrating technology into the curriculum. Today, we are known for our K-8 full STREAM focus. STREAM is an initiative to promote science, technology, religion, engineering, the arts and math in Catholic schools.

Scholars have already shown improved confidence, creativity, and support for each other. They understand that it is okay to fail, but instead of walking away, are taught how to analyze the problem differently and try again. Most importantly, it puts our scholars on a level playing field to pursue the educational and career-focused opportunities they want.

More schools are now considering this model. For those that decide to transition to a full STREAM-tech curriculum, take a moment to reflect on Sacred Heart’s journey to STREAM, the obstacles and programmatic issues faced, and my recommendations for an effective program.

The Path to STREAM

Sacred Heart’s journey to become a full-tech school was deliberate. Once the decision was made to transition to a STREAM school, new computers, iPads, and smart boards were ordered for every classroom and Internet connections installed.

The school’s leadership worked with community and tech partners to develop a three-year strategy using pedagogical teaching techniques.

At the start, each teacher was required to integrate only one technology-focused course.

The classrooms today are significantly different.

For at least half of the school day, scholars are using technology or engaged in technology training; most textbooks are online, experimentation in class is encouraged, scientists visit on a bi-weekly basis, and 3D printers help learning come to life.

We continue to work with professional developers to review and revise our path forward, train teachers, and address issues or concerns.

Overcoming Obstacles

With all growth and change come challenges, and our story is no different.

Shortly after transitioning to the full-tech model and installing new technologies, slow and unreliable Internet connections limited teachers’ ability to effectively use them in the classroom.

The school experienced delays and network issues that disrupted classes and halted online testing. After months of network challenges, we installed a fiber optic network, Verizon Fios, throughout the buildings, which helped improve internet speeds and reliability.

Lessons Learned

With each obstacle, we have also learned lessons that other K-8 schools might find useful. Consider these recommendations if and when you plan to integrate a full tech-focused STEAM or STREAM curriculum.

  1. Listen to your scholars. This curriculum is designed to set scholars up for the best success in their future careers. Watch them learn. Share growth with their parents. Hear their perspectives change, and encourage their curiosity.
  2. Encourage teac Understand that a shift to a full STREAM tech-focused curriculum is a significant change for several educators. Training and support for teachers to help guide them through the process – and what’s expected of them – will go a long way.
  3. Be patient. The transition to a STREAM tech-focused curriculum could take anywhere from three to six years to complete. Once your new technologies arrive, take time to learn about them and understand how to utilize them best. Slow and steady progress is important.
  4. Invest in your network. The technologies you purchase are only as good as the network that allows them to work. A STREAM tech-focused curriculum only works if the technology can effectively be used.
  5. Budget strategically. The technologies needed to support a full-tech curriculum come with a hefty price tag. Think strategically about how and when to use funds to best meet your school’s goals.

Many of our former scholars continued on to STREAM tech-focused high schools after leaving Sacred Heart, and while our first class of STREAM scholars will enter college in the fall of 2018, we expect several of them to continue their studies in this field.

It is great progress for us, but those at Sacred Heart make up a small percentage of the 35.6 million students in pre-K to 8th grade across the country.

These are our future world leaders, so consider a STEAM or STREAM program in your community.

Let’s set them up for success.

Monica Haldiman, a native of Brooklyn NY, is currently the Principal of Sacred Heart School, in Roslindale MA. She received her undergraduate degree from St. Anslem College and a Masters in Education from Boston College. Monica began her career as a middle school science teacher before moving on to administration as the vice principal of Sacred Heart School in 1993. In 2009, she stepped into the role of principal. In 2011, Monica became a Lynch Fellow when she became a member of the first cohort of the Lynch Leadership Academy. She is a member of the Boston Compact Committee as well as a former adjunct professor at Boston College’s School of Education. 

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Students Are Texters, So Here’s a Company that Knows That

Scaling an edtech solution with a veteran scaler.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT SignalVine Brian Kathman.jpgAn entrepreneur and executive who has spent most of his career building successful companies, Brian Kathman has deep experience across technology, philanthropy, and high-growth companies, often translating product innovation into new business models and markets.

Prior to Signal Vine, Brian was the Chief Operating Officer at Arabella Advisors, a philanthropy services firm which grew 1000 percent during his five years. But most of his career has been spent building technology companies from an early stage. He founded his first company at 28-years old, a web-based identity management and privacy company.

There’s a growing need for higher ed staff to integrate technology tools into student communication to help nudge students to success.

In addition to Brian’s entrepreneurial ventures, he has helped grow several early stage businesses, most notably InphoMatch/Mobile 365 where he established key contracts which became 75 percent of its revenue. The business was eventually sold to Sybase in 2006 for $430 million.

While at Five Wireless, Brian helped launch a new profit center for its client NeuStar which grew from $0 to $50M in revenue in less than 10 years.

Brian is a third-generation entrepreneur with a BS in Marketing from Indiana’s Kelley School of Business and an Executive MBA from Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business.

As CEO of Signal Vine, Brian leads an enterprise text messaging platform changing the way higher education institutions reach and engage students. The company serves more than 200 higher education organizations, including the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, University of New Mexico, and Austin Community College.

You’ve been in tech for a while, but edtech is newer – your thoughts on Signal Vine in the edtech sector?

Signal Vine logo.pngBrian: I’ve spent most of my career focused on building successful, high-growth technology companies from an early stage. Educators today have a lot of trouble reaching their students quickly and informatively because students today aren’t using traditional communication channels.

The vast majority of students have access to a smartphone or mobile phone, so mobile messaging is the best way to reach them.

More millennials use their phones for texting than any other generation, and they say it’s just as meaningful as a voice conversation, so the intersection between mobile and education is quite clear.

Every day, we move one step closer to closing the achievement gap and ensuring equal access to the resources needed to achieve success in higher education. The information is out there, but students often can’t find or utilize it without a supportive nudge.

Signal Vine has built a bridge between students and resources that is supported by the research, experience, and innovative technology we’ve developed over years of implementing impactful text messaging programs.

Your platform enables organizations and their staff to easily communicate with thousands of students via text messaging to increase student responsiveness and engagement — how’s this unique?

Brian: Signal Vine’s intelligent messaging platform is an intervention tool. It’s hard to compare us to other text vendors, since no other organization is doing what we are with native text message intervention combined with blended messaging.

There are several key points to highlight about our platform and what we are uniquely providing for our customers:

  • Personalized text and MMS messages can be pre-scheduled by program, case group, or department and scheduled in a calendar.
  • Existing student data, like first name, FAFSA status, or high school, can be seamlessly integrated into the Signal Vine platform and used to target and customize messages.
  • Historical and comparative data is always at your fingertips to benchmark and track performance like engagement rate, message response time and more.
  • Response management tools are used to automate follow-up replies. Message branching logic reduces the amount of time staff need to sort through expected responses, so they can focus on the messages that need one-on-one interaction.
  • Automated nudges for students who haven’t completed tasks, like completing the FAFSA, are targeted by profile data.

Your company believes counselors, advisors, and mentors are the critical drivers of positive outcomes for students. Makes perfect sense. Got any statistics or anecdotes on this?

Brian: The path to postsecondary success is overwhelmingly complex and fragmented. The administrative burden alone is daunting. Application forms, financial aid requirements, registration deadlines – these tasks challenge even the most high-achieving students.

Due to a nationwide counselor-to-student ratio of 1 to 450, students often receive general and vague information throughout processes that demand personalization and specificity for success.

Due to a nationwide counselor-to-student ratio of 1 to 450, students often receive general and vague information throughout processes that demand personalization and specificity for success. With 500,000 college-intending students failing to matriculate to a postsecondary institution every year and countless others dropping out before attaining a degree, it’s clear that we need a better means of reaching students with the information and support they need to succeed in higher education.

Signal Vine’s interactive and data-driven solution is the necessary bridge for this communication gap. The platform expands organizational capacity and increases efficiency, which allows for real-time communication to help identify those who need support most and drive positive change in behavior.

Research and experience show that targeted and personalized text messaging outreach is the most effective way to interact with students and nudge them to take timely action on college-related tasks.

The post-intervention statistics are staggering – we see improvements in matriculation rates by 11 percent, increases in first-year persistence by 20 percent, a 4-10x increase in staff capacity, and reductions in high-risk loan borrowing by up to 20 percent.

Define ‘personalized learning’ How is your tech more robust than other solutions?

Brian: We use the phrase “blended messaging” rather than personalized learning to describe our unique approach to communicating with students today. Blended messaging combines automated text messages to large groups of students with one-on-one text messages to individual students. Blended messaging helps staff save time with automated messages so they can focus on helping students who need the most high-touch support.

Signal Vine is unique in that it is the only text messaging platform with the necessary functionality to manage a high-scale texting program. The platform can be customized to fit any institution’s internal structure. Here are a few of the time-saving features you won’t find elsewhere in the market:

  • Response management and machine learning. Machine learning interprets student responses for you. The platform replies to understood text messages and flags messages that need a manual reply.
  • Case management. Incoming student messages are routed in real time to the appropriate staff member. Message inboxes can be shared so that staff users can work together to manage incoming student responses from one central phone number.
  • Advanced Search. No need to pull lists in an external system – you can do this in Signal Vine to send targeted text messages.
  • Data capture. Save incoming replies and use them to automatically update student information. For example, if you send students a text message asking, “Have you completed your FAFSA yet?” their Yes/No responses might update a “FAFSA Completion” field. You can then schedule future text messages to send only to those students who replied in the negative. These updates can also be pushed back to a CRM or SIS.
  • Advanced reporting and metrics. Monitor student engagement, average response time, staff activity, and much more with program-specific dashboards.
  • Provisioning by algorithm. Scheduled messages are sent out in automated batches every few seconds to ensure that your program phone numbers are never blacklisted for spamming. Automatic provisioning also helps staff keep up with incoming student responses, since students tend to reply within minutes of receiving a message.

What’s the state of education currently?

Brian: It has never been more important to earn a college degree to be gainfully employed. Though college attendance rates have risen in the past decade, only two-thirds of high school students are going to college and only 60 percent of those students complete a four-year degree. Moreover, higher education is more expensive than ever.

Students are starting to question the wisdom of this investment, and many are frustrated by how complex the entire process is.

The state of education today involves an increasingly important role for technology.

That said, I’m encouraged by the energy and innovation in this field. Signal Vine works with staff at schools of all types and sizes across the country. The people we work with are dedicated to supporting students to and through post-secondary paths, and they recognize that to be successful they must continue to learn and evolve in the way that they work.

Your thoughts on technology’s role?

Brian: The state of education today involves an increasingly important role for technology, both in the classroom and in communication between institutions and students in general. There’s a growing need for higher ed staff to integrate technology tools into student communication to help nudge students to success, as demonstrated by Signal Vine customers.

For example, our partnership with the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance contributed, in part, to a seven percent increase in FAFSA submissions in the state of Louisiana this year.

As technology continues to advance at an ever-increasing rate in both our personal and professional lives, the public sector is often hard put to keep up. For students who have access to information from across the globe at their fingertips, but are still taking pencil and paper bubble tests, this dissonance is palpable.

Through the research Signal Vine has been involved with, it has become clear to me that to guide students to success we must keep them actively engaged.

Student engagement may be possible without technology in a classroom setting, but to reach students at scale and yet be personalized and relevant, there is no alternative. Schools must make use of technology to communicate efficiently and effectively with their students.

There are a lot of edtech startups, yours is already attracting a great deal of positive attention, e.g., Lumina Foundation, fundraising Series A.  Your advice for other startup leaders working in education?

Brian: My advice for other startup leaders working in education is to focus on delivering value to the customer and student. You may have the coolest chatbot or the most beautiful user interface, but if you’re not helping education organizations reach students in a human way, students will check out.

Meet, coach, and network with key partners in the education space.

Another piece of advice is to meet, coach, and network with key partners in the education space. Partnerships are crucial drivers in the development of Signal Vine’s technology to meet the needs of organizations serving our shared mission.

Your dog-friendly, on-the-Potomac, outdoorsy company culture in Alexandria is already growing strong. How does this inform the strength of your product?

CREDIT Signal Vine team.jpgBrian: Signal Vine’s company culture is important to our team for one big reason: it motivates us to do better by our customers and their students. It’s easy to come to work each day when you know you’ll be surrounded by incredibly talented people who are dedicated to improving outcomes in education.

Our open, productive, and healthy culture creates a workplace where diverse people, cultures, and perspectives are welcome.

This ultimately strengthens our product because we focus on incorporating the perspectives of people who come from different backgrounds and have had different experiences.

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to:


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Leading a Digital Learning Transformation

How to lead, support, and evaluate an effective digital learning shift. 

GUEST COLUMN | by Randy Ziegenfuss 

“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.”

—Joseph Campbell

CREDIT Western Salisbury Elem TL2020.pngI am an educational practitioner – a superintendent in a small school district in Pennsylvania, Salisbury Township School District. We are now in our seventh year of a digital transformation, what we are calling TL2020 (Teaching and Learning 2020). Any transformation – true transformation where we let go of the past and create something entirely new – is hard, hard, hard work! And because it’s so hard, I find that K12 leaders are quick to find some kind of formula, a step-by-step path to transformation. Follow the prescription, and you’re done!

As a result of monitoring our digital transformation for several years, we developed a framework to help guide us through the process.

But as Joseph Campbell reminds us, we have to create our own path – a unique path to digital transformation. There are no pre-packaged paths because every one of us has a unique learning context, complete with strengths and challenges. Unique context is what makes the work so challenging.

Even after seven years of this work, we still have lots of heavy lifting to do before our digital transformation meets our vision. My colleague/assistant superintendent, Lynn Fuini-Hetten, and I have come back to a simple framework for guidance along the journey:

  • Lead it
  • Support it
  • Evaluate it

Using this broad framework, anyone can define effective strategies and actions to fit that unique context, and, over the course of time, effectively navigate a digital transformation journey. Here’s a glimpse into what distinguishes each phase of the framework.

Lead It

Digital transformations cannot be successful without leadership on multiple levels – district, school board, building, teacher and student.

School board leadership: Be prepared to invest the time and energy into sharing your vision and goals, and educating the school board around the need for change. They are the gatekeepers of human and financial resources.

FETC link.jpgLearn more from Randy Ziegenfuss and other leading analysts, thought leaders, and educators at the 2018 Future of Education Technology Conference, January 23-26 in Orlando, Florida. 

Building Leadership: Principals can make or break the transformation through the manner in which they establish expectations and create opportunities for conversations focused on improving practices in teaching and learning with digital tools.

Teacher leadership: Pioneering innovators and those who are naturally intrinsically motivated to tinker and experiment with new ideas, tools and pedagogies will provide valuable inertia as you implement and refine your vision for teaching and learning.

Student leadership: Even though students are our “customers” and have valuable insights into how they best learn both inside and outside of school, we too often leave their voices out of our digital transformation efforts.

Two key takeaways on the topic of LEADERSHIP and digital transformation:

  • Take leadership out of a digital transformation and you miss the foundation on which everything else is built.
  • The traditional notion of leadership – people with titles – is no longer valid. For digital transformations to be successful, leadership must be developed and distributed at all levels of the system – district, school board, building, teacher and student.

Support It

Simply providing a digital device for students and staff does not a transformation make. To reach the goal of transforming teaching and learning through digital tools, teachers (and students) will need to learn, unlearn, and relearn. They’ll need to be supported to turn vision into reality.

Professional Development for Teachers: Be prepared to provide a variety of learning opportunities that align with the goals of your initiative. Just like our students, teachers are at different places in the journey and should be supported wherever they happen to be.

Professional Development for Leaders: In Salisbury, the leadership team participates in their own professional learning. The team meets monthly for intentional professional learning and occasionally for lunch and learn sessions.

Rethinking Resources: We want our teachers and students to be creative and innovative, designing new products and processes that have value. How can we use human and financial resources in ways that will more effectively support our digital transformation? How can we model creativity and innovation? We did this by rethinking how we utilize computer technicians and school librarians.

Two key takeaways on the component of SUPPORT in a digital transformation:

  • Frequent opportunities for professional learning keep your digital transformation goals at the forefront with everyone in the organization focused on transformational learning, professionally and for our students.
  • While everyone needs a common language around technology and pedagogy, effective supports meet teachers and leaders where they are and challenge them to embrace a growth mindset for continuous improvement. Building and district leaders must work collaboratively to ensure the individual and collective needs of teachers and leaders are being met.

Evaluate It

There are many reasons you will want to evaluate your digital transformation: to understand how and where teaching and learning are evolving; to determine if the financial investment is paying off; to measure progress toward meeting project goals; and to support shifting priorities with appropriate data.

As a result of monitoring our digital transformation for several years, we developed a framework to help guide us through the process of evaluation and assessment. Our framework includes the following questions:

While the components of the framework are shared here in a linear fashion, the process of digital transformation the framework is best approached in a recursive manner. The challenge of digital transformation is balancing and addressing all three components simultaneously on some level – Lead it. Support it. Evaluate it.

Now that you have an understanding of the framework, what strategies and actions will you develop for each of the phases to best support your digital transformation efforts? To learn more about the strategies and actions we’ve taken in Salisbury Township School District, read this ebook on the framework. Then set out to make your digital transformation a reality!

Randy Ziegenfuss is Salisbury Township School District superintendent. Previously a classroom teacher, department chair, tech integration specialist, director of technology, and assistant principal, he is currently adjunct professor of education at Moravian College, his alma mater. He teaches courses in assessment and technology. He earned his M.A. from Teachers College in Technology Leadership and a doctorate in educational and organizational leadership from the University of Pennsylvania. Follow @ziegeran, and visit or listen in to and

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Trends | Owl Swoops in with $185M

Owl Ventures edtech fund.pngMore big news for edtech: Owl Ventures has $185 Million in fresh capital for edtech startups. Owl Ventures debuted its second venture capital fund dedicated entirely to education technology startups. While this is the largest U.S. fund devoted to edtech, many investors worldwide are eager to support the new wave of entrepreneurship and innovation across the education spectrum including early childhood, K-12, higher education and career mobility/professional learning. The firm counts fifteen such companies so far, including: Newsela, a literacy solution that uses online news; Quizlet, a studying app for students; and Lingo Live, an online language startup. Learn more.

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The Write Idea

Technology-enhanced writing support: how it works.

GUEST COLUMN | by Michele Israel

CREDIT Turnitin writing.pngEmily Bonack, English 9 and AP Language and Communications teacher at Merrill High School, in Merrill, WI, knows all too well what happens to students who are not at grade-level writing proficiency: confidence lags, frustration overwhelms, and motivation declines. Writing becomes a very daunting charge that students resist.

Bonack laments that this resistance presents a communication obstacle, and impedes educational and career trajectories. “Students,” emphasizes Bonack, “need to know how to write well because it is going to greatly affect their future. And determine whether they can communicate, with clarity, what it is that they want…and ultimately work towards those desires.”

With many students to teach, it is hard for Bonack to guide each one’s writing journey, especially in the absence of requisite, grade-appropriate ELA skills.

[The programs] facilitate student-teacher conversations during valuable learning moments.

Thus the reason Bonack uses two technology programs from Turnitin that support students’ writing efforts. Revision Assistant (RA) gives students immediate, automatically generated formative feedback on core writing skills. Feedback Studio (FS) lets teachers respond to students’ writing and check for proper source attribution. All of Bonack’s students have iPads that make it easier for them use the software when they need it.

Each tool’s unique attributes—RA being student-centered and FS teacher-directed—bolster competencies in ways Bonack admits she cannot do by herself. With 150 students across five classes, it is only possible to have students work on the same, non-differentiated assignment. They get a bit of direction to get them started. But, then they are on their own during the revision and drafting process, which not all students negotiate well.

“We’ll do some activities in class,” explains Bonack. “But I tell the students that I can’t really see where they’re at because I don’t have time to grade 150 papers three times, or to touch base with 150 students three times, in depth, throughout the course of one writing project.”

The writing event is ultimately a summative event. Students submit papers for a grade, but have not had much support. Only those who are adept at the writing process are likely to get top honors.

Bonack acknowledges that the features of RA and FS, combined with quality instruction, are what get many students over the writing hump. And allow her to narrow her instruction in more targeted and useful ways.

How it Works

With RA, students work from writing prompts (some with reading passages) linked to a concept. For example, a 9th-10th grade Civil Service assignment requires composing a high school newspaper editorial (argumentative writing) discussing whether high school graduates should spend one year in service before going to college.

On this assignment, students work independently during the pre-draft process, primarily relying on feedback from RA to guide them. They can request a Signal Check, RA’s signature feature, that highlights text students are struggling with, and gives them feedback on trouble spots in the areas of language and style, organization, and claim and focus.

Students make suggested changes on the spot and get more feedback: a red flag for something that still needs adjustment; a green flag for a job well done (a major confidence builder!).

If the Signal Check’s response is confusing, students can reach out to Bonack directly for help. She might lead a mini-lesson, or help them with grammar, punctuation, and parts of speech, which RA does not address. If many students struggle with the same concept, Bonack will conduct a full-class lesson.

What about the students who do not (or rarely) request Signal Checks? Bonack can monitor their progress and work through RA and provide support/encouragement where needed.

Once the pre-drafting process is done, students use FS to fortify learned skills. Basically, says Bonack, the message to her students is: “Show me what you can do now that you’ve learned the steps of how to write this particular type of assignment.”

FS is what Bonack views as the summative stage of student writing during which she helps students to understand her comments and edits/revisions. “With FS,” explains Bonack, “I can drag and drop frequently used comments right onto a student’s paper, add voice comments, have the software check grammar, and engage the tool’s similarity report to scan for possible plagiarism or mis-citation.”


RA heightens students’ willingness to self-correct, embrace effective writing practices, and get beyond the first-draft-is-the final draft syndrome. FS reinforces their ability to tackle different types of writing, while encouraging them to use sources honestly and in an informed fashion.

Then there are the “bells and whistles” that make the tools gamelike…and fun, two enticing features that further motivate.

Also, students like that they can rely on the device for assistance, rather than announcing their need in front of their peers, or asking the teacher for help. Bonack explains that for some students, it’s easier to get feedback (and affirmation) from a computer than a person.

Sometimes, students are frustrated, not with the tool, but with the gaps in their writing. They are sorry they did not master the skills earlier on.

Bonack talks about a 9th grader who was just done with writing. “He seemed to think that everything he wrote wasn’t good enough,” she laments. “He never turned anything in because he claimed it was ‘trash.’ “

RA turned him around. “Being able to run his first few drafts through the software,” says Bonack, “versus through a human being (who he thought was judging him), he was able to actually complete something and turn in a paper that he deemed good enough.” She adds that he did not become a wordsmith over night, but he was no longer a reluctant writer.

Bonack shares another story that points to the benefits of RA as an instructional tool. Last summer, she had her AP Language students complete AP Language prompts through RA. Students had to achieve at a certain level per writing category.

“This requirement,” explains Bonack, “motivated students to turn in their best possible drafts. I was able to analyze their class readiness and knowledge levels to arrive at a benchmark from which to start the class in September.”

Finally, Bonack, along with other English teachers in Merill Public Schools (MAPS) know for sure that the tool/teaching mix helped raise student scores on last year’s MAPS’ ELA exam.

Apps Alone Make Not Good Writers

Bonack says that students’ writing improvements are not just the result of the Turnitin programs. “The tools do not replace the teacher,” she emphasizes, underscoring that they facilitate student-teacher conversations during valuable learning moments.

She notes that the RA and FS cut down on the time it takes Bonack to sift through papers to give short bursts of feedback that students may or may not read. Bonack likens this to math. “If a student,” she relates, “gets a question wrong on a math test, it’s a lot easier for the math teacher to say, ‘You got this one wrong and here’s why.”

This does not happen in English class. “If a student has three or four paragraphs that don’t flow with the organization of his or her essay,” relates Bonack, “I have to read the entire essay to see how the paragraphs don’t fit, and then try to explain that to the student.”

So, RA and FS turn that essay into the “math question” that Bonack zones in on – easy to target, easy to explain, easier for the student to fix…with improvement and pride all the way around.

Michele Israel owns Educational Writing & Consulting and works with large and small educational, nonprofit, and media organizations to bolster products and programs. Her career spans more than 25 years in the field of education as a traditional and non-traditional instructor, professional developer, writer, and curriculum developer.

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The Brightest Future Possible

A Florida superintendent talks technology, learning, and full STEAM ahead.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT Tim Wyrosdick Santa Rosa Superintendent.pngFrom sandy beaches to rolling pines, the Santa Rosa School District is situated in a bright, sunny, and aesthetically beautiful part of the country; the panhandle region of northwest Florida near the Gulf of Mexico. The area offers a healthy and busy quality of life. Over 170,000 residents call Santa Rosa County home; many are currently serving in the Armed Services, as both Navy and Air Force bases are part of the community. Santa Rosa School District serves over 27,000 students through 33 brick and mortar schools, two charter schools and their online blended academy. The district provides students “with a high-quality education and our students consistently lead the State of Florida in academic achievement,” beams Tim Wyrosdick, the district’s superintendent (pictured).

The integration of instructional technology, project-based learning, real world problems and connections to meaningful careers is essential.

Indeed, the area’s bright and sunny disposition clearly extends to its people, to the students in its school district, and the district’s administration. “The mission of our school district, ‘Educate students for success by providing a superior, relevant education’  — drives our daily instruction in the classroom as we strive to prepare our students for a bright and prosperous future,” says Tim. With this mission in mind, Santa Rosa School District is currently in year three of their Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics STEAM Innovate Program, “a five-year transformation of our entire K-12 school district working closely through our partnership with Discovery Education, a division of the globally recognized Discovery Communications,” he notes.

Why STEAM? What’s the school’s vision for STEAM?

Tim: Research consistently demonstrates that STEAM education dramatically increases student achievement, literally eliminating achievement gaps for at-risk students while challenging gifted and talented students and simultaneously creating an adaptable and skilled workforce for the future. Simply put, Santa Rosa STEAM Innovate is not only about transforming teaching and learning, STEAM Innovate is about economic development and the creation of a pipeline from our classrooms to gratifying and meaningful careers. The STEAM Innovate program in Santa Rosa County will transform every classroom in every school to an environment rich with critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity. STEAM Innovate  will provide students and teachers with authentic learning activities and projects that are relevant and meaningful to the community in which we all live and lead to a vibrant climate attractive to new business and expansion of current industry.

What’s an overview, and what are some of the details on—STEAM Innovate?

CREDIT STEAM INNOVATE.pngTim: [The program] started in 2015 and the formal training and coaching associated with [it] will continue through 2022. In 2015, we started [it] in 20 of our schools. We began with four teachers from each of these 20 schools with these teachers receiving five professional development days and 10 on-site coaching days. These 80 teachers began a five-year journey with that first training occurring in September of 2015. It 2016, we added five more schools to the STEAM Innovate transformation. These five schools added 20 more teachers to our STEAM Innovate group. So, these 20 teachers began their five-year training loop in September of 2016. This group also received five professional development days and 10 on-site coaching days during their first year of training.

Now, in 2017, we have added another seven schools to the STEAM Innovate transformation. These seven high schools have added another 34 teachers to STEAM Innovate . Like the preceding groups, this group of high school teachers will receive five professional development days and 10 on-site coaching days during their first year of training. As this group begins their first year of training, the 2016 group is entering their second year of training and coaching while the 2015 group is beginning their third year of training and coaching. Along with the incredible amount of professional development and coaching that occurs during each group’s five-year cycle, there are many supporting events that occur around STEAM Innovate . Events such as family nights, STEAM celebrations, launch events, and school visits bring all aspects of STEAM Innovate alive within our district.

What is the goal of the initiative? 

CREDIT STEAM INNOVATE image1.jpgTim: Santa Rosa School District provides students with a high-quality education and our students consistently lead the State of Florida in academic achievement. Indeed, the mission of our school district, Educate students for success by providing a superior, relevant education, drives our daily instruction in the classroom. Our goal with Innovate is to make these educational experiences even more relevant and more engaging. Through increased relevancy and engagement, we believe that we can continue to raise graduation rates, while at the same time create a well-trained, problem-solving student that meets the needs of high-tech. Our work within STEAM Innovate creates options for students as they walk across the graduation stage. What is our goal? Our goal is to provide the brightest future possible for every student within the Santa Rosa County School District.

What role does professional development and educational technology play? 

Tim: Professional development is the cornerstone of this program. The teachers participate in 25 full day trainings over a five-year period, while receiving 50 on-site coaching during the same time frame. In addition to this, the administrators receive 20 PD days during the five years, while also receiving onsite coaching. The professional development activities are the key to transforming the classroom. As we strive to make our classrooms more engaging to today’s students, we have found that the professional development activities are critical and helping us understand the needs and desires of our students.

As we introduce new technologies into the classroom, it is important for us to understand that the technology needs to be seen as a tool for accomplishing tasks. The professional development activities help us to create “Talent with technology” among our students. Our approach to technology calls for us to be device agnostic as we strive to teach our students to operate on multiple platforms using multiple tech tools in various situations. Technology is important to what we are trying to accomplish, but providing a safe culture for curiosity and “failing forward” is the most important.

How has education changed in the district so far?

Tim: What has changed in our district is not only the classroom but also the attitude of many teachers. STEAM Innovate has energized veteran teachers, provided confidence to the new teachers, and created teacher leaders out of many. The level of student engagement has increased during this first three years of STEAM Innovate . In many ways, fun has returned to the classroom, along with exploration and curiosity.

In many ways, fun has returned to the classroom, along with exploration and curiosity.

What role are local stakeholders playing in this effort? Are you working with external partners and if so, what do they bring to the table?

Tim: STEAM Ambassadors, leaders from the business community, advise the school district in this important work by providing feedback and input regarding the type of skills that are essential for tomorrow’s workforce. A long-term strategic initiative, STEAM Ambassadors are partners in this symbiotic relationship in which Ambassadors visit our STEAM Learning Labs and Schools, as well as discuss the goals and future needs of their own businesses. To sustain and expand the program, STEAM Ambassadors are sharing the message of STEAM Innovate with other community leaders, leading to opportunities for additional resources and community-based projects.

VIDEO CREDIT: Momentus Films 

During Year 3, our partners, include Ascend Performance Materials, the world’s largest manufacture of nylon; AppRiver, a global cybersecurity company; and the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, a not-for-profit research institute of the Florida University System. Researchers at IHMC pioneer technologies aimed at leveraging and extending human capabilities. Post-secondary partners include the University of West Florida (UWF), particularly the College of Science and Engineering, Pensacola State College, and Florida State University.

The district has cultivated a robust relationship with UWF. In fact, the district and University are collaborating on two National Science Foundation grants, with plans for not only teacher professional development and recruitment of students into STEM related teaching degrees at the secondary level, but internships for our secondary students. Finally, the district contracts with the Community Outreach Research Center (CORAL) at the University of West Florida for an annual external evaluation of the STEAM Innovate transformation. Year 1 and Year 2 reports are available on our web site.

Your district has become a destination for other school systems looking to implement STEAM capacity building programs—how did that happen?

CREDIT STEAM INNOVATE image2.jpgTim: Recognizing the importance of continuous improvement and the responsibility of providing students with a relevant and high quality education, Santa Rosa County School District has traveled and collaborated with other high performing school districts throughout the country. Over the years, we have adopted many practices and strategies that we have observed in other school districts. With the launch of our K-12 district-wide transformation, we partnered with Discovery Education, and the positive outcomes experienced by our students, teachers, and the community are undeniable! STEAM Innovate sells itself. The momentum of the transformation has been significant and beyond our expectations. As school district leaders have heard or read about STEAM Innovate, they have contacted us directly and also through our partner. In 2017, the school district hosted a National STEM Symposium with Discovery Education. Educational leaders from 18 states and five countries traveled to Santa Rosa County to learn directly from our teachers and students. An international STEAM Symposium is now in the planning stages for 2018.

What are the next steps for STEAM Innovate?

Tim: Over the next several years, we will continue to grow STEAM Innovate in Santa Rosa County. As part of the STEAM Innovate training that teachers are receiving, they are also being trained on how to lead other teachers into the STEAM Innovate space. The Innovate teachers within Santa Rosa County are leading PLC’s and workshops and presenting at conferences across the state and nation. Our next steps involve us growing STEAM Innovate into every classroom within the Santa Rosa County School District.

If you could point to one major thing you learned in implementing this program, what would it be?

Tim: When we began STEAM Innovate within the Santa Rosa County School District, we thought we were transforming teaching and learning in the classroom. What we have learned now in our third year of the STEAM Innovate initiative, is that we are not only transforming the classroom, but we have transformed the living room for many of our families. Parents are engaged like never before with their students on STEAM activities within their homes. Children are taking STEAM activities that they have participated in at school back to their neighborhoods and doing these activities with friends and family. The impact that these activities have on families and homes has been an unbelievable surprise for our school district.

The impact that these activities have on families and homes has been an unbelievable surprise for our school district.

What do you think is the future of STEAM in our country?

Tim: In the coming years of STEAM Innovate , we expect the excitement to continue. The 100+ teachers that are in the Innovate program will assist in scaling up Innovate through partnering with peer teachers, facilitating PLC’s, and leading professional development which will help non-Innovate teachers to incorporate exciting engaging relevant activities on a regular basis into their curriculum. With this pipeline of problem solvers that we will be graduating, we expect our activities to make a positive economic impact in our community. Santa Rosa County will quickly become an area in which people will want to live–not just because of the outstanding school system, but also because of the high-tech job opportunities that will exist. We expect STEAM Innovate to provide students with a very bright future right here in Santa Rosa County.

What do you think is the future of education?


Tim: It is critical, no matter where teaching and learning occur, the environment must be conducive to critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration. Regardless of each individual’s career path, education must cultivate teachers and life-long learners that adapt to whatever employers and the community require. In Santa Rosa County we are also cultivating learners that possess curiosity, confidence and commitment. The integration of instructional technology, project-based learning, real world problems and connections to meaningful careers is essential. There is no prescription or magic formula; however, the engagement with business, industry, and especially our students’ families and the community must be part of the learning experience.

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to:

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The Social Campus

Eight areas of opportunity for higher education in 2018.

GUEST COLUMN | by Phil Chatterton

cREDIT Hootsuite higher education.jpgIn the past five years, social media has become a mission-critical communications technology in higher education. It is used by many stakeholders across campus for various different use cases: student and alumni engagement, fundraising drives, athletics ticket sales, domestic and international recruitment, student services, and crisis communications.

By taking advantage of insights made available by social listening, schools can measure sentiment towards their institution, better understand student needs, and differentiate from their competition.

In fact, social media has become so ubiquitous, so quickly, that institutions are now experiencing challenges with governance, security, cost efficiencies, and cross-campus collaboration.

A recent global survey conducted by Hootsuite, with support from the Chronicle of Higher Education, provides some valuable insights into how social has affected higher ed, and uncovered eight areas of opportunity for social media in higher education in 2018:

1. Campus collaboration

Despite the high adoption of social media across many areas of campus, our survey found that social efforts are still siloed. On the plus side, there is a desire for improved collaboration – over half of higher education institutions want to coordinate with other teams on social strategy in the next 12 months. Cross-campus collaboration would help schools align their social media goals, implement better security measures, and realize more value from social media.

2. Executive support for social

Executive participation on social at higher education institutions is high, with 49 percent of institutional leaders active on social, compared to the 39 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. This is a positive sign of executives leading by example – it’s driven by a desire to engage with stakeholders and be seen as more transparent and trustworthy.

3. Social advertising

With the decline in organic reach on social media, social advertising has become a key part of marketing efforts to reach a wider audience. Our research found that 67 percent of respondents are using paid advertising to enhance their reach. Fifty-one percent expect an increase in paid ads budget in 2018—and among respondents that manage social media centrally, 62 percent expect an increase next year.

4. Social insights

Using social media data is an essential part of building a solid strategy. By taking advantage of insights made available by social listening, schools can measure sentiment towards their institution, better understand student needs, and differentiate from their competition. Unfortunately, thirty-five percent of schools are not using social media to monitor social conversations about their campus – this is a missed opportunity for some excellent insight to inform social strategies in the future.

5. Security

Several high profile institutions have been hit with social media security scandals in the past few years. Some of those institutions have spent millions of dollars on their responses and suffered huge hits to their reputation. Despite this, our research found that 40 per cent of schools still share login credentials to native social media platforms. This represents a massive risk to an institution’s brand. Two-step authentication procedures and third-party social media management and security applications are a must.

6. Sharing authentic experiences on social

User-generated content allows schools to showcase an authentic portrayal of student life on campus to their prospective students—and helps recruit top talent. Our survey respondents are seeing value in sharing these real-life stories. Thirty-five percent of those surveyed allow students to temporarily “take over” the official school social media accounts to share a student’s perspective on special events on campus. We expect this trend to continue into 2018.

7. Delivery of student services

By delivering student services on social media, schools can improve communications with students and significantly reduce customer service backlogs. Schools delivering services on social have experienced these gains. Over half of respondents said that social media helps them respond to customer service queries faster.

8. Measuring return on investment (ROI)

Our survey found that while institutions are leveraging social for revenue-generating initiatives such as meeting new student enrollment targets or driving fundraising efforts, few of them are attributing gains in these areas back to their social media strategies. For example, only 26 per cent have seen an increased number of student applications as a direct result of social efforts and just 11 per cent have seen increased quality of student applications. While these numbers appear low, it is possible this is less related to low ROI and more so not attributing ROI back to social efforts.

There’s a lot of opportunity in social for higher education—with a unified strategy, improved reporting, and centralized management, schools will be able to better understand their ROI and make the case for more investment in social media in the future.

Phil Chatterton is an Industry Principal for Higher Education at Hootsuite. In his previous role at the University of British Columbia, Phil worked with a diverse stakeholder community to develop and execute emerging technologies and the broader digital strategy.

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