More About ‘Way Easier Learning’

An insightful chat with the product manager behind one of the world’s most-used apps for inquiring minds.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

Becca McArthur.jpgBecca McArthur is the Product Manager at Socratic, a homework app that combines cutting-edge Artificial Intelligence (AI) with amazing learning content to make learning on your phone easy.

She leads prioritization, strategy, and development for their iOS and Android apps, including user research, product exploration, wireframes, requirements, and execution.

“I’ve always subscribed to the notion that the knowledge we carry around with us is our greatest asset; it’s something no one can take away,” says Becca (pictured).

Education is an inherently human problem. Technology can help us make great strides—but solving the problem will depend on our ability to scale and strengthen what is essentially human: our relationships with our teachers, tutors, our peers, and ourselves.

“For me, that’s why education—the collection of that knowledge—matters, and I love that online communities can make what matters to us easier.”

Launched in 2013, the company now serves a community of more than 11 million users.

“I’m at Socratic to connect teachers with students and students with knowledge, making learning an accessible, powerful tool for everyone.”

What prompted you to get into edtech?

Becca: Education is an inherently human problem. Technology can help us make great strides—but solving the problem will depend on our ability to scale and strengthen what is essentially human: our relationships with our teachers, tutors, our peers, and ourselves.

Before getting into Product, I was a Community Manager, so connecting people around what matters most to them is my bread and butter. And because of that, I knew I wanted to learn about and build for problems that are deeply human, and whose solutions rely on human connections to succeed. Education sits at that sweet spot for me.

From where does your passion for education derive?

Becca: As a kid, I loved school, but I struggled with math early. Despite spending hours in the kitchen practicing my times tables, it never seemed to come naturally to me. The world told me that math came more naturally to boys anyway, so I submitted to the idea that this would always be hard for me.

Even today, when I look at data on a new feature for the app, I have to remind myself not to be scared of the numbers. I think my experience would have felt very different with a tool like Socratic.

My dream is to build something that will give students the confidence they need to know that they can learn the really hard thing, whether that’s math or history or science—no matter what circumstances are causing them to doubt. Because knowledge, once you’ve got it, is something that no one can take away. That’s where my passion stems from.

What is a data-driven product builder?

Socratic image2.pngBecca: I see the qualitative tools—user interviews, surveys, and user tests—as only half of a product manager’s arsenal. The other half is using data to illuminate what the user couldn’t (or wouldn’t) tell you.

For me, this means running tons of A/B tests, ideally wherein the variable between versions is as different as possible (everything else, though, should be identical). This way, we’re likely to see a wider delta between usage and have a clearer sense of what to build next.

Another strategy: I try to visualize each feature on our app as a funnel, and then create those funnels on our analytics platform. What is the user’s goal in a given scenario, and where are most people dropping off?

For example, we were able to improve conversion on our new user login flow from 51% to 84% from analyzing each step of that funnel in detail. We found that students were happy to give the app camera and notifications permissions, but many dropped off when asked to share their contacts. So we moved the contacts permissions request later in the flow, and added a straightforward reason why the app needed that permission. The jump in completion saved us tons of users.

Data can also be used proactively, not just after a feature is launched. I love going into “exploratory mode” — I’ll look at a wide swath of usage data from a specific cohort and try to pick up on patterns. Often, it’s seeing the different pathways that students take through that app that is most illuminating about what’s working for them and what might not be. I use those insights to inform what we build next.

Any highlights illustrating “early-stage hustle”?

Becca: At Socratic, we’re unlike many startups because we as employees are quite different from our users: high school students. So it’s been really important for us to get inside their heads, which has led us to lots of user testing. But recruiting actual students for user tests is tricky; posting ads on Craigslist led to people posing as students just to make a buck. So we had to get really creative.

We started by cold-calling the high school nearest to our office in downtown Manhattan—and when that didn’t work, we physically walked over, introduced ourselves, and asked if we could work with students to get their feedback on our app. We ended up building a strong relationship with the administrators and students there, and that laid the foundation for our first core group of testers.

We’ve built a strong network of students we can rely on—all from scratch. And without their feedback, our product would look quite different than it does today.

We got to know those students really well (which led to really authentic feedback), but we quickly realized we needed fresh feedback too. We started hosting open houses for the students we knew at our office, asked them to bring their friends from nearby schools, and offered them Shake Shack in exchange for coming back to our office for paid user tests.

It’s taken us years (plus lots of cold emails, conversations with students, and boxes of french fries), but we’ve built a strong network of students we can rely on—all from scratch. And without their feedback, our product would look quite different than it does today.

What does ‘empathic design’ mean?

Becca: Empathic design is all about understanding a user’s emotions around a problem space, which can reveal needs around that space that even the user themself isn’t aware of. It relies on a lot of observation: beyond just asking a student how they feel about something, it’s watching how they react to certain topics, and what makes them light up or shut down. I think it’s these types of insights that can inform really interesting product decisions.

In regards to Socratic, what is the importance of community? How is it defined?

Becca: Community was essential to the success of Socratic web product. The ability to mobilize a group of global volunteers relies on some very human mechanics: feeling welcome when you arrive, getting feedback on an answer you’ve written from another educator, or reading a thank-you note from a student who learned what they need to know from your contribution.

We intentionally built all these mechanics into our product, and I worked with Socratic’s earliest community members to write defining principles for the site’s culture. The result was a space on the Internet that does, ultimately, feel very human: though it extends across cities and countries, it is a group of people collaborating on something they care deeply about.

If the site didn’t feel and function like a true community, would lack its unique sense of belonging, purpose and mission—that critical glue—that keeps students and teachers coming back day after day.

As product manager, what have been some lessons learned by you? What fixes have you had to make? Any time you had to ‘eat crow’ / be humble / change?

Becca: From the beginning, we set out to help students learn using the Internet, not just find answers. It was very important to us that the answers on our website always had an explanation as well as an answer (a sharp contrast to what we were finding on other sites around the web).

This led to explanations that were thorough, but long, often building up from the basics, which I believed to be the best learning experience for students.

But when we started building our mobile app and I began watching students look at lessons on their phones, my stomach dropped. Watching them skim quickly over all that “helpful” content—barely reading any of it—was a big awakening for me.

When a student is looking for help, their first step is to judge the answer as quickly as possible. If the answer is long and dense, its usefulness becomes much harder to judge. It can also feel incredibly intimidating for a student who is already lost. That was a critical lesson, and forced us to rethink our content strategy for mobile.

Whenever possible, lessons should be really simple—and even hide details upfront. The first version of our math stepper included a text explanation at every step, but after watching students use it, we decided to hide the explanations beneath a tap. Design for an initial impression as well as lifetime learning value.

Love this quote of yours: “I’m a pragmatist when it comes to execution and an optimist when it’s time to dream.” Anything further on this?

Socratic image1.pngBecca: Education is a complex space with lots of entrenched thinking. So it’s important to be very open, and to be a believer in lots of different types of ideas. During that early ideation phase, I try to be a yes-woman as much as I can. “No bad ideas!” is my brainstorm tagline.

But when it comes down to prioritizing a solution that will actually serve students, the ability to cut scope and draw a hard line matters a lot. I believe that shipping something good and learning from it is better than shipping something really good that takes twice as long to build. So taking a pragmatic approach to which details matter is really important in those cases.

What advice do you have for other edtech startups? What makes you say that?

Becca: I believe that too few education companies build with students as the top priority.

Edtech is a space with a lot of inherent tensions and thus opportunity for misalignment. For example, it’s school districts who buy textbooks, but students are the ones actually using them.

My advice is to deeply understand how your product reaches students, and how they experience it. Build students’ needs and hopes and dreams into that experience; make them a central stakeholder no matter what.

What are your thoughts on education these days?

Becca: It’s exciting to see how people are tackling education in a world where students’ access to information has essentially exploded. I love that the conversation is moving away from, “isn’t this helping students cheat?” to how we can better equip students to solve problems and understand their world, given what they have access to.

I’m excited to figure out how we help students build a ‘growth mindset’ around their education. How do we help them see progress, find confidence, and believe they can excel?

Next, I’m excited to figure out how we help students build a “growth mindset” around their education. How do we help them see progress, find confidence, and believe they can excel? This feels like one of the biggest challenges to me.

What is technology’s role in education?

Becca: There are outstanding teachers in the world who are helping students learn and grow in powerful ways, but not all students have access to an outstanding teacher. And further, those incredibly formative 1:1 interactions don’t scale. I think technology can help us scale what these teachers are doing.

I don’t think technology should ever replace great teachers. We should continue to rely on educators and experts (i.e., humans) to develop what we deliver to students, but we must lean on technology to help us deliver it.

Anything else edtech relevant you’d like to add or emphasize?

Becca: Check out our app to get help with math, science, history, and more, or tell a student or teacher in your life.

If you have knowledge to share, consider answering a question on You can reach thousands of students with just one answer—which feels pretty great.

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

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Does VR Have a Place in EdTech?

Having a good look at a new (virtual) reality for students in the classroom.

GUEST COLUMN | by Monica Burns

CREDIT Nearpod.pngOver the past few weeks I’ve had a handful of conversations with influencers, educators, and developers who are exploring Virtual Reality (VR) in learning spaces.

As VR becomes increasingly popular in our lives outside of the classroom, will it have an impact on our students educational experiences?

Does VR have a place in edtech?

As a former classroom teacher and now in my role as an independent consultant and professional development facilitator, I’m always on the look out for new technology that can transform the way we think about teaching and learning.

Virtual reality is more than a gimmick—it has the potential to be an integral part of teaching and learning.

With new apps, websites and devices released on a regular basis, it’s not hard to find something that grabs my attention.

When a new item pops onto my radar, I come back to a phrase I’ve used for quite some time now: tasks before apps. This ‘gut check’ reminds me to stop and think about whether a new tool, application or device can be used to elevate and energize traditional experiences for students and make sure we’re putting the learning first.

I believe that when used thoughtfully, VR has a place in our edtech space. It can transform teaching in learning when incorporated into instruction with a clear purpose.

Over the past year, I’ve had the chance to work with students and teachers as they explore VR in educational settings. These experiences have solidified my stance that virtual reality is more than a gimmick—it has the potential to be an integral part of teaching and learning.

Background Knowledge

A few weeks ago, I sat in a circle with a group of energetic kindergarten students. They were studying animal habitats and I joined them for the day to dive a bit deeper into the topic.

With an iPad in each of their hands, they were ready to ‘transport’ to a new place to discuss what animals might live in each location.

There were no headsets or isolated experiences, but robust conversations and instant discussions about the 360 image that popped up on the screen of their iPad as they moved from side to side. 

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

For children who had never stepped foot in a forest or put on goggles to explore a coral reef, this virtual reality experience gave them a chance to apply what they had learned in earlier lessons.

I used the VR content in Nearpod to choose a few locations for students to explore together.

Both before a lesson to establish background knowledge, and after a series of lessons to extend applications for students, virtual reality can have students moving right, left, up and down to learn about new spaces.


Although VR experiences shouldn’t be seen as a substitution for the ‘real thing,’ a trip to the edge of the Grand Canyon or a frog dissection may provide logistical challenges for your students. Simulations with VR can open the world to students in ways simply not possible a decade or even a few years in the past.

One of the most popular ways for thinking about VR in education is the opportunities it gives students to interact with new experiences.  

For example, I like how Zspace lets students spin, zoom and make their way through simulations using an interactive screen and special glasses.

As schools invest in more VR technology, the ability to simulate a variety of experiences—from performing surgery to changing a part on an airplane—will become more accessible to students.

Empathy Education

VR in education might include a ‘field trip’ to a new place or a simulation of a new experience. One of its most compelling classroom uses is to for storytelling. Learning what life is like in different part of the world and gaining a better understanding of the challenges people face every day can help students become more empathetic.

When leading sessions for educators or a conference or having a casual conversation with someone about virtual reality, the idea of empathy education through VR experiences is one of the first things I mention.

It’s been so exciting to see how the content produced by New York Times VR and CNN VR has contributed to this narrative. Their videos share stories from around the world that help viewers of any age learn about life in different places with a mobile device and a low-cost Google Cardboard headset.

Virtual reality has a clear place in edtech when integrated into classroom learning experiences with a purpose.

The possibilities will continue to grow as the content on VR platforms strengthens and devices become more affordable. I hope you’ll jump into this exciting space to level the playing field for students, and remember to place tasks before apps!

Monica Burns, Ed.D., is an EdTech & Curriculum Consultant and Founder of Her new book from ASCD, Tasks Before Apps: Designing Rigorous Learning in a Tech-Rich Classroom is now available on Amazon and her weekly newsletter for teachers is full of more favorites for virtual reality in the classroom. She’ll be speaking about educational technology at FETC this January.

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2018: New Horizon for Learning in World of Constant Innovation

Where forward-thinking companies and higher ed institutions will be looking.

GUEST COLUMN | by Randy Swearer

CREDIT Autodesk image.pngWe are in the midst of an unprecedented moment in time, where technology is advancing faster than ever before.

This poses a challenge for education and learning—as the technology we use in our everyday lives and jobs continues to evolve, so do the skills needed to keep pace.

Next year will be all about learners and employers coming together to tackle problems with education and learning that we cannot face alone.

This continuous need for upskilling means that learning can no longer remain a component of the early years of life, bound by grades and graduations, but must shift from a linear to nonlinear model as jobs change and new skills arise around us.

About That Workforce

Without an emphasis on continuous learning, employers fear that the current workforce is improperly skilled for the way jobs are evolving, and that the next generation will be unprepared by traditional linear education paths.

According to a report by McKinsey&Company, between 400 and 800 million workers around the world could be displaced by automation by 2030.

In the U.S., the displacement could involve up to one-third of the workforce.

Yet behind these numbers, I expect to see automation and AI creating new paths and career opportunities previously unavailable.

In order to prepare for this change, next year will bring a bigger focus on the idea of constant learning, as forward-thinking companies and academia come together to change the way we educate for this new world of rapid innovation, where continued and creative learning is encouraged from Kindergarten through one’s career.

These are the areas where I believe over the next year, we will see emerging technology transform the traditional learning model, and advancements being made to further the concept of lifelong learning.

Micro-credentials and MOOCs will Drive Continued Learning

No one who earns a degree, from high school, college, or beyond, is ever done learning— yet, that is how our education system is currently configured.

After graduation, most people settle into their jobs, where they may hone their skills, but don’t necessarily focus on learning new ones. This model will no longer sustain our workforce, as technology continues to evolve and require new skillsets.

We are already seeing the impact of this misalignment, which has caused a skills gap between what is taught in schools, and the skills in-demand by today’s employers.

A recent study from CareerBuilder found that two in three employers say they are concerned about the growing skills gap, and 57 percent of workers reporting that they want to learn a new skillset to land a better-paying, more fulfilling job.

In 2018, we will see more learners embrace micro-credentials and massive open online courses (MOOCs) on their own, as a way of increasing their knowledge-base, acquiring new skills and transitioning into new industries. Learners will not focus simply on completing majors, but rather mastering new skills in both their current, and new, industries.

Micro-credentials and MOOCs will serve as stackable credentials that provide job seekers with the ability to continually upskill and reorient, constantly building their résumés and becoming even more appealing in today’s competitive job market. In 2018, a portfolio of micro-credentials will prove to be more pragmatic than the standard college curriculum we’ve seen to date.

The onus will not just be on the learner.

In 2018, we will also see academia and educators coming together to help close this skills gap and create curriculum via specialized courses, which will help learners upskill. At my company, we work with Certiport to develop and administer certifications in specialized industry competencies, such as 3D design skills through AutoCAD and Autodesk Fusion 360 certifications.

Companies like Udacity and General Assembly also work with companies to create some amazing online courses for specialized skills.

Academia and Industry will Partner Closely to Address the Skills Gap

With the current skills gap proving to be a major factor in today’s inability to fill jobs, companies will work closely with academia to address this gap, stepping in to help inform curriculum that ties directly back to areas where they will most need talent in the future.

One area we will see these partnerships grow is education around how humans and machines can co-create.

The new relationship between humans and machines has already greatly impacted our society, and that will only continue to accelerate in the coming years.

Intelligent tools will start to become platforms for two-way learning between machines and humans.

In order to keep up, academia will start to partner with leaders in the space, to help students become experts at learning from machines––and likewise about teaching machines the right things to learn.

We will see more companies partner with academia in the areas of construction and manufacturing.

The way in which most people view these fields—as low skill, or non-technical—is antiquated, and still anchored in the 19th and 20th century notions of the industrial age.

In 2018, will we see jobs in industries like manufacturing and construction move from “blue collar” to “new collar,” as emerging technologies, like machine learning, AR, VR, 3D printing, and even drones, attract a new generation of learners and workers.

Solving for a New Horizon in Learning

Next year will be all about learners and employers coming together to tackle problems with education and learning that we cannot face alone.

Learners of all ages must help create their own path by supplementing traditional education with micro-credentials and continuous learning that will make them successful across the arc of their career and lives.

Educators and employers must continue to define their roles as the agents of change, ensuring they are providing the best possible training for the workforce of today.

Randy Swearer, Ph.D., is VP of Learning Futures at Autodesk. He empowers students on a journey of lifelong learning through problem-solving, collaboration and design thinking. Former dean of Parsons School of Design and provost at Philadelphia University, he also served as 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 where he was awarded a Texas Excellence Teaching Prize. He earned 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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Big Changes Occurring on College and University Campuses

As higher education modernizes, some guidelines on who might pay.

GUEST COLUMN | by Mary Scott Nabers

CREDIT Strategic Partnerships Inc.pngCollege and university executives struggle valiantly as the gap between their critical funding needs and the revenues they receive grows larger each year.

State spending on public higher education is now well below pre-Recession allocations, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

A recent report notes that state funding for colleges and universities for the 2017 school year was nearly $9 billion below the 2008 level.

As they seek alternative funding sources, many state colleges and universities are turning to public-private partnerships (P3s).

Left with few alternatives, educational leaders are turning to alternative funding sources for all projects and initiatives.

Funding and Tuition

Funding is critical and many colleges and universities have been forced to increase tuition rates. The College Board reports that tuition at four-year public colleges nationwide has risen more than 100 percent since 2001.

In California, funding shortages are almost extreme. The California Community Colleges, the University of California and the California State University estimate they will need a combined $47.2 billion over the next five years.

This total includes construction of new facilities that will be required and the modernization of many current facilities.

Public colleges in other states are facing similar problems.

Public Private Partnerships

As they seek alternative funding sources, many state colleges and universities are turning to public-private partnerships (P3s). In these types of engagements, public officials partner with private-sector companies that offer capital, expertise, experience and a willingness to take on project risk.

P3 engagements are structured so that a long-term revenue model is designated to repay the initial investment funding.

Initially, P3 engagements were primarily used to fund and build student housing projects. The success of the projects, however, led to other collaborative efforts.

Now, campus P3 engagements are common for all types of projects and initiatives.

A Quick Survey of the Field

-The University of Kentucky recently completed a five-year, $450 million P3 engagement that resulted in the addition of more than 6,800 new beds on the campus. The university also has a 15-year, $245 million P3 contract for dining services. At Texas A&M University-Texarkana, a P3-funded project will result in construction of an $11million multipurpose building that will feature sports facilities as well as a lab, classrooms, a gaming room, student recreation area and retail space. Building on other P3 successes, the University of Kentucky is currently considering a collaborative effort for a mixed-use retail and parking development.

-San Diego State University’s proposed $3 billion development plan for the former San Diego Chargers stadium property will likely involve a P3 engagement. The project will include a 35,000-seat sports stadium, two hotels and a total of 4,500 housing units. The plan also calls for the inclusion of retail and office space.

-Appalachian State University will be soliciting proposals for a P3 project that will include the construction of more than 2,200 student housing beds on campus. The project will also include rebuilding another dormitory.

-Officials at Delaware State University will seek to engage a private partner to design, build, operate and maintain a residence hall through a long-term ground lease. Not only will the university gain new beds, but it also expects to eliminate $15 million in maintenance costs for two aging residential facilities that will be razed once the new housing complex is completed. In announcing a $750 million fundraising campaign, a University of Delaware spokesperson announced plans to use a P3 to build housing designed for graduate students, young professionals and faculty.

-A $35.2 million plan to renovate the Stevens Center was recently approved by the University of North Carolina (UNC). This renovation is expected to convert the aging facility into a world-class performing arts venue. UNC will solicit private-sector partners to collaborate with on the project.

-Kent State University (KSU) is eyeing a possible 10-year project that will cost more than $1 billion to transform its main campus. The project would include construction of new academic and other buildings, renovation of existing buildings, addition of green space and expansion of bike trails and walkways. KSU officials indicate that more than half the cost of the first of three phases will likely be paid in part by a public-private partnership. Among the first phase projects are additions and renovations to Rockwell Hall and White Hall and additions to the Aeronautics and Technology Building. Terrace Hall will be torn down to facilitate a new parking deck.

Leaders Moving Forward

University leaders now realize they must seek new solutions to funding shortages. With an abundance of alternative funding sources available, some officials say that when a large project is approved and before debt is incurred, there should be a study to determine whether a public-private engagement is appropriate.

If so, collaboration with experienced partners and the use of private-sector capital is very compelling.

Mary Scott Nabers is president and CEO of Strategic Partnerships Inc., a business development company specializing in government contracting and procurement consulting throughout the U.S.

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Re-examining a Quality Higher Education

As digitalization permeates classrooms, modern IT and cable infrastructures drive quality.

GUEST COLUMN | by Sean Graham

CREDIT FNT image.pngIt’s no surprise that technology is changing how students learn and how administrators deliver education.

A recent report from McGraw Hill Education found that 81 percent of students on college campuses use mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets to study.

While mobile devices have given students the freedom of studying and completing homework from anywhere and at any time, these technologies often create challenges for educators.

The average college student actually owns more than five internet-connected devices including smartphones, notebooks and tablets.

Education CIOs say 49 percent of their business processes have been impacted by digital opportunities or threats, and expect that to increase to 82 percent in five years.

Digital business is driving change in all industries, and higher education is no exception.

To keep pace with the evolving education sector, schools must provide classroom settings that allow for more digital, mobile and technology-based learning environments. Educating the twenty-first century workforce requires a twenty-first century IT infrastructure.

Emerging Trends

As every student has the desire to be connected 24/7, the bring your own device (BYOD) trend has become the new norm.

The 2017 College Explorer Report from Refuel Agency found the average college student actually owns more than five internet-connected devices including smartphones, notebooks and tablets.

The report also found that students use these devices as often as 137+ hours a week. This puts added pressure on an institution’s IT infrastructure as they must maintain uninterrupted service while capacity demands rise.

Institutions must implement secure networks that can support the wide range of devices being brought to campuses.

Another trend that is sweeping across institutions involves incorporating new business models and alternative delivery formats both inside and outside the classroom.

Schools are aspiring to provide future students with options that are more likely to be a fit with their personal educational needs, family situations and budgets.

As one size does not fit all when it comes to education, schools are diversifying their program offerings and experimenting with new teaching methods. That being said, IT infrastructures must be capable of incorporating these new elements and adapting to student and industry demands as needed.

Transforming IT Infrastructure

As digitalization permeates all areas of the campus, IT infrastructures are working at full capacity. To ensure quality education, institutions must transform their IT and cable infrastructure into a modern technological system that has the flexibility to adapt to the evolving needs of student, faculty and administration.

There are three essential capabilities an IT infrastructure management system must have to ensure uninterrupted campus services, provide services more efficiently and at a lower cost: Documentation, Management, and Planning.

  1. Document

For deep visibility into IT infrastructure, systems should include a central data repository of up-to-date and accurate information about every physical asset and how they are all connected.

  1. Manage

To ensure all assets are functioning optimally and to avoid service interruptions, systems should detect problems in real-time and have processes in place to resolve potential issues.

  1. Plan

To enable modifications to any service, systems should be flexible to incorporate new assets and processes as needed.

Network and infrastructure managers often face two main challenges.

They must maintain a high-performing infrastructure that can withstand the demands of increasing service delivery complexity, and they must create a flexible technology environment capable of enabling the introduction of new services.

Since campuses consist of many buildings and are spread out over an expansive area, technologies across the campus are often not harmonized. This makes documentation, service provisioning and monitoring of the system and all its assets crucial to ensure processes run smoothly.

Transforming IT infrastructure into an agile asset that easily accommodates new elements into the extended education ecosystem will cast the institution as a leader in digital business transformation.

The Education Ecosystem

Ultimately, choosing the right solution to manage IT infrastructure makes all the difference.

To deliver best-in-class technology services, you need a best-in-class IT management system that provides uninterrupted service, even as capacity demands are growing exponentially.

The ability to add new elements into the education ecosystem, especially those that enable you to expand your share of the online education market is essential. Additionally, IT infrastructures must be able to support huge increases in mobile data capacity.

A complete IT management system will also simplify future construction projects, ensuring they are completed on time and within budget, by informing IT managers where every asset and connection is located.

Lastly, by reducing OPEX, supplementary funds will be made available so that institutions can invest in other critical areas.

Delivering Quality Services

Overall, education leaders today are not only looking for ways in which technology can reduce costs and drive efficiencies, they are also exploring how technology can enhance competitive advantages and support emerging business models.

While the dissemination of digital devices creates new challenges that educational institutions must resolve to keep pace with the evolving education sector, schools are adapting and aligning their program portfolios to meet student and industry demand.

An IT management solution enables education leaders to transform their institution’s IT and cable infrastructure and expand its services to keep pace with emerging needs.

By providing both traditional and expanded services more efficiently and at lower costs, IT infrastructure will fully support the institution’s main mission of delivering quality education.

Sean Graham, General Manager of FNT Software’s office in Parsippany, New Jersey, is responsible for operations in North America. FNT Software is a leading provider of integrated software solutions for IT management, data center infrastructure management and telecommunication infrastructure management worldwide.


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10% There: The Future of Edtech and Personalized Learning

A slow evolution, but with the opportunity to innovate and disrupt wide open.

GUEST COLUMN | by Michał Borkowski

CREDIT Brainly.pngThink about a time when you had a problem – any sort of problem.

What did you do?

Look for a solution.


Most of the time, we ask for help.

Today, there are 1.2 billion students around the world, and it’s likely that at least a few times a week, every one of these students comes to a point when they need to ask for help.

As technology continues to advance, we believe improving and transforming the way students around the world learn, through collaboration and engagement, will be the future of education.

Asking for help

There has always been a massive gap in how and when students receive help.

Depending on circumstances, not all students get the educational help they deserve; and for students across the world, access to resources can look starkly different.

For decades, the educational playing field has been unequal, crippling students’ journeys and motivations.

However, today, technology is closing this gap.

Educational Evolution

While we’ve seen technology disrupt other industries, the marriage between education and technology is still primitive.

Think about the way we watch movies – thanks to technology, we can access thousands of titles from the comfort of our own homes.

If we are feeling curious, we can explore new titles and genres, and discover we like something we might not have considered before.

Now think about the way we learn.

If you have a question, most of us might turn to a teacher, parent, or peer. However, what if these resources aren’t available?

While the Internet offers resources to find an answer – personalized learning that encourages real collaboration and engagement is scarce, and the opportunity to expand knowledge is even more so.

The evolution of education and technology has been slow, but the opportunity to innovate and disrupt is wide open.

At my company, we ask ourselves, how can tech fix the way students learn?

We not only want to transform learning processes, but inspire students to share and explore knowledge in a collaborative community.

As students get more comfortable asking and answering each other’s questions, we believe the opportunity to explore new subjects arises — increasing their knowledge base, inquisitiveness, and their motivation to embrace challenges.

Celebrating Learning

Getting stuck is natural and can be frustrating, but getting unstuck doesn’t have to be.

Every student should have access to a support system that enables curiosity and intelligence.

In a supportive environment, students have the ability to ask and answer questions – and with the help of their peers, they are empowered to continually learn and help one another, creating a cycle of knowledge and growth.

In fact, in a recent study, we found that through collaboration and engagement online, a majority of our student users reported expanding their knowledge base (83%), improving inquisitiveness (84%), and increasing self-confidence (86%) as benefits.

Every student brings value to the learning experience. Encouraging collaboration amongst peers across the globe facilitates the perfect environment for sharing strengths and weaknesses, spurring community, and building leadership. Now more than ever, students have access to the tools they need to revolutionize the learning experience.

Let’s Keep Going

Today, edtech is transforming learning, but we’re only 10% there.

Our company recently reached 100 million users.

While it’s a huge achievement, we know we we’re only scratching the surface and only reaching a small pool of the students who need help every day.

Knowing this, we’re not stopping.

As technology continues to advance, we believe improving and transforming the way students around the world learn, through collaboration and engagement, will be the future of education.

Through platforms that embrace personalized learning, more students will find the solutions they need in order to grow, lead, and support others.

Michał Borkowski is the CEO of Brainly, the world’s largest student-powered peer-to-peer learning platform. To his friends, family, and the Brainly community, Michał is known as “Borek”, to whom he continues to inspire students, engage online, answer questions, and support students’ learning experiences around the world.

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Five Trends for Successful EdTech Deployments in 2018

In the coming year, a shortlist of what’s likely to impact the field. 

GUEST COLUMN | by Charles Duarte

CREDIT Diamond Assets.jpgWhile students are looking forward to an extended holiday break, chances are administrators are knee deep in budgeting and planning for the next school year. Technology will make up a good portion of this planning, so it’s appropriate to look at some trends for 2018 that are likely to impact edtech purchases.

For schools, there are some positive trends that promise to deliver a better edtech learning environment at a more affordable and sustainable cost.

1. The cost of devices will stay the same or decrease, even as technology continues to improve (also known as Moores Law). Introduced just seven years ago, the original iPad had 16 GB of memory and sold at retail for $629. Compare that to today’s latest generation of iPads, which contain double the memory in the base configuration, are lighter and faster, and retail for about $329, with education pricing falling far below the retail price point. We will continue to see edtech devices improve in computing ability while prices hold or decrease. This will enable school districts to put more devices into the hands of students and teachers, something that is expected in progressive schools.

2. 1-to-1 technology deployments in K-12 have reached the tipping point. A 2016 report from Front Row Education showed that the number of schools with 1:1 student to device ratios rose 10 percent from the previous year to more than 50 percent of schools. At this rate, more than 60 percent of schools will have implemented 1:1 technology programs in 2018. Already, 75 percent of teachers report using technology daily with their students. Considering how tech savvy students are, it’s no wonder. According to Pew Research, 22 percent of kids aged six to nine own a cell phone and this rises to 84 percent of kids aged 15 to 18. With 73 percent of American households having broadband connectivity and half the public owning a tablet computer, according to Pew, schools deploying 1:1 technology are simply playing catch-up. Soon technology will be viewed as a necessity, just as books and pencils once were.

3. Schools will begin thinking about technology as an operational expense. With edtech becoming ubiquitous in schools, it’s time for administrators to stop thinking about technology as a capital expense and instead consider it as necessary to education as electricity and heat. To do this, schools will move toward sustainability plans that include device financing options that deliver more predictable e The best way to do this is to purchase quality devices that will maintain their residual value, which can be used to buy down the next technology purchase. This will require schools to use sustainable financing options. Dollar Buyout leases allow schools to purchase the equipment for a dollar at the end of the lease, use the residual value to reduce the cost of the next technology purchase, and realize predictable costs for edtech.

4. Schools will adopt Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) principles. As parents and students voice their desire for schools to employ the latest technology in the classroom, schools will need to consider both the cost of devices and the learning experience that the devices enable. When making edtech purchases, many schools focus only on initial costs, leading them to purchase what appear to be lower cost devices. When schools make decisions based purely on initial cost, they often neglect to factor in future repair costs and residual value, which can end up costing the school district more in the long run. At the same time, inferior equipment results in lost instructional time and a poor educational experience for students. Using TCO principles, devices are evaluated on their cost and value over their lifecycle, ensuring that the student benefits from the best learning experience.

5. Streamlined edtech programs will enable schools to trade up technology at any time. Summer traditionally has been the time when schools change technology. Without the hustle and bustle of students, administrators feel they have more time to trade in, purchase and activate devices. This leads to the saturation of the secondary market, and downward pressure on residual value of equipment. However, the turnaround time to trade up equipment has compressed over the years to where this can easily happen over breaks in the fall, winter and spring. In fact, IBM deploys an average of 1,300 Macs a week among its staff—almost 70,000 a year—and is supported by a team of just 50 people enterprise-wide.

A new year is exciting because it always holds the promise of fresh approaches and better ways of tackling challenges.

For schools, there are some positive trends that promise to deliver a better edtech learning environment at a more affordable and sustainable cost.

Charles Duarte is VP of 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-to-1 digital learning initiatives while serving in a variety of district leadership roles. Write to:

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Three EdTech Trends to Watch in 2018

Analysis from an experienced educator and edtech company director of instructional strategy.

GUEST COLUMN | by Kellie Ady

CREDIT Schoology Exchange trends.jpgEarlier this year, my company issued an invitation to educators to answer a questionnaire about digital learning. The goal was to get a snapshot of digital learning today and better understand the challenges, priorities, and strategies of schools and districts worldwide.

Conducted May–June 2017, over 2,800 educators responded, answering questions about using technology to impact learning. Some respondents were Schoology users (around 25%), but the majority were not.

These educators came from all over the world, from both public and private institutions, and served in a variety of roles.

What will get more focus, though, is how students will use data around their own learning to define goals and directions on their own paths.

Approximately 32% of the respondents identified themselves as administrators with the remaining 68% falling into the teacher category. 66% of all respondents had more than 10 years experience in education.

Based on the insights gleaned from the Schoology survey, below are three trends edtech trends to look out for in 2018.

Maturity with EdTech Will Lead to Transformational Learning Experiences

Technology is certainly not new to the education space, but the natural entry point of substituting technology for another process or product is making way for other levels of adoption. In line with the SAMR model, educators and administrators are moving higher up on the ladder as technology tools become more widely used and available.

Some of this maturity is likely due to the broader access of known or familiar hardware and devices for fewer dollars. Project Red reports that “between 2011-2017, the average cost of student devices dropped 55%. Since the start of laptops in classrooms in 1996, device costs have dropped 80%. Between 2013–2016, the cost of bandwidth has dropped 70%” (p. 3).

There is still see a digital divide in our schools—and student access to technology was identified as a top challenge for digital learning; however, expanded 1:1 programs, schools who have adopted BYOD, the influx of shared carts, and the increasing proliferation of mobile technology means that greater numbers of students do have access, both at school and at home.

Because these devices have been around for a while, many teachers don’t necessarily need extensive PD on how to use the device and have a basic comfort level. That means the willingness to try new things to transform learning can become much more of a reality.

Another aspect of this shift may be due to pedagogical approaches that have matured as well, like concepts around blended or hybrid learning.

Almost 95% of the survey respondents felt that blended learning positively affected learning to some degree.

As more and more organizations have adopted blended learning programs or initiatives for students and staff, changes in how we work with students in the classroom have gained a level of familiarity, even for those who may not view themselves as “techie” teachers.

David Thornburg, in a CUE article from 2012, noted,

“In some sense, blended learning has been around for a long time. The life sciences teacher who tells kids to watch a video on the Discovery Channel that night at home is practicing blended learning. But now the bar is raised even higher. With broadband available both at schools, homes, and even some school buses, access to networked resources is common enough that many people don’t even think about the number of times they are connected throughout the day” (p. 5).

If that was true in 2012, we now have teachers who have been embracing some form of blending for several years, and those folks are likely trying new approaches and getting past substitution phases in their own growth in the model.

K-12 Schools, Districts, and Teachers Will Invest Heavily in Digitizing Curriculum

According to the survey results, the second-highest priority for teachers was digitizing curriculum. But the time and effort it takes to digitize curriculum continues to be a challenge. This, however, is a challenge that vendors and leaders will start to tackle in earnest.

The investment into digitized curriculum won’t be solely fiscal. The strength and ease of collaboration between teacher teams, schools, and districts is also increasing, which means that teacher-developed materials will also be a focus.

This investment will be worth it.

Research published by Dina Drits-Esser and Louisa Stark in the Electronic Journal of Science Education revealed that

“the curriculum design process, which can occur in a relatively short time period, can foster meaningful, task-oriented collaboration.

The collaboration process provides the vehicle for active learning, where teachers can reflect on their beliefs while applying new knowledge to the classroom.”

In fact, faculty collaboration surfaced in the questionnaire significantly.

Administrators who responded to the survey listed increased collaboration among faculty as a top priority, and the teachers who responded listed collaboration in their top three priorities. As faculty members collaborate on their use of existing resources, work together on curating content, and create new content, the investment of time into digitizing curriculum will happen at a staff level.

We can likely expect investments in publisher content as well, especially as learning management systems, or LMSs, increase partnership integrations.

Recognized standards like those from IMS Global can bring learning tools together in new ways, which will lead to vendors investing their own resources into advanced integrations.

The ability—or even necessity—for tools to integrate will enter into purchasing decisions more than ever before, even as we can expect the use of free tools like Open Educational Resources (OERs) to increase.

Again, as more devices land in the hands of students, access to digitized curricular resources can become more of an expectation. We won’t see paper vanish completely as it can still be valuable for learning, but as budget dollars are needed to invest in instructional resources, expect to see budgets previously devoted to paper consumption shifting to accommodate digital materials.

Interestingly, the research conducted by Project Red found that schools that invested in learning management systems saw cost-savings specifically around paper consumption.

Data-driven Personalization of Learning Will Increase

Using data to inform instruction is, again, not a new concept.

The ways in which we can get useful and actionable data at the classroom level is increasing, as is the flexibility of tools that serve this purpose.

Analytics are becoming more sophisticated while data visualization tools are enhancing the way that data is presented in meaningful ways. The immediacy of the information means that decisions at an instructor or system level can be made with both precision and intention.

What will get more focus, though, is how students will use data around their own learning to define goals and directions on their own paths.

Paige Kowalski, in the article If You Want Personalized Learning, Don’t Forget about Data, explains that:

“Data provides a timely, robust picture of where students are, their strengths and where they need to grow, and their progress over time. Empowered with this shared understanding, there are many ways students, parents, and teachers can give students the individual supports and opportunities they need to succeed.”

Tied to the idea of greater device access is the ability to involve students in the process, which hasn’t necessarily been possible before—or at least not to this degree. Education has had instructional tools for some time now that dictates direction based on learner data, but expect to see more ownership on the part of those whom it impacts the most: students.

Looking Ahead

The survey results yielded some surprises but also helped quantify some trends that we in the educational technology space have been seeing.

In thinking about how to adjust and adapt our own practices where needed, we should continue to explore how to leverage the maturation of approaches and tools, actively pursue new ways to collaborate and integrate resources—and prepare our students for a world where they use their own data for learning.

Kellie Ady is Director of Instructional Strategy at Schoology. She is an experienced educator with specialties in professional development, blended learning, curriculum development, educational technology integration, and instructional design—and she is dedicated to anytime, anywhere, any device learning. Contact her @kellie80

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Year in Review: Hottest EdTrends of 2017

Game-based platform and educator surveys say, what’s hot and not, reflections on trends and learnings over past 12 months.

GUEST COLUMN | by Erik Harrell

CREDIT Kahoot 2017-06-EdTrendsReport-BlogImage.jpgAs 2017 is coming to a close, not only this is a great time to make exciting plans for the holiday break, but also to reflect on the trends and learnings of this year in education and tech.

To define this year’s main trends, we started by analyzing data from our own game-based learning platform (Kahoot!) This year, we surpassed 50 million monthly active users in more than 180 countries. With 2 million U.S. teachers and more than 40% of K-12 students playing every month, our platform has a wealth of data on classroom technology trends.

Summing up these trends, it’s obvious that 2017 has accelerated adoption of technology in classrooms and added a few new items to educators’ toolkit.

Additionally, we looked at results of educator surveys and interviewed some experts about the changes they observed this year. Here’s what we found out:

Math is the queen of search

Math and its subtopics have by far remained the most searched on our platform this year. It has been more popular than other big topics like English, music, history and languages.

Top education-related searches on our platform in 2017:

CREDIT Kahoot top10.png

This search trend doesn’t surprise Leslie Fisher, education tech expert, coach, and long-time user of our platform.

Here’s why she thinks math is the queen of search:

“Math tends to be the most challenging and dreaded subject for most students,” Fisher says. “Teachers are trying to figure out how to make math fun and [your platform] is one of many ways for them to get students to get excited about math.”

Another “hot hit” for educators and teachers is searching for themed quizzes around holidays that they can use in the classrooms, increasing student engagement.

Top searches that were trending in certain months are in line with big events happening around that time.

For example, Valentine’s Day in February or Easter in April.

Top themed searches on our platform in 2017:

February: Valentine’s Day

March: St. Patrick’s Day

April: Easter

May: Cinco de Mayo

June: Summer

August, September: Back to school

October: Halloween

November: Thanksgiving

December: Christmas  (searches are ramping up and we are predicting it to be similar to 2016)

Google continues to gain ground in U.S. classrooms

One of the trends we highlighted in our EdTrends Report published in June was the growing use of Google Chromebooks in classrooms.

At the end of this year, we looked at stats that cover 32 million U.S. users and found that the affordable and sturdy laptop from Google increased usage from 46% to 50% from 2016 to 2017 on our platform for U.S. users.

Google continues picking up speed in U.S. classrooms with both teachers and students. Meanwhile, on the mobile side, Apple continues its stronghold on smartphones and tablets: iOS is getting an impressive share of the usage on both those platforms with 71% on mobile and a whopping 95% on tablets in 2017.

CREDIT Kahoot which OS.png

BYOD approach is taking off

More and more teachers embrace technology as a way to make learning more effective and fun and equip students with 21st century skills.

However, it’s not all schools that are able to provide devices to all students. The practice of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), the idea of allowing students to use their own technology in school, is taking off as a way to support academic instruction.

According to Leslie Fisher, who is a big believer in technology, BYOD is a win-win for both teachers and students:

“This year I am seeing a leniency and tolerance in classrooms for BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), particularly of Chromebooks as they are durable and affordable and showing up with a touchscreen — an attractive proposition to both students and schools.”

Virtual Reality is real – in classrooms, too

Virtual Reality is not a buzzword – it’s more real than ever. The market for virtual reality is expected to reach $12.1 billion in 2018, according to Statista. In addition to entertainment, research and engineering, it’s making its way into classrooms, too.

As schools move more towards learning by seeing and doing, VR offers a variety of possibilities such as virtual field trips (as many districts grapple with budget cuts), exploring different parts of the world (geography) and time travel to key events and places (history).

Cost-effective solutions such as Google Cardboard can bring VR to the classroom without breaking the bank and as BYOD becomes popular in schools, the practical usage of Google Cardboard becomes more possible.

Video and social media on the rise  

Students, parents, teachers – most of them are on social networks for personal use.

So, it looks quite natural that social has also become a common communication tool for school-related topics.

For example, teachers share classroom videos with parents or post relevant info through special social media tools made for education. This also helps students, who are a bit more shy and aren’t always the first to speak out in class, to express their opinions via video or text.

Not only are students and teachers using popular social media and video platforms such as Instagram or Snapchat but also education-specific platforms that are safe and secure for students to use.

“The way people are telling their school stories with tools like Instagram and Snapchat, and turning students into creators with tools like Adobe Spark Video and Book Creator will push our conversation around content consumption and content creation,” says Monica Burns, a teacher and education consultant.

It’s a Wrap

Summing up these trends, it’s obvious that 2017 has accelerated adoption of technology in classrooms and added a few new items to educators’ toolkit.

In 2018, we expect educators to continue using digital platforms for teaching, learning and assessments as well as increased use of personalized learning, based on results of our survey.

At the same time, educators will have to continue tackling shortages in budget and resources to implement technology as well as the lack of training to understand and adopt new technology.

The final overarching challenge that now lies with teachers is to ensure students become good digital citizens in the class and outside and draw boundaries around their usage of technology.

These are some of the observations we made based on our research.

What trends have you observed in 2017?

What are your predictions for 2018?

Erik Harrell is CEO of Kahoot! a game-based learning platform with more than 50 million users. Prior to that, Erik held several C level roles for more than 10 years at Opera Software (COO, CFO, CSO) and VP roles at J.P. Morgan & Co. in New York. Erik is also an angel investor and has extensive experience as a board member of organizations such as the board of the Alliance Venture Spring Fund, a leading V.C. fund in Norway, with $100 million under management. He was also on the board of Opera Software’s joint venture in China. Erik has an MBA with Distinction from Harvard Business School and an MA and BA (Phi Beta Kappa) from The Johns Hopkins University. Originally from the U.S., Erik lives in Oslo, Norway, is a passionate tennis player, and is a father of three children. Connect through @GetKahoot

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Tools Teachers Love: Letters Alive

An educator’s classroom perspective on the usefulness of a learning tool.

GUEST COLUMN | by Mary Lirette

CREDIT Letters Alive Plus.jpgI’m a first-grade teacher, and I teach every subject to my diverse class of kids, so I am always looking for interactive tools that I can use in whole-group and one-on-one instruction.

One of my current favorites is the augmented reality kit, Letters Alive Plus, from Alive Studios. The kit includes 26 letter cards, 97 sight-word cards, and 84 word-family cards.

Each card is interactive and triggers multiple 3D animations depending on the word or sentence that I create.

Initially, I had to work on familiarizing myself with all of the different cards available and get everything organized in a way that worked for my class. I found a way where I use the program with the whole group, and also have my students use it independently in learning stations.

Something to Scream About

Every year when I introduce the program for the first time, my students all scream when they see the animals move and hear their sounds. They are so excited and want to see the animals over and over again. They love how the cards are interactive and how the verbs cause the animals to eat, fly, etc. The color changing is always a big hit, too!

I love to use this tool to reinforce correct sentence formation.

A capital letter automatically appears when you make a sentence complete, and it is a wonderful tool for practicing using periods and question marks in “asking and telling” sentences.

We work on this in a video I took with a previous class of kindergarteners.

In 1st grade, we focus a good deal on nouns and verbs. The action verbs come to life in the sentence, and this provides a visual for students who are struggling with identifying verbs.

An Imperative For Learning

I think it is imperative to actively engage students in the learning process.

This sort of tool provides me interactive opportunities to make learning meaningful and fun at the same time. My students are much more interested in building words and sentences with this than they are with letter tiles. It provides the needed hands-on experience as well as the interactive technology they love.

Using this tool in my classroom has been beneficial because it appeals to my young learners and helps them grow academically at the same time.

The students adore the different animals and truly love watching their letters, words, and sentences come to life on the screen.

My students look forward to learning together.

The program is easy to use and lends itself nicely to whole-group and small-group instruction—or even independent activities.

This kind of technology provides meaningful opportunities for student-led learning that keep my students engaged and happy.

Mary Lirette is a 1st-grade teacher at Woodland Presbyterian in Memphis, Tennessee. Write to:

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What Is Edtech’s Role in Out-of-School Time?

5 lessons learned from the edtech community and working with solutions providers.  

GUEST COLUMN | by Christina Oliver