Cool Tool | Desmos 

CREDIT Desmos.pngAiming to help every student love math, Desmos’ free tools allow students to easily connect, visualize, and grasp concepts more easily. Demos’ digital calculators can be used during math lessons and include basic, scientific, and graphing calculators. Recently, Desmos partnered with Promethean to make more than 100 graphs available to teachers for free through ClassFlow, a free lesson delivery software for any brand of interactive panel display. Whether teachers use ClassFlow to choose ready-made lessons or customize their own, they can use Desmos graphs to learn how to create a reflection of a point across a line or create Pac Man. Desmos’ software is compliant with the WCAG 2.0 accessibility standard, allowing students with visual disabilities to participate fully. To discover the math tools that Desmos and Promethean have made available for teachers, learn more here.

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Where’s My Billion Dollars?

Watch out, Hal Friedlander is bringing transparency to the edtech procurement process.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT TEC Hal Friedlander.pngWhat better credentials than having been CIO of New York City schools, America’s largest school district with over 1 million students, 100,000 employees, and 1800 schools? Hal Friedlander (pictured, left) was that, and is now CEO of Technology for Education Consortium (TEC), a nonprofit bringing transparency, efficiency, and collaboration to K-12 schools engaged in evaluating and purchasing edtech products and services. His experience as CIO of New York City Department of Education provided the motivation to start TEC. “Procurement is impossible,” he says, “there are thousands of instructional technology products and almost no standard market information about them.” And that’s a problem. “There is almost no way for a technology leaders in a school or district to make good decisions about which products fit a districts needs and budget,” says Hal, who adds that district leaders are left to rely almost exclusively on marketing and sales info from companies. “Even when an RFP process is used, the districts rely on the submissions of companies – which are usually cut-and-paste marketing material.” Hal is passionate about this issue.

Imagine if you had to buy a car based only on an advertisement and with no way to know how much it will cost until you visit the dealer. That’s what buying edtech has been like for years.

“Imagine if you had to buy a car based only on an advertisement and with no way to know how much it will cost until you visit the dealer. That’s what buying edtech has been like for years,” he says. His group, TEC, has reported that school districts could save more than $3 billion if vendors charged customers at consistent, transparent rates. In this exclusive, Hal talks about this problem, his solution, the real challenge with transparency, the role of technology in education, and the future of education.

Alright, let’s start with: what problem in education were you trying to solve? (And weren’t there some other existing solutions out there that resembled your vision?)

Hal: Technology can be a powerful tool for educators but in order for them to pick the right stuff, they need solid information about the available products including price. There are many organizations looking to help resolve various problems with procurement. One of those organizations, EducationSuperHighway, is working on network and bandwidth product pricing transparency. TEC is the only organization working on edtech product pricing transparency.

What’s the real challenge with transparency in education these days? 

Hal: Districts can’t forecast real costs. So they do a combination of buying less than they need and then impulse buy to lower surpluses at the end of the school year. The lack of transparency blocks districts from buying technology strategically and they end up with a hodgepodge of software that doesn’t work for them.

How does TEC platform and LearnPlatform come together, work together?

Technology for Education Consortium LOGO.pngHal: Learn has made a huge investment in building a robust edtech data platform. The LearnPlatform has over 4,000 products already cataloged. TEC has added a simple way for districts to enter pricing and other data about products and see national pricing reports.

What is the state of education these days?  

Hal: People often speak negatively about education in this country and point to test scores as evidence. But everyday tens of millions of kids go to school. Most of those kids have a good experience, graduate high school and go to college. Many kids don’t have that same good experience. The challenge is to improve the experience of the kids who are struggling without taking resources from the kids who are doing well. Technology can solve that problem.

What is the role technology can or should play in education? 

Hal: Technology should give educators and students tools they need to constantly reinvent education. One of the biggest problems we have conceptually in education is the bad idea that there is some ideal destination vs. the ongoing need to always improve, learn and grow. In most other domains, like medicine or finance, technology is used to discover and innovate not just to produce diagnostics.

What experiences from your background inform your current approach? 

CREDIT TECHal: When I discovered that despite the enormous buying power of NYC DOE, we did not always get the most favorable prices. Other much, much smaller districts got better prices for smaller buys. Of course that same small district is paying much too much for other products. That kind of erratic behavior is a sure sign of market that is not working well for anyone.

What do you see in the next few years in regards to the platform? What’s the future there? 

Hal: The platform will become a clearinghouse of procurement documents of all types like contracts.

Anything else you care to add or emphasize concerning education, technology, transparency, the edtech sector, or anything else for that matter? Isn’t a few billion dollars something that some might wish to protect?

Hal: Most companies are rooting for us. They want schools to be successful and realize that price transparency is a big, big problem. They want to be transparent with their prices but can’t due to their own internal bureaucracy or fear of shedding their old school sales structure or distribution channels. They are all waiting for us to get the truth about their prices out in public so they can become more responsible organizations.

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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Cool Tool | PhET Interactive Simulations

CREDIT Phet Interactive Simulations.pngThis is a project from the University of Colorado Boulder. By engaging students in exploration and discovery, the simulations provide an interactive experience that taps into students’ curiosity and helps all students understand key ideas. To-date, PhET Interactive Simulations has delivered more than 360 million simulations since its inception that has been translated in more than 80 different languages. Recently, PhET Interactive Simulations partnered with Promethean to make various math and science simulations available for teachers through ClassFlow, a free lesson delivery software for any brand of interactive panel display. Whether teachers use ClassFlow to choose ready-made lessons or customize their own, they can use engaging simulations, like learning the basics on the states of matter. To discover more simulations that are available for teachers, click here.

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Technology with a Purpose

How to help students use technology to make learning meaningful.

GUEST COLUMN | by Gerry DiGiusto 

CREDIT Motivis Learning.pngAt my son’s kindergarten orientation, the school’s teachers and principal—skilled, passionate, dedicated educators one and all—seemed most excited about the new iPads for the classroom. They were all eager to use the new devices with the students, making them part of their literacy, mathematics, and social studies curriculum. Their enthusiasm was infectious. The classroom didn’t look much different than the one I attended as a kindergartner in the 1970s—it was brightly colored, full of blocks, books, and arts and crafts supplies, and even had a central carpeted area for morning group discussions. But, it also felt like we’d gone from Flintstones to the Jetsons, thanks to a handful of tablets. The great educational technology revolution had arrived, and our children would be its great beneficiaries.

The Revolution Has Been Postponed

As the year progressed, however, it became clear that our enthusiasm was misplaced, or at least premature. The revolution had not quite arrived.

In the buzz of using new technology and meeting the expectations of young digital natives, there was never an explicit discussion of goals.

This technology worked as advertised, but it had not proven to be a catalyst to better learning. Though the iPads were chock full of content and engaging supplemental activities, and the students were immediately comfortable using them, they quickly became little more than a fancy classroom accessory. The students read books on them, and the software helped them learn new words, but because they used them only at the “iPad station” with headphones on—to prevent them from becoming a classroom disruption—it became a solitary experience. For all the potential of technology as a disrupting force, my son’s classroom had squashed it. The device removed the student from peers and from the teacher, and any enthusiasm about what they were learning was left unshared, unaffirmed, and unrecognized.

In retrospect, it’s apparent there was never a plan for using the technology. The implementation plan focused on critical issues like security, support, and infrastructure, all designed to protect students, enforce appropriate usage, and ensure the devices were maintained properly. Training seemed unnecessary because the iPad is a mainstream device that nearly every student had used at home, and students were able to use them from day one.

My Kindergartner Constantly Asks Why, but The Adults Forgot To

But it seems no one ever asked why the iPads were so important. In the buzz of using new technology and meeting the expectations of young digital natives, there was never an explicit discussion of goals. What aspects of learning could be improved? How would technology enable this progress? Could that success be verified? The adults failed to learn from inquisitive kindergartners, who seem to ask why ten times in every conversation.

In my experience as a teacher and as an edtech professional, this approach to technology is typical. While schools tend to be intentional about technical details, they can be surprisingly cavalier when asking the more fundamental questions about how technology can further learning. We assume the why is implicit, an understanding everyone shares, but that’s rarely the case. It should be explicit. By failing to make it so, it becomes an ironic situation everyone dreads: the technology becomes the end goal, rather than one tool (among many) that students and teachers can use to drive success.

Purposeful Technology, Purposeful Learning

This notion of student choice is crucial to success when incorporating technology into the classroom in an effective and meaningful way. As educators, we must have a justification and a plan for what role we want the technology to play, and then design the student experiences accordingly. Unless the objective is to learn to use new technology, the activity should not be reducible in any way to “use this technology.”

This approach to technology aligns with what is often called “purposeful learning.” Purposeful learning embraces the idea that students should be at the center of the educational experience. Rather than focusing on specific tasks or milestones, students and educators emphasize the end learning goals, and work collaboratively to navigate the steps to achieving them. This purposeful approach paves the way for greater personalization and student voice. Because students understand and help define their end goals, and why they are important, they are more likely to be motivated toward mastering and retaining the skills and knowledge they learn.

Given this potential to motivate learners, many educators are adopting a more purposeful approach to improve learning outcomes and student success. Technology can certainly facilitate such efforts, but only if its use is truly intentional. Without planning, technology can distract and disrupt students’ efforts to take control of their learning. To make educational technology an enabler of purposeful, more durable learning, the use of it should follow three simple but critical guidelines:

  1. It should be optional, not obligatory. If the goal is to motivate students intrinsically, they must choose to use available technologies because they see their benefits.
  2. It should be inherently social, not isolating. Technology can play a role in facilitating relationships among students, instructors, and support resources that increases learning quality and student success.
  3. It should be more than just a replacement communication channel. Instead, it should enrich the interaction, helping to generate better feedback between teacher and student and among peers.

iPads in The Classroom 2.0

In the case of my son’s kindergarten, a better designed initiative would not have put the iPads at a separate station where students could only use them for prescribed lessons, while wearing headphones. Instead, the iPads would be available to students as a resource for a wide range of activities, just like the pencils, crayons, and paper that are scattered around the classroom. Nor would the iPads be relegated to solitary work. We’d throw aside the headphones and have students use them collaboratively, to gather information, pursue answers to their questions, and find on-demand help with whatever skills they are learning. In this scenario, the teacher becomes a participant in a learning group rather than its leader, steering students in the right direction, offering timely prompts, and encouraging self-reflection on how and what they are learning.

In fact, it probably wouldn’t have been called the “iPad initiative.” We would have referred to it in terms of its desired outcomes—enhancing literacy, learning research skills, or teaching teamwork. Proof of success would have been the ability to use those skills independent of the iPad. The technology, used purposefully and allowing students to choose when, would have remained in the background and largely faded away. And, as a result, it would have been a far more effective learning tool.

Gerry DiGiusto has worked in higher education, both in the U.S. and in Europe for more than 20 years as a teacher, researcher, strategist, and consultant. He is currently Motivis Learning’s Vice President for Strategy. Previously, he was Director of Consulting Services at Pearson Education; Managing Vice President, Research & Data at Eduventures; and was a professor of political science and international relations at Bowdoin College and Princeton University. He earned his AB at Bowdoin College and his MA and Ph.D. at Duke University.

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Making a Larger Impact

Rethinking edtech and school partnership. 

GUEST COLUMN | by Mike Evans

CREDIT Renaissance.jpgA close connection between schools and education technology companies is a formula for collective success. Moreover, that critical connection needs to consider one simple—yet important—point: school and district leaders are looking for opportunities to improve student outcomes.

If a company is truly outcomes-focused, it puts itself in the shoes of school leaders, and determines how to best help in meeting their goals. With that in mind, schools and their edtech partners benefit from ongoing student outcomes discussions. The best partnerships are the result of three main tenants:

  • Competency
  • Clarity
  • Synergy

Competency

Edtech companies typically have one or several core competencies—their special strengths. For example, a company’s strength might be assessment, as it provides data and insight to educators for the purpose of knowing where their students are and what needs to happen in order for those students to be propelled forward in their academic growth.

Schools and districts that capitalize on assessment data to develop a broader view of what’s best for their students and teachers want to choose partners that support the development of holistic perspectives. The goal is to provide a diagnosis and help educators in making critical choices for students—whether that’s through a new instructional program or a different way of approaching the teaching cycle.

If a company is strong in assessment, they may partner with a likeminded edtech partner who is strong in instruction. Ultimately, the aim is to come together to create the best possible outcomes for students—and the way to do that is to align with other providers who complement and interoperate, presenting an entire solution to a school or district.

Clarity

In developing software, edtech companies at times forget the classroom teacher—the person on whom a solution’s success most often depends. If you’ve spent any time in a classroom, it becomes quite clear that data-driven insights are about more than test scores. Teachers have to look at test data and beyond to understand their students holistically. Are they focused today? Are they having issues at home? Are there challenges around accessibility? Full insight is what teachers bring to the classroom each day.

Keeping the teacher and their relationships with their students in mind is critical to the success of any classroom solution. This means setting a high bar in terms of usability. Teachers’ user experiences should not just be easy, but also enjoyable. The use of any technology should be a natural act; one that changes for the better how they differentiate and personalize instruction for their students. This all comes back to why a student and teacher-centric view is so important. A view of product innovation that does not fully consider teacher and student dynamics often results in a seldom used innovation.

Synergy

Fundamental to a classroom solution is the connective tissue that ties individual pieces together to create a more powerful whole. As classrooms implement more data-driven instruction, choosing the right assessments, instructional resources, planning tools and practice applications is critical. However, combining those elements doesn’t automatically create a solution. Bringing them together into a seamless experience that fosters student success is the key.

Educators can further optimize the use of classroom technology by utilizing meaningful professional development in the forms that best meet their needs. Whether online and point-of-use, a personalized approach to coaching and implementation, or live-answer customer support, the best edtech companies are always available to their schools and districts as they help support teachers’ primary goal of helping every child succeed.

Mike Evans is the interim CEO and chief financial officer at Renaissance. He is a 20-year veteran of education technology and passionate about K-12 education.

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Cool Tool | SketchFab

CREDIT SketchFab.pngHere’s an online community that publishes and shares 3D content online and in virtual reality (VR). With a community of more than half of a million content contributors, SketchFab is among the world’s largest platforms for 3D content online, including subjects such as science,nature, cultural heritage, and more. Recently, SketchFab partnered with Promethean to bring 3D and VR to the classroom through ClassFlow, a free lesson delivery software for interactive panel displays. SketchFab and Promethean worked together to hand-pick compelling educational content from their online community. Now, whether teachers use ClassFlow to choose ready-made lessons or customize their own they can select amazing experiences in 3D and VR as an interactive teaching aid. To discover the various 3D and VR resources available for teachers, learn more here.

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Cool Tool | EduCycle

CREDIT EduCycle.pngRecently launched educational augmented reality game EduCycle teaches kids and adults about the impact of carbon dioxide emissions. Players design a city’s transportation, farms, and buildings while cutting emissions to the level specified in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. Based on the environmental science of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the game allows players to make choices using a physical map board, 3D printed markers and a mobile app which brings the virtual city to life when viewed through an iPad. Thanks to its simple design, the board and pieces of the game can also be printed out on a standard printer. Developed by Finnish company Neste, EduCycle is currently in beta form and was developed in collaboration with Prince EA, a spoken word artist and rapper behind the YouTube hit “Dear Future Generations: Sorry.” The game’s prototype was tested by children both in Finland and in the U.S.  The first release of EduCycle was donated to Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco in March 2017, with more schools slated to receive the game for educational purposes. Learn more.

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A Natural Curiosity

Randy Wilhelm surveys the digital learning landscape.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT Randy Wilhelm.jpegHere’s a company that offers a suite of robust, student-focused and effective solutions that deliver results at the individual student level. Their entire team of professionals — from academics, to business leaders, to technology experts – bring a mission-driven approach to their work. At the helm is Randy Wilhelm, Knovation CEO and co-founder. “I passionately believe that students must be the ultimate and natural focus of education and learning,” says Randy. Back in 2012, what was netTrekker relaunched as Knovation – focused on making learning personal with solutions that create a fundamental shift from a one-way, one-size-fits-all type of education to a learner-centered approach that reduces barriers and customizes to the unique needs of every learner. “Our business is called education technology,” says Randy, “and we are passionate about the solutions and products we offer, working closely with the academic and business communities to listen, learn, and deliver unsurpassed solutions.” What motivates him in his drive to push these solutions out there? “Kids have a natural curiosity to know. Over time the system puts boundaries around that curiosity. The hope we have is that the curiosity to know is still embedded in every student and Knovation can empower teachers and schools to unlock that unlimited curiosity and passion to learn.” The edtech veteran shares his take on the digital learning landscape, adapting to keep up, the next few years of growth, and some advice for edtech startups.

How has the industry’s digital learning landscape changed over the past two decades?

Randy: Everyone now knows that digital learning is the way to go, yet two decades ago, there were only a handful of forward thinking school leaders that were willing to take the leap.  Over the decades, we have seen several fads come and go. We have witnessed districts wrongly think that they have to lead the transformation with device purchase, and we have seen the advent of the #GoOpen movement. The best part of never-ending landscape change is that there is always a tomorrow, where we hope for a better learning environment for students everywhere.

Simplifying platforms for educators helps us better serve the K-12 market and students.

How has your company adapted to keep up with new innovations in education technology?

Randy: While we pioneered the process to professionally curate, contextualize, align, tag and maintain free digital content and OER (Open Education Resource) in 1999, even then we had to innovate to find ways to fund our development of this incredibly value service because we knew it would be “years” before the market saw value in well curated free content. Now everyone is clamoring to help teachers with the curation effort, and our 17 years experience makes us the most logical service partner for districts, regions and states. There is great pain amongst teachers to find, maintain and teach using digital content. Over the years, we have been able to adapt and change our offerings to meet the market where it is as it learns to better use these digital assets. Truly, our web applications, netTrekker and icurio, created a genuine teacher-led love affair with what we put into the market. Now, as we stream our curations directly into the platform of the district’s choice (often LMS), we help surface valued free content where and when they need it the most. We are proud of our ability to adapt and continue to be on the forefront of innovation in the industry.

Where do you see potential for growth in the education market over the next few years?

Randy: Since districts, regions and states are at various points on the continuum of transformation, the window for us to serve more and more districts and their teachers remains wide open.  There is massive growth opportunity for those that buy their service, adding extraordinary value to an already free learning resource. And since we do this arguably better than anyone else, we foresee much growth in the next few years. We are dedicated to, focused on and passionate about making free digital content and OER more usable, and by doing so, giving teachers back the time to do what they do best: teach.

How will Knovation’s B2B model better serve the needs of K-12 education?

knovation LOGO.pngRandy: Everyone knows that teachers across the country are experiencing unprecedented platform fatigue. There are too many unintegrated platforms vying for teacher attention. At Knovation, we feel that this is unnecessary friction and can easily be avoided. So we designed an offering that has straightforward integration into other platforms, where the curated content can smartly surface where the teachers and students are exactly when they need it. For this reason, we have integrations completed with organizations like Canvas, Schoology, Google Classroom and others. Simplifying platforms for educators helps us better serve the K-12 market and students.

How do you incorporate feedback from districts and B2B subscribers using your products/services to improve upon your product and business practices?

Randy: It is very hard to be still and listen. However, since we are an entrepreneurial, smaller organization, it is much easier for us than most. Add on top of that our natural curiosity and we find ourselves asking an overabundance of questions.  There never seem to be enough times we can ask “why?”. Feedback and input are the hallmarks of our success, and will continue to help us better meet clients’ needs going forward.

I believe all of us are smarter than any one of us, so ask of others, “how can we work together to move the needle for kids?”

Do you have any advice for aspiring edtech entrepreneurs?

Randy: Oh my. Yes. Keep it simple. Ask questions. Partner and integrate often. Avoid creating software that only you can use.  I believe all of us are smarter than any one of us, so ask of others, “how can we work together to move the needle for kids?” And, our best hope to do that is together, not separately, and when we do, good things happen for our users and those that supply them solutions.

What is the state of education today?

Randy: There are so many competing ideas, many of which have merit. However, it seems the more we yell at one another, the better we feel. All ideas should be measured against what it means to the student.  If we stay focused on that, then we add value to the equation.  Anything short of that is debiting value from the ecosystem, and that is not helpful. I believe in the future. I believe in the curiosity built inside every child.  If we can tickle that curiosity and get them asking vexing questions, then we can scale education transformation faster than any systemic approach. I remain hopeful and encourage others to do so as well.

What is technology’s role in improving or transforming education?

Randy: Educators—when technology helps teaches do what they are born to do best, then it is valuable and helpful.  Anything short of that is not useful. Students—when they exit from their K-12 experience, technology in higher ed or in work is not only essential, it is expected. So to me, technology is a critical ingredient to a successful recipe of post K-12 student success.

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

 

 

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Cool Tool | Drawp for School

CREDIT Drawp for School.pngSince we originally wrote about Drawp for School as a Cool Tool for collaboration in 2014, the product has transformed into a multi-use workflow, design and collaboration tool. Drawp for School is a powerful content creation and collaboration platform for students and teachers. Teachers use Drawp as a robust workflow management platform to automatically distribute, collect and sort assignments and to track collaboration. Students use its creative design tools to add drawings, photos, text and voice recording stickers to any assignment for any subject. Its swipe-to-share feature gives students an easy way to collaborate with other students. In December, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded Drawp with a grant to research and develop the Digital Scaffolding Tool for English Language Learners, a tool that allows students to toggle between two languages to support learning in any subject. In 2016, the Drawp Resource Marketplace was launched as a repository of resources that teachers can use to easily find, download and share lesson plans, worksheets, images and other resources. The tool is localized in more than 15 languages and is now available for Windows, Mac, iPad, Android, Chromebook and as a web app. Drawp’s COPPA-compliant platform has won top awards for both design and privacy protection and is certified by TrustE. Teachers can download Drawp for School to begin a 30-day free trial. Drawp subscriptions are $99.99 per year, per teacher with unlimited students, unlimited classes and unlimited cloud storage. One thing that hasn’t changed about Drawp: It is still equally useful for creation and classroom workflow management. It may be used for one or the other, but its real strength is in using it for both. With creative tools and a seamless interface, Drawp remains a tool that will inspire students to learn, create — and really immerse themselves in their work. Check it out. Also, read more about how teachers are using Drawp for STEAM, language learning, PBL, design thinking and more on the Drawp for School blog.

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Cool Tool | VitalSource Content Studio

Since its launch last year, VitalSource Content Studio™ has proven to be a growing interactive authoring resource for publishers, numerous higher education and K-12 institutions, as well as corporations and professionals looking to create training content for their employees. They output content as EPUB 3 that renders in their Bookshelf, one of the world’s largest digital textbook platforms, or any compliant reader. The content produced is fully responsive on desktop, tablet, or smartphone screen sizes, enables interactivity, and supports industry-standard accessibility requirements. It’s also available online or offline through Bookshelf’s native applications and enables access to notes and highlights. It now supports the authoring of mathematical content that is fully accessible, as well as support for complex tables and one-click publishing to their reading platform. In addition to giving users more control, this one-click publishing capability speeds up delivery time of learning materials and makes edits and revisions easier and timelier. Learn more.

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Students on the IT Front Lines

Seven steps to creating a student-run tech support program.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jon Phillips

 

CREDIT DELL EMC LEyden High School 212.pngClassrooms and learning models across the country are beginning to show signs of transformation and innovative engagement with the implementation of more technology empowered learning, with an emphasis on 1-to-1 programs which puts a device in the hand of every student. While these new tools are enhancing the ways students learn and providing them with valuable technological experience, supporting this growing number of devices can be a serious challenge for school districts and IT and support teams. A few school districts have addressed the strains of a more tech-heavy classroom and learning models with innovative solutions around student-led tech support programs.

The student support program at Leyden High School has closed 25,000 help desk tickets, taking a huge workload of minor issues off of their professional support team, who can then focus on larger projects.

Leyden High School in Franklin Park, Illinois, and Huntsville ISD in Huntsville, Texas, have found success with this approach. Other school systems can get similar results by implementing their own student-led tech support programs.

  1. Put the right teacher in place

The student program in Huntsville began when the district’s IT organization realized the imperative need for additional support in the coming years with an aggressive plan to deploy 6,500 new devices.

The team understood that a successful and properly integrated student tech support program would require a leader with extensive understanding of how tech support works and the role technology plays in the greater scheme of things within the school. Administrators tasked teacher Melissa Thornton, who had a background in both teaching and instructional technology, with designing the tech support program in tandem with Huntsville’s professional IT organization. Thornton’s approach centered on understanding the balance of how to create a functional tech support program with good customer service standards, while also giving room to the students to make their own mistakes and learn from them.

  1. Seek out quick wins

Working against tight deadlines, the Huntsville team was forced to act quickly to initiate the student tech support program, leading to some quick wins that got the program rolling right away.

The district gave Huntsville a hard deadline to implement a 1-to-1 program, requiring 1,600 new devices to be tagged and set up within a few months. The labor would have cost the district $30,000, but the Huntsville team saw it as the perfect opportunity to kick off the student tech support program. Staff leading the program turned an existing computer lab into a legitimate professional tech workshop, and students took on the role of an assembly line to set up the new devices in the new “professional” workspace.

  1. Ignite the passion & establish continual growth

The Huntsville team believed that setting up students for continual growth would be key for a student tech support program to maintain continual success. Students needed the opportunity to advance both in skill level and motivation, just as they would in a professional job setting.

Not only did the Huntsville program institute a standing time each day for repairs and assistance with their devices, just as a normal repair shop would operate, they also implemented a tiered curriculum for students participating in the program. The team designed the program with the following growth trajectory in place: Students start their curriculum with the goal of becoming A+ certified as sophomores. After receiving certification, they begin work in the shop handling low priority needs, unboxing and cleaning equipment, and learning basic customer service skills. They can work their way up to handling work orders around campus, and can even apply for a co-op position their senior year that earns them minimum wage alongside the professional IT team, making them career-ready upon graduation. Additionally, students can help with the recruitment of their peers through word-of-mouth or advertisement assignments.

  1. Tie student tech support to academics

Leyden High School created a support program within an existing class framework. At the start of each class period, students received a role for the day, ranging from managing the front desk and customer service to repairing a variety of devices.

By having to fill a variety of roles and figure out how to work as a team to streamline repairs for a grade, students began learning real-world skills that would someday help them in real jobs–tech-based or otherwise.

  1. Get buy-in from your professional tech team

Today, the student support program at Leyden High School has closed 25,000 help desk tickets, taking a huge workload of minor issues off of their professional support team, who can then focus on larger projects.

In return, the professional support team spends the extra time saved by serving as mentors for the Leyden students. Though it takes time for the professional team to train and mentor the students, the results are invaluable in terms of the real-world experience students gain and the increase in productivity for tech support across the entire district. Buy-in and mentorship from the campus’s professional tech team is a necessity for student-led programs to succeed. Teachers can provide the curriculum for the repairs and ins-and-outs of devices students need to learn, but there is no substitute for the opportunity to shadow a real professional in the field.

  1. Choose devices & support systems with management and maintenance in mind from the start

It’s a good rule of thumb that the devices you implement in the classroom must be durable, easy to fix and maintain onsite. If a device must be shipped away to be serviced, it not only causes a time strain but also is a missed learning opportunity for students. For example, a device might be easy to take apart, but the students might be unable to get hands on practice fixing the device due to warranty constraints. Work with your professional tech team to identify devices that are not only easy to take apart, but also field serviceable. This approach will better provide valuable knowledge and real world experience in tech repair for students who could eventually become vendor-certified for practicing on these devices.

  1. Collaborate with industry

Leyden High School’s district compiled an advisory council made up of tech professionals from a variety of companies to stay up to date on industry needs and create or adjust coursework accordingly.

Setting up a student tech support program is a great way to get students initially invested and involved with tech repair. It also opens doors for them to explore other tech-related career paths and better prepares them for a job out of high school. Once they begin receiving hands-on learning working with professional technology, it is easier for them to cross over into related studies, such as programming or video game design. Creating the channels and resources for them to gain timely, skills-based experience will not only make maintaining your school’s new technology easier, it will uniquely prepare the next generation workforce for the competitive job market of the future.

Jon Phillips is Managing Director of Worldwide Education for Dell EMC.

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Cool Tool | Schoolrunner

CREDIT Schoolrunner.pngThis is really a school achievement engine; it empowers schools to engage administrators, teachers, students, and parents with important information around student progress. Their focus is on real-time data and student accountability both academic and behavioral, all at a teacher’s fingertips. With this platform one can establish ownership and accountability, and improve student outcomes by using data to drive decisions. They aren’t a data warehouse or SIS; it’s data on your own terms: schools are not only able to access data, but help teachers create, analyze, and take action based on student learning habits. From data goal-setting and coaching, to training and implementation, their team supports schools to ensure that they meet their culture and learning targets. Learn more.

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Cool Tool | SlideRoom

SlideRoom is a pioneer in alternative modes of assessment during college admissions. As a comprehensive platform for accepting applications, portfolios, references, and payments in one secure location, organizations around the world use SlideRoom to manage the decision making process for admissions, grant management, hiring, contests, and more. SlideRoom is the exclusive portfolio partner of The Common Application. Learn more.

 

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Trends | School of Thought podcast

 

whatisstudysync.pngThere are a lot of podcasts out there. StudySync, a comprehensive blended ELA (English Language Arts)/ELL (English Language Learning) program for grades 6-12 recently launched a new one. The first podcast series, titled “School of Thought,” explores students’ views on 21st century learning, while helping students improve important listening and critical thinking skills. The “School of Thought” podcast series will feature six episodes, each four- to six-minutes in length, covering the following topics:

  • How schools should be designed
  • The importance of homework
  • What subjects should be taught in schools
  • How to improve school lunch
  • How school schedules should be structured
  • The importance of extracurricular activities

Each episode features interviews with students from across the U.S. and also includes opinions from teachers, experts, and innovators in education. The podcasts will be weekly additions to StudySync’s daily “Blasts,” which are short reading and writing assignments that allow students to express their opinions on high-interest topics, sparking debate via a mediated, online social network. Students will be able to draw upon the additional podcast audio content as they craft written responses to the “Blasts,” as well as engage in thoughtful discussions on the various topics covered. Learn more. Audio snippet.

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Cool Tool | Square Panda

This phonics playset for the iPad combines early reading skills and multisensory play to truly unlock learning. The playset includes 45 smart letter toys that interact with learning games—Android coming soon! Square Panda is unique because it is the only comprehensive multisensory phonics product on the market with 14 levels of adaptive phonics instruction and a tracking system that monitors a child’s individual progress, challenges, preferences for game types, and patterns of play. Learn more.

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Cool Tool | Capti Voice

CREDIT Capti Voice.pngHere is a platform for universal access to content and assessment. Capti enables students to add any textual content to their playlists from a variety of sources, read/listen to that content anywhere with the best text-to-speech voices, seamlessly transitioning between their devices. Capti can be used by anyone, but it was developed for students with print disabilities such as blindness, low vision, and dyslexia who account for over 15 percent of student population. Capti helps increase student productivity by providing them with a uniform reading experience and tools that help develop active reading strategies, and empower them to process information more effectively. It gives teachers the ability to work effectively in inclusive and integrated classrooms, apply individualized instruction methods, easily distribute reading materials to students, and track student progress over time. The platform has many innovations including high-quality translations/definitions in context, content extraction algorithms, personalized game-like exercises generated automatically from any reading materials, etc. Capti is used in schools and universities across the U.S.—one of its largest clients is the New York City Department of Education. Nearly 300,000 people downloaded Capti iOS app. Capti received several awards including the FCC Chairman’s Award for Advancing Accessibility, $2M+ in federal research grants, and is a 2017 EdTech Awards honoree and 2017 Cool Tool Award Winner. Learn more.

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Cool Tool | Silverback Learning Solutions

CREDIT Silverback Learning Solutions.pngTheir suite of products includes Mileposts and Teacher Vitae. Mileposts is a cloud-based Longitudinal Learning Portfolio which helps K-12 educators and administrators create and connect personalized learning plans and interventions to all of the assessments and instructional resources already available in schools. Teacher Vitae a comprehensive educator and administrator effectiveness platform that supports the professional learning process from coaching to observation and evaluation. Silverback is founded by a former superintendent and enriched by educators. Their education solutions are used in K-12 schools and districts throughout the U.S.  Learn more.

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Lighting the Way

Karen Panetta doesn’t hold back, and she’s brilliant for helping others.  

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT Karen Panetta Tufts University.pngHere’s the story of a little girl who grew up and did what she wanted to. A computer engineer, inventor and the Associate Dean for Graduate Education at Tufts University, Karen Panetta develops signal and imaging processing algorithms, simulation tools and embedded systems for applications for robot vision, and biomedical imaging applications. In other words, some pretty nerdy stuff. She has won a number of awards for social impact, teaching and mentoring, ethics, and engineering education, including the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Math and Engineering Mentoring. She founded the “Nerd Girls” program, which encourages young women to pursue engineering and science. Karen is the editor-in-chief of IEEE WIE Magazine. Her passion is utilizing her engineering knowledge for the benefit of humanity—and she’s accomplishing just that. In this EdTech Digest long-form interview, we decided to have a good listen and really let our interviewee tell their story, as long as it takes. It’s candid, it’s soul baring, and really, it’s no big deal—except that it is! Karen’s enthusiasm is infectious and her attitude is at once refreshing and awakening. We hope you enjoy what she has to share as much as we did.

We got fascinated with your background because it looked like you were somebody who’s been very successful in the STEM field and could be, and has been, and very easily took it upon yourself to be—a role model for others. What better thing to do then feature you; tell us a little bit more about your story, and how things came to be with you, that’s really the origin of this…

Karen: Oh, terrific. That’s even easier for me, talking about me. Oh, boy. Where would you like me to start? Well see, first of all, you have to know that I call myself an accidental STEM expert advocate because it was not something I ever saw myself doing. It just happened to be something that—I fell into that role as time went on.

Uh-huh. Cool. Then, maybe you could just tell me a little bit about how it all started. If you don’t mind, we could go back to your first interest in the field, like when you were a 10- or 11-year-old girl, and what kind of start did you get in grade school?

Karen: Sure. When I was in school, teachers advocated for boys, and girls they were very set. Girls became teachers and not doctors. What happened was I grew up with two older brothers and a father who were in construction, so I was always around construction equipment, and hydraulics, and my brothers were playing with race cars. When I used to want to play with them, my dad would say, “Oh, girls are supposed to sit there and look pretty.” Then, I got to play matchbox, you know those little cars like Hot Wheels, with them. My brothers always made me be the garbage man because they didn’t want to be the garbage man. Then, one day my dad said, “Well, honey, the garbage man makes the most money,” so I never got to be the garbage man again. It was an example for me that they wanted me to be something that they didn’t want, and then as soon as they found out that it was cool, it was okay for them to want to be it.

I also decided—I loved music, that was another one. Played piano, flute, absolutely loved music, singing. I was terrible at art. Couldn’t draw and I was horrible at sports. Those were the things that I thought I was going to be a failure for because I was like, “Wow, if I can’t do sports or be beautiful…” I wasn’t thin at all. I wasn’t skinny. That’s what I saw for girls like, “Oh, there’s no options out there.”

I realized that me being me was more important than me trying to fit in, and I embraced that at a very young age.

My influences on TV at the time were, I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched, and I loved anything to do with magic. Not so much the magic, but making things happen that nobody else could do or imagining crazy things. Even though I couldn’t put my finger on it, it bothered me that these two women that I admired, the whole thrust of those TV shows was them trying to hide their talent. That bothered me. Even at a very young age I was like, “This isn’t quite right.”

I was very much into fashion, and I didn’t dress like anybody else, I didn’t act like anybody else. Sometimes you felt like an outcast, but it was interesting because after a while I got to appreciate when I’d walk through a mall everybody would stare at me. My mother said, “Why are they staring at you?” I said, “Because they’re looking at my boots, or they’re looking at my pants that I bedazzled” or something that I would do myself. Finally, I realized that me being me was more important than me trying to fit in, and I embraced that at a very young age, probably when I was about 12 or 13.

At that time, computers were coming out and my dad said, “You should go into this computer stuff.” I was taking a programming class and I was just blowing everybody away in the class. It was logic. It was straightforward. My first flow chart was how to change a tire, which not many other girls even knew how to do, but I had that experience. I was taking real-world things and I’ll say ‘modeling’ them, even though I hadn’t written a line of code. That type of logic and being able to explain things to people in a piece-wise or logical manner was very important and I was like, “Wow, that’s a talent to be able to tell that story to communicate that you can do this.”

My dad, while I was in high school said, “Okay, college is coming.” I was 16 years old when you pick your college career. He says, “You’re going to be an engineer,” and I had no idea what an engineer was. I just knew I liked programming, I liked computers, I liked music. He said, “You’re going to be an engineer because you need a job that’s going to provide you financial independence and support that bad shopping habit of yours.” For him, it was all about making sure that I had some career that I could financially support myself. He also put it on the line. He says, “I don’t want you to ever have to depend on anybody else to support you, especially a man or a husband.” Ironically, there are a lot of women today that are in domestic violence cases or abuse cases say that the reason they stay it’s the financial reason, which is kind of interesting that my dad had that foresight to know that.

I got into Boston University and I commuted because my family, again, couldn’t afford for me to go, plus it made no sense if you’re living 15 minutes away by train why you would want to live on campus. The live-on experience was not something he saw worth another 10,000 dollars. I commuted and that added another problem because you don’t have that built-in support mechanism when everybody’s studying, and so it got harder for me to look at and feel smarter because these kids would get in and they’d have their homework done, they’d have all the solutions, and I was going at it alone.

That was my second lesson in engineering was—first was imagination and being creative. My second lesson was when I got to college and it was like, “You know what? I need to build teams because they can jump …” It wasn’t that I was stupid. It was, I would get to a hurdle and spend an hour or two on it when somebody could just push them over that hurdle discussing it, when looking at the problem from different perspectives and help them through it. I didn’t have that network, so I decided that—me, being outgoing, I went and made my own network of other commuters. We had an expert to everything. I was the programming logic expert. We had a physics expert. We had a math expert. Together, it was a core team of five of us and we had everything—there were mechanical engineers, and aerospace. We had everything covered and we studied together all the time, and it showed. Immediately, it showed.

At Boston University, when I enrolled they gave you that lecture, “Look to your left. Look to your right. That person’s going to be gone.” That’s a harsh reality. A lot of good schools don’t do that today because it’s not about, “Hey, we’re here to lead you out.” It’s more about we’re here to support you. That’s what they did. Those of us that stuck together made it, and it wasn’t that we were the most brilliant in the class. We were the most adept at knowing how to network, and knowing how to be creative about our problems, and time management. That got me there and I said, “Oh, I’m really good with computers.” I became a computer engineer.

Those of us that stuck together made it, and it wasn’t that we were the most brilliant in the class. We were the most adept at knowing how to network, and knowing how to be creative about our problems, and time management.

To be perfectly honest, Victor, I still had no clue what an engineer did because I was learning all this theory and learning all the fundamentals and all I thought was, “Okay, computer engineers build computers.” That’s what I did. I got a job at, back then it was called Digital Equipment Corporation, which today you probably know at Intel. It went through many renditions. Compaq Computer, and HP, and now it’s Intel. I worked in Hudson, Massachusetts developing cache architectures, which was a fabulous, fabulous experience to say, “Hey, you’re running on my processor.” I think that was really a cool thing for a 21, 22 year-old person to be able to say, “That that’s my processor.” I did that and I kept doing that for another 10 years.

After a while it was like, “Okay, I’ve designed all these computers.” That’s great, but I was getting bored. I was really getting bored because it was like the fundamentals were the same. Even now, I look at cloud computing and I’m like, “Yeah, I understand the technology is different, but at the same time I think the fundamental idea is still there.” A lot of the things and the challenges to me were becoming stale. At that time, that’s when I actually started getting into STEM because I was moving up very rapidly, getting promoted quickly, and they brought in a failed tenure case professor to be our supervisor. He had a PhD and had never worked in industry. I sometimes joke with people and say, “Well, you know, I’ve had a real job where you can be fired.”

This guy came in clueless about what we did, but he was looking at 20 year-old textbooks on a subject and all of the sudden came in to me and says, “Well, why aren’t you implementing your simulator this way?” We all looked around at one another like, “Oh my God. This guy doesn’t realize it.” I tried to educate him on it, and I tried saying, “That’s old technology. We’re far more advanced than that.” He’s like, “Well, it’s not in the publication. It’s not in the literature.” I said, “It’s not in the literature because it’s proprietary. It’s our competitive edge that we don’t publish how our algorithms work in our simulators.” At that time, we were the only company in the world that could fully simulate and execute software on simulated hardware. I mean, it was an amazing, amazing project.

He said, “No,” and the next thing I know, I went to the manager and I said, “This won’t work. We’re talking about simulating billions, and this guy wants to go back to technology that couldn’t even do 100.” He said, “You know what? He has the PhD and not you.” That was the answer I got. I said, “Okay, fine.” I was getting my masters. I got my masters part-time while I worked full-time. I said, “You know what? If that’s going to be the barrier, I’m going to get that PhD.”

I went back part-time, worked at night, worked at weekends on that PhD, and I was the only woman in my research group. I was the only American in my research group. I’d get there, they used to say, “Oh, Karen’s here. We have to speak English.” I thought that was really strange. I was like, “Oh my gosh. Why are there no Americans and U.S. citizens in the school? Where were they?” I realized it’s because we graduated with so much debt. In our undergraduate, everybody just wanted to go out and make money so the people who were coming were international students and those who—they were getting funded to come, by advisors—but they didn’t have that undergraduate that we all had.

I got that PhD and at that time I then saw that the company—there was a downturn in the economy, and they started laying off people. I was going to move to a research lab in the company. This program called Engineers into Education came up. The whole premise of this model was that companies hire new hires right out of college, but they didn’t have the skills or the business savvy to really be technical contributors because they hadn’t seen real world projects. They didn’t really have real world experience. The name of the game was take this program and you get two years of your salary. You have to guarantee that you will try to go back to any type of teaching. I could have been a museum curator for all they cared and it would have satisfied that. I said, “Let me try this.”

I went back to Tufts as a visiting professor. First, I was the richest student on campus because I was finishing my PhD at a full engineer salary. Then, my second year I went to Tufts as a visiting professor. I was the only woman in electrical and computer science there. It was one department. I went in and the department chair was really very open. I don’t want to say open: very chauvinistic and very direct. He said, “You’re here to be a role model for women and you better be a good teacher or you’re out of here.” I went, “Okay, fine.” At the same time he says, “Well, we don’t really hold high hopes for you that you’ll get any research. We really don’t.”

I walked into my first classroom of 90 students. There wasn’t a single woman. It was the first woman professor they had ever had in front of them. 

They already set the bar because I was a woman who dressed in pink suits and high heels, and he said that to me. He said, “You know, we don’t have women come in. Look at you, you’ve got your hair and makeup.” Nowadays you would never have an interview like that, but he was saying what he saw and he was saying what he felt, which as blatant as it was, I would rather deal with somebody like that than someone who just doesn’t tell you and does it behind your back.

I walked into my first classroom of 90 students. There wasn’t a single woman. It was the first woman professor they had ever had in front of them. Of course, they already had an image of what I should have looked like. I should have been wearing work boots, and jeans, and had a mustache, and looked like I just stepped off … I don’t know. They do not expect somebody who looked like Elle from, what movie, Legally Blonde. I’m not blonde, but I had the pink, I had the whole suit on with the matching shoes. They challenged me technically. They wanted to immediately show that, “Hey, we know more than you.” I would let them talk and then in two sentences I could concisely technically destroy them. That shut it down. It was like, “Oh my God. She knows her stuff.” They would talk about the real world and they didn’t have that experience.

I was like, “How can you educate a population when you don’t understand the people who are going to use your technology?”

That’s when I decided that these students really — all the professors I worked with, they came right out of school. They never worked in industry. They never worked on real-world projects, and they weren’t transitioning any of the technology into practice of commercialization. To me, I was like, “How can you educate a population when you don’t understand the people who are going to use your technology?” I then started placing the students in internships and I got push-back from faculty saying, “You know, that’s vocational. Why are you wasting your time on that?” I said, “Well, look at your competing schools.” You have the alumni give back money, but they don’t have money if they don’t have jobs. I tried to present it to them in simple concepts, and the next thing I know a donor came in and said, I want to open a position for an internship coordinator for students. That’s how Tufts got its very first engineering internship coordinator. Then, I-

Can I interject?

Karen: Sure. Oh, sure.

This is really fascinating. I’m loving this story. I’m just wondering, you obviously had to, in some ways, work a little bit harder than a normal person. Or, not a normal—wow. Just what the “normal” was for them, which is a man.

Karen: I did. I did.

If you were a man you could blend in and you could be average or something like that, but you were forced into, I would say, “super competence”—or, you just happened to be super competent. Obviously, it seemed like you had to work a little bit more, fight a little bit harder so that you could maintain your peace of mind or whatever and not be razzled or riled by these others. I’m just wondering—

Karen: Yeah, yeah.

Were you resentful for that—or were you just of the attitude, “take it and win” and you just prospered, you flourished, you just pushed through?

Karen: Yeah, that’s a great question. Because I came from industry, I was used to it. I was used to it and I noticed—it was interesting because I noticed that later on as more women faculty or more female students came along, I noticed that they weren’t used to that. They would be appalled at the behavior, and that’s why there was such a huge attrition when I was in industry. Women will walk. They vote with their feet. They walked. They would come from institutions. I was prepared for it since undergraduate because my undergraduate institution treated me like that, too. It was like, “Go home and have babies,” back then because there were very few women. I wasn’t supported there.

It was like, “Go home and have babies,” back then because there were very few women. I wasn’t supported there.

Then, remember, I made that decision when I was 11 or 12 that, yes, I’m going to dress differently, look differently, and I don’t care. That comes with a cost. Being yourself comes with a cost because, you said it, I’m not blending. I’m standing out. Now, if I’m putting myself out there, they’re like, “Well, if we think that people who dress like you are stupid, then you’re stupid, and we don’t have high expectations for you.” I came in with a NASA grant. At that time, it was a three-year grant. They looked at that and they said, “Well, it’s not the National Science Foundation.” I was like, “Okay.”

It was interesting because the department chair was under scrutiny for hiring me. He was like, “Oh, you know, these computer science.” They were at a war. Computer science and electrical engineers were at war and they said, “She’s never going to get tenure. This NASA thing, research.” He says, “Go to Washington and come back with a National Science Foundation grant. I’ll buy you a plane ticket. Go to Washington and come back with a grant.” When somebody says that to me literally, back then I thought, “Okay, I’ll go to Washington. I go to the National Science Foundation, I knock on doors, and I come back with a grant.”

That is exactly what I did. That is not the way it was supposed to be, but that’s exactly what I did.

I honestly feel that the program directors at NSF felt sorry for me, but they also looked at it like, “This woman’s coming from industry. She has not been trained in this academic mind of ‘this is how grants work, this is how writing research works.’” I did, I came back with a grant. Not only did I come back with a grant, but then I was awarded one of the nation’s highest—the Career Award, the Young Investigator Award. That was one of the first in the university. I came back and they were astounded. Rather than patting me on the back, the department chair says, “Well, how many journal papers do you have?” Then, another guy said, “Well, apparently they’re funding this kind of research.” The research I was doing at the time was in the area of nano technology, which they had no clue I was doing.

Yes, I stood out. I don’t think I was resentful. I just thought I’m just going to show them. I think that’s part of the dilemma for women is there are two things you can do when you get this type of behavior. One, you can say it like, Karen, “Oh, really? Watch me. You think I can’t do this, watch me.” The other reaction is like, “I’m not putting up with this. I’m leaving.” The way I was born and raised my father always said to me, “You fight. You fight. You get that PhD. You fight.”

The other big critical piece, which I apologize for not mentioning, that was a turning point for me was in college. My sophomore year I joined, as a student, the IEEE. We had a student branch. This gentleman came out on a weekend from IEEE, came all the way from Ohio. His name was Jim Watson. Came all the way from Ohio as an IEEE volunteer and we were having a student professional awareness conference and we had like 12 people show up. What we were watching was the deans were always whenever a company would come in during this hiring crunch and want to offer somebody an opportunity, they took the offer to the same top five students. The rest of us that weren’t in the 4.0 never got these job offers. The only way that I saw that I was ever going to get a job was that I better get into one of these professional organizations that can help me.

On a weekend, there was only 11 or 12 of us, this gentleman flew in. He worked with us all weekend on everything from resumes, interviewing. The encouragement, it was the first person who ever encouraged me besides my family that said, “You are a smart student. You can do this.” He didn’t even know me. He just said, “You showed up here and you’re asking me intelligent questions, and the fact that you care and you know that these are things that you have to solve,” he says, “You will be very successful. From then on I was like, “Okay, I need to stick with this organization.” Honestly, that was I will call it my backbone and that was really my empowerment because that’s where I got my strength when I wasn’t getting it in industry, when I wasn’t getting it in my university, when I wasn’t getting it from my managers. There was always some sort of mentorship or someone in IEEE that could do that for me, so that was key.

Wow. Good. Could you talk a little bit about Nerd Girls?

Karen: Sure. Now, I’m at Tufts. They say, “We’ve hired you to be a role model for women.” There are no women. Then, second year there I get one woman in my class and she does not want to be mentored. She wants nothing to do with me. I was like, “All right. This is going to be a problem.” I started by looking at the labs that were … They hand you a lab and say, “Here’s circuit theory. Here’s strength in materials. You’re going to smash concrete.” You look at these and you’re like, “I don’t want to do this.” It’s very difficult for me to teach something or to say, “Oh, yeah. Let’s start up this lab. I don’t want to do it, but you have to do it.” I felt the student’s pain and I looked at it and I’m like, “No wonder women don’t want to come into electrical engineering.” First of all, we didn’t know what it was and the way they were advertising it was horrendous. Oh, it’s really complicated math problems and sitting in cubicles for long hours. Whereas, oh, you’re going to be designing cars or whatever.

I always had some benefit of humanity to my projects in my class.

They didn’t have any exciting descriptions for the field and the projects were not real world. I would look at what I was teaching and I was like, “Whoa. Where’s the beef?” It’s like giving someone a hammer and saying, “Here, keep hammering the nails, but we’re never going to build the dog house.” I started by saying, “Well, let’s pick real-world projects.” I picked them from industry. I picked them from my experience. I always chose a component of something that I thought was up and coming. Back then it was, ‘Hey, let’s get this renewable energy thing and solar energy. I always had some benefit of humanity to my projects in my class, even though they were small scale. All of the sudden, I had young ladies showing up at my door and saying, “Well, I was thinking about engineering, but I’m really not good at math and science.”

That was the next lesson I learned is that everybody thought, “I have to be the very best at math and science.” I convinced a group of girls. I’m like, “No, switch majors.” It can be any form of engineering. Mechanical, electrical. I had chemical, biomedical, computer science. I pulled them all together and I said, “We’re going to build a solar car.” They all looked at one another like, “How is that relevant to us?” I said, “Because I want you to learn like I did to learn how to work on teams, how to be able to talk to one another.” Even though you’re all engineers in computer science, you all have your own language now in your own discipline. I said, “I want you to learn a new technology that no one else would have on their resume.”

We did that. We built a solar car. It worked. When we were done, I went to an event with a van full of students and in there at the end of the year they were talking about their interviewing and you could just hear the way my Nerd Girls were talking about their interviews. They were very polished, very professional, everything flowed versus, “Oh, like, I haven’t like heard that like from the recruiter like …” It was night and day. I just stood back and I was like, “Oh my gosh. What just happened here? These girls are amazing.”

I had thrown them in front of politicians and corporate CEOs to do presentations, I put them in front of military commanders. At every point they said, “Did you prep them?” I’m like, “No, no. I don’t prep them.”

I had thrown them in front of politicians and corporate CEOs to do presentations, I put them in front of military commanders. At every point they said, “Did you prep them?” I’m like, “No, no. I don’t prep them. I teach them how to do a presentation. I teach them how to talk. I teach them how to write, but I never said, ‘Here, these are the words I put in your mouth.” That’s when I realized the power was not just in the technology that I was teaching them, but in those skills, the confidence—and they had more offers than anybody going up. People took notice.

The minority students started taking notice and joined the team. I had a group of African American males. Every African American male in engineering in Tufts was on Nerd Girls. People would say, “Well, how did that happen?” I said, “Because I built a community. I built a team and these students saw it.” Then, the next year what happened I think that was pivotal was somebody said, “Well, you’re so great. You built a solar car. There are no jobs building solar cars. What are these girls going to do?” I said, “Well, it’s not about the solar energy. It was about the skills that they learned, and the new programming languages, and embedded systems, and the communication, and the—all these sub-systems.” Then, everybody’s like, “Oh, I get it.”

Then I got a call. I was reading a newspaper about a historic landmark off the coast of Rockport, Massachusetts. Somebody sent me this article and said, “You’ve got to see this.” I looked at it. It said, “Rockport Lighthouse about to lose its historic designation,” because they’re running a mile-long cable to light the lighthouses that were built in the 1700s that used to be powered on whale oil. I got a group of students together and I said, “Hey, you know what? We just did the solar energy thing. Why don’t we go out to this lighthouse and outfit it with solar panels so that they don’t lose their historic designation?”

At that time, a new-fangled technology came out called LED lighting. I went and I proposed this to the Thacher Island Association who runs the island, but we also had to get it past the Environmental Protection Agency because there was a sanctuary for birds on the island. They said, “You’re not putting up any wind turbines.” I said, “Why? They chop the birds up?” They said, “No, it’s vibrations on the ground. They won’t nest anywhere where there’s vibrations.” Now, my team is not only talking engineering, they’re talking to environmentalists, they’re talking to historians, and preservationists, and also aesthetics. How is this thing going to look? The island has the best wind maps off the coast of Massachusetts so that was another one. It also has great potential of power.

We went and looked at every aspect of the renewable energy for the island. We decided let’s try this new fangled LED technology and the guy said, “I don’t want something crazy that’s going to break and blah, blah, blah.” I said, “Look, let me try it. If you don’t like it, it’s not going to cost you that much,” because I funded all the projects. I funded them. Any outreach projects we ever did I was responsible. We did it. It ran on a car battery, and it was much smaller than the coffin sized stuff that they were used to seeing. It worked, and not only did it work but every Coast Guard lighthouse in the United States today now uses our technology that we developed. I joke with people and say, “That technology was developed by a bunch of 19, 20 year old Nerd Girls.” That’s when we went on the Today Show and all of the sudden it became like, “Wow, talented women breaking the stereotype.”

CREDIT ThacherIsland.org.jpgIt was at this time I was also doing a lot of outreach because I would bring these girls into schools. I see a lot of outreach programs using young women in STEM, but really it bothered me that what these girls left the program with was I can be a good teacher. I wanted them to know, yeah, you can be a good teacher but you can be more than that. I started doing all these outreach presentations and would go in and ask these children, “What do you think a Nerd Girl looks like? What do you think an engineer is?” Predominantly, we always came out holding a wrench, bad skin, bad dressing, antisocial. That stigma drove a lot of young women away. That was huge.

Then, I also figured out the turning point for young girls because the young … We used to bring a solar car to a school. Oh, kids would clamber to it. We did a high school outreach once and this was about age 16, 17. The girls physically all step back and looking at one another fiddling with their hair and whatnot. The boys just pushed them out of the way and jumped on the car. They start interacting with my Nerd Girls and then the young boys at the school were asking my girls technical questions, and they knew everything about cars, and they knew everything about solar energy. Then, one boy made a comment in front of his classmates and saying, “These girls aren’t only smart, they’re really hot.” The girls in their class were like, “Wait a minute. Wait a minute. It’s okay to be smart? My peer guys, the boys that I’m interested in like these girls?” They literally pushed my girls out of the way to get to that car to show the boys that, hey, I can do this, too.

I noticed that’s where the turning point was like, “Okay, you know what? There’s that peer pressure that we’ve been seeing on television that you need to be beautiful and everything and that boys have to do, and that boys were accepting the Nerd Girls, and that was the girl way in to getting teenage girls to understand it and getting males to understand that smart women are great. They’ve got everything. You want to be with these girls.” That’s how it came about.

Wow, wow. This is really cool. It’s fun hearing all this. Well, let’s see. I want to talk a little bit about technology’s role in education. We’re talking a lot about STEM and cultural aspects of STEM. What do you have to say about the state of education today in light of all the influx of people using their thumbs texting and perpetually on their smartphones?

Karen: Right, right. Sure, sure, sure. Well, I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of back ache problems in the future so chiropractics is going to be a good career to go into. I think what’s happening in STEM education today is that they have more challenges, more interesting “people problems” is more a way to put it. For instance, when I designed something years ago, I just looked at how it’s going to be used. I was building computers that I could never afford to use. I was building mainframes for banks. I was out of touch with—I’m never going to own one of these things. It’s the size of a closet. I can’t fit in there. [In contrast,] the technology we design today is immediately commercialized and everybody’s using it. If I put it in the bank, I knew I was—I didn’t have wireless back then. I didn’t have people that would be trying to break in.

Today, not only do we design for functionality, but today’s education has to train our engineers and our scientists to say, “How are people going to misuse this?” Whoever thought? The cell phone was a great invention. Who ever thought it would be used as a trigger on a bomb or anything like that? Then, you design parts and computer parts and I’d have to worry about how I’m going to throw them away. Why would I care how I’m going to throw it away? Oh, is it because it’s an environmental problem? No. It’s because people that are supposed to be recycling them are shipping them off overseas somewhere. They have defective chips and they’re re-packaging them and selling them as good. Now, you go and you buy a computer or you go buy a car with a control system in it that has one of these chips that were supposed to be thrown out, and you buy it, and something fails. It could be life threatening.

karen-at-nasa-langley-research-center.jpgIf you think of military applications, that’s horrible. That’s called counterfeiting. Because technology is so widely available to everybody at every walk of life, that means every walk of life can now abuse it, and that’s something I think we never had to deal with in education before. This is, again, not just about—You can be the best technologist, but for the longest time I used to hear people in engineering say, “I went into engineering because I don’t need to write. I don’t need to communicate. I don’t have to take English” or something. That’s absolutely false now. The best engineers, STEM experts, are those who know how the person, the customer, that’s going to use this—is thinking. I know about the user interface. We just talked about the thumbs. I don’t use my thumbs. I actually use all the fingers because I learned how to type years ago. They know this. They know how people are going to use it. They’re thinking about how the other people’s mindsets work.

I still don’t understand, for example, why is the power button put on the back of the computer where I can’t find it? Well, aesthetically that looks nice and I guess people do find it, so there are a lot more human factors involved and computer education or engineering STEM education now can’t just be about the technology. It has to be about the human computer interaction. It has to be about the functionality. It has to be about the cost. Back in the olden days if I was selling a half a million dollar mainframe, I didn’t really worry about the cost because these huge rich banks were going to get it. Now, I’m worried about, “Okay, this mobile device is going to be used by a desperately poor woman in India to sell her fish or something.” How do you now make sure that the battery power, the consumption, things like that—we never really worried about the power before.

Today’s generation, these Millennials, really truly want and will spend more money for products that are safer and more humane. An engineer now has to think about those factors.

A lot of people in mobile communications think it’s just about looking at the user interface. Now, everything’s about power. How do I charge this thing? How long is the battery life? How do I make it lighter? Education is not just about your own field. It has to be about how your piece fits in with everything around it and how it’s going to resonate with customers. Is it safe? Not just safe to use, but is it safe and protected from unauthorized use or intended misuse? That’s where the wireless and cloud computing encryption and everything comes into play.

karen-meets-president-obama-at-the-white-house.jpgYou’re not going to find any one person—When I first started, engineers used to say, “I don’t want to code where everybody has to simulate everything.” Today, even in Women in Engineering Magazine they just did an article on how simulation is replacing animal testing. That’s the other big thing is, today’s generation, these Millennials, really truly want and will spend more money for products that are safer and more humane. An engineer now has to think about those factors.

Well, this is good.

Karen: Do you want to know more about the state of funding these things? Is that what the question … I don’t even know if I answered your question.

No, no. That’s fine. That works. I’m just wondering, right now you’re kind of exuding through your example wisdom for anybody who wants to take it, but I’ll ask anyway. Any words of wisdom to leaders shaping education, technology, STEM; for leaders that are shaping schools and school culture? Any thoughts for them?

Karen: Yeah, yeah. Sure, sure. Everything should be what I call gender equitable, which means either gender. The project should be real world. The projects and everything should be relevant to the real world. What worked for teaching theory and suffering through theory 30 years ago is not resonating. Technology is changing so much faster now. When I say gender neutral, I mean, make sure if, well an example I give is if I go into a classroom and I say, “We’re going to design high heels today.” You can bet that I’m going to have a bunch of parents come screaming that my son is not designing high heels. On the other hand, if I say, “We’re designing sneakers,” no parents will complain because all kids use sneakers.

That’s a simple example, but that’s something that I think has predominantly excluded different populations of under-represented students because if you come from a population—in my Nerd Girls outreach, we would say, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” They’d say, “A social worker.” I was like, “What the heck is a social worker?” I didn’t even know, because I didn’t come from that kind of environment. If you can all be what you see—and that’s all you see for role models, well, that’s huge.

I don’t want to put down Ivy League, but they’re not representative of the population. Let me just put it that way. I think that we need more inclusion.

I think that the other big predominant issue that I would like to see changed is probably 80 percent of all under-represented students or low-income students start out in community colleges, yet if you look at the representation in leadership on educational boards or even advisors to government, they all come from Ivy League—I don’t want to put down Ivy League, but they’re not representative of the population. Let me just put it that way. I think that we need more inclusion. If 80 percent of all of our students in our nation start out in community college, then why aren’t we considering what’s going on there, and making our education conducive to their learning as well? I think that my advice to our leaders is, “Be more inclusive and understand the population that you’re serving.”

karen-with-the-society-of-women-engineers.jpgIt’s great to have people that come from an institution that only 1 percent of the population gets to attend, but that’s not representative of our country and that’s not representative of inclusion. If we want more under-represented and more women in STEM, you’re going to have to start having all those voices heard, and I think that’s the big piece, is: having more voices heard. It doesn’t always translate into cost. Everybody thinks, “Well, it’s going to cost money.” No, it’s just changing mindsets. It’s really just changing your approach.

The other piece of advice I would give is, we’re killing our public school educators with requirements, and you must have it this way, you must do this, you must learn the new thing. If they’re skilled in English and journalism and all of the sudden you’re trying to force them to teach computing or to teach technology, and that’s not in their wheelhouse of expertise, that’s not fair. If you’re not going to get more resources to train them, then that’s an intimidation factor. How can you be successful? Again, when I’m teaching Circuit Theory, if I don’t like what I’m doing it’s very hard to teach. Your front line people need to be enthusiastic for what they’re teaching and we need to be able to give them the skills and competencies, the confidence, and rewards to do that. Right now, I think we could do a much better job at that.

If we want more under-represented and more women in STEM, you’re going to have to start having all those voices heard, and I think that’s the big piece, is: having more voices heard.

Wow! Well, Karen, I’d love to talk to you more and interview you again down the road, but I think this is enough for a really great read. I really appreciate you taking time—I know you do so much with so many people. I really appreciate you. Thank you very much.

Karen: Thank you, and thank you for this great opportunity. It really is exciting for me to do that. Thank you so much. We’ll talk soon!

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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Cool Tool | Ardusat

CREDIT ardusat.pngThis solution creates an inquiry driven STEM program for the classroom allowing students to tap into their inner scientist and understand the world around them through sensor data. Their program includes open curriculum resources making classroom implementation seamless for teachers, as well as teacher-to-teacher collaboration. All of their curriculum resources are open and mapped to national and state standards for teachers to easily customize and implement within their classrooms. They provide an open platform for teachers to use with students to build and share their own experiments and portfolios, or explore other students’ completed experiments. Ardusat is the complete solution for any school looking for an interactive and effective STEM program. Today Ardusat is working with over 200 schools in 27 different countries. In addition to in-class exploration, they allow students to explore space by giving them access to the sensor payloads currently on orbiting cubesat satellites. Students design their very own space experiments with the help of the Ardusat launch team and their partner company, Spire Global. Ardusat is the exclusive education partner of Spire, which is the leading provider of cubesat technology and is actively building out their constellation of 100 small satellites. Learn more.

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Trends | Global EdTech Landscape 2.0

CREDIT Navitas Ventures.pngPatrick Brothers is the CEO of Navitas Ventures, the education venturing arm of Navitas. With teams in 50 cities around the world, they build, invest and partner in education innovation. Like so many others, he’s eager to know, “What will the next 10 years in education look like?” So he took it a step further: to help understand how it is likely to evolve and transform, his group started mapping the Global EdTech Ecosystem. They launched Project Landscape — a global, open source, community driven initiative — and just shared Landscape 2.0 at the recent ASU GSV Summit. They’ve now mapped 5,000 companies from all over the world representing $40 Billion of investment from some 50+ countries. They identified 23 innovation clusters, which collectively create eight stages in what they dub a ‘next generation learning lifecycle’. “This is a new type of learning journey, and one that will shape the future of education,” says Patrick. “Since I last wrote about Project Landscape 1.0, I have spoken with hundreds of founders, academics, leaders and researchers — and we believe this is really just the tip of the iceberg.” Learn more.

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Cool Tool | ABC-CLIO Solutions Database

ABC-CLIO Solutions is an online resource that offers authoritative, up-to-date coverage of essential topics in U.S. history and government, world history, geography, and a range of multicultural and popular culture subjects. Created specifically for students in middle and high school, higher education, and public library settings, the award-winning suite of 15 online databases provides comprehensive, authoritative reference content, gives students a deeper understanding of coursework, and offers critical thinking explorations of more than 500 scholarly dilemmas that challenge students to think critically and reach their own conclusions. Learn more.

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Cool Tool | BrightBytes Digital Privacy, Safety & Security

CREDIT BrightBytes.pngTechnology in education has potential to create powerful learning experiences, but simultaneous to those experiences, educators feel an overwhelming ethical and legal obligation to provide a safe and secure digital environment. BrightBytes, in partnership with iKeepSafe,™ built the Digital Privacy, Safety & Security module to help districts achieve the right balance between technology learning goals and privacy and security responsibilities. The module enables educators to analyze their current digital safety efforts collaboratively, and create comprehensive actionable plans for improvement. District leaders must understand all the interdependent components of creating the right environment. The module emphasizes a formative, collaborative process between stakeholders from across the organization. The core safety team completes the questionnaire together, and the results are measured on a three-level ABC maturity scale (Awareness, Behavior, Continuous improvement) that represents progression toward a safe digital environment. This data informs personalized reports, actionable next steps, and research-based insights to help create a safe digital environment. As solutions and procedures evolve, the questionnaire can be updated with new notes, documents, and responses. This provides the district with a formative, iterative, and complete view of the ever-changing learning environment to promote a common understanding of digital safety. Learn more.

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Cool Tool | ClassInsights from WebAssign

CREDIT ClassInsights from WebAssign CENGAGE.jpgThis flexible and fully customizable online instructional system puts powerful tools in the hands of teachers, enabling them to deploy assignments, instantly assess individual student performance, and realize their teaching goals. More than 9 million students have used WebAssign to submit over 1.7 billion answers to homework assignments, tests, and assessments. WebAssign’s full set of flexible features are designed to support instructors in reaching their teaching goals and managing their classroom with ease. It provides students with instant assessment on homework problems and automatically grades assignments. The GradeBook provides instructors with complete control. Instructors and students can access grades anytime throughout the course. Set up is simple using the built-in wizard, and established settings can be transferred to other classes easily. Teachers can efficiently track the progress of an individual student or their entire class.  It’s also fully customizable. Instructors can drop the lowest homework score, weight the final exam more heavily than the midterm, calculate final grades even if they didn’t use WebAssign for all assignments, and much more. What’s more, Class Insights gives educators a detailed and analytical view of student performance. It enables instructors to identify at-risk students early in the semester, as well as helping uncover topics that a class as a whole may not understand. This data empowers teachers with the information they need to tailor class discussions, select topics for review and target students who need extra support. By providing teachers with the tools to assess performance throughout a course, award-winning Class Insights supports and encourages student success. Learn more.

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The Business of Education

The edtech industry network leader talks digital learning initiatives, key goals, and ESSA.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero


BridgetFoster ETIN SIIA.jpeg

BRIDGET FOSTER

Title: SVP and Managing Director

Org: ETIN of SIIA

Reach: Developers of educational software applications, digital content, online learning services and related technologies across the K-20 sector.

Fame: past Executive Director, California Learning Resource Network (CLRN) – software review process.

Quotes: “Everyone benefits when we collaborate.” / “A literacy intervention program may not mention digital learning but it can be a strategy used by a school to accomplish the goals of their program and then funding could be used to purchase technology.”

Looking Ahead: “I hope to help all ETIN-SIIA members better understand the education market and how the industry can better serve the education community.”


With more than two decades of experience in education, Bridget Foster has played an integral role in the digital learning transition. She is managing director and senior vice president of the Education Technology Industry Network (ETIN) of SIIA. She helped establish a statewide review process for education technology, and has also supported education companies themselves in positioning their products and services to best support district needs. Her experience in education, state government, and the industry has uniquely positioned her to lead ETIN-SIIA as she has had an opportunity to experience and understand the education market from so many different perspectives. “I know the realities of the classroom as well as the demands of the board room,” she says. “I know what keeps school board members up at night and what it takes to implement good policy.” She hopes to help all ETIN-SIIA members better understand the education market and how the industry can better serve the education community, including through this in-depth discussion of the education sector.

I know what keeps school board members up at night and what it takes to implement good policy.

In this EdTech Digest interview, she responds to what is the state of education, what states and districts might expect from the federal government, the business of education, advice for edtech companies, advice for districts in developing digital learning strategies under ESSA, and what’s just ahead.

Can you describe your vision as VP and managing director of ETIN-SIIA during the next four years under the Trump administration? 

Bridget: My vision for ETIN-SIIA is the same that it has always been, to provide the best benefits and services for members, that help them develop and provide outstanding education products and services needed to meet the diverse needs of educators everywhere. The education industry is comprised of many different types of companies because the needs of education are incredibly diverse. It is peopled by individuals who truly want to make a difference and ensure that our students and teachers have the best resources possible. At ETIN-SIIA, we simplify the complexity of the market and help our members succeed in their quests to positively impact students and educators.

What are your thoughts more generally on the state of education these days? 

Bridget: Anyone who considers themselves to be educated has an opinion on education. This has always been the case. Education is a very political subject and that is no different today than it was when I was in school. Plus, because public education impacts children and young adults, we tend to be cautious when it comes to change. I have seen positive change over the years, including how technology has helped to expand opportunities for students anytime, anywhere. We just have to remember that it isn’t one size fits all. Change can be good, but options must always be available.

What do you see as technology’s role in education? What makes you say that?

Bridget: Technology’s role in education is not really all that different than it is in business. It can help educators be more effective and efficient. It can help students access information and opportunities beyond their communities. It can help students learn from and interact with students across the global and create global communities. It can help teachers network with peers around the world and not feel so isolated as professionals. It can aggregate and analyze vast amounts of data to provide greater insights into what makes for meaningful learning. I say that because I have seen it in large and small ways. Early in my career, I watched a group of 9th grade boys use a word processing program for the first time and overcome their bad penmanship, their physical difficulties in putting pen to paper, their atrocious spelling and limited understanding of grammar, to find their written voice and feel the power of communicating their ideas to others.

Anything else you care to add or emphasize concerning ed, tech, funding, or policy or anything else for that matter?

Bridget: Just a reminder that everyone benefits when we collaborate. Education technology providers and educators need to be good partners and understand that success hardly comes overnight. Working with educators and districts to better understand their needs and using this information to inform product development can lead to long term, sustainable partnerships that result in success for all.

Education technology providers and educators need to be good partners and understand that success hardly comes overnight.

What opportunities does ESSA provide education technology companies, and what challenges do you foresee?

Bridget: One of the biggest benefits of ESSA is the stability it brings to states and districts about what to expect from the federal government. Under NCLB, the Obama administration gave certain states waivers for key provisions of NCLB which required an annual renewal – leaving states, districts and providers unsure about the future of renewals. Without the uncertainty of waiver renewals, states are more likely to invest in long-term initiatives. Although this can bring stability to states and districts, there is still uncertainty around funding given the priorities of the new Administration. States may also be hesitant to take full advantage of some of the new flexibilities available to them, so service providers may need to educate their partner districts about these new opportunities and how they can benefit students and educators.

How can education technology companies best prepare and position themselves to support schools under ESSA?

Bridget: The state plans required by ESSA offer a detailed roadmap of the priorities and trajectory of each state. These public plans will help education industry providers identify states with priorities more suited for certain products or companies, such a focus on literacy or mathematics interventions or where the “fifth indicator” in the accountability system may signal postsecondary course access as a priority for high school students. Providers will be able to adjust their products and services to the priorities of the state which will inform the priorities of individual districts and schools.

ESSA provides for much more flexibility regarding funding to support a program’s goals than ever before.

What is your top advice for districts in developing strategies for digital learning under ESSA? 

Bridget: Providers should not only look at programs that specifically fund digital learning initiatives. The majority of federal support is not targeted specifically to physical or digital initiatives but to key goals. A literacy intervention program may not mention digital learning but it can be a strategy used by a school to accomplish the goals of their program and then funding could be used to purchase technology. ESSA provides for much more flexibility regarding funding to support a program’s goals than ever before.

Follow Bridget and ETIN on Twitter at @SIIA_Education.

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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Cool Tool | Whetstone Education

CREDIT Whetstone Education.pngWhetstone builds technology that helps schools drive teacher growth with data-driven professional development. Their observation and coaching platform, used by over 300 schools nationwide, takes the paper-and-pencil observation process to the next level by delivering instant data insights to school leaders, allowing them to spend less time in front of spreadsheets and more time in classrooms. They deliver on their mission to make school leaders’ lives easier, and in the process, they improve classroom observation and coaches for schools and districts nationwide. The platform helps solve two common challenges in teacher coaching: organizational headaches and fragmented data. Teacher coaching data is often scattered across emails, Google Docs, spreadsheets, and paper forms, creating an organizational snarl for school leaders. When data is fragmented across systems, it’s a struggle to identify teachers’ areas for growth in order to personalize PD to teachers’ unique needs. Whetstone streamlines the process by giving school leaders one place to put all teacher coaching data, ensuring consistent observations and helping provide data-driven professional development for teachers. Learn more.

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