Learning Outside of Technology

Although we’re fully immersed in the technological space, sometimes it’s useful to step away from the screen and take a look at some insightful in-person teaching methodologies, both for their inherent value and for their potential application in a technology-oriented way.

Two really valuable pieces addressing teaching methods appeared in Edutopia recently, one on student collaboration and the other on believing in students.

Though the posts pertain to two sharply different topics, what’s noteworthy is what they share in common: a core belief that students learn best when they are held accountable in a context that encourages learning and taking on challenges, not meeting static criteria or random metrics.

Since it’s so easy to fall into a metric-heavy mindset on the technology side of education,  it’s important to ask what kind of measures we can cultivate through technology that focus on rewarding the act of learning, not merely making learning more efficient or economical.

Remembering Our Teachers

As we approach year’s close, we all tend to reflect on the events of the past twelve months, and on the defining events of our lives more broadly. It is impossible during this period of reflection not to recall, and mourn, the innocent lives taken just earlier this month in Newtown, Connecticut.

As we recognize the tremendous loss, however, we also salute the heroism and bravery of those teachers who acted selflessly to try to protect their students, by rushing them out of harm’s way, barricading them behind closed doors and closets, and even by trying to confront the killer.

Those acts of valor prompted a couple of us at Citelighter to think of the teachers who were important to us during the formative years in our own lives, in ways large and small.

Sheraz, our VP of Outreach, remembered how his kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Hand, influenced him in the simplest way: “Mrs. Hand was the sweetest lady. I would have difficulty with the number five – my ‘fives’ always turned out looking like the letter ‘S’. She would spend time with me personally and helped me turn my ‘S’ into a ‘5’. I think of her every time I write the number five.”

I have similar memories of numerous teachers. Mrs. Lennartz, my third-grade teacher, always offered a calm and reassuring presence to an anxiety-prone child such as myself. Mrs. Goldstein, my fifth-grade enrichment teacher, taught me the value of good writing and encouraged me to use my imagination, which I explored amply in creating an exuberant 13-page fantasy story at the time.

Every day at Citelighter, the team works with teachers, both former and current, to create  inspiring solutions and projects aimed at improving education. A huge part of the reason we continue to do so is the awe and respect they inspire, in ourselves and others, in ways big and small.

Games in Education?

One of the outstanding challenges of implementing technology in an educational setting is getting the details right. Sure, the tools and resources are often accessible and fairly easy to understand, but what’s the smartest way to integrate and apply them?

One tech-savvy teacher recently created a guide on blogging here, which appears in the form of a chart highlighting beginner, intermediate, and advanced steps. “I find blogging to be a fantastic avenue for students to work at their own pace, while developing their skills as far as their capabilities and interests allow,” she observed.

In the rubric, it’s interesting to see the increasing complexity and sophistication noted in the various steps, as students grow from simply sharing their thoughts and pictures to conducting serious research and citing relevant sources.

Along similar lines, another K-12 educator recently blogged about the process of creating an infographic, a tools which has skyrocketed in its popular use. “Creating an infographic can be a good way to get students to think about they data that they have collected or found in research,” he noted, concluding with a link to a 15-minute video breaking down the elements of successful infographic creation.

What are some specifics guides that you have used or witnessed to help facilitate technological integration in the classroom?

-Junaid
Citelighter PR Director

Easing Away the Anxiety

A few weeks ago the Citelighter Team received an email from Carol Flanagan Propp, an English Teacher at Gowanda High School in Gowanda, NY, who wanted to share her experiences with Citelighter. She was initially hesitant to make a shift to using an online tool to support her students with research, but had a change of heart. She is now using Citelighter with her Seniors and loving it! Check out her story below:

While scrolling through Edmodo, I came upon a tool for researching called Citelighter. Immediately my attention was peaked because I teach the research paper to anxious 11th graders and I am always on the lookout for tools to support them. The video tutorial played and it seemed as though it would make much more sense to the technologically savvy teenagers that I taught, than it did to me.  That night for homework, I assigned my seniors to go on Edmodo, watch the tutorial, and leave a comment about what they thought of the tool.  The responses, I found, had mixed reviews.  Citelighter seemed “cool” but most were hesitant to try it because it was different than what they were used to from previous years.

The research paper was assigned and the time was right!  As a class we explored and experimented with Citelighter.  Students helped each other create accounts.  Suddenly, my students were researching and capturing sentences from their research.  I kept hearing them talk about how much they loved the site.  They actually said they were excited about doing research; music to my ears! As I watched their enthusiasm and confidence build, I was encouraged to try it myself.  I became the student; my students became the teacher.  It truly became a class period of learning for all of us.

Carol Flanagan Propp | English Teacher

Gowanda High School, Gowanda, New York

Fostering Tech in the Classroom by Way of Examples

One of the outstanding challenges of implementing technology in an educational setting is getting the details right. Sure, the tools and resources are often accessible and fairly easy to understand, but what’s the smartest way to integrate and apply them?

One tech-savvy teacher recently created a guide on blogging here, which appears in the form of a chart highlighting beginner, intermediate, and advanced steps. “I find blogging to be a fantastic avenue for students to work at their own pace, while developing their skills as far as their capabilities and interests allow,” she observed.

In the rubric, it’s interesting to see the increasing complexity and sophistication noted in the various steps, as students grow from simply sharing their thoughts and pictures to conducting serious research and citing relevant sources.

Along similar lines, another K-12 educator recently blogged about the process of creating an infographic, a tools which has skyrocketed in its popular use. “Creating an infographic can be a good way to get students to think about they data that they have collected or found in research,” he noted, concluding with a link to a 15-minute video breaking down the elements of successful infographic creation.

What are some specifics guides that you have used or witnessed to help facilitate technological integration in the classroom?

A Model for Integrating Technology in the Classroom?

In light of the terrible school shooting that occurred today in Newton, Connecticut, I want to convey on behalf of the entire Citelighter team our sincerest condolences to the victims and their families, and to all the students and teachers who endured this awful attack.

There are some good resources here and here on how to address the issue with children and how to cope, and we’ll be sure to speak to this issue further next week.

For today, however, we turn to some specifics on integrating technology in the classroom. So many exciting tools abound for teachers and students to experiment with, but without a concrete framework as a guide, it seems like it’s a dizzying problem to figure out how to apply them properly in a classroom context.

The Arizona K-12 Center at Northern Arizona University seems to have a solution. It’s developed a handy PDF-friendly chart, or “Technology Integration Matrix”, as seen here. The great thing about the matrix is that the cells include some lesson plans along with short videos of the lessons themselves, detailing to teachers how the model is intended to work.

The creators have dubbed the matrix “a living document” that will be continually updated with new less on plans and videos. As its creators explain, the point is to “assist  “assist schools and districts in evaluating the level of technology integration in classrooms and to provide teachers with models of how technology can be integrated throughout instruction in meaningful ways.”

What value do you see to this kind of framework—as either an educator or a student—and has your own school developed a similar kind of tool to guide along its technological adoption?

-Junaid
Citelighter PR Director

U.S. Students Still Behind the Competition in Math and Science

Talk of technology in education always excites, but at day’s end what counts is academic achievement and performance. And when placed in an international context, American fourth and eight-grade students still lag behind their peers in a number of East Asian and European countries.

The New York Times noted that the U.S. “ranked 11th in fourth-grade math, 9th in eighth-grade math, 7th in fourth-grade science and 10th in eighth-grade science.” In terms of average scores, American students didn’t compare too badly, but the worrying point is that “several nations far outstripped the United States in the proportion of students who scored at the highest levels on the math and science tests.”

No mention is made in the article, or by the test designers, of the potential impact of technological learning tools one way or the other, but it seems reasonable for those of us in the field to keep in mind where American students are falling behind—and why—when developing tools to improve learning.

It turns out that students in countries where high-stakes test are highly emphasized (like Taiwan) and deemphasized (like Finland) both outstripped Americans, so that doesn’t look like the decisive factor.

There was, however, this nugget:

“[S]tudents whose parents reported singing or playing number games as well as reading aloud with their children early in life scored higher on their fourth-grade tests than those whose parents who did not report such activities. Similarly, students who had attended preschool performed better.”

Where do you think blended learning could help plug in gaps in our school system to produce better performance in math and science?

The Digital Divide and the Edtech Space

In the tech-ed space, it’s common to hear excited talk about combining traditional and cutting-edge technology—or even replacing the former with the latter—to achieve lofty new heights in learning and pedagogy. It’s less common, however, to hear about how the burgeoning growth of new tech-oriented educational tools may be leaving less privileged children behind.

An article in yesterday’s New York Times happened to prompt some thoughts on the issue, with the reporter noting the following:

“Just as we are unlikely to unearth dilled artisanal long beans from the farms of northern Vermont, we are unlikely to find these sorts of diversions — small-batch toys aimed at the parent for whom it is never too early to begin LSAT drills — in large retail chains. Instead, they are the provenance of independent toy stores that maintain a presence almost exclusively in the city’s most affluent neighborhoods.”

Toys produced by companies like Fat Brain Toys, which provide interactive and often digital toys aimed stimulating cognitive function, are of course not directly synonymous with website-based tools such as our plug-in (which is available free) or other online offerings.

However, it is true that computers, laptops, and iPads are more readily available for the affluent. Further, computer literacy is more likely to be lacking at the lower end of the income spectrum. And finally, subscription-based online learning services are inherently low on the priority list of families with strict budgets.

As such, it’s worth thinking about the current and potential future impact of how a digital divide might harm the lofty and no doubt well-meaning goals of ambitious educators. To give one concrete example: The Denver Post observed a few months ago that, “On Colorado’s education landscape, the ‘digital divide’ looks something like this: While one classroom streams online coursework to students, others log off the Internet so a school’s meager bandwidth can handle the load.”

There’s the further concern that even when enough bandwidth is available, it’s being misused:

“As access to devices has spread, children in poorer families are spending considerably more time than children from more well-off families using their television and gadgets to watch shows and videos, play games and connect on social networking sites, studies show.”

As one researcher of a decade-long study of the issue observed in the above-linked article, “Despite the educational potential of computers, the reality is that their use for education or meaningful content creation is minuscule compared to their use for pure entertainment…Instead of closing the achievement gap, they’re widening the time-wasting gap.”

From bandwidth inequities to concerns over actual use of the bandwidth, there’s a plethora of potential gaps to consider as we collectively try to move forward in the tech-ed space. What kinds of obstacles have you faced, either as an educator or as a student, related to disparities that fall under the broad category of “the digital divide”?

Innovation and Insights in Education: Interview with John Cammack

Some people discover what they’re passionate about not by following simple or straightforward path, but by navigating the winding roads of life experience. That’s the case for John Cammack, who has developed a deep interest in the tech-education space after spending years at an investment firm because of his own concrete life experience. Cammack is a Citelighter investor who has studied innovation and education. Below, he explains how his life experience has informed his outlook and shares his insights in the field, including thoughts on individualized learning, brain fitness, and school reform.

You spent 18 years at T. Rowe Price, a global investment management firm, serving as president of a large business division. Now you’re passionately interested in the tech-education space. What prompted the transition?

My wife and I have two sons who were diagnosed with learning differences at an early age.  In advocating for them, I began to study the neuroscience of learning and came to the conclusion that the best education for all children allows for an individualized learning path.  With the emergence of technology that supports effective blended learning platforms, complemented by a growing body of research supporting neuroplasticity, I decided to devote myself to accelerating the adoption of technologies that empower the learner. I also recovered from a serious illness in my late 50s, which made me realize my time on earth is short and prompted my commitment to education reform.

Do you see a certain intersection or overlap between your work at T. Rowe Price and what you’re passionate about now?

While at T. Rowe Price, I studied adoption curves and the diffusion of innovation. When I applied these models to education, I concluded we are entering a period of great promise and disruption that intrigued me. I also observed how difficult it was for T. Rowe Price to recruit young adults who were well prepared as global knowledge workers. Finally, I observed through my board work how broken the Baltimore public school system was. I wanted to do something to fix it.

As someone who spends so much time studying the ed-tech space, coming to it essentially as an outsider, what would you say were the biggest surprises that you came across in your initial research?

First, I observed how poor the return on investment is for K-12 education in the United State. I began to dig for root causes and reached the following conclusions:

A high-performing educational system can’t operate without talent. In Finland, Singapore and other countries, the top college graduates become teachers and are paid as professionals. In the United States, TFA has begun to attract top college talent into our public school classrooms. Better teacher and principal quality is part of the solution.

We need to reform schools of education to produce 21st century teachers whose pedagogical skills incorporate technology. Teacher certification should include a competency model and just not credit hours.

All successful technology creates an extraordinary user experience. Too many ed tech start ups are being managed or advised by teams that do not include the wisdom of master teachers, which removes them from the user.  Most will fail for this reason.

Finally, insightful forward thinking policy reform is as important as introducing disruptive technologies. We need reforms in charter school formations, teacher tenure and in higher education – assessment and accreditation.

What are some of the biggest “hidden” trends in the field—great ideas that you think are willing to be discovered and executed, or ideas that are out there but currently under appreciated or underutilized?

Our growing understanding of neural plasticity will benefit students through a new generation of tools that include brain-strengthening online games and a variation in biofeedback for the brain called neurofeedback.  I happen to think brain fitness is one of the missing links in educational attainment, with a very high return on investment for a cohort of students including those with ADD.

Real time assessment will become imbedded in digital devices attuned to the natural learning style of each student. Learning avatars will operate as a student’s private tutor.

These assessment tools will also provide teachers deeper insights into the learning process of students in their class.

Digital learning platforms will evolve to include gamification, open source content, learning communities and certification.

Finally, MOOCs are in early adoption. In time, they will change the business and instructional framework of higher education.  Assessment and certification need to be resolved as well as rationalization of price to value for this to happen.

You’re also an investor and actively involved with Curiosityville, an individualized learning environment for children ages 3 to 8. Are there certain aspects of, or lessons related to, teaching kids at such a young age that also resonate and apply to older students, and perhaps even researchers in professional and academic contexts?

Curiosityville is a very eloquent learning platform.  No single component is innovative, but the combination of features is disruptive. We use a narrative approach to learning that engages young children, games and activities that strengthen the developing brain while also teaching to common core, personalization of the learning experience based on a child’s proficiencies and areas of engagement, and feedback linking on and off line learning to empower parents to be their child’s first great teacher.  Curiosityville is for young children, but the design principles work for all learners.

Broadly speaking, how would you describe the investment landscape in the tech-ed space? And how do you envision your own strategic role within it, in terms of what you hope to help spur and accomplish?

Ed-tech has several concurrent trends. First there is growing interest from private equity and venture firms. Money is pouring into the space. I worry about a bubble.

Secondly the capital structure doesn’t recognize unique challenges faced by ed tech start ups. For example, their product development cycles are long because of the need to validate learning outcomes through school pilots. Seed funding needs to recognize this.

My interest is in investing in platforms that empower the learner.  I measure success by ROL – return on learning as well as the more traditional ROI.  A ROL is measured through a combination of three variables: better learning outcomes, lower cost and impact.

I’m also interested in creating resources to improve the ed tech start up ecosystem.  This includes a consortium of Maryland schools that will agree to sponsor pilots and a summer institute that will match master teachers with developers and designers. Think of it as the “graduate course” for StartUp Ed Weekend and then The best products and services get vetted by members of the research consortium to accelerate product adoption.


The Rewards and Challenges of ‘Blended Learning’

In today’s education environment, where cutting-edge technology and brick-and-mortar tradition exist side-by-side, it’s necessary to be thoughtful about combining the two. Yesterday, Edudemic ran an informative piece highlighting some key examples of the practice—“blended learning”—practiced in various school districts.

Some examples that struck me as particularly innovative:

“Virtual participation”: At the Manchester School District in New Hampshire, the superintendent has put forward a plan for students to take part in courses at any of the district’s three high schools—in addition to college courses through the University of New Hampshire-Manchester. The proposal, set to take effect next semester, seems like it could truly broader the scope for learning by eliminating physical barriers within the district.

“Alternative assignments”: Here in New York City, the Department of Education has offered schools the chance to snap up some online courses and content at a reduced cost. The upside is that kids who’ve failed classes at their local schools can get the chance to take on alternative assignments and receive credit to make up for the poor performance. NYC may be following the precedent set by Alexandria City Public Schools in Virginia, a district that won awards a couple months ago for using blended learning to lower dropout rates.

“Tailoring pacing”: One thorny problem with massive online learning seems to be the issue of pacing: some students simply learn more quickly than others. Arizona held its first-ever blended learning summit to look into precisely that problem.

“Superintendents and other educators from across the state participated in the forum to discuss the use of student-centric blended learning models as a way to improve student engagement and academic outcomes,” the conference hosts noted. The summit produced a thoughtful synopsis of the problems districts faced and how they used online courses to improve retention and reduce dropout rates.

The ongoing integration of technology with tradition will doubtless continue to generate new questions—and new answers—in education and academia. It’s certainly an exciting time to exist in the tech-education space, and we’re happy to be looking at it and partaking in it from the inside.

-Junaid
Citelighter PR Director