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

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.


Sitting Down with Citelighter’s Outreach Team

Outreach and engagement go hand in hand at Citelighter. We’re always eager to introduce ourselves to educators and students, get our tools in their hands, and solicit their feedback to further help us help them.

I recently sat down with our two guys in charge of outreach and engagement—Kevin and Sheraz. They work closely together and sit across from each other in the office, with Kevin’s legs dangling precariously closely to the sole blasting heat radiator, and Sheraz’s hand sometimes hovering over a giant red kill switch for the whole floor’s electricity system that looks suspiciously like a nuclear launch code trigger. I asked them to share what their roles entail and what projects they’re working on that are geared toward benefiting you, the user, when they’re not busy braving the hazards of life in the office.

What are some of your key long-term goals with outreach to teachers and experts in the field?

Sheraz: My key long term goal is to build a robust community of subject matter experts to curate Knowledge Cards. Bringing in high level experts, or curators, ensures a higher quality of information and analysis through Knowledge Cards and the new comments we’ve added for them. From a viewer’s perspective, you can learn about a topic and how the curator analyzes facts from a very professional standpoint.

Kevin: Our goal is to help teachers, flat out. More often than not, they are given subpar resources and are under-appreciated, and we want to change that by providing them with quality, cost effective tools that meet their needs. The Ambassador Program we’re developing serves as a bridge to connect Citelighter with teachers and to create meaningful relationships with educators and schools worldwide. Our Ambassadors are not only proponents of Citelighter and of useful technology in the classroom, but also of teachers.

In the course of your work, you’ve had to explain the concept and reality of Citelighter to folks many times over. What about the company’s vision really resonates with people?

Kevin: Surprisingly, I’ve found that there are multiple aspects of our vision that resonate with people. Educators especially see benefits or have ideas about how to use Citelighter that we never even envisioned, and it’s rewarding to know that you are a part of a company that empowers people through it’s intended uses, but also by allowing them to creatively mold the product for their own uses.

The time-saving and the efficiency aspect of Citelighter is key. Our goal was to give people their time back and unclutter their minds while allowing them to absorb content, not process, and this seems to be a real plus with users.

Sheraz: To add to what Kevin said, at the end of the day, we’re here to provide information in a way that’s conducive to learning. Our tool allows for an organized way to gather research, and our Knowledge Cards allow us to capture information. The key is taking all this information and making sense of it so people understand it.

What aspects of Citelighter’s work do people seem most excited about or have the most questions about?

Kevin: I can certainly speak to this. The major thing people ask about is the development of a Citelighter app. People love Citelighter for itss intended purpose and are incredibly creative in new ideas for how it can be used, but without fail they always ask about when we will be developing an iPad app. iPads are a central focus for many schools now because of their effectiveness for teaching and also the cost-saving measures associated with them, so naturally people want to know 1) why a tech company doesn’t have an app and 2) when it will be in development.

What role does social media play in your efforts to reach out to educators?

Sheraz: Social Media is pretty much my area. It’s one of my go-to sources for consuming information. It allows me to connect with teachers, experts, etc on platforms like Twitter. I can identify with teachers who may be looking for a tool that will enhance their teaching experience–in other words, ours!

What kind of feedback have you received about Citelighter that has helped inform changes in how we actually develop our products and shape our work?

Sheraz: There’s been a lot of feedback rolling in every day that’s seen by the whole team, and it’s definitely allowed us to essentially tweak our product to the way people use it. PDF functionality, for one, has been in high demand and should be out shortly.

Kevin: We get feedback all the time and put it to use in the development pipeline. I actually received a message yesterday that inquired about our functionality across multiple sharing platforms that we will most likely put into development this week. It honestly just never crossed our mind but once it was presented by a teacher directly to us, it seemed so natural and obvious.

Thanks, guys.

If you have your own question for our outreach team, feel free to leave one in the comments section and we’ll aim to address it!

-Junaid
Citelighter PR Director

Thanksgiving Reflections from Citelighter

With Thanksgiving just a day away, we at Citelighter thought it would be an appropriate time for us to reflect on what we’re thankful for both personally and professionally, and to share it with you.

Saad Alam, CEO:  

Regardless of the long hours, my life is perfect because of the people that I have in it.  I am thankful for an amazing group of people that have come together around a single idea: to improve education.  They are the family, friends, investors, teachers, and students who have given the one thing they have that they can’t get back: their time.  Almost every waking moment is tied to this mission and the people who help push it forward.

Personally, what I’m thankful for is simple: the health of the people whom I love.

Lee Jokl, COO: I’m thankful for the friends and family who support and motivate me when the task ahead seems impossible, but remain honest and humbling when I need it most.

I’m also grateful for the opportunity to do something really important that has the potential to help millions of people in an industry that serves as the backbone of our society: education.  I’m equally thankful to be able to take on this challenge with great friends.

Sheraz Bhatti, VP of Community: I am thankful for the people in my life that push me to become my very best and motivate me to strive to make a difference. I am thankful for all of our Knowledge Experts who have come together and help us build our growing Knowledge Base.

Kevin West, Director of Outreach: After having moved just last month from dry and hot Arizona to the chillier climes of New York in the fall, I’m thankful for space heaters and radiators, even if sitting next to one going full blast is occasionally uncomfortable. I’m also thankful to interact and engage with so many amazing and dedicated educators across the country as I learn more about their needs and challenges in helping students learn.

Jon Ceresa, Director of Business Development: After watching my girlfriend suffer the recent loss of her father, I have come to grips with my own parents’ mortality. I am most thankful for my family and friends, as those are the ones whom I can never replace.

Professionally, I have been working on my goal of constantly learning new things. I would like to know more about computer programming and have been working to better my knowledge of the subject.

As for myself,  I’m happy to be able to call everyone above a friend and a colleague, and grateful to find myself in an environment where learning, discovery, and exploration are not only outlined as part of our collective vision, but embedded as part of our daily work.

Whether you plan to spend the day reveling in the company of family or just warily eyeing them from the opposite corner of the room, we hope you enjoy the time off and consume appropriately enormous amounts of turkey, or a suitable vegetarian variation.

Happy Thanksgiving!

-Junaid
Citelighter PR Director