Novel Approach

A business course at the University of Oklahoma employs innovative learning techniques.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT OU Jeremy ShortJeremy Short is the Rath Chair in Strategic Management at the Price College of Business at the University of Oklahoma. His research focuses on multilevel determinants of firm performance, strategic decision process, entrepreurship, research methods, franchising and family business. Introduction to Management is a course that provides knowledge of interest to individuals of all ages and backgrounds who wish to learn more about managing careers, individuals, organizational situations, decisions, and relationships. The course features a graphic novel that chronicles the tales of Atlas Black as

I think it’s an exciting time to be part of higher education. I consider myself to have the best job in the world.

he works to fund his college expenses, start a new business, and act as a fledgling entrepreneur, along the way illustrating key concepts from principles of management. Recent studies conducted at OU find graphic novels are associated with superior student recall compared to traditional textbooks alone. The content of the course uses innovative delivery material including online lectures, a traditional textbook, and a graphic novel textbook. In this insightful discussion, Jeremy (pictured) elaborates on the course features, what the students think, efficacy studies, interactive learning communities and his thoughts on the future of education.

Victor: Your Introduction to Management Course features some unique course materials like a graphic novel textbook. Why a graphic novel? What inspired you to take this approach?

Jeremy: The graphic novel integrates two great devices associated with passing down knowledge throughout the ages. First, it uses storytelling where concepts are more naturally applied because you can see how a theoretical framework or valuable concept is fleshed out. In contrast, textbooks often have scores of unrelated examples and I think that can be confusing at times. Second, the graphic novel leverages the power of visual presentation to ‘show’ how the material is being applied. Again, one issue with many textbooks is if the authors are not careful then they can end up with a work full of stock photos with little to help reinforce the specific concepts in the book. I think my main inspiration was movies. I have always loved movies and I saw how powerful they could be in terms of storytelling, and of course I’ve memorized hundreds of lines from movies but very few from textbooks. When I saw more adult-oriented graphic novels such as Maus and Persepolis and the 911 Commission Report in graphic novel format, I realized that I couldn’t make a movie, but I could write a graphic story that could be effectively used with an adult and college-age audience. So, I was able to develop several graphic novels and co-author a Harvard Business School case in graphic novel format.

Victor: How do you incorporate the materials? What is the response from students? 

Jeremy: The graphic novel is the primary textbook for my course, Introduction to Management. The book tells the story of Atlas Black as he graduates college, gets his first job and eventually starts his own business. It applies concepts from entrepreneurship and management courses in an interesting and digestible format and I incorporate it just as I would a traditional textbook – chapter assignments are outlined in the syllabus with related exercises. Feedback has been very positive. In fact, students in my classes, as well as students we’ve surveyed about using graphic textbooks, say they prefer the graphic novel format to a traditional textbook.

Victor: You’ve conducted research on the use of graphic novels to teach business concepts. What are some of your findings?

Jeremy: My research with Aaron McKenny and Brandon Randolph-Seng used a 2-study approach. The first study explores the potential of graphic novels to impact learning outcomes and finds that the graphic novel was related to high levels of learning. The vast majority of students (82 percent) either strongly agreed or agreed that Atlas Black compared favorably to other management textbooks they have used in the past. Eighty percent of those surveyed strongly agreed that the graphic novel format helped them develop their ideas about strategic management in a more organized way compared to reading traditional material.

The second study compares the impact of graphic novels with that of traditional textbooks and finds that verbatim recognition was superior with graphic novel texts. That is, students using the graphic novel textbook performed better on verbatim recognition identifying specific passages than those using a traditional textbook.

Victor: The course also features animated rap videos. How did you decide which course concepts to illustrate using this method? What other innovative tools do you use in the course?

Jeremy: In addition to the graphic novel, I also use a traditional textbook in the course as well. I use animated rap videos to accompany each chapter of that text so key elements are brought to life in a more visual and engaging way, helping reinforce them.

When we developed these last year, I was inspired by the old Schoolhouse Rock series as well as Flocabulary’s ‘This Week in Rap’ series. I met Buck and Clint Vrazel, (collectively known as Twinprov, an Oklahoma City-based improvisation group) when I gave a TEDxOU talk on the power of graphic novels and I asked them to craft some rap songs based on material in the book. The decision on which concepts to illustrate was a fairly organic one between myself and Twinprov.

In some cases I had a specific idea of what might be covered in a given chapter, but in others Twinprov would come to me with an idea that I liked; it tends to depend on the dynamics of each chapter. For example, they knew I was a Star Wars fan so one of their songs discusses organizational structure in the world of Star Wars. One innovative tool in teaching the course this year is that students are asked to provide a response to the “rap-up” videos. The hope is that their responses are interesting enough to encourage interaction from other students, making the experience more personalized. One idea we are developing now is the incorporation of mini graphic novel cases similar to the Harvard Business School case I co-authored in graphic novel format.

Victor: This summer you’re offering the course through the University of Oklahoma’s interactive learning platform, Janux. What is Janux? How have you updated the course to leverage the features of the platform? How do you expect it to impact student engagement and learning?

Jeremy: Janux is an interactive learning community built on social learning. It integrates communication features found in social media with other tools that facilitate conversation, learning and collaboration between the students.

We’ve updated the class in a number of ways to take advantage of the Janux platform. Students are now asked to engage with each other by telling their unique stories in regard to elements of management they are working to improve. Aspects might include time management, career management or management of goals and/or relationships. When someone is engaged in social media such as Facebook or Twitter, part of the thought is the belief they have something interesting to say, and those they follow have something worth listening to. We try to hit on both of these possibilities with the activities used in class this term and the Janux platform allows us to encourage and enable that interaction in real-time discussion boards, through whiteboards and even within the course material itself – for example, students can highlight and make notes in the texts and in the video transcripts, then share their thoughts with their classmates, leading to a rich dialogue. Additionally, the video production quality of the “rap-up” videos and the videos that introduce each chapter of the traditional textbook is top shelf.

Victor: The course is offered either for-credit or as an open enrollment MOOC. Are the two versions kept separate or do the students cross-collaborate? How does that enhance the educational experience? 

Jeremy: In some areas they are kept separate. For example, more in-depth quizzes are required of enrolled students. But, in all the areas of social interaction there is no separation. Janux allows and encourages students to cross-collaborate. For-credit and open enrollment, non-credit students are not kept separate in regards to their thoughts and comments. By blending the cohorts, the learning experience for both is enriched since they are able to collaborate with one another, including the professors, and share experiences and perspectives. This is great because many of the students can learn from those taking the course that might have considerable work experience that all students can find valuable. The emphasis on enhancing engagement stems from features of social platforms that encourage interaction, information sharing and collaboration and are incorporated into Janux.

Victor: If someone is interested in taking the course, how can they sign up?

Jeremy: Simply visit Janux.ou.edu, create an account and get started with Introduction to Management! Students will have to purchase access to both of the books, but the cost is less than $50 total.

Victor: What are your thoughts on education in general these days?

Jeremy: I think it’s an exciting time to be part of higher education. I consider myself to have the best job in the world. Certainly much of my current views on education are impacted by the lens of the institution that writes my checks, OU. In that regard, I’m very happy to be at a place that values traditional academic research and an engaging on-campus experience while embracing other educational values such as civic and social engagement, and the incorporation of new technology. In my department, which focuses on Management and Entrepreneurship, I can see firsthand a trend towards colleges and universities working to be more entrepreneurial in the courses and services they offer and I find that to be engaging as well.

Victor: What are your thoughts on technology’s role in education?

Jeremy: The mission of the University of Oklahoma is to provide the best possible educational experience for our students through excellence in teaching, research and creative activity, and service to the state and society.

I believe technology can help us in academia to fulfill the goals of our respective institutions. In my case, I can teach a course that is of value to many students at OU (Introduction to Management) while providing content to open-enrolled students that they will find valuable. At a time when tuition has become a huge barrier for many students, we can leverage technology to provide access to valuable learning materials for some of those students who might not otherwise choose to enroll for credit or have the need to earn a formal degree. For example, I was humbled last year when a student who completed all elements of the open course sent me a picture of his hometown in Australia.

Another element of technology I’ve enjoyed is the pressure and excitement that occurs when recording lectures. I believe it forces me to think through every statement I make to ensure I’m taking advantage of the limited time I have to get my message across. At the same time, it also provides the benefit that I don’t have to worry about misspeaking in class since everything has been planned in advance. And, I know class is never going to be cancelled due to an illness or unfavorable weather.

Victor: Anything else that you may have wished to discuss but we didn’t get to? 

Jeremy: I think one element that doesn’t seem to really get discussed enough is the element of trade-offs in education. For example, graphic novels offer rich storytelling in a short amount of space, but traditional textbooks can offer great detail. I’ve learned some valuable lessons about graphic presentation through the graphic novels that I was able to incorporate later when I co-authored a traditional textbook. So, I think the interplay between various mediums can be explored more as well.

Trade-offs exist with technology, too. I can teach an online class that in many ways is as effective or even improves upon in my view large lecture classes where students tend to have very little interaction with their professors. But, for now, I believe the one-on-one mentoring and training I engage in with doctoral students would be very challenging in a purely online environment.

I do hope more dialogues that present trade-offs and help bridge the gaps between the pros and cons of different approaches will move to the forefront of some of the discussion that is occurring in education. I don’t see myself as having an agenda for graphic novels or technology. I’m simply someone who wants students to have the best possible learning experience and I believe both are valuable tools.

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

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Information Literate

What 10,000 students and 1,200 librarians told us about research skills. 

GUEST COLUMN | by Emily Gover and Michele Kirschenbaum

CREDIT Imagine Easy SolutionsThe education landscape is constantly changing. Understanding the inner-workings of a student’s mind is a challenge, and is vitally important for educators to improve their pedagogy. At our company, we are constantly finding ways we can help students, librarians and educators. One of the most effective methods to figure out what’s going on in the minds of our users is to simply, well, ask them.

Earlier this year, we acquired 1,200 responses through an email survey from librarians around the world, and from all types of institutions: primarily high schools and universities, as also middle schools, elementary schools, and public libraries. The goal of this survey was to find out how librarians are teaching key research and writing skills—such as website evaluation and paraphrasing—to students, and which areas students struggle with the most.

Understanding the inner-workings of a student’s mind is a challenge, and is vitally important for educators to improve their pedagogy.

We wanted to see what students thought about research, too. As we wrote last year in EdTech Digest, our products bring in an audience of over 42 million students every year. This provides us with a unique opportunity to survey students and pick their brains about how they conduct research. Through placing a survey on EasyBib.com, we collected over 10,000 anonymous student responses pertaining to website credibility, using the Open Web in research, and synthesizing information.

So, what did we learn from our surveys? The answers may surprise you.

Agree to Disagree: Conflicting Viewpoints Between Students and Librarians

ParaphrasingChartAs many educators know, students are overly confident with their research skills. These “digital natives,” while unequivocally skilled at using mobile devices in mere seconds, are arguably not adept at using technology in research-related contexts. Finding a BuzzFeed post, or selecting that perfect Instagram filter? Sure. But finding, using, and synthesizing information for a school or job assignment? Not so much, at least according to a recent article in The Chronicle for Higher Education by Project Information Literacy head investigator, Alison Head.

Effectively paraphrasing information is a required skill for many learning standards, including the Common Core. Of the almost 7,900 student responses, more than half (56.5%) said that they absolutely know how to paraphrase information and use direct quotes in their research. Only 571 (7.2%) said they did not know how to properly paraphrase.

Responses from librarians differed drastically. Only 3% of librarians and educators felt their students rarely struggle with paraphrasing, while 44% said their students struggle with it, and often.

Another area where students and librarians did not see eye-to-eye was with website credibility evaluation. More than one-third (36.1%) of the 8,217 students who responded said that they have a thorough understanding of website credibility, while a mere 14.2% admitted to their lack of evaluation skills.

WebsiteCredibilityChartWhen librarians were asked to evaluate their students’ understanding of website evaluation, most (51%) said that their students had a rudimentary knowledge (a sharp increase from our 2012 survey response of 21.7% to the same question). Only 2% of the librarians surveyed felt their students had an advanced understanding of website credibility.

These statistics imply that, in some areas of information literacy, students are exceedingly confident with their evaluation skills. What’s more, the educators who understand the intricacies of scholarly research feel that their pupils are not adequately prepared to discern the differences between authoritative and inaccurate information.

On the Same Page: Where Librarian & Student Responses Line Up

While many of the responses from the two groups drew vastly different opinions, there was one area where librarians and students saw eye-to-eye. Most of us can agree that the Open Web can be a viable place to start research, but rarely is it appropriate to use solely for assignments. Regardless, studies show that the majority of students use Google and other Open Web search engines in class.

OpenWebInResearchChartWhen asked how often they use the Open Web for research instead of library resources, over 58% of the 10,472 student responses said that it’s their first choice, every time. Approximately 38% said they use a mix of Open Web and library resources, while 3.5% said they only use information found through the library’s website.

Compared with what librarians had to say, the findings are strikingly similar. About 60% of librarians said they notice their students only using the Open Web for research, while 37% reported a combination of Open Web and library resources.

What Else?

For more information, read the full report for free on the EasyBib blog. We are currently devising a second, deeper iteration to see how the information literacy landscape differs across institutions. Stay tuned for more insights to how librarians are approaching research instruction.

Bibliography

Emily Gover and Michele Kirschenbaum are the in-house information literacy librarians for Imagine Easy Solutions, the parent company of EasyBib and ResearchReady. Emily has prior experience in academic libraries and continues to work as a public librarian. Michele previously worked as a school librarian for seven years and served as her school’s technology coordinator. You can reach them on Twitter, @Emily_EasyBib and @Michele_EasyBib, or on YouTube as the Lively Librarians.

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ISTE 2014: A Tale of Two Paradigms

A veteran attendee to edtech’s big show provides an in-depth analysis.

GUEST COLUMN | by Mark Gura

CREDIT ISTE 2014 imageNow that the dust has settled on the massive ISTE event in Atlanta, part conference and part all around edtech rave, I’ve gotten down to the serious work of making sense out of this year’s installment of what always proves to be a field-defining information storm. I’ve attended every ISTE Conference since 1997 and rely on this annual event to provide me with the very most important ‘ah-ha’s’ about what’s actually going on and what it all means. For me, the biggest clue this go-‘round, was not what was shown or demonstrated or said — it’s who showed up.

While dazzled by the screen glow of elegantly designed functionality, let’s be sure to ask ourselves what goals it’s directed at…

Between the sessions I host or attend, the poster sessions I rely on for quick access to actionable info, the folks I rub elbows with while in line for over-priced coffee, the shoulders I look over at the book sales area, and the myriad other opportunities to interact with colleagues, friends, and total strangers — I usually manage to exchange views with a few hundred really smart people. I also read their registration badges, not just for names and home towns, but what sorts of jobs they hold.

At previous conferences, this invariably showed them to be tech teachers, tech coaches, edtech professional development and curriculum specialists, and the like. Not this year though. This year, I found myself talking to a great many non-tech specialists. Over and over, I found myself sharing the conference with generalist subject area teachers, instructional supervisors, and school and district administrators; far more of them than I would have expected. These folks were there to get themselves up to speed on the ways technology will impact their professional lives.

It seemed to me, too, that while they’ve known for a long time this is something they should do, they were doing it at this year’s conference with urgency and conviction. It was as if the great, non-techie rank and file ‘out there’ had finally taken to heart that the long-forewarned edtech tsunami had already crested and was poised directly overhead. They were now declaring themselves to be part of a movement that has been slowly, but steadily and strongly, making itself known over the past quarter century.

I’ve been part of this phenomenon for the past 22 years and to tell the truth, it was not truly a brand-new field even when I entered it. I was delighted to see this shift, though, and this year I’ll try to digest all I saw and experienced from the point of view of these new partners. It’s got to be an overwhelming challenge to enter our field at this particular point in its history — and I particularly sympathize with their efforts to navigate and comprehend the dizzying overload of information and opportunity represented by the massive ISTE 2014 Expo sales floor.

The other understanding that this year’s conference reinforced strongly for me is that edtech has become such a broad field that, to navigate it now, one really has to distinguish between types and purposes of resources and practices — and to create categories with which to sort out the various trends and approaches.

A great many of the rank and file newcomers I chatted with have come to understand that schools are in the process of being transformed into digital work environments. Consequently, they were investigating and being shown by vendors and colleagues how to make things more efficient and effective digitally.

From my perspective, a good portion of the technology being produced and consumed currently does this, while preserving an overall vision of what school is and what its goals are. I saw a great deal at this year’s conference that I feel can be effectively contextualized as part of a paradigm we can call The Digitized (Traditional) School. And consequently — at both a good number of the displays on the sales expo floor and some of the sessions — I saw student information systems, online testing, content management systems, and a host of other things directed at gaining advantage in controlling perennial school concerns like student compliance in remaining on-task, record keeping, and student achievement assessment.

One-hundred and eighty degrees away from this in meaning and significance, colleagues with a different vision about the type of education today’s kids need — one that embraces the ways technology has changed how people research information, manipulate and apply it, and communicate their discoveries and understandings — were wrapping their heads around transforming education through such approaches as student content creation and publication, games-based learning, programming, global collaboration, robotics, etc., things that not only motivate students, but that re-contextualize learning and re-define the goals of curriculum and instruction.

And, of course, in a field as rich as edtech, there are areas of gray that bridge both paradigms. While many conceive these two takes on the state of education, today’s and tomorrow’s versions, to be paradigms in conflict, that’s not necessarily the only way to understand it.

Clearly, it’s inevitable, that like all other types of work environments, school is bound to be digitized. True, in the short run that digitization in many respects amounts to ringing more mileage out of the 19th-century paradigm of worker preparation-oriented learning that defines traditional schooling. It’s also true that digitization also represents basic preparation for the true revolution in education that is bound to follow; a revolution in which technology will enable and empower the long overdue re-conceptualization of what it is that today’s students need to learn and how they may best learn it in order to take their place among tomorrow’s movers, shakers, and informed and adept global citizens.

Armed with these powerful ah-ha’s, I cruised through this powerful conference’s vast sales floor. The following are some highlights of things I found being sold, promoted, offered, highlighted — or whatever. I think it is crucial to understand these not only on face value, but by mulling over which paradigm they are emblematic or at the service of. In some cases I’ve given my take, but for many, I leave it to the reader to make the determination him- or herself:

Microsoft. I had lunch with the very astute Margo Day, a VP with Microsoft, who shared with me three of the very interesting inspiring things they are focusing on: Skype Translator, Office Mix, and one that I had the opportunity to follow up on later that day at the Microsoft exhibit on the floor, teaching and learning practices supported by the technique of Digital Inking that is implemented using the software, OneNote. The demo of this that I attended was given by a teacher, Robert Baker. The application of this approach to establishing and obtaining easy and high value teacher to student/student to teacher. I’ve rarely witnessed an approach to non-verbal communication between teachers and students that was more casual, seemingly effortless, and with potential to truly flip the ‘On’ switch to those light bulbs that float over the heads of students as they ‘get it.’ Very impressive. But, then again, while there is value in improving the quality of communication between teacher and student, in the end, what matters most is the what of the communication, not the how! Further, I personally think that there are more ways for teachers and students to use One Note-based digital inking than I saw there, the fine art of virtual pen and ink drawing, and the casual diagram creation needed for robotics and other Engineering and STEM activities, for instance. I was so impressed by the freeform line functionality that I saw though, that I vow to explore those possibilities on my own over the next year.

Penveu. Every once in a while I actually get excited by a hardware item that comes out in the edtech marketplace (yes, I’m one of those instructional practice; instructional software/APP geeks who usually doesn’t care what device resources run on). Penveu, though, is a potential game changer. I teach graduate courses in Education, both for EdTech majors and for non-techie, generalist and subject area teachers. I often start a course for the latter group by asking them what technology they are familiar with and often the only tech they’ve actually observed is the now near ubiquitous Interactive White Board . And, truly, if you had to pick a single item type that had the most potential to turn a traditional classroom into a digital learning environment, this would be the prime candidate. But Interactive Whiteboards have their problems, both in their high cost and their technical difficulties. Penveu has come out with a truly low-cost, easy-to-set-up-anywhere, little-calibration or -maintenance-required device. It’s an alternative to the classic interactive whiteboard that appears to me to perform better than what’s out there dominating the market currently. Penveu, by the way, is portable — something that is not true of interactive whiteboards. If you are contemplating acquiring an interactive whiteboard, I highly recommend that you take a look at what Penveu has to offer first.

One of the ways that technology is making an impact in instruction is through the use of digital content. Years ago, print textbook providers began to experiment with providing digital ancillary materials for the classic textbook, the single resource that, by far, has literally defined the institution of school more than any other. Those resources over the years have spawned fully digital bodies of content that now in many instances replace the classic print textbook series.

And then there are newer and even more visionary approaches to providing content area materials for students. One that stands out prominently that I saw at ISTE is Filament Games.

Filament Games. Currently, this group offers a suite of game-based experiences that address (among others) the Next Generation Science Standards (in the area of Life Science). These are sophisticated learning games, not the disappointingly simple right/wrong “plug in the correct short answer, kids!” variety that many teachers may have seen. In short, these games require real thinking and provide meaningful learning. Most encouraging is that Filament is providing a full package and not just the games, which appropriately represent the core of the experience. There are also curricular extensions and assessments to round out what teachers and students have to work with. I chatted with Marshall Berringer at the Filament Games booth and was heartened to learn that as wonderful as it is, this Life Science suite of games and materials will hopefully be just a beginning. It is their approach to harnessing technology as a learning resource resonated for me even more strongly than their current product. I expect to see even greater things from these folks down the line.

Intel and Kno. I was greeted with a great deal of hardware to be inspected at the Intel area. All well and good. However, I’ve always been an instructional practice guy, so what caught my attention at this exhibitor’s area was the resource Kno (Intel acquired this rich digital content provider back in 2013). Apparently, Kno provides a uniform interface that allows students, even those with different types of devices, to uniformly take advantage 
of the benefits of digital textbooks of a variety of types. This company appears to make digital texts easily and efficiently searchable, to facilitate annotation, highlighting, and book marking effective and shareable; also providing analytics. The group’s website states: ‘Kno is an education software company on a mission to “Change The Way Students Learn.” We believe engagement is a leading indicator of success and grades are a lagging indicator. So we have partnered with over 80 leading publishers to offer more than 200,000 interactive titles that make learning more engaging, efficient and social for students.’ Truly, comparing the experience of reading traditional, hard copy textbooks with the sort of experience to be had by accessing texts through Kno calls to mind the image of a school attended by the Flintstones’ kids vs. one attended by those of the Jetsons. There’s simply only the scantest common denominator between the two. YouTube videos of classes using Kno are truly inspiring, painting a picture of a very highly improved way to have students consume and learn from text content. However, keeping in mind the Educational Paradigm that I’ve observed evolving over the past few decades, I’m left wondering. I have no doubt that accessing interactive texts via Kno absolutely changes the way students access, process, and respond to the content set before them, but does it really change the way students learn? Perhaps, but only in a very limited sense, I think. Kno, it seems to me, is currently tied to texts, which (more engaging in their digital versions, or not) are directed at having students absorb bodies of fact and basic skills routines; things that are more aligned, in my mind, with the traditional 19th-century paradigm of educating workers than releasing, empowering, and guiding the curiosity and self-directed discovery that will be the hallmarks of preparing the innovators, creators, and entrepreneurs of the 21st Century. https://www.kno.com

Google. I expect a good deal from a highly active giant like Google, and the high energy group of people manning this company’s large piece of real estate on the Expo floor had much to share with those who paused there for a while. By now, only those who’ve been in a dormant state in a parallel universe somewhere are unaware of Chrome, Chrome Books, instructional APPs that run on them, and the ever expanding portfolio of free goodies that Google provides to educators who, more and more happily, take advantage of them. One item that thoroughly caught my attention, though, is Google Classroom.
As the teachers featured in one of the Google Classroom videos on YouTube point out “Google Classroom is one location for all of their worksheets and handouts; a way for teachers to distribute projects to students … a way for students to turn in their work. “Everything that we need for the class is in one place”, “Classroom really helps organize everything and it shows me when an assignment was submitted, (and) what was submitted, “With Google Classroom I am able to maximize time in the classroom to bring students to that next level”. Google Classroom, which I believe will be offered free when fully rolled out (I was informed by the nice woman at the Google exhibit that it is in beta currently, with an anticipated general release date this coming September) seems to me to have many of the features of a quality content management system. And I would fully expect that as the teachers in the video mentioned above abundantly, it will save time and make the job of traditional teaching more efficient and manageable. It’s my very strong hope though, that teachers who are attracted by the Google brand will also make good use of Google resources like Blogger, Picasa, Sites, and YouTube, all of which encourage, support, and guide students in creating original content, presenting it to authentic audiences, and learning from the feedback those audiences provide. When I hear teachers speak of handouts, worksheets, and quizzes, I generally take those as evidence of instruction directed at teaching those things that were considered important in a world that is increasingly bygone.

Expo Start Up Pavilion

The Start Up Pavilion is a niche area within the main exhibit area. This is set aside for new-ish, small-ish companies, who have something original-ish to offer for sale. If you want to feed off a generous abundance of youthful, entrepreneurial spirit, this is the place to go. As predictable and staid as much of sales floor can be, the Start Up Pavilion offers some true, high interest excitement from groups that are often indicative of where edtech is heading. There were far too many groups there (20+) for me to cover them all here, but here’s a sampling I saw that impressed me:

TYNKER Programming has made a strong comeback as a worthwhile, computer-based activity for students. In the early days of edtech, we discouraged it as a “too obvious” answer to tech enthusiast teachers’ question of what computers could possibly be used for in school. However, the day of having students memorize the rules and routines of challenging programming languages like BASIC and “C” are gone. A number of user friendly, engaging approaches to making programming appropriate for kids have emerged. These activities are highly engaging and foster thinking and problem solving. TYNKER is a notable, relatively new, resource in that category. Their website states that TYNKER is “Designed to motivate and inspire kids to bring their creative ideas to life. Kids create their own games, animated stories, and projects, and publish their apps for the web.” To glimpse an example of the type of learning activity that is truly relevant for our time, I highly recommend you check out this site http://www.tynker.com/.
By the way, another of the programming-centric activities that offer an important window into the future of 21st Century relevant education is student robotics. Thankfully, robotics materials were very much in evidence on the Expo floor and I covered them in a lengthy blog post on the Classroom Robotics Blog.)

Buncee http://www.edu.buncee.com/ 
An easy to use, web-based resource that enables students (or teachers) to create original multi-media rich presentations; ones that are published, accessed, and shared online? Now you’re talking! Self-directed, personalized learning – authentic activities – student as content creator/student publishing– maker-oriented assignments – Project-based Learning, and on and on: so many of those high minded, but difficult to implement, dimensions of the ‘new education’ are made possible and given a shot in the arm by this resource! BTW, BUNCEE offers a FREE level for teachers and students.

Ideaphora http://ideaphora.com/ 
As we move to adopt a more student-centered, thinking oriented variety of learning as the appropriate goal of Education, thinking tools will increasingly take center stage in student activities. Ideaphora appears to me to be a likely candidate to become a highly favored one. Sure, we can still do flow charts, semantic webs, and ‘mind maps’ on our desktops with workhorse, general purpose software varieties like MS Word, but Ideaphora takes the general idea and slingshots it into a contemporary approach, providing a handsome and useful application that also has such features as: browser-based accessibility, increased ease of use, functionality that guides and supports student discovery of links between key words and images, personalization by the learner to conform to one’s own learning style and personal view of a topic, interactivity in which student created mind maps are automatically linked to source material, sharing and collaboration features, formative assessment features, and more.

SPARCIT http://sparcit.sparcit.com/ 
Despite plentiful rhetoric over the past few years about the need to foster student creativity and innovation, the resources offered by SPARCIT are just about the only actual program I’ve encountered that specifically claims to accomplish that. The idea revolves around providing games for students to play that will develop their creativity. The SPARCIT website currently states “We are still at the start-up stage and are developing the games.  But we are actively looking for early-adopters and would love to hear from you…”   The 2 gentlemen manning this exhibit were quick to proudly inform me that they currently have a pilot project underway in a high school in Washington, D.C. I didn’t get to actually see the games at this exhibit, Web Access being very slow throughout the conference floor, but frankly, sight unseen, I love the idea here. This is the kind of gutsy thinking and curricular chutzpah that will be needed to nudge the institution of School out of a fading paradigm and firmly ensconce it in the emerging one. I’ll take a close look at this as soon as the opportunity presents itself.

Samsung http://www.samsung.com/us/business/by-industry/education-resources/RES00000000000000732  I attended a classroom style demonstration set up at the Samsung exhibit. A presenter there, one with actual, extensive experience in the classroom conducted the demo. It was impressive to see how a classroom set of individual, tablet-style devices can effectively be connected so that the teacher can easily observe what all students are doing on their screens, offer them help, and ‘ensure’ that students remain on task by messaging them appropriately that their compliance in doing assignments is being observed. To those new to the field of education this may seem like an appropriate and innovative use of technology. I’ve been in the field for close to 4 decades now, having spent over 2 of them as a classroom teacher, and I can’t help but hold the opinion that better than a more effective arsenal of tools to force student compliance, teachers should address the issue of why students avoid participation in instructional activities in the first place. I was impressed with the design and functioning of the connected devices I saw at this exhibit, but for my money, until technology is implemented in our schools at the service of the emerging paradigm of individualized, relevant curriculum, instead of ensuring compliance with one that is old and outmoded, little true, lasting improvement in learning will be achieved. But of course, in the hands of enlightened educators, a classroom set of connected tablets would be a very useful resource to bring that about.

Booktrack https://twitter.com/booktrack Very cool; a free resource that enables teachers and students to create soundtracks to e-books! I see great potential for Literacy and other varieties of learning here. Booktrack’s website paints an enticing picture for teachers interested in bringing next level resources into their classroom:
“Booktrack offers a new content creation and distribution platform that turns reading into an immersive movie-like experience. Bookrack’s patented technology lets anyone add a synchronized movie-style soundtrack to an e-book or other digital text content, with the audio paced to each individual’s reading speed.”

1) Add Text; copy your existing work, type an original story, or use a royalty free text to get started,

2) Add sound; add music, ambient sounds, and effects from our free library of 1,000s of tracks to create an immersive soundtrack for your text,

3) Share; publish your story for our community of readers to enjoy and share. … New York University and The University of Auckland have conducted studies on Booktrack which showed that Booktrack increases reading comprehension scores and student engagement.”

“We’ve assembled a variety of free lesson plans catering for students at the elementary, middle and high school levels, covering a variety of subjects and learning outcomes. All lesson plans have been created by professional teachers and conform to CORE standards and best practice.”

While students can use Book Track to modify and personalize e-books of their choice, I think that potentially the most far reaching application of this resource involves writing, ‘tracking’, and publishing online their own, original work.

(Promethean) Classflow https://classflow.com/ ClassFlow is another major company-provided resource that seems to be directed at enabling teachers and schools to establish uniform digital experiences for students — this, by providing a platform that will enable teachers to create media-rich lessons, pulling in and distributing a variety of content resources. It leverages a good number of the sexy technology functions and ideas that dominate the edtech landscape, or so it seems to me (e.g., log in anywhere, store everything in the cloud, connect multiple devices easily, collect student performance data, establish and work in an online community, etc.).

Where to Next

These are very compelling ideas that make a great deal of sense. However, in reviewing any digital resource offered to “improve education”— I feel it’s one thing to get everyone on the same page (even a page that’s replete with compelling bells and whistles) — but it’s quite another to get everyone on a page that offers experiences relevant to learning in the 21st Century.

While dazzled by the screen glow of elegantly designed functionality, let’s be sure to ask ourselves what goals it’s directed at: new paradigm learning or merely traditional paradigm activities wrapped up in a mantle of up-to-date technology features.

After we’ve kicked the tires and admired the wonderful new tools on the dashboard, we have to ponder where we want to drive this sexy new car. Hopefully, to a destination that makes sense for today’s learners and the world they are being prepared for.

Mark Gura, EdTech Digest Advisory Board member, is president
of the ISTE LITERACY Professional Learning Network (formerly, Literacy Special Interest Group). Mark taught at New York City public schools in East Harlem for two decades. An edtech pioneer, he spent five years as a curriculum developer for the central office and was eventually tapped to be the New York City Department of Education’s director of the Office of Instructional Technology, assisting over 1,700 schools serving 1.1 million students in America’s largest school system.

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Summer of Learning

Halting the ‘summer learning slide’ with some fun and games.

GUEST COLUMN | by Lane Jabaay 

CREDIT Shakti WarriorsWith the holiday weekend upon us, summer is officially here for students and teachers alike. Summer offers a change of schedule and in the best case – no homework! However, it’s also a time when students fall into the dreaded ‘summer leaning slide’. Researchers found that the summer learning slide, or loss of student performance levels, equates to about a month of learning lost throughout the summer. More disturbing, however, is that findings show that summer learning loss is cumulative, and rates are far more substantial for low-income students versus their higher-income counterparts, contributing to an even greater widening of the achievement gap.

In the City

Mayors in major U.S. cities are following Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s lead by implementing “Summer of Learning” campaigns within their cities for students. The initiatives are designed to purposely quell the summer learning slide while enhancing students’ knowledge and skill-sets around STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math).

In addition to keeping children mentally engaged, summer learning programs are also intended to link school children to their community through innovative organizations providing enrichment opportunities, activity-based learning and digital literacy options focused on STEAM disciplines. Last summer, Chicago created more than 250 STEAM learning opportunities through local organizations. Chicago’s youngest citizens earned over 100,000 digital badges by participating in the educational opportunities, which include both on-site and online experiences.

Summer of Promise

Software and technology offer the promise to transport children from the library, or computer lab, to a place of imagination. Digital literacy is a piece of curricula programming that must be included if our young people are going to be successful as global citizens in the 21st century.

Students need to be provided engaging and relevant technology-based content in a format they can comprehend. Online games and software solutions are becoming a safe place for students and young adults to “try on” new personas and ideals while being immersed in experiential STEAM programs. Using the summer months to integrate such programming has the potential to help students achieve two to three month gains in reading and math, in addition to positive changes in students’ attitudes toward learning and education.

In support of summer learning, the city of Los Angeles, working in conjunction with the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) Beyond the Bell Division, will offer a ‘Whole Child’ Development program, called SHAKTI Warriors, as one of their innovative STEAM badging opportunities. SHAKTI Warriors is a holistically integrated digital education curriculum that uses super heroes to serve as modern day role models to ground children in STEAM basics and character education.

LAUSD’s independent curriculum audit found Shakti Warrior’s computer activities highly affective and engaging for students due to the combination of rich educational content delivered in a compelling gaming format where students don’t realize they are learning. Students create online avatars that represent themselves and are required to master the STEAM basics, aligned to Common Core Standards.

Technology’s Role

When artfully created, technology-based curriculum for 21st century classrooms can promote dialogue, critical-thinking, and communication skills. Technology tools for communication, collaboration, social networking, and user-generated content are already transforming both mainstream and school culture.

The summer learning initiatives offered by cities has the potential to help close the achievement gap by engaging students in STEAM-focused activities through imaginative play. Students participating in summer learning, whether in Chicago, Los Angeles, or other cities, will be given the opportunities to play online and in their communities in ways that will engage and fascinate them. In fact, the only ‘sliding’ the students will hopefully do — is on the playground.

Lane Jabaay is President and CEO of H2Group, a multimedia company that develops innovative educational curriculum focused on whole-child development best known for the creation of the Shakti Warriors whole-child development digital curriculum used in after school programming.  Visit: SWHeroes  and www.shaktiwarriors.com

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Constant Oversight

Protecting your students and your IT investment through three steps to safety.  

GUEST COLUMN | by Tim Williams

CREDIT Absolute SoftwareTechnology in the classroom has expanded the learning experience. No longer limited to static information in a hardcover textbook, students rely on laptops and tablets for an interactive learning experience. With these devices, the information they access is always up to date, the pace of learning can be easily moderated to suit each student, and tedious tasks such as testing can be automated so that wasted time can be time spent learning. However, connecting students with technology can also result in heightened risk and negative outcomes to students and the school.

You wouldn’t give your students $500 in cash and then let them walk down the street waving it in the air. Entrusting a child with an iPad is no different.

Risks to Students

Some criminals will target a person simply because he or she is carrying a computer or tablet device. The headlines are full of stories about violent mobile device thefts. Sadly, students are particularly vulnerable because they are often more trusting and less observant than many adults.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reports 30 to 40 percent of all street robberies involve mobile devices. Two-thirds of these robberies target children between the ages of 12 and 18.

Risks to the Education Organization

Before technology entered the classroom, a lost or damaged learning tool was easily remedied by providing the student with a new textbook. Today it means spending hundreds of dollars from a budget that is constantly dwindling.

The result is an often unrealistic expectation that IT will maintain constant oversight of these devices, while magically controlling the behavior of grade- and high-school students. If this were possible, we wouldn’t need technology.

Three Steps to Safety

When deploying mobile devices in the classroom, three key areas need to be addressed:

1. Student & Staff Protection: You wouldn’t give your students $500 in cash and then let them walk down the street waving it in the air. Entrusting a child with an iPad is no different. So before you start handing out devices, you should train students and staff how to avoid high-risk scenarios.

A good example is the Absolute Safe Schools program. Overseen by a dedicated Investigations team, this program works to keep students, staff, and school environments safe.

Those who completes the program will know how to avoid being an easy target for criminals as well as best practices for the care and security of their devices. Awareness continues throughout the year with on-site branding and material to create a constant visual reminder.

2. Device Security: Along with protecting students and staff, protecting your technology investment is essential. Look for a persistent endpoint security solution that can centrally track, locate, and secure IT assets regardless if they are on or off school property.

Ideally the solution will include a managed recovery service so that you can recover (versus replace) a stolen device, as well as a Service Guarantee. If a device is not recovered, a Service Guarantee will cover some or all of the replacement cost – leaving your IT budget intact. For more tips on how to protect devices at school and at home view this post.

3. Device Management: Computers and tablets require significantly more maintenance than textbooks – and IT is definitely feeling the pinch. As with most education budgets, resources are minimal so the ability to automate and work remotely is imperative. Whenever a device goes dark, a student isn’t learning.

Ensure you choose an endpoint management solution that supports all devices, including Mac, PC, and iOS devices so that your IT department is using a single tool for all of its work.

I’ve seen many schools start with one type of device, like Windows laptops, and then expand to include iPads and Android tablets within a couple of months. You shouldn’t have to invest in new management technology each time you introduce a new operating system or form factor.

The good news is that plenty of schools are getting it right.

For example Southern Kern Unified School District (SKUSD) based in Rosamond, California, found a solution to protect all 650 laptops they have  circulating among pre-teens, and another 650 planned for high school students in the coming year.

The IT department at SKUSD was tasked with educating students on safety protocols while maintaining control of its technology investment. SKUSD chose a persistent endpoint security solution to secure the laptops and the Absolute Safe Schools program to educate the entire student body and staff on the safe use of devices.

Students and staff were taught to keep the laptops secure when not in use, not to leave the laptops unattended when in any public location and to make sure the laptops were not visible when being transported. Now SKUSD is recognized as a Protected Campus with a focus on student safety.

Most importantly, SKUSD students and staff know how to avoid becoming easy targets for criminals.

Tim Williams is the Director of Product Management for Absolute Software. A former U.S. Army officer with more than twenty years of experience in high tech, Tim has helped develop tools for managing multiplatform and mobile environments, and consulted with major commercial and government organizations in planning their IT lifecycle management strategies. Prior to joining Absolute, he was responsible for sales of endpoint management solutions in the Southeastern United States for Symantec Corporation. 

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