Every Student Can Learn

Students aren’t defective, materials and resources are.

GUEST COLUMN | by Mark Gura

CREDIT Rose and MeyerThis past semester I taught a required course for Instructional Technology majors. Trust me, there’s nothing like swapping ideas with 30 early-career technology teachers to give you a good snapshot of the state of thinking in this field. This was a great learning experience for me as well as the students and chief among its many strong points, this was my first opportunity to use the Center for Applied Special Technology, or CAST’s, ‘Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning’ as the keystone text in a graduate level Education course. I, of course, had been familiar with this important work previously, but this was a great opportunity to look at it with fresh eyes — those of my students. And wow! It proved to be not just the good, informational text I had hoped for, but a truly transformational one.

I’ll paraphrase this book’s very wonderful, central idea:

Students who don’t succeed in learning through traditional instruction don’t do so because of some defect or deficit or learning disability on their part, but rather, because the materials and resources they are presented with are inflexible and unsuitable to meet their particular, personal needs as learners.

The book offers many ideas and practices to help teachers determine those specific needs and how to address them. What resonates about this so strongly for us Instructional Technologists is that the flexibility that’s needed to make instructional resources accessible and usable for so many students is brought about by increasingly common and available digital technologies.

The flexibility needed to make instructional resources accessible and usable for so many students is brought about by increasingly common and available digital technologies.

These truly are revolutionary ideas and it was inspiring to observe my students, none of whom were previously familiar with UDL (Universal Design for Learning), wrestle with this conceptual framework that runs throughout the book for the first time. What my students took away from their reading is nothing less than the realization, that truly, EVERY STUDENT CAN LEARN – and seeing examples of how this can be brought about through the focused, targeted use of technology, they walked away with the crucial “ah ha” that a vast improvement in teaching and learning looms on the horizon and is within our reach.

Quite reasonably, my students first saw the body of UDL ideas and practices as a way to serve Special Education students. And no doubt, such students have reaped a great deal of benefit from it through instruction provided by educators who also have seen this natural connection. But the truly transformational understanding my students came to next is that by applying the ideas underpinning UDL to mainstream students as well, all students can experience the curriculum in a much more satisfying way and consequently, can learn and achieve far better. Moved by the inspiring experience my students had, I’m making this way of looking at the potential of technology to re-make education for the benefit of learners worldwide a personal area of special interest. Of the broad range of instructional platforms and philosophies extant, I think this is one of the most promising by far.

No area of learning needs this more than Reading. Using traditional resources and instructional practices, a very substantial percentage of students fail to master their literacy skills (particularly Reading) sufficiently and early enough to succeed with a good deal of the curriculum that’s presented to them during their school career. Further, they fail to catch on to the satisfaction and inspiration that self-directed reading can provide and consequently miss out as well on the benefits it offers by making them lifelong, independent learners. Applying our very best understandings of learning and how to overcome barriers to it to this very important issue is crucial.

Fortunately, CAST is piloting a new resource named Udio that will do just that. Udio’s goals are “to foster a passionate interest and investment in reading for students who have traditionally been uninterested in, or disenfranchised by, traditional classroom literacy practices, and “to substantially improve the reading comprehension skills of middle school students who have experienced recurrent failure in the domain of reading.”

I’m excited to report that a representative from CAST will make a presentation about Udio at the upcoming annual meeting of ISTE’s LITERACY Professional Learning Network which will take place at the upcoming ISTE conference in Atlanta (June 28 – July 1). If you plan on attending the conference please join us at this session, no need to register or pay anything extra to attend this important session (time and date below).

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. ISTE Literacy Network annual learning, planning and visioning session
is on Monday, June 30, 5:15 pm–6:30 pm
Digital Age Teaching & Learning. For more information, see the ISTE LITERACY Professional Network: http://literacyspecialinterest.blogspot.com/ and Udio: http://www.cast.org/research/projects/udio.html

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Mobile Device Management

Teachers reduce classroom chaos and enhance student learning experiences.

GUEST COLUMN | By Dave Saltmarsh

CREDIT JAMF SoftwareIt’s no secret that the rapid evolution of technology has paved the way for extraordinary growth in education, from advancing the way teachers do their jobs to the way students learn. With a larger presence of digital devices in the classroom today than ever before, it is crucial that teachers have access to technology solutions that can save them time and reduce stress, while ensuring a positive learning environment for students.

Mobile device management tools put tasks that were previously handled by IT directly in the hands of teachers. 

Mobile device management tools put tasks that were previously handled by IT directly in the hands of teachers. Without these tools, teachers have to alert the IT department every time an issue – such as a student being locked out of their mobile device due to a forgotten passcode – arises. The elimination of the IT middleman significantly diminishes chaos in the classroom and allows teachers to spend less time waiting for IT to come save the day and more time on enriching students’ learning experiences by doing the actual task they have set out to do: teach.

Today, most mobile device management companies are focused on providing classroom management capabilities to the small percentage of early-adopter teachers who are implementing mobile device use in the classroom. In order for more teachers to embrace technology the way these early adopters have, companies need to make a deliberate shift to paying more attention to the larger percentage of non-tech savvy slow adopters. To better understand the needs of both technology veteran and novice educators, we first need to be aware of their three greatest challenges:

1. Chaos in the classroom

Today’s teachers will tell you that having a chaotic classroom environment is the single biggest challenge they face when trying to control student mobile devices in the classroom. Without the proper tools at their disposal allowing them to seamlessly manage transitions from one task to the next, attempting to seize the attention of students and provide brief instructions can take up a significant amount of time. For non-tech savvy teachers, who are already struggling with the everyday challenge of managing a classroom, transition time can become even more of a headache when one new “thing” is thrown in the mix.

With today’s mobile device management tools, teachers can easily command the attention of their classroom and control the apps that students are able to access on their devices, ensuring that they are actively engaged with the appropriate assignment. By giving teachers the power to unlock, restrict or enable devices in the classroom without involving IT, mobile device management solutions save time and reduce stress during transition periods. Technology should be a time saver, not a time sucker.

2. Providing mass customization and personalization of learning

The traditional technology model involves a structured annual schedule that mandates when mobile devices in the classroom are collected and new software is added. It is not easily customizable for each student’s unique needs in an age when teachers are being asked to mass customize and personalize student learning. With mobile device management tools, teachers can easily update and install apps and content to cater to each student’s individual learning needs. For example, if a student is passionate about a certain subject and shows a strong desire to learn more beyond what was discussed in the classroom, a teacher can provide them with access to a book on that subject on their mobile device. A student with a learning disability such as dyslexia can be granted quicker, easier access to visual learning software apps. Previously, schools had to purchase a separate software license for each student and assign it to each individual device. Now, teachers are able to not only customize devices up front, but also at a moment’s notice. Educators can decide when it is the right time to install and update apps, rather than relying on some old school IT schedule – creating a more meaningful experience for both the teacher and student.

3. Providing Secure Testing Scenarios

Juggling the desire to provide each student with customized content with the need for equity in the classroom can be a tricky balancing act. Educators often have doubts about changing their instructional practice from paper to digital because they want to preserve a secure, fair environment. Mobile device management tools enable teachers to create a comfortable and consistent environment that ensures fair testing. By locking student devices into a secure testing app, mobile device management tools ensure consistency in learning environments by providing simplified support for both daily quizzes and high-stakes, large scale exams.

Educators in today’s digital classroom need tools that allow them to do all the same things they did before the advent of the digital classroom, in a way that doesn’t require them to spend extra time learning how to use the technology. The job of technology in education is to create the conditions for success, for both the teacher and student. When mobile device management companies can offer solutions that save teachers time, reduce stress and provide students with unique, but fair learning experiences, everybody wins.

Dave Saltmarsh is a former classroom teacher and IT & library director, and current educational evangelist for JAMF Software, a leading Apple device management company based in Minneapolis.

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Cool Tool | YouScience

CREDIT YouScienceUsing 90 years of research-backed science to help students successfully transition from high school to post-secondary education opportunities to their career, the YouScience College Success Profile combines aptitude and interest assessments with a patent-pending education and career-mapping process. Through a series of exercises, YouScience gauges students’ talents in 14 aptitude areas – ranging from numerical reasoning to idea generation, to sequential reasoning and visual memory – all via the online College Success Profile. Combined with exercises that help determine students’ personality qualities and interests, YouScience outputs a variety of careers in which the student would most likely be successful, helping the newest generation of college students graduate in four years with more direction.Founded in 2012, YouScience is a private company headquartered in Nashville, Tenn., with offices in Dallas. For further information on YouScience, like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter or visit www.youscience.com.

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Cool Tool | Ekualiti

CREDIT Vivantech EkualitiThe first cloud platform designed to host an entire suite of Kuali-based ERP software, Ekualiti from Vivantech has recently been released. Vivantech is the first company to offer enterprise grade, open-source software for higher education institutions. Typically, the high cost of commercial ERP software is out of reach of many small- and medium-size colleges and universities. Ekualiti is an alternative to proprietary ERP software which blends the economy of open source Kuali software with instantly-available functionality. Modules now available include Ekualiti KC for research and grant administration, and Ekualiti Rice for business process automation. Designed specifically for the business process needs of higher educational institutions, Ekualiti addresses the need for an affordable, comprehensive ERP solution that is quick to deploy, highly scalable, and easy to use and navigate. Ekualiti provides the comfort of an open-source solution with an open data format and eliminates the licensing fees, annual maintenance fees, and restrictive vendor lock-in typical of proprietary software. These economical features address the need for many higher educational institutions to contain ERP costs as they face increasing budget constraints and demand for quality education at a good value.

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View from Peru

Impressions and key lessons from an international conference in Lima.

GUEST COLUMN | by Julie Keane 

CREDIT VIF int eduOur 24/7 information age has given us all powerful tools that enable us to create, share, and collaborate on a scale that amplifies innovation and allows it to spread from one corner of the world to another. But it can also hinder us by making it more difficult to find some time to step back from our daily focus and reflect on the rapid change and social impact of new technologies around the globe. It’s easy to lose sight in the course of our daily work that there is a big and vibrant world outside our classroom windows where new and dynamic educational and technological innovations are blooming. It is important that we realize the discourse on education reform is typically U.S. centric. Therefore we must continually work harder to not just incorporate, but meaningfully participate in, global educational approaches and dialogue with international partners.

Given our global educational and multi-cultural mission as an organization, VIF – International Education, the renowned Chapel Hill, NC based organization that strives to support teachers, school leaders and districts in the endeavor of developing globally competent citizens, I wanted to share my perspective as both panelist and attendee of this years’ HASTAC 2014 conference held in Lima, Peru last month. In addition to sharing our raw notes from the four day conference, we wanted to offer insights on the role of global education in supporting innovation.

What’s HASTAC?

HASTAC began in 2002 and is the Duke-based research center for the digital humanities and also the organizer of the MacArthur Digital Media and Learning Competition. The organization continues to flourish, as a respected community comprised of over 400 organizations and 13,000 global educators, humanists, artists, social scientists, scientists, and technologists members who share the same goal to equivalently transform the future of learning. Members have an organized forum to share their specialized expertise along with news, tools, research, insights, and projects, which promote engaged learning for a global society. Issues of access and equality are as important to HASTAC’s mission as the latest technological innovations; creative contribution is as important as critical thinking. 

Why in Lima, Peru?

CREDIT VIF international educationCo-Panelists at HASTAC — Pilar Gonzalez, Researcher, Center for Children and Technology, Julie Keane, Senior Researcher, VIF International, and Jim Diamond, Research Associate, Center for Children and Technology taking in the views of Peru.

The official name for the conference was Hemispheric Pathways: Critical Makers in International Networks, the 6th international conference for the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (HASTAC).  HASTAC 2014 was hosted by the Ministry of Culture of Lima, Peru, which made this event the first HASTAC conference to be hosted outside of North America! HASTAC was smart to locate this year’s conference in Lima, Peru, which offers such a rich and vibrant place to gather and focus on global thinking.  The overarching theme focused on the global south, and strengthening ties so tech innovation doesn’t just occur in a U.S.-driven vacuum and can be more effectively leveraged in the future. The conference was attended by several other ministers from South and Central America (including Costa Rica) as well as representatives from the Organization of American States.

Why did VIF attend?

For the last 25 years VIF has successfully partnered with districts and schools to prepare global-ready teachers and students. VIF was invited to be on a curated panel with other leaders in the field of digital badging and was curated by David Theo Goldberg, Director of the California Humanities Research Institute. Their goals for attending the conference, designed to bring diverse perspectives and expertise together, was to participate on the panel, present their global ready badging system, and engage with academics, designers, educators and policymakers to critically discuss challenges in current work and opportunities for new collaborations. In addition, I was excited to put on my “reporter hat” and the notes below reflect my impressions from the four-day conference. Enjoy! 

Main conference takeaways

  • Cross institutional collaboration (academia, research organizations, cultural institutions, government, business community, etc.) are critical for social and economic development. Open technology, open learning, open and interoperable platforms (i.e. Internet) make this kind of collaboration and innovation possible and has to be protected as a public benefit.
  • New technologies are being deployed across the Americas by diverse communities to preserve heritage and culture, expand access to educational opportunities, create innovative hubs that spark and sustain economic, social and political development.
  • Critical role of the humanities in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) was a major discussion. Divorcing STEM learning and development initiatives from the disciplinary focus of the humanities disregards the relationship and historical development of technology/science and society thereby preventing rigorous investigation and exploration.  It also undermines development because it ignores the critical role that culture plays in providing the foundation and context for STEM education and future innovation.
  • How can open digital badges undermine the advantages of privilege and create new networks based on competencies and expertise. How can one badge unlock future learning opportunities?  Building diverse skills through initiatives like open badging can push innovation and education access for economic development.
  • Global challenges can only be addressed by cross disciplinary initiatives that bring together science, art, and the humanities. We must cross these boundaries.

We’d encourage you to access the raw notes from the conference along with the main themes, which provides much greater detail on the conference and main topic areas.

Julie Keane, PhD Senior Research Associate, VIF International Education. VIF International Education builds global education programs that prepare students for success in an interconnected world. For more than 25 years, educators have leveraged VIF’s professional development and curriculum, language acquisition and teacher exchange programs to generate engaging learning environments where students can excel in core curriculum as well as develop valuable critical and creative thinking skills. A certified B Corp headquartered in Chapel Hill, N.C., VIF provides a pathway for teachers, schools and districts to become globally designated.

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