Why Technology Isn’t The Only Answer

Marrying the best of both digital and analog worlds for greater student outcomes.

GUEST COLUMN | by Shawn Collins

CREDIT SteelcaseWhen we think of the challenges affecting today’s educators, we can be overwhelmed with information. We have access to numerous whitepapers, blogs, podcasts, and conferences that discuss student assessment, student retention, teacher performance, and experimentations with project-based learning. For many of these challenges, technology is seen as the “silver bullet”, the answer to all our woes.

Although technology has many benefits and has helped propel learning in many ways, it is not the stand-alone answer. However, if we look at technology as part of our learning eco-system instead of the holy grail, we begin to see a more robust version of success, a solution where we can marry the best of both for greater student outcomes.

More often than not it is a combined approach that seems to hit the sweet spot.

As we strive to harness new techniques and teaching strategies to ensure the most optimal education environment possible, we must put our best foot forward using the most appropriate tools in our classrooms. In some cases technology may be a suitable solution, in other instances analog tools will be more effective but more often than not it is a combined approach that seems to hit the sweet spot.

It is easy to presume that analog tools such as whiteboards and markers are a thing of the past. But following some observational research undertaken by PolyVision across the globe, a blended approach was found by educators as the key to effective teaching and learning.

Using both digital (interactive whiteboards, tablets, instructional software, etc) and analog devices (tools like whiteboards and paper) together was shown to promote greater collaboration and assisted many educators by making the thinking process more visual. According to a study undertaken by ECAR , 58% of students say that blended environments best support how they learn.

Below are a couple of examples on how today’s educators are taking current learning challenges and utilizing analog tools to solve for problems they face within their classrooms.

Student Engagement

Fred Feldon, Professor of Mathematics, Coastline Community College in California was teaching a basic math class and gave a problem out about subtracting mixed numbers, a fairly complicated task. He walked around the room and noticed a lot of the students had different answers, but had part of the problem correct.

Fred asked four different students to come up to the front of the classroom and write their answers from their own personal notebooks on to the class whiteboard to show the rest of the class their work. When they were finished he let the class know that only one of the problems had the correct answer and to see if they could decipher which one it was. When the students figured out which problem was correct they were able to see the errors they made and how to find the solution in the future.

Without the whiteboards, the individual student thinking would never have been made visual. Instead Fred would have been relying on students calling out their answers or simply showing them the right solution. The group sharing capability of the whiteboard helped them learn more effectively.


Mastering Collaboration and PBL

Buffy Hamilton, a school librarian at Norcross High in the Gwinnett County Public School District in Georgia asked students to sit in small groups and participate in a spontaneous collaboration exercise where they were tasked with creating a poem either about their independent reading choices from the past year or the current group read The Alchemist.

Some groups created mashup poems with each student writing a line about a character, theme, issue, or image from one of the choice books; others created acrostic poems using a character name from The Alchemist and crafting lines that related to some aspect of that text. The students were provided dry erase markers and personal Verb whiteboards to draft their lines of poetry. When each group finished, they placed the whiteboards on an easel.

Each group then had a volunteer who came up to read the poem and share with the large group. The result was an amazing impromptu exercise that created quality work. The whiteboards provided the flexibility for group work that in turn created freer thinking.


As shown in the examples above, if students can explain concepts to each other, the level of understanding will be much deeper and more effective. In addition, we see that each student learns in a slightly different way and by combining both technology and analog devices we are giving students the tools they need to learn in both today and tomorrow’s classrooms.

There is no debate around whether classrooms should be either digital or analog, a blended approach will provide the most effective way for students to absorb and retain information.

Shawn Collins is the Director of Business Development at PolyVision. 

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Trends | Protecting Student Privacy

CREDIT CoSN Protecting PrivacyAs school rolls forward nationwide, CoSN (Consortium for School Networking) and the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) just released a new resource for school leaders to help them smartly discuss the critical issue of student privacy. The infographic explains to parents and guardians of students about school privacy practices and why they are needed. This is the newest tool from CoSN’s Protecting Privacy in Connected Learning initiative. “Collecting student information and data is a bit unsettling for parents and guardians,” says Keith Krueger, CEO of CoSN. “But these rising concerns make it essential that school leaders clearly articulate their student information and data practices. And, as importantly, tell them why these practices make a positive difference,” he says. “This resource will help superintendents, administrators and teachers demonstrate their commitment to delivering a safe, transformational educational experience for students.” Available in English and English/Spanish, the infographic answers the following key questions:

-What data are collected and why?

-How do education data support student success and school improvement?

-How are education data protected?

Customizable for the school or district, it allows school leaders to include specific information about a local situation. The infographic also points audiences to other sources of information about the legal rights of parents and guardians. “Privacy of student data is one of those issues that begs for straightforward and clear explanation. Too often, misinformation creates concerns that are easily eased when parents fully understand how their child’s data are protected,” adds Rich Bagin, APR, Executive Director, NSPRA. Check it out.

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A Direct Link

Low-income children with access to the Internet on mobile phones have college readiness help.

GUEST COLUMN | by Keith Frome

CREDIT College SummitMore than 28 million children who qualify for free or reduced-priced school lunches in the United States will not graduate from college by the time they are 25. Making it to, and through, college is a complex process, and students face a variety of barriers. Most students, though, do have the desire to succeed in college and careers — they simply don’t know how to navigate the pathway. For these students, a set of tools to help may already be in their hands.

More than 20 million low-income children will grow up with access to the Internet on mobile phones, and those cellphones and other devices can now provide them a direct link to higher education.

More than 20 million low-income children will grow up with access to the Internet on mobile phones, and those cellphones and other devices can now provide them a direct link to higher education.

At College Summit, a nonprofit that empowers low-income students to forge their educational futures, we know that the path to college is neither easy nor intuitive, especially for a teen whose family members and friends have not pursued postsecondary education. For these students especially, teachers and guidance counselors are often the sole source of educational support and direction — but with an average ratio of 457 students per guidance counselor, ushering every student through the college application process is nothing short of impossible. How do we provide the nurturing and necessary nagging every student needs to make it to and through college?

College Summit saw an opportunity to answer this question through a medium with which students have boundless expertise: the Internet. That means for those who have an easier time obtaining a cellphone than they do academic resources and encouragement, the Internet may be the new great equalizer.

Enter CollegeAppMap.org, with free and near-free apps that help students and their families navigate the college application process through high school and beyond. Its mobile and Web-based apps were developed through the College Knowledge Challenge, a competition run by College Summit and the King Center Charter School with technical input from Facebook and financing from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Technology can’t replace the personal touch of a guidance counselor, but placing digital tools for success in the hands of students — and their counselors — is a powerful opportunity to solve the nettlesome problem of educational inequity. Even guidance counselors who are tech-weary from the overwhelming number of online teaching tools can benefit from College App Map, which aggregates the best of the best. Consider Zombie College, an app that helps students learn about the milestones necessary for college access through a stimulating and entertaining game; College Abacus, a one-stop “real price” calculator for college costs; and What’s Your Road, an app that matches high school students with profiles and advice from professionals who have experienced similar life journeys.

But even the best of the best can’t help if no one knows about them. Reversing the traditional educational equation, College Summit is planning a series of forums in which students will train counselors on how to use technology to help all the students they teach and advise achieve college success — what we’re calling the App-a-thons.

Financed, in part, by the generous Bezos Family Foundation, the App-a-thons — held in cities across the U.S. — will provide a platform for high school students to introduce counselors to this new generation of college accessibility tools. This year, 200 low-income students will train 500 educators who together serve more than 100,000 students nationwide. These educators will take the College App Map tools back to their schools to spread the word about them among their students, who will share them with their friends, classmates, and families — as they would any other cool new app. This multiplier effect has the potential to impact thousands and thousands of students just this year alone.

Although College Summit helps upward of 50,000 low-income students each year around the country, there are millions more who don’t get to benefit from our high-touch program. This is why we are so excited to scale our efforts through App-a-thons and our support and curation of the burgeoning field of college access and success apps.

For the past 20 years, College Summit’s goal has been to empower students to be agents of change for themselves, their peers, and their communities — for decades to come, these apps, as well as new, innovative ones that will come on the market, will teach even more young people than we could have ever imagined the power of self-efficacy, the importance of education, and the beauty of navigating your own life.

Keith Frome is the co-founder of College Summit, Inc., and Executive Director of King Center Charter School.

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Trends | Shaping Tomorrow


Check out this cool timeline from Education Technology Innovation Summit (ETIS) by browsing the above clip, then click on it and head over to the full infographic on their site. Their second annual summit (ETIS14) is being held on Thursday, September 25th at the Rolling Road Golf Club in Baltimore. It’s a one day affair that provides opportunities for EdTech professionals and educators to share education strategies, and explore the innovative ways technology is reshaping the traditional and digital classrooms. The theme for ETIS14 is “EdTech in Real Life” — and naturally sessions will showcase real life case studies and experiences of EdTech professionals. ETIS14 is hosted by Mindgrub, a Technology Innovation Agency that produces mobile, social, and web apps for corporations, government, education, and philanthropic organizations.

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Cool Tool | Social Studies Techbook

CREDIT Discovery Education TechbookThis cool tool brings history to life with an innovative multimedia reference library that links key documents to people and places; interactive maps, digital explorations and activities; primary source documents; and informational text. It engages all learners through multiple reading levels and languages, promotes personalized learning via different pathways through content, encourages critical thinking and enables project-based learning. Social Studies Techbook is available for middle school courses including United States History, World History and World Geography & Cultures courses. With compelling videos and primary source documents from Discovery’s exclusive Multimedia Reference Library, it links social studies to key historical resources and features activities that encourages students to think, do and investigate history instead of memorize it. Students become historians and learn to develop a reasoned point-of-view, which supports the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. Launched in the fall of 2012 in partnership with the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools, the Social Studies Techbook is currently being used in nearly 30 states. Find out more and preview their video on their website.

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