The Fourth ‘R

Hope for digital technology skills in the classroom.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jeff Fernandez

CREDIT Grovo LearningMany K-12 school classrooms across the country have fallen behind the technology curve, creating an early skills gap chain reaction that puts students behind even before they think about their eventual career and the technology skills they’ll need.

What happened? Technology is continuing to advance at light speed, making it an ongoing battle for educators to keep pace with the right tools they can and should incorporate into the classroom. Teachers must be focused on the educational picture as a whole and the challenges that come along with it – evolving lesson plans, revised teaching methodologies,

Rome wasn’t built in a day. But teachers can nudge school leaders to take a closer look at bringing their district into the digital realm.

mapping to the new common core standards, constantly-updated testing requirements, and much more. So while many teachers embrace the new technology that has emerged within the past decade or two, it’s not always as easy as outsiders would think to seamlessly update whole curricula to use these tools. In addition, as teachers may not know all of the tools at their disposal, district leaders face an overwhelming prospect of a mass professional development project if they wish to implement new technology standards across the board.

Today’s students, on the other hand, are so accustomed to using all sorts of devices and technologies from a very young age. They have quickly learned to live in the digital realm, because they know no other way of life. They are net “denizens” and are savvy at navigating across different technologies. Yet, they still have room for learnings: they can benefit from better understanding for the best uses and implementations of these tools.

Consequently, schools are facing a widening digital skills gap. This gap involves the lack of real 21st century digital skills that are essential to living and working in today’s digital world. They span across a variety of mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, laptops), an array of platforms for communications (including social media), research, project collaboration and management, and others. Moreover, this lack of skills can rob today’s students of a more enriched learning experience that combines traditional learning with digitally enhanced educational initiatives.

Despite this chasm, we can level the uneven playing field and bridge this gap.

Adding a fourth “R”

The long-held three-Rs of core learning — “reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic” — are ever-present. But we need to also ensure that we add a fourth — “readiness” — that will allow students to learn and master the digital skills they will need for tomorrow as they head off to college and the demanding workforce. Likewise, educational leaders and innovators must make a concerted effort to upgrade the tech skills in their classrooms so that the teachers can ensure students are ready to interact and engage in a more robust learning experience.

There are no difficult either/or choices to be made. Traditional and digital learning can (and does) peacefully co-exist.  The transition to including digital learning skills and techniques for teachers won’t be accomplished overnight. Teachers and other educators should be encouraged to learn and upgrade their digital skills in short, “microlearning” sessions that cater to busy schedules. These can be accessed via smartphones, tablets or laptops. Other professional development initiatives can support this type of program.

Where to start?

Teachers can begin the first steps of their digital skills evolution by:

– Having a candid discussion with key school administrators about their desire for upgrading their tech skills and what the next steps could/should be. Influential teachers are often the inspiration behind new technology initiatives within school districts.

– At the same time, teachers should poll their students to find out what 21st century learning would look like from students’ perspectives. What digital/online learning would students like to be able to incorporate into their classrooms, and why? If they could, how would students blend traditional and digital learning? What do they wish they would be allowed to do differently in the classroom in terms of digital learning? These individual or collective responses could prove to be very enlightening and fuel changes.

– Assemble other teachers and educators across your school district (and within other local or regional districts) to find out what ideas for digital learning others may have. Such a collective think can lead to finding out how others are navigating the digital educational environment and what you want on your school’s wish list.

What do teachers need to learn?

There are eight broad but core digital skills that are part of the foundation for today’s’ digital world. Teachers need not feel overwhelmed. Since learning should be a lifelong and continuous effort, each can be learned on the go and as desired. Bite-sized training modules (companies like ours offer on-demand access to short, easily-digestible video lessons) allow for better absorption and retention, and newly learned skills can be quickly deployed.

Across all potential applications and digital devices, here is a trio of must-have digital applications for teachers to learn and become proficient in:

  • Google Apps for Education — includes Classroom, which lets teachers quickly and easily craft and organize pupil assignments, give feedback to students and easily communicate with multiple classes.
  • Basic Email — an all-important way to communicate and collaborate with others (other teachers, administrators, district leaders and students) in the digital realm. Gmail is wildly popular, but each school has its own email system and specific extended functionality.
  • Office 365 — (for education) Allows for multiple applications, functionality and resources to be shared between teachers and students.

Obviously, Rome wasn’t built in a day. But teachers can nudge school leaders to take a closer look at bringing their district into the digital realm — for teachers and students to revel in.

Jeff Fernandez is the Cofounder and CEO of Grovo Learning, Inc. a company that teaches Internet and modern professional skills with 60- and 90-second videos. The videos follow their proprietary microlearning methodology and cover more than 140 Internet tools, cloud services, and professional topics.

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Trends| Education M&A 2014  

CREDIT Berkery NoyesBerkery Noyes’ third quarter 2014 mergers and acquisitions trend report for the Education Industry, released Monday, analyzes M&A activity for the sector during the first three quarters of 2014 and compares it with data covering 2013. This market includes information and technology companies servicing the Education Industry. Transaction value gained 35 percent on a year-over-year basis, totaling $8.04 billion in 2014. The highest value transaction across the industry’s tech-based segments in third quarter 2014 was Heartland Payment Systems’ acquisition of TouchNet Information Systems for $360 million. As for the Professional Training Technology segment, one high profile acquirer in third quarter 2014 was SkillSoft, which acquired SumTotal Systems, a provider of cloud-based human resources services. This followed Skillsoft’s acquisition by Charterhouse Capital Partners for $2.3 billion in first quarter 2014. “A confluence of factors continue to help shape the evolving education sector,” says Peter Yoon, Managing Director at Berkery Noyes. “This includes investment in early stage edtech companies.” “In the K-12 sector, technology investments will continue to drive state and school district expenditures,” adds Mary Jo Zandy, Managing Director at the company. Learn more.

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Class in the Cloud

Customized learning in the Digital Age.


CREDIT Xchanging education platformTeachers and students today have a wide variety of devices and platforms at their disposal to assist with the learning process. From computers to tablets, there are more tools available than ever to make learning a more visual and dynamic experience.

But is this technology being optimized? In a way, and in pockets, yes – many school districts are offering handheld devices, high-speed internet and network access to students. However, the way students are being taught is largely still the same as it has been for the last 50 years, in that they are taught together on one curriculum – often toward the goal of fulfilling standardized testing requirements.

One example of this being done at scale is in Malaysia, where the country’s five million K-12 students use a single VLE platform.

There is growing evidence that self-paced learning could help improve overall student performance. According a study done by leading education researcher Benjamin Bloom[1], tutoring was found to be the optimal choice in helping students successfully learn at their own pace. As a specific example, in 2011, a Colorado school implemented an ability-based learning system[2], which led to positive results.

Since it’s not cost -or time – effective for many districts to tutor each and every student, a cloud-based Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) may be a way for districts, even the largest ones, to get closer to the tutoring model and bring self-paced/ability-based learning to life. One example of this being done at scale is in Malaysia, where the country’s five million K-12 students use a single VLE platform.

Enabling Self-Paced and Ability-Based Learning

Everyone learns at his or her own pace. However, most educational systems in the U.S. employ a “one size fits all” model of education, which may not be the most effective way to address individual students’ needs. With more technology available to school districts than ever, there is an emerging opportunity to adapt to the changing needs of students and parents.

Ability-based learning via a VLE requires additional teaching and learning content consistent with a more dynamic curriculum which offers 24/7 access to rich, multimedia learning material. Students can learn at their own pace, engage in collaborative learning and teachers can keep track of each individual student in real time.

Parents can also have access to the system to stay abreast of their child’s progress. Greater visibility through a VLE platform gives parents a more-informed opportunity to help their children learn. Tools that can help increase transparency as well as collaboration with educators include:

  • E-monitoring – ensures availability of high-quality data to report real-time information on school performance metrics, which empowers parents and teachers to address challenges quickly and effectively.
  • School Management System (SMS) – offers a single cloud-based platform for monitoring and managing the district’s system efficiently, which provides a holistic and accurate view of schools’, teachers’, and students’ performances.
  • Content store – access to content created by teachers and selected by teachers from the internet and from educational content service providers.

Securing the VLE

When handling data involving children, security is always a top concern. Using a secured network, having a multi-tiered, secured infrastructure and a watch-dog function that manages the system in real time, as well as ensuring access to the right educational content sources are all key to maintaining a protected environment. Additionally, to mitigate any would-be hacker attacks to access personal data and to further secure the environment, administrators must restrict students and other users from accessing content that is not education-related or not suitable for the system.

For the Malaysian program, external technology and service partners manage and monitor any potential threats and risks that could possibly impact the system. The cloud-hosted platform with multi-tiered architecture has multiple validations on logins, is frequently updated, and requires users to change passwords frequently to further ensure security. The system is also designed with robust disaster recovery measures to ensure that service can be maintained in case of an unforeseen event or emergency, improving system uptime and mitigating any potential data loss.

Making the Idea into Reality

A VLE could be a viable solution to address contemporary learning needs and opportunities and to enable students to learn at their own pace, empower teachers and engage parents. Early results from the Malaysian program indicate the following:

  • 55 percent of teachers could develop richer lesson plans
  • 75 percent of teachers broadly agree that use of the VLE makes them more effective in their teaching process

For the U.S. education system, a VLE could be an option to help students succeed in a self-paced or ability-based learning environment. Because many districts have the technology infrastructure in place, at least to some degree, implementing a VLE to maximize learning in the digital age could be a viable and relatively cost-effective opportunity.



CV Raman is Practice Lead, Education Platform for Xchanging

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Trends | Learning the Millennial Way

CREDIT Jupiter EdTechnology is a way of life for Millennials, according to a white paper from Jupiter Ed.  Influences from the technology which they’ve been raised around have branched out to encapsulate all areas of the typical Millennial’s life. “They tend to prefer group activity in their learning environments, because their entire life has been based around social media. Therefore, one of the most effective ways for a Millennial to learn is to bounce ideas off their peers, so that a classroom discussion feels more like a group-text or instant message.” There’s more from where that came from in this concise description of Millenials (including a long list of other names for them), of 1:1 Learning, and the history and benefits of Learning Management Systems. Nicely done overview on some key areas. Check it out.

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Connecting with Pure Genius

A chat with a classroom innovation advocate and purpose-driven educator.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT Don WettrickEver hear of an innovation specialist? Well, talking to one is refreshing and highly recommended. Don Wettrick is an Innovation Specialist at Noblesville High School, just outside Indianapolis, Indiana. He is the author of “Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level”. Don has worked as a middle school and high school teacher; educational and innovation consultant; and educational speaker. He is passionate about helping students find their educational opportunities and providing them with the digital tools they need to give them a competitive edge. He has lectured across the US and Europe about collaboration, social media use, and work environments that enable innovation. Don also hosts an Internet radio program, InnovatED, for the BAM! Radio Network. Most importantly, Don

It’s is not “just about the tech,” but rather collecting ideas and data and connecting them in ways you didn’t think of before.

works with educators and students to bring innovation and collaborative skills into education. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife, Alicia, and three children: Ava, Anna, and Grant. After getting to know more about what’s currently on his mind in this interview, find him on Twitter @donwettrick where he tweets updates on his student’s innovation work.

Victor: What have been some of your key highlights in working with technology in education? 

Don: My highlight in working with technology has always been in our attitude to learn together. I will never be up to date with the latest update or newest app. However, a teacher willing to learn together with his/her students is important for two reasons. First, because there is a willingness to move forward and embrace technology in the first place. Secondly, because teachers should model the life-long learner approach. So when a 42-year old man is willing to roll up his sleeves, it sends a tone of learning through trial and error, but never rejecting something out of fear.

Victor: What formative experience have you had along the way that have helped you arrive to your current approach to edtech? 

Don: My “formative” experience and approach to EdTech is pretty much in my first answer. Several years ago I was asked to take over the “school announcements,” which meant my somewhat limited experience in college would finally pay off. I was going to be the broadcasting teacher. The problem was that I had been out long enough that my knowledge base was mostly obsolete. I accepted the challenge and learned with the students. I quickly found that 99% of our problems could be solved in a YouTube tutorial. We would go there to view great examples of work, find collaborators, and post our work for truly authentic assessment. Since then I have started an “Innovation class,” which is very EdTech friendly (think of a “Genius Hour” class every day). This approach to learning is the exact method I have used to my “formative training”- trial and error and/or learning with the students.

Victor: What are a few key principles you advise students, teachers and parents on in regards to a smart approach to using technology to enhance and improve learning experiences? 

Don: Our approach to technology has been to use technology as a tool, and not be a slave to the tool. Educational technology is here to make students lives more functional and streamlined. If the technology (whether it be a device or an app) is making things too difficult, then it doesn’t work for you… move on to something else. This is not to say that some technology will be a struggle at first, but in general the technology is a tool to enable you to be more effective.

Victor: What are your general thoughts on education today? Any key trends in technology that educators should be looking at? Why those? 

Don: I have been lucky enough to start an innovation class at Noblesville High School. In this class, each student is provided time and resources to pursue projects that interest them. The process includes doing research on what common core standards they believe they will master, conduct a feasibility report before the “big” project begins, then collaborate with outside experts to really create a unique learning experience. Lastly, we harness blogs and social media to showcase our learning and encourage students creating a digital brand.

While the trend of “Genius Hour” and “20% Time” have made a great impact on education, I want to encourage educators to foster creativity and innovation past the 20% of a school week.

Victor: You’ve written the book on innovative learning, where do you get that passion and drive – a mentor, a parent? Did something happen to you in your own schooling? 

CREDIT Pure Genius by Don WettrickDon: I was inspired (and continue to be inspired) by innovation thought leaders like Daniel Pink and Tina Seelig, to name a few. I actually got the courage to ask my school to dedicate an entire class toward innovation after watching Dan’s TED talk. Since starting the class, I have had the privilege of connecting with innovation leaders all over the world. Tina Seelig, author of InGenius, and Stanford’s and innovation tour-de-force, has been a wealth of information. I decided to write my own book based off of our trials and errors from the innovation class. Giving homage to the Genius Hour approach, I titled the book “Pure Genius: Creating a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level.”

In writing this book, I connected with teachers that use “Genius Hour” methods from elementary and middle levels, and demonstrated what innovation in the classroom looks like. Often times there is a little reluctance from some educators because they think that “innovation” means working with technology they are not comfortable with. However, innovation is a new way to solve problems. However, it’s not “just about the tech,” but rather collecting ideas and data and connecting them in ways you didn’t think of before. The technology aspect of an innovation project is there to enhance, and more teachers need to know this.

Victor: Any interesting anecdote you have that is representative of your efforts in education? 

Don: I also must admit that I wanted to start an “innovation” class because I had some “Ferris Bueller” type of English classes growing up. Once I decided to take on a project, instead of doing the usual essay and poster combo, I put my heart and soul into the project, which was a video I scripted, shot, and produced. When it was over I received an “A” with no other feedback. That was it. Just a grade. Remembering how I felt about working hard for an audience of one has, however, served as a lesson to my students. I want them to understand that we can learn with great people. I tell my students to find collaborators- they will make you better (and be potential employers in the future). Lastly, I want them to publish their results to the world! Blogging and YouTube have been the best way to show mastery! It’s nice to get an “A” from the teacher, but even better to show the world your work matters.

Victor: Any great places you’ve visited or schools that you see are really doing it right? Why those? Anything else?

Don: I’ve seen great evidence of awesome “innovative” approaches in the classroom. I’m happy to say that it is catching on! The word “innovation” is being used all the time, from car commercials to company mission statements. Education also seems to be embracing the spirit of innovation as well. And while I like how “Genius Hour” has opened the door to acceptance in our schools, I think it’s time to dedicate more toward creativity and innovation. If you want to see great leaders in this field, take a look at leaders like Joy Kirr, AJ Juliani, Kevin Brookhauser, and the thousands of teachers using the #GeniusHour Twitter chats. Also innovation leaders like Tom and David Kelley from IDEO, Seth Godin, and Dave Burkus have always been on my radar for cutting edge ideas on innovation. I love to connect with great minds, especially if you want to help my students! I can be found on Twitter @donwettrick, and my email is:

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to:

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