Shifting Digital

Making the conversion for the new school year.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jason Van Heukelum

CREDIT Cabarrus County SchoolsDigital conversions don’t happen overnight. In fact, the process – from initial talks to final implementation – may take months, even years to complete. When our district decided to make the transition from print to digital content, it was important for us to develop a framework of resources that supported our established curriculum across all grade levels and subject matters. This fall, Cabarrus County Schools in North Carolina will embark on our digital journey, as we roll out the first iteration of digital content aligned to

Are we as a district able to align the content to our curriculum, vet and tag it plus make it easily accessible for teachers?

our district’s curriculum. With more than 30,000 students across 39 elementary, middle and high schools, we needed a flexible online solution that could teach our students everything they needed to know from Kindergarten to grade 12. Our district invested the time and energy in developing its curriculum, so it was imperative that we align and organize the conversion around our curriculum maps and guides to ease the transition for teachers, students and parents.

Planning for the Transition

As most districts do during the planning stage, we compared the benefits of executing our digital conversion in-house to the benefits of partnering with an education technology provider. We asked ourselves, “Is there enough free digital content available on the Internet to teach most, if not all of our K-12 curriculum?” With the answer being yes, the question soon became, “Are we as a district able to align the content to our curriculum, vet and tag it plus make it easily accessible for teachers?” This alone can be a very challenging process.

We also were after a solution that addressed our ultimate goal for the transformation: personalization. Every child should be able to access content at his or her own reading level, regardless of subject matter. Reading skills shouldn’t be a barrier to learning about science or social studies. With digital content, students can process information at their own pace, eliminating the time-constraint to learning new materials.

Preparing for Implementation

To meet our specific challenges and needs, we turned to icurio, a learning engagement solution from Knovation that combines more than 360,000 digital learning resources with instruction tools and real-time student insights. The company is also supporting our conversion by aligning its digital resources to our specific core subjects, such as science, math and English language arts.

Our district chose to focus solely on a shift to digital content rather than a full-scale conversion to 1:1 devices. Utilizing our current technology and students’ personal devices, we were able to concentrate completely on integrating educational content that supports learning and development by helping teachers enhance their lessons and giving students the confidence to learn and grow at their own pace.

In preparation for this digital transition, we asked key groups to test the online learning resources and share their experiences before our full implementation this fall. After months of researching, discussing and planning, we announced our 2014 digital conversion to parents, students and key stakeholders in early April.

Moving Forward

Starting in August, teachers will be encouraged to utilize the content aligned to their curriculum and access additional resources to meet their specific needs. We are excited about the steps Cabarrus County Schools is taking to create a personalized learning environment for our students.

By 2016, we hope to offer a blended classroom experience to all of our students, by combining quality instruction and technology to meet the individual needs of our more than 30,000 students. We believe that our digital conversion will challenge and engage students and prepare them for life in the 21st Century.

Jason Van Heukelum, deputy superintendent for Cabarrus County Schools, was previously the principal of Mount Mourne School and IB World School with the Iredell – Statesville Schools. Write to or visit

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Tech Trip

The new CEO of Glynlyon (and president of Odysseyware) discusses the future.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

Beth Te GrotenhuisBeth Te Grotenhuis recently led the development and execution of the largest new product release in Odysseyware’s history and was instrumental in the development of Odysseyware’s industry-leading online Career Technical Education courses. Since joining Glynlyon (Odysseyware’s parent company), she has shared the company’s mission to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for children and to be the best education partner in the industry. Today, as their new CEO (she’s also president of their wholly owned subsidiary Odysseyware), she is more committed than ever to that vision. The company is a leader in providing educational opportunities and online curriculum for a diverse mix of PreK-12 students. Beth has nearly three decades of successful leadership experience in the education and software industries. Under her leadership, Odysseyware has become one of the K-12 education industry’s most

We are a mobile society. The Internet permeates every aspect of modern life, especially for this generation of learners.

comprehensive online and blended learning curriculums. Completely web-based, they provide 21st century educational solutions by offering the core subjects of history and geography, math, language arts, and science along with enriching electives, CTE, placement testing, diagnostics and professional development. This curriculum is sold directly through regional education specialists. In this interview, Beth answers some wide ranging questions about changes in education and technology over the past few years, an epic voyage in itself — and what it takes to stay on the leading edge.

Victor: How has online learning changed in the past five years? What can Odysseyware do now that it couldn’t five years ago?

Beth: One of the biggest changes we’ve seen is the overall adoption rate of online learning. For example, recent statistics show that over 80% of high schools now offer online courses. That is a dramatic increase from five years ago. It is also becoming more integrated with the overall curriculum. In the past, online learning was viewed more as a one-off or a specialized program, but it’s increasingly being used as another aspect of overall instruction, or in the case of blended and flipped learning environments, as the core instructional delivery method. The explosion of mobile technology and devices is also facilitating a shift to, and demand for, far more customized, personalized and interactive online learning experiences.

We’ve improved and expanded every aspect of Odysseyware in the past five years in terms of both functionality and in content coverage. We’ve improved our platform’s ability to customize courses to better provide districts and schools with the flexibility to align our content with their own and to individualize and target instruction. That flexibility also facilitates the implementation of blended and 1:1 initiatives. Our Teacher Authoring Tool is a resource teachers use to create and customize their own lessons. We now offer a complete middle and high school Common Core solution and are a leader in Career Technology Education, offering over 60 CTE courses.

Victor: How have you seen the paradigm shift now that educational leaders are putting on blended and/or flipped classroom initiatives? How can providers like OW continue to stay ahead of the curve and anticipate what educators need? 

Beth: I think it is a work in progress. To be honest, schools are still all across the spectrum based on their technology capacity and infrastructure resources and instructional philosophies, with some having embraced blended and online learning and some just dipping their toes in the water or conducting pilots. At Odysseyware, we were involved with individualized and personalized learning before it was considered “cool” because we were able to forecast that trend in education. It’s been very helpful for us to spend a lot of time communicating with our partner schools to better anticipate and deliver innovative products that are meeting their current needs. There is no “one size fits all” approach. That’s why we focus so much on customization and flexibility. We also work hard to stay nimble enough in our development cycle that we are able to deliver those results.

Victor: How have 1:1 and BYOD initiatives presented challenges to solution providers, can you share some ideas on how your leadership has kept OW ahead of the curve? 

Beth: One obvious issue is compatibility with a wide range of devices. We recently converted our 60 most popular courses from Flash to HTML5, which was a major, but necessary, undertaking. For example, a student can utilize Odysseyware on a tablet in the classroom and a laptop at home and a different desktop in a school lab setting without interruption or compromising the learning experience.

Victor: “And this too shall pass…” has become a staple in educators’ vocabulary, and in many cases it is a true statement. Will we be saying that about blended, flipped and 1:1 five years from now? 

Beth: I think it’s likely in five years we won’t even be considering it in terms of an either/or scenario. We are a mobile society. The Internet permeates every aspect of modern life, especially for this generation of learners. If they encounter a device, they expect it to be interactive and engaging and responsive. What I think will pass is this thought that teachers somehow aren’t an essential part of the process or will be replaced by technology. I think that is shortsighted. If anything, I believe the need for teachers to facilitate learning and integrate these technology tools will only increase.

Victor: Under your leadership, how will you ensure that your company and your solutions stay relevant say in 5 years, or even 25 years from now? 

Beth: A large part of Glynlyon’s success to date has been our commitment to customer service, product innovation and investing in the development of our employees. We’re a family-owned company and not beholden to corporate investors or stockholders, so we’ve been able to truly reinvest in our products and our employees and respond quickly to the changing educational landscape. So I will continue to make those investments. Our external mission is creating instructional curriculum and resources that empower students and teachers. My goal is to continue to do the same internally as well by offering opportunities for growth and development like those that I received throughout my career at Odysseyware.

Victor Rivero is the editor in chief of EdTech Digest. Write to:

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Cool Tool | TeachBoost

CREDIT TeachBoost

TeachBoost is a teacher effectiveness platform that helps school and district leaders streamline the observation process, differentiate professional development, and scale great teaching practices so that every classroom has a great educator. They create opportunities for meaningful interactions among teachers and administrators that result in successful, sustainable improvements in teaching and learning. Using observation and evaluation data, school leaders identify areas of instructional excellence and provide personalized, needs-­driven PD. Teachers collaborate with, and learn from, their peers, developing a culture of collective success and allowing for breakthrough professional learning moments. Learn more at

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Trends | Building Trust in Connected Learning Environments

Trust, privacy, and safety are critical to learning in an open online world. How can learners exercise control over who sees and uses their data? What tools do they need to navigate, collaborate, and learn online with confidence? What solutions will foster greater civility and respect in online learning environments? Creating safe, optimized, and rewarding learning experiences is one of five principles included in the Aspen Institute Task Force report, Learner In The Center Of A Networked World. If “students should have safe and trusted environments for learning,” as written in the report, how do we go about making that a reality for learners of all ages? The HASTAC/MacArthur Foundation Trust Challenge: Building Trust in Connected Learning Environments is a call-to-action and a response to findings and recommendations based on the landmark Aspen Task Force Report. The Trust Challenge is an open, international opportunity that will award up to $1.2 million to institutions and organizations with scalable, innovative, and transformative exemplars of connected learning that bridge technological solutions with complex social considerations of trust. The Trust Challenge application window opens September 3, 2014 and the deadline to apply is November 3, 2014. Visit to learn more.

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Trends | Panel on Learning Apps

CREDIT graphite.orgJoin this panel on August 7th, at 4pm ET/ 1PM PT for a conversation about the brave new world of digital education. Hear from experts on technology and learning about the subjects that are best learned via smartphone or tablet, what goes into a truly educational app, how to tell which ones will actually teach you something, and more. Tweet your questions to us beforehand (and even in the middle of the conversation) at @DailyLounge with #LearningApps. Visit:


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