For Edtech to Matter, Students Need to Care

How can technological advances play a role in a student’s academic journey?

GUEST COLUMN | by Michal Borkowski

credit-brainlyEducation technology is becoming ubiquitous in the classroom as teachers and administrators implement the newest gadgets and software into everyday lessons. Whether that is an online portal for homework assignments—such as BlackBoard or Moodle—or an in-class polling tool such as Socrative, edtech is viewed as the answer to modernizing the classroom. However, the reality is that school systems still lean toward lecture-based learning.

In a society that embraces individuality and authenticity, edtech tools can only thrive when students feel connected in an authentic and organic way.

There are individual efforts to create more dynamic learning environments, but overall this system has not changed in decades. Instead of evolving this structure, we have only packed the same system full of new technology making it appear as though education is keeping in-step with technological progress, while in actuality it has not. So how can edtech actually connect with students?

Dealing with information overload

Generation Z has grown up in a digital space where everyone and everything is connected. These students were born into a world where most daily interactions are documented on at least one social platform and the Internet is quite literally in the palm of their hands. They have the ability to multi-task like never before and take in vast amounts of information. Teachers will agree that curiosity and a drive to learn is not dead, so there comes a moment when we need to connect the dots and ask how technological advances can play a role in a student’s academic journey.

How can we get students to engage with educational tools?

Students want to learn, but it’s sometimes difficult to discern if they are willingly engaging with new online tools introduced by their teachers or administrators, or if they are simply using them because they have to. Online learning platforms and study tools were created to benefit students, not burden them. In a society that embraces individuality and authenticity, edtech tools can only thrive when students feel connected in an authentic and organic way.

For administrators, adding technology into the classroom is their way of keeping up with how students are interacting in a rapidly developing digital society. But what is sometimes missed is an understanding of how students create trends and what active engagement means for them, on their terms.

The success of edtech

Teenagers rely on their peers to dictate what trends are worth following and which ones become long-lasting habits that are integrated into their daily lives. The success of edtech hinges on this point. Students need to be given a voice on what tools help them learn and study best. Only tools that stick will create better learning outcomes in the long run, and only teens themselves can decide what sticks.

Michal Borkowski is the CEO and co-founder of Brainly.

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System Change

The three edtech trends supporting transformative learning.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jon Phillips

credit-dell-k-12-education-solutionsWith another school year in our midst, teachers and administrators have high expectations for the role of new technology in their classrooms. At the same time, there is a constant narrative around the desire and effort to see transformation in our education systems. The definition of “transformation” is focused on “thorough or dramatic change.” We are standing at the precipice of seeing and experiencing transformation and technology can help with system change. Education technology is not only enabling students and teachers to interact and collaborate in new ways, it is also inspiring students and teachers to introduce new ways of learning that empower students to take a more active role.

It is about giving students the tools to create successful outcomes for themselves, in the classroom and in the world to come, whatever that may look like.

Immersive and innovative learning methods are becoming more mainstream and growing to support truly student-led learning. Technology-driven learning is helping inspire students with experiences that are truly future-ready. Technology can help teachers embrace a model of student-led learning to help students think and problem solve in ways that will prepare them for the opportunities and challenges they will face throughout their lives.

Here are just three ways we see technology enhancing system change in learning and teacher-student interaction that are energizing learning environments this year:

The Rise of Makerspaces and Fab Labs

Schools are introducing new opportunities for hands-on learning through makerspaces and fab labs, which are small-scale workshops offering learning through digital fabrication. Fab labs are designed to help students learn through creation, making and building. A fab lab is generally equipped with an array of flexible computer-controlled tools that cover several different length scales and various materials, with the aim to make “almost anything.” They also include creativity-enhancing technologies like robotics equipment, cameras, audio equipment, 3D printers and the software and powerful computers to interact with those tools. Interacting with this technology from a young age helps K-12 students to problem solve, test and “fail forward.” Through application of tangible interaction, it specifically targets and strengthens the “four Cs” at the core of today’s education system – critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity.

Many makerspaces in schools today are integrated right into the classroom, with students interacting with them during regular school hours. Still, it is not the curriculum driving the need for makerspaces – it is the students. When we can tap into passions that already exist within students and enable them to bring their boundless creativity into the tangible world, the outcome is robust, deep learning that lasts a lifetime. Not only that, but they are empowered to make decisions and learn from them, reinforcing their own voices in a productive and meaningful way.

The Gamification of Learning

As in the business world, education leaders are recognizing the benefits of gamification, or structuring tasks or lessons in such a way that succeeding at them taps into natural motivation and rewards centers. Teachers may gamify their lessons and activities by organizing them around narratives (e.g. students on a quest to retrieve an artifact, learning geography and history along the way). They may also incorporate polling and quiz technology to structure a lesson as an interactive game show.

With the integration of interactive projectors, individual tablets for students and the ability to digitally “raise one’s hand” in the classroom, student-teacher interaction is more immediate than ever. The key to authentic gamification and meaningful use of technology is centered on supporting an intrinsically rewarding experience and not just a mechanical, routine one. This creates a game-like environment where students can receive instantaneous feedback, explore and enjoy competition and engage with the curriculum in a memorable way.

Growth of Personalized, Student-led Learning

Some of the same tools enabling the maker and fab movement and gamification in the classroom are enabling student-led learning, supporting the concept of empowering students to create, lead, and own. When students have access to both a tablet and an interactive projector, they are able to interact with the subject matter in their own ways and at their own pace. Regardless of their passions, students are feeling more empowered when using technology to access information.

For example, a student may project her tablet screen to the entire class as she works through and explains a math problem at her seat. When students take control of the tools used for learning, they take on an active role in the learning process. And as we know, the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else. This focus on students owning their learning is supporting the “learn, think, lead” concepts that are important to helping students with career and college opportunities.

Of course, technology is merely an enabling force designed to be an accretive force in transforming learning. What’s driving change in the classroom is this new vision of learning, based not on preparing students for the jobs of yesterday but for the workforce of tomorrow. Integrating technology in the classroom is about so much more than teaching students to leverage the technologies available today.

We need to continue to help the expansion of these methods across all schools regardless of district size or location and drive expansion across all grade levels and subject areas. It is about giving them the tools to create successful outcomes for themselves, in the classroom and in the world to come, whatever that may look like. We all need to continue to support our education system with tools and solutions that empower transformation that is thorough and dramatic for the sake of our learners.

Jon Phillips is Managing Director of Worldwide Education at Dell.

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Education Technology and the Modern Learner

Flexibility, flow, and reimagining how we best deliver quality education to millennials.

GUEST COLUMN | by Bobby Babbrah

credit-penn-fosterTechnology’s impact is often felt immediately by its users but sometimes—especially in education—technology’s innovations do not necessarily take place in “a moment.” Indeed, over a sustained period of time, technology is inexorably transforming the education landscape. This transformation consists of multiple elements, starting with the makeup of the modern millennial learner, continuing to how learning is evolving due to innovations in technology, and finally to how the educational experience will need to be reimagined to adapt to these changes.

Modern Millennial Learners

Modern millennial learners consider technology integral to both their learning and non-learning lives. Members of this cohort of 18-to-33-year-olds can’t imagine a world without technology deeply integrated into how they create, share, co-create and consume information and nurture relationships. This age group has always tended be early adopters of technology and want to push the state-of-the-art to its limits more aggressively than any other prior generation.

We need learning systems and pedagogical models that allow the learner to self-regulate his or her learning pace.

By and large, education is personal to these modern learners. They grew up in an era where the education community began to embrace personalized learning in an attempt to reach economies of scale under the pressure of costs and outcomes. While technology might not have fully realized its potential, educators have now come to the realization that learning not only must be personal, but it must also embrace design thinking frameworks to create end-to-end digital and mobile experiences that transcend both software and services.

How Learning is Evolving

Innovations in technology deeply affect learners’ behaviors in any generation, but especially in this cohort. Mobile phones and the Internet of Things (IOT), which include smart home appliances, have drastically increased the rate of interruption in rhythm of daily life. And with the time between these interruptions shrinking even further, learners have increasingly shorter attention spans.

In a world where competencies and skills must be validated and demonstrated with rigor and vigor, learning modalities must allow for sustainable bursts of learning, analysis, inquiry, and immersion. In other words, a sustainable middle ground must be achieved between the two ends of the spectrum: with micro-learning moments on one end and traditional 50- or 75-minute lectures on the other.

In order to strike a balance across this spectrum, we need learning systems and pedagogical models that allow the learner to self-regulate his or her learning pace. We must apply instructional design principles that allow flexibility and flow for these short bursts of knowledge assimilation. This ideal can be achieved through a thoughtful weaving of instruction, assessment, tutorials, and practice within a robust competency-based framework. We must allow the building blocks to be quickly absorbed, but at the same time recognize that true learning requires sustained attention for assimilation of the subject matter.

Reimagining Education Technology

Since modern millennial learners tend towards self-direction and believe in self-actualization, this is a generation to cultivate, not merely teach. Technology is the only enabler that allows this at scale and that, at its core, is the true promise of education technology.

As users of self-directed competency and blended learning models, millennial learners will lean on anytime/any place mechanisms to feel a sense of connectedness and reliance on peer networks and communities of interest. Social and community-centered aspects of learning platforms will play a major role in technology, shaping the way they and future generations will learn. These aspects will be augmented by engaging social and mobile experiences, with a greater focus on capabilities such as social/community, progress and progression feedback, as well as academic and career counseling and planning assistance.

Immersive learning experiences also have the potential to become the frontrunner in emerging technology for learning. Augmented reality (computer-generated sensory input that supplements physical learning materials) and immersive learning environments have high utility and application in education. At the same time, the relative costs are astoundingly low.

Audio/visual learning has already proven its effectiveness in engaging learners and to help them capture and retain information more efficiently. Augmented reality could very well be the next phase of innovation that allows students to capture and retain experiences, thereby enabling deeper learning to occur.

A new wave of education technology is just now making its way into our collective consciousness as an accessible and attractive solution for bridging the educational gap in our country and upskilling our workforce. We must continue to push the envelope in understanding how millennial learners interact with technology, how it affects their learning habits and expectations, and how we can best deliver quality educational programs and products. In so doing, we will be doing nothing less than reimagining the education experience.

Bobby Babbrah is Chief Digital Officer of Penn Foster, an education provider offering skills development training, credentials and employment matching for today’s frontline workforceHe oversees the company’s digital and mobile educational platforms and products.

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The Most Revolutionary Interface of All

Why dashboards are not the answer to school districts’ data needs.

GUEST COLUMN | by Vikram Somasundaram

credit-edusightWorking effectively with data is tricky for any organization, let alone school districts. Before working with data, you need to start with the right questions and know what your objective is very clearly. You then need to gather all the right types of data, whether from legacy infrastructure, Student Information Systems (SISs), and other sources. This is followed by some form of data crunching and analysis. Last but not least, you have to interpret your findings and turn them into actionable steps that you can communicate and rally your team behind.

Public school districts in North America spend over $1.5 billion on data and analytics solutions, and it’s time we put these funds to better use.

Most Fortune 500 companies can afford to hire consultants to deal with the hairy parts of this process (think working with legacy infrastructure to pull all kinds of messy data, cleanse this data, do some rigorous analysis, and make sense of it all), but K-12 school districts don’t have this luxury and often get stuck with dashboards.

While dashboards are a great resource when they’re simple and visualize things in an easy-to-digest way, unfortunately, no software interface can stay simple enough to be effective while meeting each school district’s unique, ever-evolving needs.

What K-12 school districts need is the most revolutionary interface of them all: humans.

Rather than wasting time working with a cluttered dashboard solution, school districts should deploy a personal analytics service to help cut through all the noise and clutter. A personal analytics service offers numerous benefits to school districts, including:

  1. Understanding needs: Every school district has different needs. With a personal analytics system, administrators can sit down with a trusted advisor who will review their existing priorities and define their objectives, and help design a tailor-made approach that will find answers to each district’s most pressing questions.
  2. Gathering real-time data: Advisors can track and communicate learning as it happens. A personal analytics program can collect data in real-time and monitor leading indicators of learning. This way, advisors can intervene at the right time.
  3. Analyzation and interpretation: Finding answers in data that’s out-of-date and scattered across multiple sources is a nightmare. A personal data analyst can dive into a school district’s data and provide analysis in a collaborative approach that helps administrators understand where their students are and where they need to go.
  4. Delivering answers: Trust on a personal advisor to dig deeper into specific questions, and present key results with implications and recommendations that are tailored to the administrators based on previously discussed needs and objectives.

Imagine if, as a Superintendent of a school district, you could have a trusted advisor by your side. Someone who could help you identify what kinds of data already exist within your district’s infrastructure to solve your current problems. Someone who could identify what kinds of real-time data you need to be collecting from classrooms to get a pulse on progress towards your district’s goals. Someone who could help you correlate all the data you already have, identify trends, and distill clear actions to be taken. Imagine that if you had follow-up questions, you could talk to this person and work through these questions, digging through historical data or current data as needed to go deeper.

These are the kinds of things no dashboard can provide, and exactly the kinds of things that would be helpful for K-12 school districts. Just like every other industry, K-12 education is undergoing a huge transition from having very little real-time data to being overwhelmed with it. Every new education resource and technology that gets deployed in a school district produces tons of data around engagement and learning. In this transitionary period, it’s more important than ever to understand what kinds of data you are collecting, and what kinds of data you should care about.

I believe it’s time for a personal touch in analytics for K-12 school districts. This is why my company is launching trusted advisory service to help school districts work with data more effectively. Public school districts in North America spend over $1.5 billion on data and analytics solutions, and it’s time we put these funds to better use.

It’s time for a personal approach to working with data. For K-12 school districts, it’s time for responsive service with a real human connection who knows what each school district’s unique needs are and can make sure they have the right insights at the right time.

Vikram Somasundaram is CEO and co-founder of Edusight, an edtech platform with a vision for improving the existing education system through the use of data. Previously, he was a strategy consultant at Monitor Deloitte working on business transformations and M&A for large public sector and professional services organizations.

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Cool Tool | Play My Way

credit-play-my-wayAs kids spend more and more time on their electronic devices, parents are increasingly concerned about screen addiction. Trying to restrict screen time often results in conflict and tantrums, as Lebanese mother and entrepreneur Salma Jawhar found out with her own two children. She created Play My Way to help make screen time more productive. The app, once installed on a child’s device, will automatically interrupt their activity – whether it’s gaming or chatting with their friends on social media – with an educational quiz at regular intervals. They must correctly answer questions on subjects such as Languages, Arts, Math, and Science before they’re allowed to return to what they were doing. Because they’re usually eager to do so, the tasks are completed with minimum fuss. Parents have complete control over the time intervals at which the interruptions take place, the grade levels for the questions, and the subjects. After each test they also have access to a detailed performance report to see how their child is learning. Currently there are over 25,000 questions on the system, with 4,000 additional ones being added each month. Salma has now arrived in London to take part in a 3-month accelerator at the UK Lebanon Tech Hub. Learn more.

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