Cool Tool | Canvas

Canvas is a 21st-century LMS that is adaptable, reliable, customizable, easy to use, mobile and time-saving. Perhaps most importantly, it gets used. It’s designed to get out of the way, and to let users get things done. Each feature, each interface is crafted to save time and effort and to make teaching and learning easier. It has perhaps been adopted faster and more deeply than most LMSs—serving millions of teachers and learners at more than 2,000 education institutions throughout the world. And its 800-plus person parent company (Instructure) feels strongly about itself and its openness. Click on the video above, and at 1:30, hear from CEO Josh Coates and some of their other execs. Also, learn more here.

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Making Data Matter in Your School or District

Five principles that will help you move from reflection to meaningful action.

GUEST COLUMN | by Sejin Mong

CREDIT Panorama Education Maine imageOver the past five years, I’ve worked with many schools and districts across the United States to collect and take action on feedback and assessment data. The educators and leaders I’ve worked with who were most successful in using their data to drive improvement were not only skilled in making sense of the results, but also intentional in how they engaged and communicated with their community before collecting data. Making sure that their community knew why and how the data was being collected, what different results would suggest, and how best to use the data to take action set them up for success, and helped them leverage their data to improve teaching and learning.

Cultivating a sense of excitement and investment in your community will help you collect higher-quality responses from more people.

No matter what kind of data you’re planning to collect and use, I recommend focusing on five general principles to help you move from reflection to meaningful action. Building consciously on these principles over the course of the year will ensure that by the time you, your fellow leaders, and your teachers receive data, they’ll be ready to use move intentionally from reflecting on results to using data to act.

  1. Build Investment

Your community needs to know why this data matters and how it will improve student outcomes. Cultivating a sense of excitement and investment in your community will help you collect higher-quality responses from more people. Some of our most successful partners have come up with large-scale outreach plans that have resulted in dramatically raising their response rates, while others have worked closely with planning committees in their school or district to help educators understand why the data being collected will be valuable. Well before collecting data, consider gathering a focus group of other school leaders and teachers across your community to identify shared goals and how to communicate a shared purpose.

  1. Clarify Outcomes

Your community needs to know why you’re collecting data, and how you intend to use it. Being transparent about your goals for this data, and how your community can help you achieve them, will help the families, students, and faculty and staff in your school or district rally around giving feedback. It’s also important for your school community to know and understand whether the data you collect is going to be used for evaluation purposes.

I’ve found that the schools and districts that have a clear vision of success for their data, and who do a good job communicating that vision, collect data more smoothly and create a culture of trust among educators and other community stakeholders.

  1. Protect Time

Your community needs to know when they will have time to make meaning out of their results. Because there are many demands on teacher and school administrator time in schools and districts, protecting time to look at results will guarantee that your educators and fellow leaders will have an opportunity to start using their data to reflect and take action. Many of our most successful partners have scheduled professional development sessions or administrator data retreats well before they even collected data.

As you plan how you want to use your data, think about what your professional development and academic calendars look like. Should you be holding time for a professional learning session with your teachers and staff? Have you asked teacher teams and professional learning communities to find a time to engage with the data they’ll receive? Being proactive about setting time aside means that you will make sure that teachers are equipped to dig into their data and take action from it.

  1. Build Data Literacy

Your community needs to know how to interpret their results. In order for faculty and staff in schools and districts to understand the data that they’ll receive, it’s crucial to do some training with them about how the data can be accessed, how it will look, and the tools and protocols they can use to engage with it. To help them make sense of their results in context, it can be helpful to provide faculty and staff with comparisons, benchmarks, and dashboards to facilitate their digging into the data.

Many of our partners have chosen to look at data in group settings, which has allowed them to create a space for colleagues to ask questions, share learnings, and come up with best practices. Using a structured process to look at data together helps cultivate data literacy in advance of receiving actual results.

  1. Affect Student Outcomes

Your community needs to know how to move from reflection to action. So that your faculty and staff are ready to take next steps from their data, confirm that they know how to select high-leverage areas for improvement based on the feedback they’ve received. Make sure that educators in your community can come up with an action plan, determine how they’ll track progress on goals, and know when they’re going to reconvene to reflect and iterate on what they’ve done.

Many of our most successful partners have encouraged teachers to use their end-of-year check-ins with administrators as an opportunity to establish and reflect on those data-driven focus areas. Increasingly, I’m seeing partners use their feedback data to inform their strategic planning, or to determine whether they’re meeting the larger goals they set for themselves and their community.

Ultimately, collecting data is part of a larger process of building trust, transparency, and shared vision around success and improvement. Following these principles will help you get a tremendous amount out of the feedback you receive from the stakeholders in your community — and enable you to use data to drive meaningful school- and district-wide change.

Sejin Mong is a certified Data Wise Coach and a Special Engagements Manager at Panorama Education. Previously, Sejin worked in Boston Public Schools, and now works with multiple top-10 districts in the U.S. to gather and act on stakeholder perception data.

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Cool Tool | Top Hat

CREDIT Top HatTop Hat makes it easy for professors to activate classrooms and engage students. With countless academic studies enforcing the impact of active learning, Top Hat is an easy and effective way to transform the passive lecture hall into an exciting learning environment. With a student’s personal device, students are able to dive into lectures and reply to challenging questions, manipulate demanding simulations and decipher complex graphics, live and in complete harmony with a professor’s preexisting presentation. As a strong advocate for traditional, on-campus education, Top Hat not only modernizes established teaching methods, but also facilitates new approaches by enabling professors to ‘flip the classroom,’ deploy peer, or ‘group learning’ and ignites many other creative solutions. In a world of digital distractions, thousands of professors across the globe rely on this tool to engage their students and improve learning. This Toronto-based company has 100 full-time employees and has been profitably operating since its launch in 2009 behind $22M in venture funding. Learn more.

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New Frontiers

Exploring the world of classroom VR without disrupting anything.

GUEST COLUMN | by Alice Bonasio

CREDIT Alice Bonasio nearpod Guido KovalskysYou’re on your way to Mars – says my Virtual Reality lesson prompt. This particular VR journey starts with a look around a spacecraft hangar and eventually takes me to the surface of the Red Planet itself. But I’m actually sitting in the San Francisco offices of Nearpod, an edtech company that has already introduced millions of K-12 students to this type of experience.

“Over 3 million kids log into our platform every month, and about 60 percent of those have accessed VR content,” Guido Kovalskys (pictured), co-founder and CEO of Nearpod tells me.

Which is impressive, especially considering they only launched the VR feature about a year ago.

“The Virtual Reality experience doesn’t actually replace a teacher’s traditional lesson plan; it adds visual elements to it at the right moments to increase engagement and drive up comprehension and learning,” he explains. “Research shows that student engagement drives better learning outcomes, but it has to be meaningful engagement, relevant to what you’re learning at that moment. The lessons take longer to put together than the actual VR content, because there’s a lot of pedagogy and planning involved.”

Transporting Students

Those lessons transport students to locations ranging from the Egyptian pyramids to Easter Island caves and the marine biomes of the Great Barrier Reef. In a way, it’s similar to Google Expeditions, but with a much stronger emphasis on lesson plan structure surrounding the content.

An example of how that works in practice: One French teacher recently used the VR feature to create a scavenger hunt when he took his class to a field-trip at a local museum. Students looked for Impressionist works on loan from Paris museums, and whenever they found one, they could look through their VR goggles see that same painting in its original setting in France. The Nearpod platform then let the teacher assign related homework where students wrote in French about their favorite discoveries.

“What we do is essentially help teachers quickly create learning experiences for their students in class, using their own devices or the school-supplied gear. Being cross-platform eliminates the need for special hardware, so a teacher can control a lesson directly from their iPhone, and integrate into apps such as Google for Education if they want,” says Kovalskys. Every single day 55 million kids in the U.S. go to school, and the core of what they do is spend time with teachers in the classroom, Kovalskys contends. “That’s not changing any time soon,” he says. So his team looked at ways of enhancing that experience. “In a classroom where you have one instructor and lots of students, how do you make learning as personal as possible without losing the social aspect? We started by creating a type of interactive PowerPoint that let teachers share content not to the projector, but to student’s individual devices. That way, a teacher can control their lesson from their smartphone, and students can interact with that content live in their hands, responding, adding their own notes, etc.”

Seeing the Vision 

To bring immersive VR into that equation, they studied what the minimum viable experience was that could be produced at a relatively low cost: “Our challenge was how to bring the best aspects of VR to the classroom without having to invest $600 per student plus $1000 for a computer that has to be attached to the device. That’s not going to be realistic for most schools,” he says. So Kovalskys’ team looked at what was already being used today – smartphones, Chromebooks, and tablets, and worked on making those more immersive using tools like 360 video.

Nearpod is targeting a market worth at least 12 billion dollars by the latest estimates. They operate on a freemium model that combines selling licences to schools and charging a few dollars for individual lesson plans, but a lot of the content is freely available.

The pedigree of investors betting on that vision is more impressive than the actual amount it raised – $5.6 million so far. These include the Emerson Collective (founded by Steve Jobs’ widow Laurene Powell Jobs), Salesforce CEO  Marc Benioff, and Zynga, which also hosts Nearpod in its impressive San Francisco building. One of those investors, Ben Wirz from the Knight foundation, says that what makes the company’s proposition so exciting is how it brings best practices from consumer mobile media into the classroom. Now they’re applying the same bottom-up strategy to VR.

Although Kovalskys agrees that VR is about to hit the mass market in areas such as gaming, he sees K-12 education taking another 5-7 years to implement it meaningfully across the board. “Schools are naturally very conservative, and the system makes it difficult to scale up until the research behind it is proven. We get concerns such as ‘will this make our kids dizzy,’ does it amount to just more screen time,’ and ‘is it just Silicon Valley pushing this?’ We’re still trying to prove to some people that mobile devices can be more than a distraction in the classroom, so it’s a long-term project.”

He has no fears about the technology catching up with demand, however, as he’s already seeing a dramatic rise in accessibility in the year since they started offering VR lessons: “Six months ago you needed about an hour of editing to stitch together every minute of 360 video you shot, but that’s no longer the case now. The hardware has also become a lot more affordable. We started out with Cardboard but now have our own gear, which is similar to what Samsung offers and provides a fantastic user experience.”

Kovalskys sees those experiences as the ultimate antidote to lesson boredom:

“We’re going from kids looking at 2×4 pictures of corals to literally being immersed into a coral reef that reacts to their movements, but it goes beyond just visual immersion. The fact that students can control what they look at gives a personalized feel of exploration to their experience. We’ve seen the sense of wonder, excitement and energy that it generates in them, and the possibilities of what that can achieve are virtually limitless.”

Alice Bonasio is a technology writer, strategic communications consultant and edtech buff. Write to: alicebonasio@gmail.com

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Cool Tool | IXL

CREDIT IXLIXL is an educational technology that delivers an immersive learning experience for students across all grades. With 1 in 10 students using it in the U.S., and over 18 billion questions asked and answered around the world, this company is helping schools successfully use technology to improve education. Their team of PhDs, teachers, and technologists crafts unique high-quality content and uses strategically mapped progressions to provide depth, breadth, and challenge for each skill. Their content and technology enable fresh and engaging experiences that spark curiosity and build confidence among middle and high school students. Their iPad app lets students take their learning on the go and practice and excel wherever they are: school, home, or on the road. With 3.1MM downloads, their iPad app is tailor-made for the mobile experience with visuals and functionality designed for the touchscreen to make it engaging and fun for even the most media savvy student, and they also have a new iOS app. With over 4500 skills, it’s one of the most comprehensive classroom products that adapts to individual levels for a personalized and diverse learning experience. Learn more.

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