Peer-to-Peer Learning Power

Students creating a foundation in programming and computer science.

GUEST COLUMN | by Ryan Seashore

CREDIT CodeNowFour years ago, we launched CodeNow as a nonprofit focused on helping underrepresented teens look under the hood of technology to learn about coding. To date, we’ve run 33 in-person trainings, and have seen over 1,000 students pass through our program, 80 percent of whom received free or reduced lunch. Many of our earliest students are just starting their college careers, and a good percentage have selected disciplines in computer science. Our imperative is to shine the light on coding for teens at the beginning of the pipeline, and we look for as many access points as possible to show any

We think learning to code is like playing a sport. How will someone know if they like it unless they try? Kids need exposure in order to learn whether it’s for them.

student that they can have a bright future in computer science if they want it. We do this through in-person workshops and trainings on weekends and summer break, and we often work with teachers and community groups to recruit students curious about coding. Through our CodeNow In A Box initiative we work with corporations such as Adobe, Bloomberg, Infor, Symantec and others who provide us with space, volunteers and funding.

We’ve witnessed firsthand the power of peer-to-peer learning during our in-person trainings – students can explain things to each other in very easy-to-understand, relatable terms and context. And when it comes to engaging with our program overall, our students are far from shy about sharing their opinions and ideas about how to solve the problem in front of them, and also how to improve what CodeNow does. We listen. We invite them back to keep learning or, in some cases, teach at our workshops. They influence curriculum and methodology, as we recently saw in our newest form of training: #CodeHow. (Our students picked the name.)

#CodeHow is a series of short concept videos, three to six minutes in duration, that feature CodeNow alumni explaining important programming and computer science concepts and ideas — for example, variables, arrays, if/else statements, and other introductory fundamentals. Each of the videos includes a key aspect students should understand about a concept. They are available on YouTube and free to anyone who is curious about learning to code.

Peer-to-peer learning is not a new idea; it is just a matter of who is creating the content and who the audience is. #CodeHow is unique in that it involves teens teaching teens about coding. There is no power dynamic affecting the learning process, and students share the status as fellow learners, making learning to code more accessible. For those doing the “teaching,” it is an opportunity to pay it forward and externalize their knowledge, both activities that positively affect learning. For those doing the learning, it has the added benefit of presenting a relatable model of what can be achieved, a “possible self.”

Not every school offers programming classes, and not every student has the resources to pay for coding education outside of school. The internet allows students with curiosity and interest to find the resources they need to begin learning. #CodeHow is designed to be a relatable starting point, where teens can try their hand at learning from other teens who not too long ago were in their position – just starting out, not sure where to look, but wanting to explore whether computer science might be for them. We think learning to code is like playing a sport. How will someone know if they like it unless they try? Kids need exposure in order to learn whether it’s for them. Our workshops and videos demystify programming, allowing teens to dive in and see if it’s for them.

Ryan Seashore is the founder of CodeNow.org. Find him on Twitter @RyanSeas

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A Collaborative Future

Transforming education with multi-touch, multi-person technology.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jonathan Priestley

CREDIT MultiTactionRecent studies from Harvard and Michigan State University have shown that group activities empower individuals to perform better in a variety of tasks compared to working independently. In a group setting new processes, ideas, solutions and conclusions are easily developed and increased cognition amongst students is evident. The future of education involves collaborative learning, and this means moving beyond the integration of the latest tech gadgets.

Unlike traditional classroom technologies, interactive touch technology gives students the chance to learn by seeing, doing and implementing.

Technologies such as tablets, projectors and whiteboards have evolved learning, but they also limit the number of users at a given time and prohibit groups of students from collaborating when using these devices. In order to advance collaborative and group learning environments, educational institutions need to make the incorporation of technology that supports group interaction a top priority. Schools need to look to technology solutions that facilitate unlimited users to prompt social exchange and allow the seamless contribution of ideas. Interactive technology in the form of large multi-touch displays offers a viable solution as learning, interacting and collaborating is transformed and students are placed at the forefront of a dynamic experience.

Classroom Interaction and Group Learning

Students today are part of the Touch Generation. Not only do these student want to play with touch devices, they want to learn with them as well. Unlike traditional classroom technologies, interactive touch technology gives students the chance to learn by seeing, doing and implementing. It immerses students into activities and allows educators to bring lessons to life. Students are encouraged to explore news way of learning by utilizing a strategic approach to lessons.

Interactive touch technology also caters to the learning styles of students and adapts to their needs. Many educational institutions have turned to touch technology to incorporate gamification in learning especially since 60 percent of learners believe that friendly competitions motivate them. Technologies that don’t support this level of interaction can actually hinder engagement. If students are not engaged with the content or topic, they don’t feel the need to pay attention in class and can easily miss important information. Collaboration on the other hand intensifies the information students retain and sparks creativity. By using touch technology, there is increased group cohesion which has a positive impact on group performance as well.

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)

According to a College Explorer study from re:fuel, 85 percent of the college student population own a laptop and students are spending an increasing amount of time on these personal devices since they are permitted to use them in the classroom. As such, there is an increasing need to integrate technologies that can support these types of portable smart devices. For instance, touch technology that can easily communicate with personal devices supports the BYOD trend. Students can easily share information for an individual project, work with other group members on a project, or create a presentation that visually draws students into the content.

Millennials are particularly interested in the BYOD trend as their personal devices are second nature to them. A Back-to-School Technology Usage survey by AMD found that 67 percent of students say one of their biggest fears is having their technology stop working. As universities seek to effectively close the gap and encourage the use of interactive technology in the classroom, the ability to easily sync and collaborate on personal devices is highly significant for the Millennial demographic. In fact, college students own up to seven tech devices so a smooth integration from device to device is critical to prevent loss of information.

The future of higher education needs to boost engagement amongst students and encourage collaboration within the classroom setting beyond collaborative software alone. Interactive touch hardware will play an integral role in the success and growth of students as learning is transformed like never before. With the right kinds of touch technology, professors and instructors can ensure that their lesson plans are being fully comprehended by students and students on the other hard can be actively involved in their learning and cooperate with their classmates as well.

Jonathan Priestley works for MultiTaction, a leading developer of interactive display systems. Write to: info@multitaction.com

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Innovation Alive and Well

At Penn State, a new network and a national edtech summit.

GUEST COLUMN | by Rosemarie Piccioni

CREDIT Penn State EdTech NetworkAdvances in technology are pushing higher education into new realms. From the continuing growth in online degree programs, to incorporating mobile devices and multimedia into teaching environments, educational technology is being used to help improve student outcomes. Penn State is developing an EdTech Network to expand the educational technology sector in State College, Pennsylvania. The goal of the network is to attract entrepreneurs and develop relationships with companies by providing opportunities for collaboration with Penn State faculty, staff and students.

The goal is to accelerate the transfer of new ideas into useful products and processes.

Penn State’s EdTech Network is part of the $30 million Invent Penn State initiative announced by Eric Barron, president of the University, in January 2015. The mission of Invent Penn State is to leverage the University’s size and broad research strengths to be a driver for job creation, economic development and student career success. Educational technology will be one of several areas, including energy, food security, environmental protection, health care, manufacturing, medical devices and pharmaceuticals, where the goal is to accelerate the transfer of new ideas into useful products and processes.

EdTech Summit

The team behind the EdTech Network is a part of Penn State Outreach and Online Education (OOE), a unit of the University led by Vice President for Outreach and Vice Provost for Online Education Craig Weidemann. OOE also leads the team fueling the international reach and nationally ranked programs of Penn State World Campus.

To further advance Penn State partnerships, the EdTech Network will host a summit at the University Park campus November 2–4, 2015. Select companies, investors, alumni, entrepreneurial students and faculty who specialize in educational technology will be invited to attend. Segments of the summit will be live streamed including a presentation by Jaime Casap, Google’s chief education evangelist.

Students Succeeding

Penn State’s EdTech Network growth has already begun with the expansion of a partnership between Penn State World Campus and InsideTrack, a leading student success organization that supports colleges and universities in improving student enrollment, completion and career readiness. As part of a four-year agreement, the California-based company will co-locate six full-time employees and four student interns to an office on the University Park campus.

The expanded partnership with InsideTrack is the network’s first step towards creating similar partnerships with other educational technology companies to develop environments that will help students succeed.

Rosemarie Piccioni, Ed.D., is Director of The Penn State EdTech Network, with a mission to facilitate student success by improving the accessibility and quality of higher education through the use of innovative educational technology solutions. Write to: rpiccioni@psu.edu

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Four Steps to Success

A pioneer heading up one of the longest-running edtech entities shares his secret formula.

GUEST COLUMN | by Ed Gragert

CREDIT iEARN globeOnline educational programs, projects and networks often pride themselves for longevity if they are five or (gasp!) 10 years old. If the former, they might have been created after the most recent downturn in the economy. If the latter, they may have been launched after the dot com bust of 2000. But imagine an international online education network still going strong after a launch in 1988! From a pilot project linking 12 schools in Moscow in the (then) Soviet Union with 12 schools in New York State, iEARN (International Education and Resource Network) has grown to become a global network with iEARN organizations in over 140 countries involving over 40,000 member schools and two million students each day — using technology to engage in online collaborative project-based learning. I am often asked how it’s been possible that iEARN has extended its reach and participant base so widely — when all but one or two other networks from the 1990s have failed. I will explore what I think are the four reasons for its success.

1. Mission Driven

From the outset, iEARN has not been purely a technology nor an academic network, in which students solve problems and teachers perhaps compete for prizes and awards for their projects.

CREDIT iEARN quilt“Making a difference” has been a key component of the network from the outset and is built into every collaborative project. When teachers propose new projects — in addition to information on the ages of the students to be involved, curriculum applications, specific activities and culminating action or outcome from the project — a key question asks how the world will be a better place as a result of the project being done — resulting in reflection from the very outset on the “why” and mission, and in designing project activities that address the larger issue of quality of life on the planet.

(Pictured: Students impacted by the earthquake in Bam, Iran with the comfort quilt sent to them by students in the US.)

iEARN has sought to change how students learn through collaboration (rather than competition) in order to prepare them for working together globally on project work and later in careers. We want students to graduate from high school knowing that they can make a difference, and one of exponential size, when and if they work together with others everywhere in the world. As a corollary, if students are to model collaboration, then prizes and awards for individuals and projects — creating winners and losers in the network —actually damage the sense of community and process of working in teams to collaboratively problem-solve.

2. Decentralized Structure

The “flat” technology we all use in the online educational community defies hierarchy and central power structures. When iEARN created its global structure, Dr. Horatio Godoy from Uruguay gave sage advice. He asked why adopt a nation-state structure from the 19th century when the technology we were pioneering did not respect traditional national boundaries. Indeed, the terms “country” or “nation” did not appear in the 1994 International Constitution. Instead, a “Center” was defined by affinity group and services (professional development, support for student project work, working relationship with the ministry of department of education, local legal status and administrative structure, etc.) that it provided its members, not by its geography.

It was a revolutionary model reflecting and honoring the technology, rather than trying to fit an old organizational model to a new global technology reality. Independent iEARN Centers assumed responsibility for their own programs and teacher support in their own languages, cultures and educational systems. This meant registration as national organizations with close working relationships with their Ministries of Education. They were not “branches” of a US organization.

3. Honoring Teachers, Not Technology

CREDIT iEARN teachersFrom the outset, we realized that teachers did not need another curriculum to teach. Instead, they put what they were teaching in a collaborative project format and educators in other countries adapted it to meet their own state or national curriculum requirements. iEARN became a network of teacher-designed and implemented Project-Based Learning, long before that term began to be used and advocated. Being the “owners” and implementers of the projects, teachers were naturally invested in their success, quality and longevity. Teachers continue them because they see enhanced student learning and a motivation to learn. (Pictured: Teachers in Pakistan working and learning together to implement projects for their students.)

iEARN realized early on that the key to success in this field is not the technology, but professional development. Educators are not often taught how to collaborate with another class in their same school. Yet, in iEARN we expect them to work across geographic boundaries, cultures, educational systems, languages, time zones and with technologies that are probably new. To develop teachers’ skills in these areas, iEARN professional development is most often handled locally in accordance with local languages, cultures and educational context. In 2001, iEARN also started offering international online courses to educators on how to integrate technology-enabled project-based learning into the classroom. These courses enabled educators to interact with global educators, enabling them to experience international exchange first-hand, and ensuring that they quickly overcame the learning curve to integrate international technology-assisted project-based learning into a wide variety of curricular areas. The focus on teachers is integral to iEARN success.

4. Sense of Community

Teachers want to meet others who share their educational vision. iEARN has created a global technology-enabled community of educators who know that students learn better by using technologies to facilitate peer interaction internationally.

For many countries in the network, the very access to such a global community is something to be valued and cherished. In the late 1990s, I had the chance to visit a rural girls’ school in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. The disparity between school resources in different communities was dramatically apparent. Electricity was sporadic and the school had no running water. Internet access was through a dial-up telephone line to one computer that was allowed to connect every several days through a store-and-forward system that uploaded student work over several days and downloaded new incoming messages during a 15-minute connection at midnight.

At the girls’ school, I was greeted by the principal. She welcomed me into her bare office and we sat side-by-side near a coffee table on which sat a thick binder of papers. She opened the binder to the first page and I was taken aback that it was a message from me —along with a photo of me in my own office in New York! As she thumbed through the first 20 pages of a binder with at least 60 pages, each one carefully protected in a plastic sheath, she carefully explained that these were welcome messages, from fellow educators around the iEARN global community. She noted that her teacher had posted a message in the iEARN Teachers Forum saying that her school was new to global networking and looked to others for advice and support. In response, messages had arrived from educators around the world, offering words of welcome and support. This binder and its messages were a treasure. They represented the reality that this school was now as much of the global core as any other—taking the school’s teachers and students out of their geographic, economic and technical isolation.

To further this sense of community and sharing, iEARN, since 1994, has hosted an annual international conference every July in a different country to enable teachers to share with their peers how they had integrated technology into various curriculum areas. I hope you will join us at the 2016 conference in India.

The above four characteristics have played a key role in iEARN’s development and expansion over the past decades. They will undoubtedly serve the organization well as it moves forward in the coming decades.

As the first Executive Director of iEARN, Ed Gragert helped expand the program globally to become one of the world’s largest primary and secondary educational online networks. An education technology pioneer, he has worked tirelessly with a team to create a unique project-based, Internet-supported learning network that now daily engages 46,000 schools and 2 million youth in 140-plus countries. Write to: egragert@gce-us.org

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Cool Tool | bird

A small wearable that turns any space into an interactive playground, a student can put it on his index finger and communicate directly with his devices so he can easily interact with digital content and media. He can touch, push, pull, swipe and grab content from anywhere in the room. The device is sensitive enough and has sufficient depth perception to accurately recognize the entire spectrum of interactive methods. As the company, MUV Interactive, promotes, “if you can see it, you can control it.” What’s really cool is that they invited a bunch of students ages 7-15 to try it out for themselves and produced a video that shows what happened. Looks like fun, and it’s really up to a student or teacher to decide what to use it for in the classroom.

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