Key Takeaways from ISTE 2017

Lists, insights, goal setting, and perspective from an edtech solution-provider.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jon Roepke

iste-san-antonio.pngRiverwalk, The Alamo, robots and VR. Naturally, I had been looking forward to ISTE this year ever since last year’s conference wrapped. My team and I reviewed ISTE’s official “What to Expect at ISTE 2017” blog post beforehand and set out to follow it to a tee. (It’s a must read for all attendees!) Read on for the Belkin Education team’s collective takeaways from ISTE 2017.

From ISTE: Write down specific learning goals.

Belkin goals:

  1. Identify industry trends based on ISTE experience.
  2. Have meaningful conversations with new contacts about the education industry.
  3. Get a glimpse of San Antonio outside the convention center – Riverwalk and the Alamo gave the town meaningful context steeped in a rich and diverse history. Dinner with industry influencers at the Pearl Brewery set a beautiful background for insightful conversations.

As always, we decompress from ISTE by thinking about what the edtech industry looks like in 10 years.

From ISTE: Invest your time in meeting people.

  • We had dinner with Erin Flanagan, founder of Erintegration about the challenges of integrating technology into the classroom. Erin is focused on helping teachers by sharing resources, lesson plans, reviews and tips for using devices to engage digital learners. It was fascinating to talk to her about how to help sustain the growth of technology in the classroom and the importance of grassroots communication and collaboration amongst educators.
  • Who could miss little miss Tatum F, Nibletz’s 9-year old edtech reporter, who roamed the show floor playing with robots, virtual reality, coding kits, testing computers and other cool new gadgets, while interviewing attendees. She was the perfect representation of how we should all maintain a clear sense of who we are serving at the end of the day. Our students and children are the next generation of learners and tech experts, and it only makes sense that we continue to foster, teach and inspire them.
  • We met Emily Tate from EdScoop at our booth and chatted about the potential of interactive distance learning. Location agnostic learning will prosper, unlocking new learning experiences driven by mobile technology. Our partnership with the PORTS program sets a solid example of the potential of interactive distance learning.

Identify Industry Trends.

  • Coding as Literacy goes mainstream. A student’s physical world coupled with digital tools through manipulative tools gains traction when it comes to building out coding curriculum. We saw dozens of fun ways to integrate coding into the classroom, with companies such as littleBits showcasing dynamic integrations of coding and fun for students. Many coding kit companies are leveraging scratch (visual coding language), making it accessible and easy to use.
  • (More) Personalized Learning makes learning tailored to the student and individualized in nature, without forcing curriculum planning to become unwieldy or overwhelming. Big data plus predictive analytics has great potential to personalize learning and bring students up to speed in the areas where they are falling behind. Apps like Flipgrid, educreations and others are focusing on enabling the demonstration of student achievement. We noticed significant growth in this trend since last year’s ISTE conference.
  • Google Excitement & Market Expansion fuels growth to cement their success in the education space. With 70M G Suite education users and a dominating presence on the expo floor and in sessions, Google has developed strong professional development networks to ensure successful adoption and use of services. We checked out the Google sheets widget that allows users to type in a question relating to data, and Google figures out the answer automatically. 

As always, we decompress from ISTE by thinking about what the edtech industry looks like in 10 years. We leave you with a few thought starters:

  • Self-Directed Education. Enhanced digital learning tools will enable single-learner education tracks that optimize learning pace and content to maximize educational value to an individual.
  • Real World vs. Textbook. The context of education will focus on real-world applications that promote solving maker and coder projects that have an impact beyond the classroom. We’ll see more apprenticeship-type projects in K-12 that deliver real solutions to real problems.
  • Differentiated Instruction. Digital tools will enable seamless differentiated learning experiences to maximize student achievement.
  • Constant Communication. Taking lead from an “always-on” workforce, students will have additional learning influences outside of the classroom thanks to mobile devices, wearables and applications. PowerSchool demoed this in their “classroom of the future” session.

Until next year, see you all in Chicago!

Jon Roepke is the director of product management for Belkin International, Inc. He leads the creation and fulfillment of new business ventures, and helps define and develop technology solutions, including mobile apps and hardware for next-gen learning environments in partnership with Apple, Samsung, Google and other core technology leaders. Follow @Belkin

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Future-Proofing with Gigabit Wi-Fi

IoT capabilities and a myriad of benefits come with wireless refresh.

GUEST COLUMN | by Dan Corbeil

CREDIT Dan Corbeil UNH Telecomm accesspoints.jpgAt the turn of this decade, about the time Apple unveiled the iPad, we rolled out a system-wide wireless implementation to address the trend toward students bringing laptops to campus. We took care to align the implementation with contemporary Wi-Fi deployment models, including access points (APs) running down the center of the hallways in our residence halls to provide sufficient coverage.

Fast-forward just four years later and our students were starting to voice concern with their Wi-Fi experiences in their dorm rooms and throughout campus.

Forklift Proves Inevitable

As a flagship research institution, our IT systems support 16,000 students and 2,000 faculty and staff spread across 2,600 acres and 150 buildings that total 10 million square feet. Like many institutions, meeting the connectivity expectations of our constituencies is critical to competing for highly motivated students, faculty members and researchers.

As a flagship research institution, our IT systems support 16,000 students and 2,000 faculty and staff spread across 2,600 acres and 150 buildings that total 10 million square feet.

Upon studying our wireless situation, it became clear technology had evolved quickly and we needed wire-like Gigabit Wi-Fi and a forklift upgrade to an 802.11ac WLAN was inevitable.

The resulting RFP in late 2015 emphasized our requirements for a future-proof solution to handle exploding per-person device counts and enable scaling-up as capacity demands evolved. Additionally, we needed advanced management tools for streamlining WLAN administration and troubleshooting to reduce the burdens of an expanded Wi-Fi network on our lean IT staff.

Contender Stands Out

In early 2016, we began reviewing RFP responses and invited three vendors to campus. Overall, we were most impressed with the technology and the collaborative culture of Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company.

On the technology side, several capabilities stood out. The first was the built-in capability of ClientMatch, where the AP measures the health of all associated clients and shares the information with the controller, which then determines the best available AP for each client. Unique among the leading vendors we considered, the feature ensures smooth hand-offs and provides seamless experiences wherever our users roam.

The intuitive network management platform AirWave was another deciding factor. In particular, we were excited about the Clarity module, which enables proactively monitoring critical non-RF metrics, such as the time it takes for a mobile device to associate with a Wi-Fi radio. In addition, the platform supplies custom alerts and performs simulated client testing.

Instead of the traditional paradigm, where we dispatch service staff when trouble arises, we envisioned using Clarity to detect possible issues and resolve them before they affected users.

Equally important were high-performance 802.11ac Wave 2 APs, for which we selected a series that included integrated Bluetooth low energy (BLE) beacon technology. This strategy smooths the path for integrating emerging technologies like location-based services.

Satisfaction Across Classrooms, Dorm Rooms and Our Arena

By start of the 2016-2017 academic year we’d fully deployed our new WLAN in residence halls. Later in the school year, a student survey showed an 80 percent satisfaction rate, which is a vast improvement.

In the classroom, faculty members are excited to begin incorporating more mobile and collaborative technologies into their curriculum.

This summer, we completed the update of our 6,500-seat Whittmore Center Arena, an Olympic-sized venue that is home to our hockey teams. It also hosts NCAA championship games and serves as a concerts and event venue.

Moving to Proactive Management

In IT, we’re benefiting in multiple ways. For example, we see how much bandwidth is being requested for non-academic uses, like gaming or Netflix streaming. This allows us to plan for future enhancements and upgrades accordingly.

We’ve also gained extensive and flexible reporting features for generating intuitive reports for our UNH administration. Such documents help them understand various metrics, such as Wi-Fi utilization rates, growth in connectivity demands and which applications users access. These reports are an excellent way to help non-technical decision makers visualize the Wi-Fi demands of today and partner with IT to plan for tomorrow.

We also adopted Aruba’s network access control (NAC) solution, ClearPass, to enable policy-based device and user access for strong security. As we already deployed CloudPath for onboarding, we integrated it with the NAC solution and the two systems work well together.

Additionally, we’re monitoring performance in lecture halls to ensure we have the capacity to address device densities and curriculum modifications. Should we begin seeing degradation, we can upgrade to APs with faster uplinks.

Next Up: Analytics, Outdoors and More

Moving forward, we’ll start addressing outdoor connectivity, beginning with the highest traffic areas. For that effort, we may consider mesh technology to overcome terrain challenges.

We’re also excited about the potential to leverage location-based services. Although wayfinding could be an option, the innovations are of greater interest for their analytics capabilities.

Location-based analytics could provide us with a granular understanding of how students move around campus and lead to implementing mechanisms that reduce bottlenecks, improve lighting or address other issues where we currently lack visibility.

We’re also interested in exploring the potential for using location-based services to help us understand authentication failures. Currently, we believe most failures result when students move away from covered areas, but are unable to substantiate it or warn users of imminent connectivity loss.

For instance, we could map a student’s device on-screen as a blue dot. Then, as the student moves outside a building and nears the limit of coverage, the blue dot could turn red, as a warning, and back to blue if the student steers back into the coverage area. On the IT side, this type of data would allow us to distinguish which authentications are true failures – and need remediation – versus those generated by exiting coverage areas.

IoT, Sustainability Take Us Into The Future

In short, our new WLAN not only handles current demands, but also offers us the flexibility and scalability to evolve our infrastructure to address the various needs of tomorrow.

For example, our infrastructure holds possibilities for supporting our carbon footprint reduction goals. One mechanism would be IoT sensors. Such technology is increasingly being deployed in higher education to improve efficiencies, like automating HVAC, which helps reduce carbon demand.

As a nationally recognized sustainability leader, it’s beneficial for our Wi-Fi infrastructure to include capabilities that can support our sustainability efforts while simultaneously enabling us to provide the high quality educational and research opportunities our university community expects every day.

Dan Corbeil has been with the University of New Hampshire Telecommunications department since 1994 and served as the Operations Manager since 2005, where he and his team supports UNH’s mission as a recognized national and international research institution. The research portfolio at the three-campus, 150-year-old UNH includes partnerships with NASA, NOAA, NSF and NIH, receiving more than $100 million in competitive external funding every year to explore and define the frontiers of land, sea, and space.

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Cool Tool | LeapFrog Academy

CREDIT LeapFrog Academy image.jpgLeapFrog recently announced LeapFrog Academy™, an interactive learning program for 3-6 year olds that guide children on a variety of fun Learning Adventures that they can play anywhere, on a variety of devices. Featuring a well-rounded curriculum, where children can explore a variety of skills that are important to their development, this exciting new subscription-based service offers access to more than 1,000 learning activities for just $7.99 per month (after a free one month trial). Activities teach fundamental subjects such as math, reading and science plus problem solving, and creativity. Also, no wi-fi? No problem! Children using it can learn and play on the go, even when wi-fi isn’t available. They can play most of their preferred activities by adding up to 24 of them to their “Favorites,” making them accessible to play even without an internet connection, which is pretty cool. Learn more.

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Advancing Literacy

Upgrading an ancient experience to bring boundless benefits to millions of people. 

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT Matt Bardin Zinc Learning Labs.pngOne of the founding directors of Teach for America, Matt Bardin (pictured) is as dedicated to literacy as they come. A graduate of Princeton, Matt has been teaching and tutoring in New York City since 1987. He taught high school and middle school in the New York City public schools in the early 1990s and went on to found Veritas Tutors (now Zinc Educational Services) in 2001. He was a co-founder in 2008 of High Five Labs, a company that produced the Smart Vocab apps, a popular sharable to-do list for couples called HoneyDo, and Mario Batali Cooks! for celebrity chef Mario Batali.

There are only two kinds of people in the world: smart people and smart people who read.

Matt is the author of Zen and the Art of The SAT, a popular SAT prep book. Why did he found Zinc Learning Labs? “To make the key element of an elite education – advanced literacy – widely available,” says Matt. Just what he means by that, and why it’s so vital, Matt further explains in our lively little discussion here.

What are your thoughts on the state of education these days?

We’re in both an exciting and scary time.

What makes you say that?

On the one hand, technology offers so many ways to improve learning. On the other, as automation increasingly eliminates algorithmic jobs, education needs to accomplish so much more. As state and national standards push educators to achieve more, we need new mechanisms to support such efforts. Also, everything we do in edtech has to compete with the daunting gravity of regular tech – the dopamine drip of memes, snaps and live streams that keep our kids glued to their phones like herds chewing grasses on the savannahs.

What do you believe technology’s role in education should be?

Right now technology needs to provide differentiation along with a meaningful sense of accomplishment for every child. One of the elephants in our educational room is development – students need the right stimulus to learn what they’re ready to absorb. We need to meet their abilities as they develop. Technology needs to help. I’d also like to see edtech that shapes culture in positive ways.

Why did you become a teacher and choose to work in education?

I don’t know. It’s probably genetic. Neither of my parents taught, but three of my four grandparents did. I’ve tried half-heartedly to get away from education a few times. No luck. It’s what I’m born to do.

Everything we do in edtech has to compete with the daunting gravity of regular tech – the dopamine drip of memes, snaps and live streams that keep our kids glued to their phones like herds chewing grasses on the savannahs.

Why did you decide to found Zinc Learning Labs and build the Zinc Reading Labs tools?

I had been a tutor for many years when one of my students suggested I build an app. I was fortunate to partner with a great technologist, Kiran Bellubbi. He kept insisting that we use my expertise as an educator, but after building the SmartVocab apps, we drifted toward lower hanging fruit. We built a sharable to do list and a successful cooking app for celebrity chef Mario Batali. I always knew, however, that what I really cared about was learning and that advanced literacy formed the backbone of almost any meaningful education. As soon as I had the resources, I started building ZLL.

What is your unique competitive advantage?

I have tutored hundreds of students in the world’s most competitive test prep market. To succeed, I’ve had to figure out how to change the academic circumstances of many different kinds of students – from high achievers who just make a few “careless” errors to struggling students who lack basic skills. As the owner of a successful tutoring company, I’ve also trained hundreds of tutors and learned even more from their experiences. I have put together a talented, committed team, and, most importantly, I have a profound need to scale what I’ve learned and will devote the long-term effort required to solve this challenging problem.

What drives you to stay persistent and motivated in the face of edtech start-up struggles?

Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons most people miss the crucial importance of advanced literacy, but experience has taught me that no other ability remotely compares in significance. There are only two kinds of people in the world: smart people and smart people who read. Not only do the latter category enjoy richer, fuller lives, but soon there will be almost no work for the former category. The opportunity to create a solution feels enormously rewarding and well worth the risk and the obstacles.

How do you see Zinc impacting the world?

I expect Zinc to make advanced literacy accessible to millions of people. In the age of video and 3D imaging, reading may seem retrograde, but Zinc will upgrade this ancient experience to bring its boundless benefits to millions of people.

Where do you see the company in a decade from now?

Zinc will become a global brand providing inexpensive access to great educational experiences. We will create a better experience of technology – one that expands rather than diminishes people’s intellectual engagement and ability.

What advice would you give to an entrepreneur thinking about starting an edtech company? 

My partner, Kiran, was right. You’re going to work so hard, you’d better choose something you really know and care about. Then find a way to attract great people. You need talent and experience in all key positions.

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

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Teachers Forecast 2020: Breaking the Mold

A school administrator on the theory versus practice of adopting technology.

GUEST COLUMN | by Melissa Saunders

Manassas City Public Schools IMAGE.jpg

We educators are on the precipice of breaking the mold and doing things differently. Within just three years, I predict how we work with kids will look less industrialized and be more flexible.

All students come to school with different kinds of needs, and we educators continue to try to fit them into all into a box. But we have been trying to put round pegs into the squares. This is changing.

Maintaining high quality teachers over a long period of time is really important to us.

I hope that in 2020 we see more scenarios where students are getting some of their general information through teachers, and also having experiences. Students should have internships, externships and work opportunities to try some things out so that before they leave high school they have credentials and real experience.

I see fewer requirements around “clock hours” and “seat hours” and standards and assessments. That doesn’t lessen the high stakes accountability, but loosening the reins a little bit gives us an opportunity to break the mold.

I see our younger kids just getting much more comfortable with a world that is less about answers and more of them asking questions. We educators are very much used to just giving answers, and now we have students who can question and think critically much younger than (probably) we anticipated. It seems like that is the only way they will be set up to succeed in life.

Just think about the difference between someone who went to school in the early to late 2000s versus 2017, and that speaks to how fast things are evolving and how much teachers really need to approach their practice with flexibility and a mindset of lifelong learning.

Empowering teachers to drive student learning

Keeping up with these changes as an educator is hard. Sifting through new information and learning new technology can be overwhelming and time consuming. There are tools and resources that can help, but it’s difficult to make these changes without support at the school and district level.

At the district level, we’re constantly challenged to provide teachers with something that they feel they can take away from professional development and use every single day. We give surveys to capture information from our teachers and oftentimes they talk to us about the professional development – they say, “it isn’t relevant to me.”

At Manassas, we have about 700 teachers. About 50 percent of them are in their first three years of teaching. What we administrators struggle with is how to provide opportunities for teachers to get what they need in order to grow in their professional practice.

We see teachers as the key drivers of student learning. As a result, we need to make sure that we are investing in those teachers by personalizing their learning so they can then do the same for the students. As I look at how to provide students with the best instructional opportunities, the answer is through their teachers.

Being able to personalize learning for the teachers allows us to really enhance human capital in the schools. We are investing in our teachers to make sure that we retain them. Here in Manassas, we not only have a very young workforce, we have a challenging district in the sense that our work is hard. It’s rewarding but it’s difficult. For us, finding ways to maintain teacher engagement and teacher effectiveness comes through providing teachers with not only benefits that they see as monetary, but also that of independent professional growth.

The theory versus practice of adopting technology

Three years ago, Manassas City embarked on a one-to-one initiative—a state initiative that provided matching funding for us to offer laptops to every student in our high school. We started with our 9th and 10th grades, and then throughout the school for the next four years.

We had a lot of plans on paper about how we were going to do things and what we were going to do, but I knew that it didn’t really matter if I handed a teacher or a student a device. If the teachers didn’t know how to access and utilize the devices or change their practice, the experience was going to fail. That realization led me and our professional development coordinator to develop a series of what we call “certificates” for teachers to participate.

In theory and on paper it all looked great—as many things do—but what we found in practice is that our teachers didn’t have the right background. We didn’t have enough professional development to equip them to use the devices as effectively as intended. Essentially, we just gave kids devices that they were able to take home to access the Internet.

We didn’t create the capacity at the high school to turn around instruction. Where we did a good job was in coming up with the idea of what we wanted it to look like. Once we had that vision, we knew we truly did not have the capacity to carry it out. Our eyes were bigger than our proverbial stomach.

We realized we needed help. We wanted to maintain our goal of achieving this certificate because it really creates those ladders. It gives people something that they can work to. We knew we wanted to keep that. So we went looking for help and everyone we went to had a prescribed method for how they were going to provide this training before they even knew who we were.

We had a hard time finding someone who would partner with us that could see our vision of certification and who would really personalize professional development for us. We didn’t want an off-the-shelf solution. And so somewhere along the line, my Professional Development Coordinator ran into BetterLesson. What resonates with our teachers is the support they offer. It is a kind of independent support so teachers can really choose how they engage in this process.

Funding this type of initiative can be challenging, because it doesn’t fit neatly into a specific line of the budget. We’ve found success by embracing this ambiguity and matching funding to multiple elements of the district’s larger strategic plan. The funding is linked to HR development, student achievement and technology. We know that technology is an important part of what we do every day and our students need competence skills in that. But in order for them to do that, they need teachers who are able to utilize that and learn and grow within that technology. By placing this initiative at the crux of our vision, its value is undisputed.

We’ve put a couple of other metrics into place that help support funding for choice in professional learning. We give a division engagement survey that gets to how people could be more engaged, happier, and satisfied in their work. One of the key indicators that continues to come out of those surveys is the idea of professional development and it being personalized and having choice.

Retaining teachers through PD

Maintaining high quality teachers over a long period of time is really important to us. Once we invest in them and we train them, we want to be able to keep them. It’s important to have metrics that say on a large scale that you know your teachers really want this and this is how you might retain them. We live in an environment that is highly competitive. You can go ten miles down the road and be in a whole different school system and potentially have a higher salary, so this investment in the human capital side of thing helps us in more than just instruction.

Delivering professional development hasn’t changed much. Administrators say, “Here’s the professional development, here’s why you have to do it, here’s where you have to do it, here’s how you have to do it and here’s how I want to see it measured later on.” It is very prescriptive. Where I think teachers have been really positive about our work with our solution provider’s one-on-one coaching model is their feeling that it is improving their practice and at a great pace with ideas that they want to improve.

We are control freaks in education and we want to make sure it all goes the right way. So giving teachers a choice is huge. Just like our students, we have teachers that come from so many different walks of life. When they have this opportunity to have a choice, they are positive about it and I see them articulating that back in the classroom with their students.

Link to full interview: SoundCloud recording

Melissa Saunders, Ed.D., is the Executive Director of Student Achievement for the Manassas, Virginia Schools. She obtained her masters at Carnegie Mellon and her Ed.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. She is known for her driving commitment to excellence and her quest for quality educational opportunities for young people.

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