Cool Tool | Hybridge

Hybridge learning acceleration software is a solution from Compass Learning that allows educators to more easily create a blended learning environment for K-8 ELA and math classrooms. The software includes rigorous content, real-time progress monitoring, robust reporting tools, and the ability to translate nationally normed assessment results into personalized learning paths. Since it aligns with leading basal textbooks, it makes blending offline and online instruction easier. And differentiating instruction isn’t time-consuming or difficult; fully integrated with NWEA, MAP, and Scantron Performance Series, as well as aligned with state and Common Core standards, its reporting tools make data actionable and facilitate flexible grouping and instructional adjustments. The software can be accessed online anytime, anywhere from desktop, laptop, or a mobile device so that students are able to work both at school and at home. Check it out.

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Intelligent Choice

Why arent we using our best technology to improve education?

GUEST COLUMN | by Denise Wydra

CREDIT CogniiIn 2013, Ron Maggiano left teaching after thirty-three years. He was just 4 years shy of retirement, but he couldn’t take it any more.

Maggiano, who taught history at Springfield High School in Virginia, is no slouch. He won awards for outstanding teaching from both Disney (2005) and the American Historical Association (2006). But despite his passion and expertise, he could no longer “cooperate with the standardized testing regime that is destroying creativity and stifling imagination in the classroom.” He was quoted in The Washington Post 

“Research shows that today’s students need to be prepared to think critically, analyze problems, weigh solutions, and work collaboratively to successfully compete in the modern work environment. These are precisely the type of skills that cannot be measured by a multiple-choice standardized test.”

Educators, parents, law-makers, students, and education advocates all decry the over-reliance on multiple-choice items in standardized testing. And what’s on the tests drives the curriculum: student spend hours memorizing the factoids and that are amenable to this format; their homework and in-class tests are often multiple choice as well.

If we care about education, our teachers and students should be supported by technology that’s at least as good as what we use to drive e-commerce. 

But why does it have to be multiple choice?

Multiple-choice items are undoubtedly fast and easy to score. They also have the aura of being “objective,” in the sense that you either get it right or you get it wrong—there’s no fallible human judgment involved.

But test-making companies know how difficult it is to construct a reliable multiple-choice item. For starters, all ambiguities in wording and logic must be eliminated, and the distractors need to be equally plausible. There’s a good chance that many of the multiple-choice items students routinely encounter are confusing or misleading—so whether or not students guess correctly has little to do with what they know.

And what does it tell us that so much “coaching” for multiple-choice tests is actually about gaming the system, placing better bets? What are we really measuring?

Multiple choice to our core

The use of multiple-choice tests in large-scale assessment was originally intended to eliminate bias and to identify promising young recruits during World War I. It was a reasonable technology for its time and purpose.

In the past decade, creators of digital learning products have used this simple format as the engine that drives a wide variety of engaging and creative learning activities. Students can respond to videos, enter virtual worlds, play games, get help from their peers. Because multiple-choice is fast and easy for machines to score, students get immediate feedback, a huge boon.

But this is all built on a technology that’s conceptually over a hundred years old. You see a set of options and you click to place your bet.

We’re seeing exciting advances in education’s use of sophisticated technology. Big data can identify students at risk and highlight actions associated with success. Adaptive learning can provide each student with the optimal content for where she is in her learning path.

Yet none of this is helping to transform the core learning experiences and assessments themselves. Most adaptive products function by steering students to the most appropriate MC-based activity.

Shifting the baseline model

Here’s where education can learn from other sectors. Outside of the classroom, the use of Artificial Intelligence is growing rapidly. Medicine uses it to assist doctors in diagnosis and patient care. Journalism uses it to write new stories, and corporate America uses it to compose earnings reports. Amazon uses it to recommend new items to shoppers. And Apple uses it to help you buy movie tickets—and thus sell more iPhones.

Researchers have been excited about AI’s potential use in education for years. What we lack, though, are practical solutions that can be used to build the next generation of learning activities and assessments.

Imagine a classroom where students could get feedback on their projects as often as they wanted, before or after their check-ins with instructors. Imagine a tutoring system that could help students develop self-reflection and metacognition, not just quiz them with problem sets. Or an e-textbook that could engage in dialogs with students to assess and develop their deep understanding of the material.

Imagine a world where standardized testing actually assessed not only students’ deep conceptual understanding but also their ability to solve new problems and make new connections?

If we care about education, our teachers and students should be supported by technology that’s at least as good as what we use to drive e-commerce. We need to get moving on the use of Artificial Intelligence and other advancements to improve learning experiences, not just churn through multiple choice tests more quickly.

Personally, I’d be willing to give up on Siri’s ability to help me make dinner reservations if it would help students with critical, creative thinking instead.


Denise Wydra is currently COO at Cognii, a technology company focused on using artificial intelligence to increase the availability of high-quality learning experiences. Previously she was VP of print and digital product at Macmillan Higher Education and Editorial Director at Bedford/St. Martin’s, a college publisher, where she focused on innovative solutions for teachers and students.

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Trends | EdTech Goals, Progress, and Shifting Definitions  

CREDIT SIIA ETINAs revealed in the 2015 Vision K-20 Educator Survey Report conducted by the Education Technology Industry Network (ETIN) of SIIA, K-20 education institutions are making slow, but steady progress towards reaching their instructional and operational goals through the use of technology. Educators also reported needing more continuous access to adequate bandwidth and increased access to technology resources and training. Survey results also indicate the use of technology to manage student data has increased, and that educators use electronic data most often to track student performance and improve instruction. However, the report suggests that more training and access are needed to support educators’ use of individual student data. Also released by ETIN of SIIA, the Behind the Data Report shows a shift in the definition of an online course, which now includes any fully digital curriculum—even when delivered face-to-face in the classroom. The shifting definition partially explains a 320 percent increase in revenues from the previous year in the Online Course category of the PreK-12 Market Survey. Contributing factors that resulted in greater market acceptance for online courses include technology infrastructure, improved quality of online courses, curriculum gaps filled by online courses and real-market demand in niche areas.

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Globalized Classrooms

Shifting demographics make language and literacy technology tools imperative.

GUEST COLUMN | by Nick Gaehde

CREDIT Rosetta StoneEducational technology has transformed today’s schools and plays a critical role in classroom instruction, but to fully grasp the extent to which the industry has grown, one simply needs to look at the numbers: According to a recent projection by the Center for Digital Education, K-12 IT budgets will have increased another 3%, to $10.2B in 2015. The industry’s continued growth reflects the rapid changes in education in recent decades, most prominently an emphasis on personalized and blended learning.

Growing immigrant populations are driving the demand for technology solutions that engage not only students, but teachers, parents and communities.

Technology is clearly leaving a positive and long-lasting impact on education, enriching and engaging students’ learning environments and helping teachers do their jobs more efficiently and effectively. Research supports these claims and shows the many benefits of technology, including enhancing literacy development, impacting language acquisition, providing greater access to information, supporting learning motivating students and enhancing self-esteem.

Sophisticated digital tools have become the backbone of personalized learning, and teachers increasingly are turning to technology to tailor instruction to students’ individual needs and strengths. By giving students a path to learning that is self-directed and self-paced, learning becomes more engaging and fun. In return, a culture of collaboration between students and teachers is cultivated, enabling teachers to better manage their time and to facilitate rather than dictate.

Ethnic diversity, globalized learning environments

As classrooms increasingly become more ethnically diverse and the world more globalized, the need for effective language and literacy solutions, in particular, has never been more imperative. Growing immigrant populations are driving the demand for technology solutions that engage not only students, but teachers, parents and communities. Digital language and literacy learning solutions both accelerate the learning of English-Language students and provide native English speakers with the opportunity to build global competency skills through world language acquisition. School leaders are fast realizing that such tools are no longer a luxury, but rather a necessary step to boost the competitiveness of their students.

Mooresville (NC) Graded School District (MGSD) and Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) are two districts among the scores of innovative communities with whom we work to provide access to language learning they might not otherwise receive. Not only have these districts recognized the many benefits of early language acquisition and preparing students for success in today’s increasingly global and diverse marketplace, but they’ve implemented programs that are delivering results and making significant impact.

MGSD, a nationally recognized leader in digital learning, has implemented language learning modules for the 3,000 students in its five elementary and intermediate schools. Given limited resources, the district needed a cost-effective way to provide even its youngest learners the opportunity for exposure to a new language and give them the best preparation for the intense language instruction that awaits them in middle and high schools. The program they use not only affords students an opportunity to learn a new language both in school and at home, it also allows teachers to use this technology to personalize learning experiences, track learner data, monitor student progress and, ultimately, obtain better results for their students.

CPS, the third largest school district in Ohio, with an English-language learner (ELL) population that has grown more than 500 percent over the last five years, has used a grant from the state’s Straight A Fund to provide its 33,000 students and their parents, and more than 4,200 CPS employees access to English Language Learning and World Language Learning programs from my company. The partnership has helped to bridge linguistic differences, improve academic success and create cultural understanding among the district’s students, parents and employees.

Literacy skills, dramatic gains with the right technology

Similarly, educators in nearly 14,000 schools worldwide are using personalized instructional technology from our offerings to engage with more than two million students and dramatically accelerate reading skills development. Using real-time data to inform instruction, the program has consistently enabled students in grades pre-K–5 to reach higher levels of reading proficiency. Through the Kansas Reading Initiative, dramatic gains in reading were reached in the program’s first year, with the percentage of students meeting their grade-level benchmark increasing from 45 to 70 percent. Moreover, 99 percent of the more than 2,000 at-risk readers accelerated their reading skill acquisition by mastering at least one year of grade-level skills, and 87 percent advanced two or more grade levels.

These examples just touch the surface of how technological innovation is driving learning. Our objective is not unlike any school district with whom we work: to empower teachers and students by providing the most effective instructional tools possible so that every child—regardless of their background—is prepared for the challenges and opportunities that a global society presents.

As demographics continue to shift within school districts, and the importance of language and literacy skills increases, education technology will play an even greater role in affecting change in today’s classroom.

Nick Gaehde is the Senior Vice President of Rosetta Stone’s K-12 Education division and President of Lexia Learning, the company’s K-12 literacy and assessment division.

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Why It’s Time to Ditch Your Old-School Firewall

(And ten things you need in your new one.)

GUEST COLUMN | by Amy Abatangle

CREDIT UntangleK-12 schools must maintain a careful balance between internet access and protection. Keeping schools in CIPA compliance and kids focused on learning demands robust web filtering and blocking technologies. Internet access is no longer a luxury; the resources students and staff need on a daily basis as part of the core curriculum are located online.

As with so many things, budget constraints force many schools to live with out-of-date IT infrastructure and ineffective web filters much longer than they should. Schools are hanging on to older systems that block website content based on URL and port 80/443. But today’s websites and applications proactively hop ports, and more and more traffic comes through HTTPS. These old systems are not only too easy to bypass, they can also hamper learning due to inflexible, cumbersome block/allow rules.

To meet classroom needs while excluding the growing array of distracting and inappropriate content out there, a next-gen firewall is a must.

Compounding the problem is that more students bring their own devices from home for use on campus WiFi, and kids are often adept at finding new ways to get around web filters using search engine tricks, proxy websites, and anti-firewall software such as UltraSurf.

Clearly, K-12 network administrators need a new approach to web filtering that can effectively stop unwanted traffic yet optimize access for a growing array of educational activities. It’s a tightrope act with tight budgets making it all the more precarious. But there are cost-effective options out there that can provide a much more flexible internet experience for school staff and students alike – while keeping everyone on task, compliant and safe.

One school’s story

Huntingtower School is an independent, coed day and boarding school in Mount Waverley, Victoria, Australia. In addition to on-premise devices, about 175 of the school’s 700 students bring their own devices to school. Additionally, staff bring about 250 laptops, iPads or smartphones on campus, totaling about 1350 devices on the network daily.

As a K-12 institution, Huntingtower School must prevent students from accessing inappropriate content while on school premises. With a legacy solution deployed, their network administrators found that students were bypassing content restrictions by using HTTPS or web translator pages, and the school’s VPN services did not restrict students from viewing inappropriate content on their mobile devices and tablets.

By choosing a next-generation firewall with web filtering, HTTPS inspection, application control and robust policy management, Huntingtower School can efficiently block students from viewing restricted websites and inappropriate content on all devices brought to campus, including websites in different languages. Modern web filtering including application control features made it easy to block or flag hundreds of applications, including Facebook, games, instant messaging, or file sharing – keeping bandwidth available for legitimate use by staff and students.

Flexibility and granular control were keys to success for Huntingtower School. Their experience with everything from cost control to bandwidth management provides a good checklist for schools looking to update their firewalls.

10 things K-12 schools should look for in a web filter:

  1. A robust, dynamic, real-time URL categorization engine with granular categories and full language support.
  2. Enforced safe search for popular search engines.
  3. Ability to handle and decrypt HTTPS sites so policies are enforced and administrators can see all websites and applications being accessed.
  4. Flexible web filtering with the ability to block inappropriate content to students yet easily allow temporary access to staff.
  5. The ability to make rules on an application basis, not just by URL. This allows for control and blocking of games, videos, torrents, streaming and other application types (Facebook, instant messaging, file sharing, etc.)
  6. Customization to set up different policies for students and staff by user, group, time of day, day of week and more.
  7. Ability to shape traffic via bandwidth control. This helps ensure that the fourth grade’s Common Core testing doesn’t conflict with the fifth grade’s Skype call or streaming video. Bandwidth control lets schools proactively manage bandwidth on the network, prioritize and de-prioritize sites, and give certain staff/groups bandwidth usage rights.
  8. Real-time reporting that lets you drill down to view and control individual user activity.
  9. Free trials and discounts. Some vendors offer free trials that let a school test out the system risk-free, and many offer discounts for educational organizations.
  10. Low hardware costs. Be sure you know if multiple hardware appliances are required to run the firewall or if you can use your current hardware.

Filter like a business

To meet classroom needs while excluding the growing array of distracting and inappropriate content out there, a next-generation firewall is a must. The solution needs to be inline, in the flow of traffic, so the web filter is not just seeing proxy or port 80/443 traffic. The filter must fully inspect HTTPS and can’t be 100% dependent on a list for URL detection. It should accommodate reverse IP lookups, understand multiple languages and enforce safe search features in browsers. It must also be able to recognize nefarious student activity such as proxy web site behavior in real time.

As more mobile device types are brought onto campus and as web-based educational resources continue to gain importance, K-12 institutions need the same enterprise-grade firewall protection that large companies demand. Good options are out there for real-world budgets, but be sure to insist on the right feature set. This will keep network administrators, staff and students alike focused on the common goal: education.

Amy Abatangle is Executive Vice President and General Manager for Gateway Products at Untangle, Inc.

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2016 AWARDS PROGRAM. EdTech Digest recognizes people in and around education for outstanding contributions in transforming education through technology to enrich the lives of learners everywhere. We are now accepting entries for the 2016 awards program. Submit an entry<<

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