Cool Tool | Bring Science Alive!

CREDIT Teach TCILaunched with the 2014-15 school year, Bring Science Alive! from Teach TCI combines hands-on learning with technology. Students use interactive tutorials, notebook prompts, and assessments that build on one another, gaining a complete understanding of concepts – all from a fun, inviting and intuitive interface, accessible from any device. Teachers have easy-to-implement presentations, clear standards-alignment information, step-by-step tutorials – and are supported with orientations, webinars, how-to videos and an online feedback forum. Districts using TCI products consistently see test scores that exceed statewide averages. While data for brand-new Bring Science Alive! are not yet available, common feedback heard in field tests are “That’s cool!” and “Can we keep doing this after lunch?” This enriching instruction is reinvigorating educators’ passion for teaching while actively engaging students in learning and propelling them to new heights. Check it out.

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Cool Tool | Science How

Science How from SmithsonianThe Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History set out to create a new type of science-education tool that could reach students in grades 5-12 nationwide and show them that science is exciting and relevant to our lives. The solution was “Smithsonian Science How?” a new, television-style show streamed live through the web that puts experts from the museum into classrooms nationwide and allows students to ask questions via a chat module. Each 25-minute program features a different scientist explaining their work and is produced live twice, to accommodate both East and West Coast classrooms. All content is aligned with national science standards and packaged with free classroom resources. Initial evaluation data provided by participating educators nationwide revealed that a large majority found the webcasts and related classroom resources extremely or very well aligned with current student learning. Educators consistently indicated that their students were highly engaged or engaged a great deal by the shows. The majority of respondents indicated that the webcast was an effective way to engage their students with science topics. “Smithsonian Science How?” is part of the Q?rius education initiative at the museum that supports STEM education among youth and helps to address the science literacy gap in America. See How.

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Why I’m Building Make School

A co-founder of an innovative university replacement for computer science tells all.

GUEST COLUMN | by Ashu Desai

CREDIT Make SchoolI built my first iPhone app in high school, a game called Helicopter, which sold 50,000 copies. Building and shipping a real world product was by far the most engaging and empowering educational experience I ever had. Instead of being driven by a test score, I was motivated by the ownership I felt over my project and the promise of a tangible result that would be used and appreciated by people around the world. Not only was building an app an incredible learning experience, it opened doors for internships and jobs that were normally only available to college grads.

After high school I attended UCLA to study Computer Science, but I was sorely disappointed by the quality of education. Instead of learning to build products and experiences using cutting edge technologies, I found myself stuck in uninspired lectures and studying dying languages for paper-based tests. The content and teaching methodologies for this rapidly changing discipline had not changed in decades. I left school after a year to move to Silicon Valley and quickly discovered that most software engineers I met shared my frustrations with their university experiences. What’s more, every company I encountered was having trouble hiring quality engineers. It became evident there was a growing skills gap between what universities were teaching and what the industry needed.

There was a growing skills gap between what universities were teaching and what the industry needed.

We’re building Make School in order to provide a more relevant and engaging computer science education. Our students learn computer science principles through creating their own products using the latest technologies. For example, this year one of our students built Refuge Restrooms, a way for transgender, intersex and gender non-conforming individuals to find safe restrooms. It’s exciting to watch computer science students learn through building products that impact the world and drive social change. While some universities offer app development and product development courses (our curriculum powers courses at MIT and Carnegie Mellon), it’s far from a focus of a traditional CS degree.

We regularly talk to CTOs of tech companies to determine topics to include in our curriculum. We also ask what they looked for in new grad hires. Many still look at which school students attend, but mostly because top schools tend to select bright students in the admissions process. A portfolio of independent projects and products shipped held far more weight in the hiring process than coursework and GPA. Even at top universities, students have to supplement their education with independent learning, weekend hackathons and summer internships in order to graduate to a developer job.

However, even if universities were to modernize their CS curriculum into a practical, project-based approach, they still wouldn’t be able to meet the demand for software engineers. The shortage of software engineers will continue to grow and consequently, a projected 1 million IT jobs will go unfilled by 2020. While Harvard recently received a grant of around $60 million to hire CS professors, due to tenure requirements, this grant will increase the CS department by 50 percent, only an additional 150 CS majors. University CS classes are busting at the seams due to the rising popularity of the field, but bureaucracy and institutional rules make it impossible for them to keep up with demand.

We’re aiming to create an institution more adaptable and future proof than traditional universities. It starts with two core feedback loops. The first is the student-teacher feedback loop. While I was at UCLA, I was really frustrated by my inability to fix problems with my education. At Make School, we iterate on student feedback while in session, ensuring higher quality education and constantly challenging our methods and content. We also build in opportunities to customize each student’s education, giving more or less focus to topics and concepts that interest them. Giving students control and ownership over their education drives stronger outcomes. The second feedback loop is the industry-curriculum loop. It’s important for us to stay up to date with the topics and languages that are used in the real world, especially as the software industry changes so rapidly. We’re building this feedback loop into our business model, as students pay tuition exclusively through earnings. The only way for us to make more money is by providing better education and outcomes for our students—a refreshing change of pace from the crisis of tuition hikes and student loan debt plaguing universities today.

Our first class of students had strong outcomes, securing jobs at tech companies like Snapchat, Pandora, Edmodo and more. We’re excited to see Make School continue to evolve as we open our doors to more students. It’s incredible to see the dramatic uptick in high school students building real world products. Just like the younger version of myself, they’re seeking a more engaging educational experience that will teach them to excel at what they love. These students are the reason we’re building Make School.

Ashu Desai is one of the founders of Make School, a university replacement for computer science. Ashu built his first iPhone app in high school which sold 50,000 copies. He attended UCLA to study computer science before dropping out to join Y Combinator and found Make School in hopes of improving computer science education.

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Strength in Understanding

Driving new edtech through student data analysis.

GUEST COLUMN | by Emily Gover

CREDIT Imagine EasyMany educators on Twitter often ask about who develops ed tech, but more importantly, why and how. What is the motivation? Why build one tool over another?

It’s time to clear this up, at least for one edtech company that reaches millions of students every year.

The company for which I work, founded in 2001, is a little company with big ideas. Our flagship product supports students with their bibliographies. With over 47 million users and 1 billion citations, we have a unique insight into how students approach research and writing assignments.

Through leveraging our student data, we are able to inform educators and develop new products that help solve a proven and known problem in education.

So what’s a company to do with all that data? We analyze it to develop new and refine existing products, and detail the findings in white papers to share with our community of educators. The latest white paper, Analyzing Student Writing & Research Habits to Drive New Technology, summarizes three years of data on student writing and research.

In a nutshell, here’s what we have learned over the years:

Ethical Writing is Not Innate

We conducted an informal survey with our student users in 2012 on how they organize and structure their writing.

Shockingly, more than half (54%) of the 2,700 respondents said that they would be less likely to give credit if they didn’t have edtech tools like ours to support them through the process. Essentially, more than half of students said they would intentionally plagiarize if they did not have tech to help them.

Organizing ideas and main themes in writing is a requirement in many of the new standards, and outlining is fundamental in developing this skill. The same survey found that a whopping 60% of students do not use an outline when structuring their writing. This lack of organization demonstrates that students are not able to write cohesively or develop strong connections across different sources.

Critical Thinking Skills are Lackluster at Best

Many studies have found that K-12 students are more likely to use Google to access digital information than asking teacher or school librarian for guidance. Annual analysis of our data corroborates this: 90% of our tool’s most-cited sources stem from popular websites found on Google.

With such stark statistics, we wondered: Do students exercise close reading of information texts enough? Do they critically think about multiple characteristics of digital content?

In 2014, we saw an opportunity to ask students about this topic directly. Collecting over 10,000 responses, the findings were curious: About half said they only consider one or two components of credibility, like authority or bias; over one third said they think about it often, and 14% willingly admitted they do not think critically about information at all.

Despite these somewhat “positive” responses—86% of respondents saying they consider at least two characteristics of credibility with information found online—our data and external reports show otherwise, with many top sources from our tool coming from user-generated websites and Wikipedia.

Teachers Are Left in the Dark

In 2013, our company worked with the non-profit group Project Information Literacy (PIL) on their annual report about how students find, evaluate, and use online information. Using our flagship site as a literal survey site, PIL surveyed almost 2,000 students to better understand whom they consult when they face struggles during the writing and research process.

The study found that less than half of students consult an educator as they compile their writing. As a result, teachers cannot pinpoint learning roadblocks until the writing is complete, hindering their abilities to provide support to students at the point of need, in real time.

What’s an EdTech Company to Do?

Armed with a stronger understanding of where students can improve, we set out to build a new product that will disrupt the way students interact with content online. After a year of consulting with hundreds of teachers, curriculum directors, and administrators, Imagine Easy Scholar was born.

Released in April 2015, this new platform supports students with close reading skills as they interact with digital content. Annotate anything on the open web—teachers and students have the freedom choose the content they wish, synthesize information, and create new knowledge. Our new platform uses the same powerful technology as EasyBib to create source lists, so students can maintain their academic integrity as they move through the writing process.

Undoubtedly, communities like EdTechBridge help bridge the gap between tech companies and educators, but understanding the driving forces behind edtech development is an important (yet still fuzzy) area of discussion. Through leveraging our student data, we are able to inform educators and develop new products that help solve a proven and known problem in education.

Emily Gover is the Community Manager at Imagine Easy Solutions, the team behind EasyBib. She is a part-time librarian, loyal podcast listener, and novice knitter. For a white paper on the issues described above, click here.

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Cloud Storage 101

Improving the traditional college experience for professors and students.

GUEST COLUMN| by Tunio Zafer

CREDIT pCloudCollege days are supposed to be the best of our lives, but that doesn’t mean that they’re easy. Between classes, jobs, friends and extracurricular activities, college is a hectic whirlwind that can at times feel overwhelming. Students and professors alike look for way to simplify their busy schedules and workloads. For both, cloud storage could be the answer.

From public to private to community, cloud storage has the potential to markedly improve the traditional college experience. Below are just a few of the ways academia can utilize cloud storage’s conveniences and security features:


  • Curriculum: Professors balance multiple courses a semester, with some hundred students enrolled each term. This workload is often unmanageable, but, by partnering with a cloud storage platform, professors would gain access to an exceptional system for digitally managing their curriculums. On the cloud, professors can organize class assignments, cache lesson plans and track teaching methods from year-to-year.

Cloud storage is also a unique medium for widespread collegiate collaboration. Professors can share and edit lesson plans, streamlining objectives within and across departments. Through this communal approach to education, a school’s staff could more easily strengthen their programs’ reputations and school’s academic prestige.

  • Grading: Cloud storage is a great place for professors to conduct grading. The best cloud storage platforms have security measures to ensure that grades remain protected and unhackable. Client-side encryption options allow users to self-determine which files need to be most secure, and for professors, these could be answer keys or master lists of semester grades.

As an added component of grading, students often solicit their favorite professors for recommendation letters. Cloud storage would allow professors to organize and directly share letters with students, who could then utilize the digital documents to submit letters as necessary. Within this streamlined approach, recommendations would be transmitted more safely than over email, and encryption features would also ensure that students were prohibited from altering the content of their letters.

  • Research: For many professors, research is a large component of academia. However, pages of writing and an accumulation of notes and edits plague strong research. Cloud storage could assist professors in the organization of this massive amount of data. Certain cloud storage providers even allow unlimited file size upload and offer unlimited cloud storage space to handle an influx of real-time research.


  • Group Projects: Students dread group projects. There’s always a slacker, there’s always a boss, and, no matter the amount of planning and organization, there’s always drama. Cloud storage providers can help students mitigate the stresses inherent to group work.

First, cloud storage providers can track and manage a project’s completion. Cloud storage platforms often sport notifications features (read, opened, edited, etc.) and commenting options that allow group members to observe inter-group progress. Second, cloud storage providers allow users to collaborate on shared files at the same time. And third, with files stored directly on the cloud instead of on users’ hard drives, students can access files from any cloud-compatible device. This enables groups to meet and work digitally and better negotiate differences in class schedules or living situations.

  • Schoolwork: Cloud storage is perfect for individual work. Student can use their cloud storage platform to house lecture notes, essays and assignments. As an added bonus of cloud storage, students can also feel less concerned about losing their work. In worst-case scenarios—a coffee spilled across a keyboard or a computer stolen during a bathroom break—users can always retrieve information that is stored on the cloud.
  • Personal Files: When it comes to college, many experiences happen outside of the classroom. Cloud storage is a great way for students to better manage job or grad school applications, student loan documents and files for extracurricular activities. Because such information is more sensitive than most, users can increase protection through encryption. With user-determined encryption keys and zero-knowledge guarantees, students can ensure that no one else can access their most private information.

Around campus, cloud storage has the power to dramatically influence how users interact with their education. Cloud storage serves as a repository of resources for a school’s unique needs, and students and staff can equally benefit from the industry’s best platforms. Higher education expects the best of its student and professors, and the same standards should apply when choosing a cloud storage provider.

Tunio Zafer is the CEO of cloud storage platform pCloud. As a leader and manager in the cloud storage space, Tunio promotes innovation in areas such as security measures and cost to end users. Tunio encourages forward thinking throughout his team, working toward making a significant impact on the rapidly growing IT market, for individuals and business alike.

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