Cool Tool | GuideK12 SchoolSearch

CREDIT GuideK12 SchoolSearchA powerful online tool for districts to communicate school location, boundaries and program options to families, GuideK12 SchoolSearch™ is an interactive platform offering numerous enhancements that enable parents to make smart decisions about their children and schools, while reducing calls and cost for the district. Parents enter an address to find the assigned schools in their area along with boundary lines. The map is interactive so each school “pin” can be selected to see customizable district information such as links to the school website, registration links, school grades etc. Distance in time and miles is automatically calculated to all schools on the map. SchoolSearch can eliminate hundreds or thousands of calls realtors and district families make to the district office every year. What really makes it unique is the completely customizable, advanced search functionality. For districts with different school types or a range of programs offerings, parents can filter and select the school types and programs they are interested in and compare offerings before making a decision. School districts are under growing pressure from non-district programs seeking to attract new students. With better communication tools for families, districts can retain and attract students more effectively. Check it out.

Posted in cool tools | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Laying the Groundwork

FCC’s E-Rate program closes the Wi-Fi gap and opens up digital learning environments.

GUEST COLUMN | by Shane Buckley

CREDIT xirrusOver the next several years, the education industry will see a major shift. The implementation of new standards, the move to next-generation assessments, the prevalence of individualized learning techniques and the affordability of mobile devices, technology and Wi-Fi laid the groundwork for a digital learning movement.

However, we are not on track to achieve the objective of a digital learning environment. According to the Education Superhighway survey, 72 percent of K-12 public schools in the U.S. still do not have sufficient Internet infrastructure to support digital learning.

The E-rate program not only modernizes education, it also closes the digital divide. 

Today, schools across the country feel the pressure to embrace digital learning. To execute this successfully, teachers need a combination of technology and digital content to personalize instruction for their students in the classroom. This allows every student to learn at his or her own pace.

In December 2014, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a Second E-rate Modernization Order. The order made funding available for schools and libraries to purchase high-speed broadband connectivity, capable of delivering gigabit service over the next five years. The goal: to make digital learning a reality for every school, not just the ones that have the budget to make it possible.

By adding $1.5 billion in additional funds, this order brought the total amount to $3.9 billion – the largest amount that has ever been made available to K-12 schools in the history of the U.S. education program. While the media primarily focused on the $1.5 billion increase of funding, we would be remiss not to consider the program’s objectives. According to the FCC, E-rate will accomplish three major goals:

  1. Significantly expand funding for Wi-Fi networks and distribute it fairly to all schools and libraries while recognizing the needs of the nation’s rural and disadvantaged school districts.
  1. Maximize the cost-effectiveness of E-rate spending through greater pricing transparency, encouraging consortia and bulk purchasing, and better enforcement of existing rules.
  1. Streamline and simplify the E-rate application process and overall program administration.

Funding may be requested under two categories of service: services that distribute support to a school or library (e.g., telecommunications, telecommunications services and Internet access) and services that deliver Internet access within schools and libraries (e.g., internal connections, basic maintenance of internal connections and managed internal broadband services). The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and school or library location, urban or rural, determines funding levels..

According to the FCC, three out of five schools in the U.S. lack the Wi-Fi needed to deploy digital learning tools. Moreover, half of school buildings have older, slower internal wiring, unable to carry data at today’s broadband speeds. When Wi-Fi improves in the classroom, connectivity increases, and teachers can enhance learning. Student satisfaction rises when libraries and study halls deploy scalable, Wi-Fi access. Additionally, when schools invest in more reliable school-wide Wi-Fi that require less network equipment, implementation and management costs reduce significantly. Implementing an upgradable robust Wi-Fi network provides a long lasting IT infrastructure that grows with digital learning innovations without the need to make additional investments replacing equipment.

The E-rate program not only modernizes education, it also closes the digital divide. It gives disadvantaged schools the funds to invest in a cost-effective, scalable Wi-Fi network and digital devices to make individualized learning possible. Many school districts are still unaware of the additional $1.5 billion that was made available in December. The application window for the 2015 funding year closes at midnight Thursday, February 26. The application window for 2016 will open up in September 2015.

Shane Buckley is CEO of Xirrus. If you are a school district looking calculate your funding eligibility or apply for funding, check out this resource center: http://erate.xirrus.com/  If you’re a school district looking to calculate your funds, check out this resource: http://eratewifi.xirrus.com/

Posted in guest column | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cool Tool | eTextbooks from Amazon

CREDIT Amazon eTextbookFor those of us who went through college lugging textbooks around campus, there is now a better way: eTextbooks from Amazon. Students can take their entire library on their mobile devices by using the free Kindle reading app (available on iOS, Android, PC, Mac). Whether students have a laptop, iPad, smartphone, or Fire tablet, their eTextbook and digital notes and highlights can read across all of their devices. A student can start reading on their laptop and finish on their tablet with Whispersync technology that enables them to pick up where they left off. eTextbooks from Amazon also come equipped with interactive features from multi-colored highlighting, X-Ray that displays summaries of key concepts in a single tap, including other related content in the book and Wikipedia or YouTube content, to digital flash cards. Titles with X-Ray enable students to auto-generate flash cards of a chapter’s terms without ever having to pick up an index card or turn a page. Students carry less, save time and study smarter. Learn more

Posted in cool tools | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Slaying the Status Quo

Driving engagement and success for a new generation of students.

GUEST COLUMN | by Frances Cairns

CREDIT CampusQuadBuilding a campus environment where everyone has access to important university services, programs and events is a critical part of driving student engagement and success. In working with campuses throughout North America over the past several months, I have observed a few common themes that weigh heavy on Student Affairs: How do I get students more involved? How do I know the services my team is providing hits the mark? Are we providing a supportive campus environment that helps students move toward gaining the experience they need beyond the classroom to land a good job and kick off a great career?

That powerful hand-held, always-on computer is the way students explore, navigate, learn and, above all, connect to each other and what’s happening around them.

Currently, there’s no single solution that solves what has taken several decades of habit to build in terms of the student services approach from matriculation to graduation. Further, universities are spending more than a third or better of their budget supporting activities and facilities that are beyond the classroom yet they don’t have an accurate success benchmark. While tools exist for the academic side of the house, there’s very little in the realm of co-curricular assessment that can truly inspire a Student Affairs leader to take the risk of changing up the way they deliver student services programs.

The simple truth is that the student engagement lifecycle is broken and the gap will continue to widen as the next wave of students – Gen Z – lands. These students come to campus in a world where the real and the virtual collide on their phone. That powerful hand-held, always-on computer is the way students explore, navigate, learn and, above all, connect to each other and what’s happening around them.

The startling reality is that most universities have yet to meet their students on the mobile phone. They remain entrenched in legacy web systems that don’t translate well to delivering the right information to the right student at the right time.

So how do administrators get the know-how and the courage to change the status quo and move their staff from outdated habits and empower them to become experts in delivering student services to a new generation of students? The good news is you don’t have to be a hero, take major risks or hire a new staff. Substantive change in student services practice starts with learning on a very practical level what will help students have a transformative learning experience.

To get you started thinking about how to improve your student satisfaction and success, here are some strategic steps that we have identified along with the help of Student Affairs practitioners:

  1. Personalize the student mobile experience. The mobile phone is a very powerful PERSONAL computer that enables students to navigate their world as it unfolds – in real-time. Begin your university’s student experience where they spend 8 hours and 115+ taps a day. Students want access to information beyond bus schedules and directory services. They want to know about campus services, upcoming events, clubs or groups to join, and what’s trending on campus. Beyond that, they want to explore and connect to their interests. That requires technology that centralizes campus content and offers sophisticated search capabilities so students can see what’s happening anywhere, anytime campus-wide. Delivering this as a mobile-first solution empowers students to create a personalized stream of information that keeps them connected to each other and their surroundings 24/7
  1. Unify information access. Google, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have made it easy for students to find unified streams of information regarding friends, answers to questions, navigation, and news. Campuses, on the other hand, are still deep valleys of misinformation due to fragmented sources scattered across disparate parts of the campus with critical information that never makes it to the student. Start by creating a single source of information flow where a student discovers, consumes and engages with university information and services in REAL-time via their phone.
  1. Provide always-accessible self-service. Students are used to accessing information 24/7 from chat support to Google search to get the answers they need to engage. Search is the No. 1 way students find campus information but this method can only provide information that is easily gathered from web crawlers. Universities need state-of-the art search tools to enable students to access content like directories, class info and event data that is not available via external sources. It’s important to create and cull data from across desperate campus sources and serve up critical information to students that ONLY a campus can provide. A student in need of career services, health care, or an RA won’t find what they need on Google, or a poster on the quad, or even an email. They will only find meaningful ways to connect to services if you make it easy to search for information that is exclusive to your campus.
  1. Support here and now learning. Students don’t plan ahead more than a day – or maybe a week if you’re lucky. Universities, however, still deliver centralized calendars with month-long views. Students simply don’t find this useful. A mobile solution enables you to offer students the opportunity to engage in your campus in real-time with access to fresh content by time, interest, and location. Make it easy for students to see into the depths of your campus events, programs and services by surfacing them in context. This offers students the opportunity to engage beyond their traditional spheres of influence and expand their access to the campus.
  1. Automate engagement. Time management for co-curricular activities is critical to not only engage students once, but keeping them engaged on an ongoing basis. Use technology to enable students to see who is attending an event, then build momentum. Make it simple for them to publish print-free directly from their phone to the entire campus community. Leverage the power of mobile to measure student participation, interest and ratings of campus services.

Be the agent of mobile transformation and behavioral change on your campus and create the supportive campus environment that fuels exploration, discovery and engagement for today’s and tomorrow’s students. Slay the status quo.

Frances has extensive education and technology background from leading higher education divisions at Macromedia, Dell and Apple, where she helped launch iTunesU. Prior to her high tech career, Frances held administrator posts at four universities, including: University of Arizona, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Western Michigan and University of Findlay. During her academic tenure, Frances was a recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship and principal investigator for $10 million in federal and private grants. Frances serves on the Board of Directors of Querium and the Monterey Institute for Technology and Education. She has a B.A. in History from the University of Findlay and M.A. in Education from Bowling Green State University.

Posted in guest column | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Future of Learning is in Reach

Analytics can help you shop, watch and eat smarter – but what will it do for education?

GUEST COLUMN | by John Baker

CREDIT D2L analytics arrowsIn many ways, one could argue, the future of learning is in reach. Education models have evolved to offer increased assessment options that can measure learning with more precision and provide immediate feedback; while traditional lecture formats can be replaced by more interactive, engaging and participatory forms of learning. In adopting these new methods, educators have also gained the ability to collect an enormous amount of student data, such as how long a video was watched, whether students took part in collaborative exercises, or which hurdles students had a tough time overcoming or summaries of questions that were asked.

Analytics are helping educators personalize learning experiences for individual learners in a way that we have never seen before, giving instructors an objective, data-driven view of student success.

This data, across courses and whole programs, is the game-changing element to the future of education. Think about how companies such as Amazon or Netflix use data – they use it as the basis for their personalized suggestions. The more data, the better their suggestions become. Wearable wellness technologies, such as the FitBit, compile data about your personal activity, food, weight and sleep, offering insight into how your body operates daily to produce actionable analysis on how you can improve your health.

In much the same way, educational data can be brought together by analysis and used to better personalize and improve the learning experience for all. In this case, however, instead of making sure you have a good movie for Saturday night, the analysis of educational data has the long-term potential to make a huge impact on society.

Better Understand and Reach Students

Analytics provides teachers with the critical ability to identify students struggling with the curriculum that need additional help, while also identifying learners that require supplemental materials to help them with enrichment to reach their full potential. Data analysis provides a clear link between students’ actions and outcomes – and using this data to better understand the link empowers educators to become better problem solvers.

Used properly, analytics can provide educators with insights into their students’ current and future performance and empower them with the ability to scale teaching methods to guide each student to improve and reach their full potential.

Think of it this way – there could be a myriad of reasons why a normally high-performing student starts to show signs of disengagement from working on a project with an online peer group. An analytics solution would alert the instructor in advance, giving them the opportunity to address and correct the issue before the behavior has too much of an impact on learning. Great teachers do this today in the classroom, but automating some of the work to get students back on track with the right intervention can free teachers to do more important activities to engage their students.

A longtime criticism of the traditional education system is that teachers spend most of their time with only a specific segment of the class – sometimes teaching to the top of the class or bottom – and this leaves other students without personalized attention to help them reach their full potential. My parents are both amazing teachers, but even they’d agree that personalizing education to the individual student with the traditional model is not possible.

Analytics can inform a teacher on performance that matters to improve their own teaching resources. For instance, if instructors review statistics and results data, they will see which questions on a quiz need to be fixed for the next time the quiz is offered, or which lessons are not engaging students and helping them achieve the learning required. If teachers look at engagement levels, interaction occurrences and learning outcomes, they’ll better understand which methods students best respond to.

This feedback loop is essential to teachers looking to refine or improve their approach.

Academy Online High School: Analytics that Work

One institution successfully employing analytics is Academy Online High School (AOHS), a Colorado school that teaches exclusively online and specializes in educating students who might never have finished high school otherwise. With a clear mandate from the state of Colorado that students at each grade level be prepared to enter the workforce or pursue higher education, in 2009 AOHS decided to use analytics technology to predict where each student might encounter problems.

The results were then customized to give the school an easy graphical indication of each student’s success or failings, compared against state standards. From there, teachers were able to trend learner performance, identifying potential learner problems before they occurred and enabling them to plan for remediation or intervention.

AOHS’ use of analytics technology allows its teachers to move beyond simple grade or point calculations and empowers them to work with and evaluate students in a more precise and meaningful way. In addition, students at AOHS have proven to be more vested in their own success when they understand what their learning goals are and can visually track their progress against those goals, throughout the semester.

In all, the program has seen tremendous success. Over the past year, AOHS has reduced its failure rate by 36% and several students and age groups are testing higher then their offline counterparts – proving that analytics is already having a positive effect on education and outcomes in Colorado for students who might never have finished high school. I get excited imagining the future as this rolls out to all students and not just the ones struggling.

Analytics are the Key to a Brighter Future

Analytics are helping educators personalize learning experiences for individual learners in a way that we have never seen before, giving instructors an objective, data-driven view of student success. Learner achievement has to and will remain a top priority for all educators.

With analytics’ ability to pinpoint areas for educational enrichment, encouragement or intervention – not just what book you might like to read next – each student now has his or her best chance to achieve their full potential.

John Baker is the President and CEO of D2L Corporation. John founded D2L in 1999, at the age of twenty-two, while attending the University of Waterloo as a Systems Design Engineering student. He graduated from the University of Waterloo with an Honors B.A.Sc. in Systems Design Engineering, with First Class Honors and an option in Management Sciences.

Posted in guest column | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment