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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Really Logging In

It all starts with authentication (but it doesn’t end there).

GUEST COLUMN | by Todd Peterson

CREDIT Dell SoftwareThis September, tens of thousands of students will arrive at higher education institutions ready to study. Every one of these students needs access to online resources, not to mention the access required by faculty, staff, and even alumni. Every institution is faced with a number of questions: How do you set passwords for all these people? How do you manage the onslaught of inevitable “password” related requests (“I forgot my password”)? How do you ensure that those passwords are safe? And above all, how do you ensure that each of these individuals can get to exactly what they need to get to, without opening the door to resources that they should not access?

Following these tips will mean higher education institutions will avoid potential data breaches and keep end user populations happy.

It goes without saying that authenticating your identity when logging onto the University’s systems is vital for all three user populations, especially in an age where Universities are a key target for attacks. Recently, George Mason University had over 4,400 individuals personal information breached and Butler University has warned more than 160,000 students, alumni, faculty, staff, and past applicants that their personal information was exposed during a data breach in 2013. Therefore it is vital that these user populations’ unique authentication needs are addressed in a way that maximises productivity and minimizes security risks.

Current students need a simple login process to ensure they frequently use it. One easy way to think about this is to keep the login process as close to their social media experience as possible. However, if they leave the institution it needs to be possible to restrict access, in order to prevent students from accessing unapproved data or systems.

Faculty and staff have similar needs to employees in any other corporate organization. They both need and want easy access, but this must be kept specific to their role and all access should be secure and appropriate, in order to maintain security and avoid data breaches.

Alumni, whilst often overlooked, still need limited access yet it needs to be convenient, only giving them access to the appropriate materials, due to the potential for donations from this population. In addition, alumni need to be able to access the systems forever, even if they only log in once a year.

For all three of these user populations the need for passwords will not go away, because users reject anything which makes it harder for them to access the material they need. Therefore for higher educational institutions looking to achieve secure authentication, the following top tips are a good starting point.

Having a good password policy with consistent enforcement is key. Institutions should be clear on the policy and outline it to all user populations upfront. Going further, having a single sign-on is a great option for institutions as it enables greater security by avoiding users writing down numerous passwords, in order to remember them. This also means that in one go users can be stopped from accessing information they no longer need to access. Alongside this multifactor authentication is a great way to ensure security. Finally, to truly prevent breaches institutions should look at authorisation, meaning what people have access to once they have entered into the system. Institutions should strictly control what people can access and this will differ according to which population a user sits in.

This concept of role-based access control is critical. Defining access based on who a user is and what someone with that demographic should and should not be able to do will overcome the vast majority of security concerns. If at the very core user identities and accounts are aligned to granular definitions that include what is and is not allowed for that particular role, then authentication simply becomes the means of proving who the logging in entity is. – authorization is taking care of the heavy lifting of enforcing what that logon allows the user to do and access. Combined, authentication (controlled through string password policy and streamlined through single sign-on) and authorization (based on specific user roles, rights, organizational policy, and comprehensive provisioning workflows) provide access. The right access, every time, all the time.

Following these tips will mean higher education institutions will avoid potential data breaches and keep end user populations happy.

Todd Peterson is IAM Evangelist for Dell Software.

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Watch and Learn

This co-founder believes everyone has a right to an affordable, quality education.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT Adrian Ridner arms folded no braceletAdrian Ridner is the CEO of, an online education company he co-founded with company president Ben Wilson.  In 2002, Ben and Adrian were Cal Poly graduates frustrated with the rising cost of college and the lack of tools for empowering students. They decided to team up and start with the mission of making education accessible. After over a decade of work, is now a profitable, self-funded company that has taught over 10,000 lessons and reaches over 15 million students a month. Adrian (pictured center; arms folded, no bracelet) leads the engineering, product, business

One thing that modern technology does have over the Ancient Greeks is that it is in everyone’s pocket and at different times can ping people back into the learning ecosystem. 

intelligence, and creative teams and pushes to embrace a culture of innovation. He was born in Argentina, spent a large part of his childhood in Venezuela and Brazil, and consequently loves soccer and is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese. He earned an MS in Computer Science from Cal Poly University in San Luis Obispo and currently serves on the university’s Engineering Advisory Board.

What are your thoughts on education in general these days?  

Adrian: Education really hasn’t evolved much. How we teach and learn basically hasn’t changed since the Ancient Greeks. A classroom is still roughly 30-50 students sitting around a teacher who is in charge of both delivering the material – many times repeatedly – and tracking each student’s individual needs.  Academia as a whole has been slow to adopt new technologies, so it’s up to individual students and teachers to try a lot of platforms and embrace change. Education has gotten more expensive for everyone – look at the skyrocketing costs of tuition over the last decade and record levels of student debt. Technology can help solve this problem, but so far it hasn’t impacted education the way, say, Uber transformed transportation.

What is the greatest problem facing edtech?

Adrian: I think the greatest problem with education in general is the high cost and the lack of accessibility. As to why edtech hasn’t solved this yet:

  1. You need to rethink educational content from the ground up if you are really going to shift how we learn. We especially need to take into account all different devices, screens, richer media formats, and student attention spans and learning styles.
  2. Once you have the right content (quality, breadth, format), you have to really personalize the learning experience.  Edtech so far has mostly replicated the existing classroom model, by taping lecturing instructors and putting them online.  The challenge is to use technology to do things you could never do offline.
  3. Edtech underestimated the level of motivation that people have for online classes and forgot there is usually an end goal to studying.  We can enhance motivation by embedding game theory and psychology at large into educational platforms, but it’s not easy. The challenge is combining platform motivators (rewards, challenges) with the real world external goals of each student (passing an exam, gaining a job skill, earning a degree) – and doing this on the scale of millions of students.

How has edtech changed K-12 and higher education so far?

Adrian: The scale that you see in edtech can indeed help lower costs and improve learning efficacy. A traditional teacher in their lifetime can only get in front of a limited number of students, but online they can reach tens of thousands, which generates a lot more feedback to take in. We are in the early stages of correlating across millions of data points that optimize the learning experience. Also, edtech tools have started to free up teachers from having to focus on the content delivery, so they can focus more on each student.

Where does edtech go from here?

Adrian: One of the major problems that we have to solve in edtech is the issue of motivation. Learning doesn’t have to be a chore.  A lot of people have an intrinsic love of learning, but others need to be motivated by both internal and external things. One thing that modern technology does have over the Ancient Greeks is that it is in everyone’s pocket and at different times can ping people back into the learning ecosystem. But it’s been a long time since anyone has made learning truly enjoyable. Until you crack that, edtech won’t be able to truly move the needle the way it wants.

Why did you decide to start your company?

Adrian: I was born in Argentina and moved around South America a lot when I was a kid. I got to see how big an impact the education that I received had, and how much the lack of an education affected some of my family and friends in terms of what they could achieve. The fact that there were kids who wanted to learn and couldn’t really bothered me. Then I came to the US, became a computer science graduate student, and saw all these amazing things we could do with technology – but that we hadn’t done in education. That bothered me even more.  We are poised to make education accessible in a way that was not possible in previous generations, but it seemed that not enough people were tackling the problem with enough urgency. We wanted to help students, so that’s why we founded

What formative experiences helped you arrive at this current approach?

Adrian: Even in the U.S., my college experience was eye-opening.  When Ben and I took general education classes in college, we weren’t in 30-50 people classes; we were taking Psych 101 or History 101 in a theater with hundreds of students.  We could barely see the professor.  The professor would write on something that resembled a whiteboard.  You couldn’t read it.  You couldn’t even hear him with the people talking in front of you.  And this was at a prestigious engineering school – that was the best way for me to learn?  By the way, the class was so high in demand that I had to wait several quarters to take it? It just didn’t make sense.  And we’re talking about people who were at least fortunate enough to go

Fail fast and iterate. Look at the data and embrace what you get back. 

to college – there’s plenty of people who don’t have that kind of access in the first place.  Ben and I knew there have to be a better way. We’re trying to figure out how people can learn on their own, where there isn’t this kind of waiting list.  Our experiences informed our idea that we want a better way to learn – self-paced, fun, bite-sized and affordable. We experimented a lot, we tried a lot of formats that failed, we used data to learn what works and what doesn’t, and iterated our way to what we have today on

What business advice do you have for edtech startups?


1) Find a high-value niche and try to solve the main educational pain points that they have. Try to worry about scale later. If you try to tackle the whole problem at once, especially before you reach scale, it becomes very hard.

2) Fail fast and iterate. Look at the data and embrace what you get back. It’s been said many times, really focus on the problem, not the solution that you think you have. Let the students, let the teachers, let the data, let the market tell you how to approach the problem, and iterate. You can’t afford to not learn from your mistakes and spend too much time building before you put something out there and see what people think.

Excellent, thank you for your thoughts and ideas, Adrian!

Adrian: Thank you!

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


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Trends | Teachers, Data and EdTech

CREDIT Gates FoundationTo support the product development efforts of K-12 edtech entrepreneurs, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation surveyed more than 4,600 teachers about how they use digital tools and student data to tailor student instruction. The findings from this research are essential to helping entrepreneurs develop tools that are appropriate to the districts and schools that they are looking to serve. More than 93 percent of teachers in the study reported using some sort of digital tool to guide instruction, but more than two-thirds of them are not satisfied with the effectiveness of the data and tools they have access to on a regular basis. In Boston, LearnLaunch Institute is hosting “Teachers, Data, and Your Edtech Product” on Monday, September 28, 2015, a working session for edupreneurs addressing and exploring these findings and relating them directly to product development. Local teachers will reflect on the data, and founders and developers can engage and interact with educators and other entrepreneurs on potential paths forward. Learn More.

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Cool Tool | MindTap Mobile

CREDIT CengageCengage Learning’s award-winning MindTap, a fully built course experience that integrates reading, homework, quizzing, multi-media assets and more into engaging, pedagogically sound learning experience for students, is now mobile. From their phones or other devices, students can stay organized, optimize small pockets of study time and interact directly with their instructor. “We set out to create a mobile product that adapts to students’ busy lives outside of the classroom,” says MindTap Product Director Jared Mann. “MindTap Mobile represents a subset of the MindTap experience that students told us would be most useful to have available right from their phone. We also developed all new features, such as the flashcard-based Practice Quizzes for the app as a result of our research.” His team interviewed dozens of students and surveyed thousands to help clarify what they valued most in a mobile app. Recent efficacy studies conducted by independent research firms found that students using the MindTap digital learning solution achieved significantly higher grades across a number of disciplines. As students have increasingly looked to their phones for social connections,  games, news, information and even educational content over the last few years, edtech companies meeting students ‘where they live’ is a required move if they wish to remain relevant. MindTap Mobile works with any MindTap course so students don’t need multiple apps to manage multiple courses; now there are MindTap products for over 520 courses spanning more than 50 disciplines. Check it out.

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