Streamlined and Strengthened

Five new best practices for securing student data.

GUEST COLUMN | by Adam Eberle

CREDIT SUNGARD K-12A vital responsibility of school districts is to safeguard all statistics and information they gather about their students. While that data must be kept secure to protect student privacy, it also needs to be available for a variety of reasons to students, parents, teachers, administrators, policymakers, researchers, and members of the community.

As a result, superintendents navigate a world where information about their students is collected and shared, while also guarded against inappropriate access or use. Setting policy, monitoring implementation and reporting results are among the challenges district administrators must meet when education data and student privacy overlap.

Setting policy, monitoring implementation and reporting results are among the challenges district administrators must meet when education data and student privacy overlap.

Here are five ways K-12 education leaders are currently working with administrative software providers to streamline data management and strengthen data security in their districts.

Student Privacy Pledge

Introduced jointly last year by the Future of Privacy Forum and the Software & Information Industry Association, the Student Privacy Pledge has already been signed by 250-plus education technology companies. It spells out best practices and provides helpful information for districts to share with stakeholders about the who-what-where-how of student data collection and use. Districts increasingly want to work with educational technology providers who have signed the pledge.

Integrate privacy regulations

Best practices in this area say that awareness is not sufficient; current law should always be integrated with your school software solutions. So here’s advice from StriveTogether, which has been developing guidelines on student data privacy since 2014. It offers guidance and links to regulatory agencies so that you can work with your software company to make sure your district is abiding by the rules of FERPA and HIPAA and COPPA.

Speed it up

Instead of working with companies in a piecemeal approach, partner with an administrative software company capable of meeting all your integrated technology needs. It’s an effective, efficient, and smart way to boost data management from intake to distribution.

Collect and share appropriately

Transparency is vital. District policy should inform all stakeholders of what information is being collected—along with how and why it will be used—while removing personally identifying information as needed. From there, however, experts advise caution whenever data gathering is proposed. “We don’t collect data just because somebody wants to look,” said Robert Swiggum, deputy superintendent of technology services for education in the state of Georgia, at a U.S. House of Representatives hearing in March. Rather, districts should establish and adhere to policies and principles regarding the purposes of collecting and sharing data.

Customize and personalize

None of the 13,500-plus school districts in the U.S. are the same. That’s why each needs a customized solution to optimize information management for school success. The National Center for Education & Statistics currently offers multiple ways to analyze basic data, but we like this simple equation: adaptability = flexibility and depth. Using the right school success solution, a district may prioritize data for teachers to use to help students individually and collectively. Or it may collect data on student needs and achievement in order to more deeply engage its community. All districts, however, can benefit from working with educational technology companies that can offer strategies for individualizing and strategically sharing student information.

Adam Eberle is Chief Commercial Officer with SunGard K-12. His company is a leading provider of technology solutions and thought leadership programs that drive student achievement in school districts across the country.

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

Cool Tool | HMH Marketplace

CREDIT HMH MarketplaceThe sharing economy has changed the way we travel, shop, and commute, and now it’s transforming the way we learn. Recently, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) launched the Beta version of HMH Marketplace, which connects educators and edtech developers to help bring innovative resources to classrooms across the country. HMH Marketplace (Beta) offers thousands of resources to supplement classroom learning, including teacher-created materials such as supplemental lesson plans, flash cards, games and classroom decorations, as well as apps and learning solutions from technology innovators like Education.com, game developer Muzzy Lane and Microsoft. Customers can access these resources through a single gateway and explore both products and providers by subject, grade and more. The new online marketplace was designed by HMH’s dedicated incubation hub, HMH Labs, and provides educators with an easy and efficient way to access the breadth of supplemental educational tools offered by both developers and other teachers. HMH Labs is led by Claudia Reuter, the former CEO and co-founder of edtech company SchoolChapters, and Brook Colangelo, HMH’s CTO. Learn more.

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

What is Digital Citizenship?

Creating awareness of what students are creating and doing online.

GUEST COLUMN | by Melissa Davis

CREDIT GoEnnounceDigital citizenship is a hot topic amongst educators and district leaders these days. In the last few years, many districts, specifically those who’ve implemented 1-to-1 or BYOD policies, are being increasingly mandated to incorporate digital citizenship lessons into their curricula. But what exactly is digital citizenship? As an educator how are you supposed to combine all of the potential lessons around teaching a student how to use technology appropriately and be a responsible, safe, digital citizen on the internet, into one class?

As one of the founders of a social, e-portfolio tool for students, I first heard the term digital citizenship three ago at an ISTE conference. Teachers were approaching us asking if we had lesson plans to use our platform to teach digital citizenship. I remember thinking, digital citizenship?!? That’s something you teach kids in school? Being three years ago, let me stress that these teachers were the amazing early adopters bringing technology and social media to the classroom. Early on, they recognized how important it is to prepare students for a future where technology is everywhere and educate students how to navigate the internet, using it as a positive tool.

Digital Citizenship needs to be embraced by educators as a way of thinking—and incorporated, whenever possible, into any type of existing curriculum.

These same teachers were getting reprimanded from their districts for bringing social networks such as Facebook or Twitter into the classroom because they were “unsafe”, and saw our platform as an ideal alternative to incorporate digital citizenship lessons around teaching students how to build a positive social profile. They liked that it was an academic based, social platform where students, teachers, and others following a students’ updates, could engage publicly and safely.

So needless to say, as I said, ‘Yes, of course our platform can be used to teach digital citizenship’, I needed to completely understand what this meant. As I began my research, I was a bit overwhelmed. How can one curriculum incorporate everything from cyber bullying to digital commerce? A lot is lumped into the 9 elements of “Digital Citizenship”, as defined by Mike Ribble, author of Raising a Digital Child, one of the godfathers of Digital Citizenship at the forefront of leading education around these concepts in schools.

But as I started to think about it, Digital Citizenship education as a whole just made sense. It’s basically the same as teaching a student to be a good citizen. The digital world is a lot like the regular world and the same manners and rules need to apply. Would you let a child go into a store for the first time to purchase something without educating them on if they need change back or not? Or let them walk home from the bus stop alone without warning them about strangers? In comparison, we can’t leave students alone and think they will just “figure” the internet out.

We need to think of technology and the internet as the modern day playground. Both parents and educators should work together to prepare students for the digital world, just as they work together to prepare students for their future. There’s no difference. Whether it’s in college or their career—technology, the internet, and social media are tools students will be utilizing every day.

But just as parents and teachers can’t possibly cover every life lesson for every possible real-world situation, educators can’t be expected to teach Digital Citizenship in one class, 10 classes, or a semester. Digital Citizenship needs to be embraced by educators as a way of thinking—and incorporated, whenever possible, into any type of existing curriculum.

As a company, we now offer a software and curriculum package for schools to teach students about social media and building a positive digital footprint. We provide a personalized learning network toolempowering students to build their digital pathway, safely, for college or the world of work. While I think our curriculum is pretty awesome and it is aligned to CCSS ELA Anchor Standards and ISTE Standards, I don’t think this is the end-all and be-all of Digital Citizenship education for students. Instead of thinking of Digital Citizenship as a one time class, or group of lessons, educators should find ways to incorporate Digital Citizenship lessons and examples into every classroom. 

To help, here are the nine themes that define Digital Citizenship, according to Mike Ribble, and examples of how these rules of the digital road can apply to multiple classrooms:

  1. Digital Access – The principle that not everyone has equal access to technology.  

Example Lesson: In a social studies class, look at third world countries and cultures that struggle with access to technology. Investigate some of the initiatives being done to provide access to technology. Analyze if and how it is making a difference to better the society.

  1. Digital Commerce – Buying and selling goods online safely.

Example Lesson: In a math or personal finance class, breakdown the fees associated with opening a store on Etsy and selling something. Analyze how you know, from Etsy’s privacy policy, where your funds are being held after making a sale and how they are dispersed to you.

  1. Digital Communication – Sharing information online properly and safely.

Example Lesson: In an English class, have students differentiate between forms of communication that are acceptable to use when reaching out to a teacher: phone call vs. text message vs. email vs. twitter vs. in person office hours. Advise on how you would address each form of communication (proper way to leave a voicemail & compose a formal email) and illustrate acceptable times of use for each communication method.

  1. Digital LiteracyOngoing education on how to use digital technologies.

Example Lesson: In a computer class, look at how technology around “chat rooms” has evolved. Analyze the difference between the early days of something like AOL Instant Messenger to current video conferencing tools such as Google Hangout. Understand the precautions users need to be aware of to be safe in each setting.

  1. Digital Etiquette – Using technology following a respectable code of conduct. 

Example Lesson: In a media class, have an interactive discussion about students’ favorite forms of social media. Ask them to give anonymous examples of how they have seen someone use social media to be hurtful, either in real life or in the news. Discuss the effects this could have had on the individual who was the victim of the social media incident. Have the students counter this by sharing examples of students using social media positively (either in real life or in the news), in a way that if a college admissions officer or employer saw this they would get a great impression of the student.

  1. Digital Law – The lawful use of technology & content found online.

Example Lesson: In a middle school history class, have students document their findings of a certain historical event using information found from various online outlets such as a blog, a newspaper, and a YouTube video. Have them analyze the way the various media outlets source their findings and describe any unethical, unsourced reporting or undocumented findings.

  1. Digital Rights & Responsibilities – You have freedom on the Internet but also a responsibility to act responsibly.

Example Lesson: In an elementary art class, give students a drawing of a foot. Using permanent markers, ask them to draw apps or list ways they use the Internet within the foot. Discuss the drawings with the students and explain that everything they do from videos they watch, to things they search for, to comments they make, all leave a mark, that’s permanent. Explain how the paper footprint represents our digital footprint and how it’s important to be sure to leave a positive digital footprint.

  1. Digital Health & Wellness – Physical & psychological well-being in a digital world.

Example Lesson: In a physical education class, use a digital fitness-tracking tool such as a Fit Bit or GPS distance tracker. Analyze how the offline activity is what’s increasing an individual’s physical well – being but look at how the digital tool can assist in maximizing these benefits. Stress that it’s about finding a balance between online and offline activities for increased well being.

  1. Digital Security – Protect your safety online. 

Example Lesson: In a reading class, ask your students their favorite forms of social media. Read the privacy polices and terms of use of the top two, as a group. Discuss what these mean.

As you incorporate Digital Citizenship lessons it’s important to remember: just like we can’t prepare every student for every incident they will ever encounter in their real life, we won’t ever be able to teach them how to act in every situation they encounter online. It’s about instilling a “conscious” if you will, and a basic understanding of right and wrong, so they are safe and respectful of creating a positive online identity.

Melissa Davis is co-founder and CEO of GoEnnounce, an academic based, social platform where students, teachers, and others following a students’ updates, can engage publicly and safely; students build their digital legacy in a safe social environment. Their Student Page also becomes an application resource when they apply for colleges, scholarships, and jobs. Write to: melissa@goennounce.com

Posted in guest column | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2017 EdTech Awards Now Open

2017 EdTech Awards headerThe EdTech Awards recognizes people in and around education for outstanding contributions in transforming education through technology to enrich the lives of learners everywhere. Featuring edtech’s best and brightest, the annual recognition program shines a spotlight on cool tools, inspiring leaders, and innovative trendsetters. Entries for the 2017 awards program are now being accepted. For more information, click here.

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

Transparent Textbooks

On a quest to improve overall college affordability.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT Rafter Sara LeoniSara Leoni is the motivated CEO of Rafter, Inc., an established course materials management company whose mission is to promote student success by making education accessible, affordable, and effective for all. Rafter is redesigning and transforming course materials management in higher education with its innovative textbooks-in-tuition solution, Rafter360. Rafter has helped hundreds of campuses and over 2.7 million students to save nearly $700 million on textbooks. Not bad for a group of people with a good idea wanting to change a common complaint students and parents have about higher education. Here, Sara talks about budgets, expenses, rising costs, the high price of success, and what a bit of technology can do to assist in creating affordable education for all.

What unbudgeted expenses are taking their toll on students?

Sara: We often hear from our partner schools that students and parents tend to focus on direct charges that appear on the student bill — specifically, the predictable and known cost of tuition and fees. Figuring out how to pay these charges is what gets students into the classroom, which is the goal for many students and parents, especially first-generation families. Affording these direct charges is made easier with institutional scholarships as well as Federal Student Assistance (FSA) in the form of grants, loans, and work study.

Even more students are coming to class without their required textbooks and are unprepared to learn, creating a cycle that promotes the idea that textbooks are optional, a major issue for colleges and universities.

However, what surprises many students is the cost of books and supplies. Course materials are the largest educational expense after tuition. In some cases, especially at 2-year schools, the cost of books can be greater than tuition, and therefore the largest educational expense overall. Even more unfortunately, the expense of textbooks and supplies is often not eligible for coverage by FSA.

Of course, if students are not expecting the high cost of their course materials, they are not budgeting appropriately. The College Board estimates that students should set aside on average $1,200 for books and supplies each year, but in a survey that we conducted of over 10,000 students from colleges across the country, 93 percent are budgeting less than half that amount, and in fact 45 percent of respondents budgeted $100 or less per term.

How does the rising cost of course materials affect a student’s decision on whether or not to purchase all of his/her required textbooks?

Sara: The Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported that students are treating course materials as “increasingly optional,” opting out of acquiring them due to cost. Students are simply not prepared for the unbudgeted out-of-pocket expense of textbooks. Many times, they do not have the money to afford pricey textbooks and are forced to choose between purchasing them or paying for necessity items like food, clothing, or rent.

With a large percentage of students showing up to classes without books, faculty have gone to extreme measures to provide comparable education for all students. In classes where professors have adapted their curriculum to support students without books, those students that are able to afford and acquire their pricey textbooks question why they purchased them in the first place since they aren’t being used.

The overall value to price ratio around textbooks has completely diminished in the eyes of students. They perceive textbooks as expensive, burdensome, and unnecessary. They don’t understand why they can’t simply download pirated versions or search for the information online. In these cases, students face potential copyright infringement issues or access inaccurate, misleading information that may conflict with what is being taught in the classroom.

Even more students are coming to class without their required textbooks and are unprepared to learn, creating a cycle that promotes the idea that textbooks are optional, a major issue for colleges and universities.

How are professors impacted by the increasing trend of students not having all of their materials due to cost?

Sara: Faculty are impacted by students either getting textbooks late or not acquiring them at all. We recently conducted a student survey, which found that 70 percent of students have waited until after the first day of class to purchase their textbooks. Faced with a classroom full of students unprepared to complete assignments, even weeks after the class has started, faculty must either adjust the syllabus – a choice that affects the depth of instruction for every student in the class – or accept that they are leaving students behind.

We’ve also learned of a number of ad hoc approaches that faculty take to try and compensate for students without textbooks, such as putting their copies of the books on reserve in the library, creating “book funds” to help students purchase textbooks, or copying extensive sections of books. These approaches, while an honest effort to solve the problem, have actually made the problem worse by validating that students can get by without their books.

How else are the high textbook prices influencing overall student success?

Sara: The high price of textbooks create a divide on campus between the students able to afford them and those who can’t. We’ve heard from schools that first-generation, low-income students are especially affected, as they often have a difficult transition from high school to college. These students need to feel like they belong in the first days and weeks on campus. However, then they are hit with the unforeseen expense of textbooks, which they often can’t afford. This situation can create the sense that college might not be for them and can lead to students dropping out.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, 25 percent of students earn a poor or failing grade due to not having a textbook because of cost and 24 percent of students drop courses or withdraw from courses due to the high cost of textbooks. In addition, our recent student survey found that nearly half of the students who did not have their books on the first day of class felt it had a negative impact on them, either in comprehension, participation, impression on the professor, or stress level.

Students that have all of their textbooks on day one are prepared to learn and this leads to better student outcomes. We are seeing our schools report increases in Fall-to-Fall retention and improvements in GPAs when students have all of their required materials on day one.

How does Rafter’s program, Rafter360, help schools improve affordability?

Sara: Rafter360 is the first all-inclusive solution that enables colleges and universities to provide 100 percent of their students with 100 percent of their required course materials by the first day of class, all at a rate that is substantially below commercial market prices. Our solution improves overall college access and affordability by making the cost of required educational content predictable through a flat-rate charge, included on the student bill.

The most evident way that Rafter360 helps schools improve overall college affordability is by providing substantial savings to students on the cost of their course materials. The flat rate from Rafter is generally 50 percent or more below retail costs. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, 35 percent of students take fewer courses due to textbook costs, and of course, taking less courses means extending their time to graduation and adding thousands of dollars to the overall cost of a college degree.

The program also turns the unbudgeted expense of course materials into a predictable cost, included on the student bill. Students and parents are more able to financially plan when they know exactly how much they will be spending, upfront, with no surprises. Having the cost included the student bill also allows financial aid and other payment plans to be used – the same methods that students use to pay for tuition.

By removing the surprise expense of course materials and lowering the cost of those materials overall, students can accelerate their time to graduation and save thousands of dollars on the cost of a college degree. This puts college affordability within reach for more students.

Can you provide any specific examples of how Rafter360 has benefited schools?

Sara: In addition to helping institutions improve overall college affordability, the data available through the Rafter360 technology platform gives an unparalleled amount of transparency and control to administrators and faculty pertaining to course materials on their campus. Faculty retain complete academic freedom with our intuitive Adopt tool, where they can choose whichever educational content they want, no matter the format or edition. Administrators can see the true cost drivers of educational materials at their institution and find innovative ways to control those cost drivers.

Faculty retain complete academic freedom with our intuitive Adopt tool, where they can choose whichever educational content they want, no matter the format or edition. Administrators can see the true cost drivers of educational materials at their institution and find innovative ways to control those cost drivers.

When it comes to improving student success, schools using Rafter360 have seen marked improvements. Schreiner University created the “Schreiner Experience” that included Rafter360 along with other high-impact programs, including service learning, internships, and study abroad, to improve retention and student engagement on their campus. Included in the cost of tuition, the savings that they gained on course materials from Rafter360 allowed them to make those high-impact programs available to all students without adding to the total cost of attendance. As a result, the Freshman Fall to Fall retention improved by 3 percent and the university set a historic record for enrollment in Fall 2015 (1,230 students). In addition, GPA for the academic year 2014-2015 improved and overall persistence improved.

Thomas More College launched the “Saints Experience,” with Rafter360 as part of the suite of services included. The “Saints Experience” with Rafter360 is helping the university retain and attract more students: traditional enrollment has increased 13 percent. In addition, Thomas More University was ranked the number one college in Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati for return on investment in a 2015 PayScale report

Approximately 50 percent of the students at Mars Hill University hold Federal Pell Grants and more than 50percent are first-generation college students. While Mars Hill takes great pride in providing an educational opportunity for students who might not otherwise have that opportunity, financial strains cause far too many of its students to struggle and sometimes drop out. Partnering with Rafter has helped the university level the playing field for all students by making the cost of textbooks a budgeted expense that is included in tuition. As a result, overall Fall to Spring retention was the highest since the 2008-2009 academic year. In addition, Freshman Fall to Spring retention was the highest it’s been since 2008-2009.

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

Posted in interviews | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment