Education’s New Frontier

Using VR, unlocking human potential for a better outcome.

GUEST COLUMN | by Turner Nashe

CREDIT GTL Turner Nashe .pngPerhaps the newest frontier in education is the ardent effort that is now underway to transform the lives of over 3 million residents. These residents live across all fifty of our states. Most have families that depend on them, and nearly all will be moving at some point without gainful employment or significant job skills. These individuals come from all walks of life. They are African American, Caucasian, Asian, Hispanic and Native American. The majority were born in the United States, but the remainder hail from almost every nation on earth. In fact, this very large, diverse population has only one thing in common. They have been convicted of a crime and are currently incarcerated.

The United States has approximately one twentieth of the world’s population, yet it has a quarter of the world’s prisoners. In fact, if you include probation and parole, we have over seven million people in the United States under the supervision of the criminal justice system. In the last 35 years, we experienced a 500 percent increase in incarceration. During that same period, we spent three times more money on prisons than on schools.

When an inmate earns an associate degree, the recidivism rate drops to an amazing 13.7 percent. When they earn a bachelor degree, the recidivism rate drops even further, to a scant 5.6 percent. When you consider that it costs states an average of $31,000 per year to feed, clothe and house each resident, education becomes a pretty sweet deal.

Of the more than 3 million people currently in jail or prison, two thirds will return within three years, and three quarters will return within five years. When an inmate earns an associate degree, the recidivism rate drops to an amazing 13.7 percent. When they earn a bachelor degree, the recidivism rate drops even further, to a scant 5.6 percent. When you consider that it costs states an average of $31,000 per year to feed, clothe and house each resident, education becomes a pretty sweet deal.

My company, GTL, has been a leader in providing secure technology for inmates and correctional institutions, and 1.9 million inmates nationwide use GTL services. I was personally involved in bringing tablets into many of America’s institutions, with very encouraging results. Tablets provide a way for inmates to learn in the privacy of their own cells, and it proved to be a great delivery system for academic learning – with one major drawback. In order to learn and become proficient in a trade or skill, inmates must be able to train on industry equipment. Being incarcerated makes this problematic. The answer to this challenge is Virtual Reality (VR). With VR, inmates can learn automotive repair, cosmetology, food prep, heating and air, plumbing and many more real-word, in-demand skills. In much the same way that virtual reality is now being used to train thoracic surgeons and airline pilots, virtual reality will be a secure and inexpensive way for states to assist in inmate education and to provide training for inmates, making it possible for them to receive associate and bachelor degrees, and apprenticeships and certificates in relevant, marketable skill areas.

Our work uses a blend of current and new VR technology. The corrections industry dictates that we “securitize” anything that would normally be used for public consumption, so we will use a moderately-priced commercial headset, and strip down functionality and code firmware to enhance security for the prison environment.

CREDIT GTL Turner Nashe infographic.pngWe are working from a catalog of existing courses written for online tablet and computer users – almost like being in college for biology or chemistry. We will have standard Learning Management System (LMS) coursework and add the visual experience to deliver a virtual lab. The lab allows us to bring real-world experiences behind the walls, such as being in a virtual commercial kitchen or automotive repair shop.

While there’s only so much you can do, placing a student inside a new environment should reduce stress levels and offer some type of familiarity when faced with the actual event.

As early as September of this year, we will begin to make VR a reality through a department of corrections here in the US. We will begin with five to ten-minute VR sessions in the automotive repair, cosmetology and food prep services areas.

We also have department of corrections customers that are very interested in being pilot facilities for the new virtual reality courses. We are innovators in the corrections space and have been since our inception. We’ve had positive experiences and would like our existing relationships to allow us to bring even more technology that benefits everyone. Using existing, moderately priced headsets, we have made the technology very affordable. And obviously, there is a large financial incentive for the taxpayer to reduce recidivism. At the end of the day, we all want inmates to leave these facilities for good and lead productive lives.

As a long-term outcome, VR could provide a catalogue of experiences to allow inmates to reflect on where they may have made an error in judgement, allowing offenders to practice coping mechanisms and decision trees in a safe space. So there could be long-term behavior modification implications as well as workforce development opportunities. An inmate’s recidivism or success upon reentry into society is directly tied to his or her ability to make correct decisions when faced with real-world choices. When an offender has to make a decision upon release, the weight of violating probation or parole shouldn’t be the incentive. It is my goal to make sure that all parties involved are in a safe space when an inmate has to build out short, medium, and long term schemata in order to be successful in the outside world, instead of depending on negative stress responses. If these successful life decisions can be made in the safe environment of a virtual experience while still incarcerated, then the inmates are much more likely to make successful decisions upon their release. It is important to move the experiences up-stream to be unraveled. In this case, practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. Let’s create a process which allows everyone to prosper.

Finally, what we learn from offering VR to inmate learners in the near future could have a profound impact on our high school, community college and adult learners in mainstream society. We’re all human learners and many of us have somewhere or something that we’d like to learn, do or see. But we face barriers to access such as money, transportation, or availability of proper training facilities. This technology can benefit us all. Who knows? In the not-too-distant-future, we may be able to teleport. Until then, I think using virtual technology will be the key to unlocking success for a lot of American families.

Turner Nashe, Ph.D., is an entrepreneur, inventor, innovator and recognized leader in building technology that facilitates delivery of educational content to security sensitive industries. He is based in Nashville, TN where he received his doctorate in Educational Administration and Supervision from Tennessee State University. Turner has built several businesses around proprietary digital delivery systems. These systems provide relevant content to schools, correctional facilities and health care providers. He has worked with firms in the private and public sector as well as governmental entities. His work has attracted firms from start-up technology firms to the Fortune 500 companies.

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Technology, Student Voice, and Shining a Light

IN CLOSE WITH | Andy Plemmons

CREDIT Andy Plemmons.pngAs a media specialist at David C. Barrow Elementary in Athens, GA, Andy Plemmons is focused on giving students a voice. Here, he talks about the technology and pedagogy he uses to inspire those voices, and to share them beyond the walls of the classroom. Andy is the 2017 American Association of School Librarians Social Media Superstar for Sensational Student Voice, a 2016 Library Journal Mover and Shaker, a Google Innovator, and an NSBA “20 to Watch” honoree.  

GETTING STARTED How did you get started as an educator, and how has your job changed over the years?

I began my career in 2001 as 3rd-grade teacher in a classroom with a chalkboard and two really old computers in the back corner. Part of my educational philosophy has always been about giving students a voice, but over the years it has evolved into harnessing the power of technology to get their voice out into the world, as well as collaborating with the world.

Miraculous things really do happen every day in education. It’s up to us to keep our eyes and ears open for the miraculous and shine the light on those moments, no matter how small. 


INSPIRATIONS What inspires you about teaching? Do you have a slogan or mantra that guides you?

My mantra is to “expect the miraculous.” These inspiring words came from Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses. I know for myself that it’s easy for me to think about what isn’t going well or dwell on the long list of ideas I have that I just can’t get to. However, miraculous things really do happen every day in education. It’s up to us to keep our eyes and ears open for the miraculous and shine the light on those moments, no matter how small. 


FAVORITE TECH What is your favorite tech tool right now and why?

CREDIT Capstone.pngFlipgrid remains one of my favorite tech tools because it brings student voices together in one place and allows me to easily share those so the world can hear them. For example, our 2nd-graders create a project called the Barrow Peace Prize where they research people from history via Capstone’s Pebble Go and other resources. They craft persuasive pieces to convince an audience that their person is deserving of recognition. Their writing is recorded and shared via Flipgrid, and people around the world vote on who should win.


RECENT EVENTS What memorable edtech conference have you attended recently?

I’ve really enjoyed attending some of the state and regional technology conferences, such as Dynamic Landscapes in Vermont and NCCE in Seattle. This fall (2017), I’ll be a featured speaker at MassCUE at the Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. I’m looking forward to learning with the educators of the northeast. 


MEMORABLE MOMENTS  

CREDIT Flipgrid peace prize.pngWhat was your greatest educational moment?

Really any moment where students are empowered is a great moment for me. Each year, I do a project where I give students a budget in the library. They create a Google form on reading interests, gather answers, analyze data, set goals, and meet with vendors like Jim Boon from Capstone Press and our local independent bookstore, Avid Bookshop. They order books for our library collection that are completely selected by students. These books remain some of the most circulated books in our collection.

What was your most embarrassing educational moment?

I prefer to call them learning opportunities because if you don’t take an embarrassing moment and learn from it, it remains an embarrassment. The very first time I used Google Hangouts was to facilitate a Picture Book Smackdown between schools in four states with two authors. It wasn’t horrible, but there were so many things I didn’t know about how to make the hangout run smoothly, such as audio tips, time limits, and dividing out responsibilities. A hangout that large was a bit ambitious, but we pushed through the audio feedback, poor connections, slow transitions, and long-winded speakers. Since that moment, I’ve participated in many Google Hangouts, but that first one always helps me in preparing as much as possible ahead of time for a smooth conversation. 


PD FOR ME What makes for great tech-related professional development?

There are days when I just like to sit and listen to someone talk about tech tools, but nothing beats diving into the technology and using it in order to learn about it. I’ve jumped into new technology with students in the library without really knowing everything about it, and as the classroom teacher co-teaches with me, he or she learns about the technology in action and also sees that students are capable of figuring out many of the bells and whistles for themselves. 


BRING IT ON! What’s the next technology you want to bring to your school, and why?

CREDIT Flipgrid peace prize student image.pngI’ve been a Flipgrid user for a few years, and I’ve collaborated with many teachers in my school to use it in projects. However, as a school, we aren’t using it consistently across classrooms. This year, all teachers in my school will have a Flipgrid Classroom account, and we’ll explore how to hear from all student voices and how to connect those voices with the world beyond our walls. 


NO THANKS What educational technology do you wish had never been invented, and why?

I don’t know that there’s any technology I would wish away, but there are some concerns that I see lately that I want to address with students. Social media and the ability to comment on anything have created an environment where people are quick to judge, criticize, and bully one another. This includes adults, probably even more than students. We still need to debate and be critical of what we read and share, but it’s time that we all step back and listen, consider someone else’s perspective, and learn how to build on one another’s strengths rather than break each other down. 


FUTURE LOOK What educational technology do you wish someone would invent, and why?

CREDIT Flipgrid peace prize student.pngWe have so many amazing tools that allow our students to connect, collaborate, and get their voices into the world. However, I think we are still lacking in ways to efficiently find collaborating classrooms, libraries, or schools around the world. Many people are making connections via Twitter, online groups, and at conferences, but we still don’t have a way to find global collaborators in a way that doesn’t take a lot of time and effort.


Connect With

Find Andy on the Barrow Media Center blog, and follow @plemmonsa


Got a suggestion for a great person to get IN CLOSE WITH here?

Write to: edtechdigest@gmail.com

Use IN CLOSE WITH in the subject line, and in the body of your email include their name, title, email, phone if available – and yours, too.

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An Unexpected Learning Journey

Providing true alternatives to a one-size-fits-all approach to public education. 

GUEST COLUMN | by Steven Guttentag

CREDIT Pearson.pngIn 2013, 3.17 million students graduated from public high schools throughout the United States. Among them, a young woman in Ohio who had overcome deeply-etched academic and social frustrations to earn her high school diploma in a new school and was making plans for her first semester as a freshman in Tuscaloosa that fall.

As is the case for many students, Alex did not easily fit into the traditional school model through which we are all asked to pass. In a recent note to a former high school guidance counselor, she reflected on that time, writing, “I hated school and was dead set against going to college. I didn’t even want to finish high school.”

In the case of students such as Alex, it is not a question of square peg, round hole. That would mean each of us could be grouped like-for-like, dismissing the unique characteristics and needs that shape the individual. While students are more often than not taught at a prescribed and constant rate, each learns and grows independently of the whole and may not easily move through – or “fit” – the established academic road map purposefully designed for mass education.

Six years ago, Alex questioned her relationship with school. Today, she is navigating the highest levels of academia.

Clearly at a crossroads that would determine the trajectory of her life, Alex was fortunate to have an option, an opportunity to try an entirely different learning environment. She enrolled in an online public charter school at the beginning of her junior year. Though not the appropriate environment for every student (what school is?), the self-paced learning path inherent to her new school allowed Alex to re-examine the role of education in her life, as well as her experience as a student. She learned to love learning and, through the encouragement of her teachers, was surprised to find not only an aptitude, but also a passion for math and science.

Alex was indeed fortunate. Fortunate to live in a state with options beyond her traditional brick-and-mortar school. Fortunate to have trusted in herself. Fortunate to have found the successful student within before abandoning her education and traveling down a very different – perhaps difficult – road.

A second chance at making high school work for her, rather than the other way around, set Alex on a path toward a very bright future. In May, she graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in physics and mathematics. Successful completion of minors in both German and Russian also grace her transcript. This fall, she will begin a Fulbright Scholarship in Germany, followed by a Ph.D. program in physics at Princeton.

This story doesn’t have to be an outlier. So many of our students could be pulled back from the brink of leaving school if only we provided them with true alternatives to a one-size-fits-all approach to public education. Six years ago, Alex questioned her relationship with school. Today, she is navigating the highest levels of academia. If history is any guide, a guess as to what tomorrow will bring for Alex would certainly fall short of the reality.

Steven Guttentag, Ph.D, is president for Online and Blended Learning, K-12, at Pearson, and co-founder of Connections Academy, a provider of online learning solutions for grades K-12 since 2001.

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Taking MOOCs to the Next Level

Effectively helping to bridge the online learning credibility gap.  

GUEST COLUMN | by Alice Bonasio

CREDIT Oxademy image.pngThe popularity of Online Courses has steadily increased in recent years. Millions of students have enrolled onto MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) offered by prestigious institutions around the globe and facilitated by platforms like Coursera, EdX and Futurelearn.

But although this growth shows no signs of slowing down (Coursera alone currently has 26 million users and over 150 university partners) the drop-out rates have been shown to be much higher for MOOCs than campus-based courses, with some studies placing the average completion rate at around 13%.

One of the main reasons for this has been a certain credibility issue. While some people are quite happy to sign onto these courses for sheer personal development, the main motivation for busy professionals to complete, for instance, an MBA, is to improve their employability and career prospects. If the validity of those qualifications is brought into question however, this undermines the whole premise and renders that investment– of both time and money – worthless.

By importing the same kind of security techniques they have developed for verifying visa information into education, and also including a final exam where students have to be physically present with their ID, they’re hoping to make online courses much more attractive to potential employers.  

One key issue here is the fact that it has been traditionally difficult to determine whether the person doing the coursework is the same one as has their name on the certificate issued. And although this isn’t a problem unique to online courses, it’s much easier to find such loopholes where sign-up processes only require an email address, for example.

This is something that looks set to change, however, as more people have become used to stricter checks in relation to processes such as online banking, tax returns, or immigration assessment. Which is why one of the world’s largest visa application contractors – VSF Global – has just announced that it is entering the online education space to effectively help bridge that credibility gap.

They have partnered with UK edtech start-up Oxademy to extend their identity management services – which they already provide to over 50 governments including the US, Russia and the UK – for the purpose of processing passports and visas. By importing the same kind of security techniques they have developed for verifying visa information into education, and also including a final exam where students have to be physically present with their ID, they’re hoping to make online courses (especially in emerging economies where this type of fraud is endemic) much more attractive to potential employers.

VFS-Oxademy will provide internationally accredited post-graduate and executive education programs in full online and ‘blended’ modes combining online with classroom learning for students worldwide. These courses will be affiliated with top universities in the UK and US, and will include Masters in Business Administration (MBA), Masters in Strategic Leadership (MSL) and Masters of Science in Organization Leadership).  Although still requiring a substantial financial commitment, these online MBAs are significantly more affordable at £7,000 (compared to over £21,000 average for many other on-campus providers).

They plan to grow by targeting companies looking to invest in their workforce, particularly in developing countries, by taking advantage of those relatively lower costs. This also ties into the work placement element of the courses, where MBA students have to take part in a work placement as part of final stages of their course. This will enable students in the Middle East or India to work with a company in the UK via virtual technologies, something that also suits employers who often struggle to find office space for work experience students but are happy to interact with them virtually.

Both the identity-checking and blended learning elements require a physical infrastructure in place, which is why is why VSF is in quite a unique position to implement the model effectively, since it already has 1,900 visa centers in 127 countries distributed around the globe.

Oxademy will also address the lack of personal engagement which feeds into those high drop-out rates by leveraging Artificial Intelligence to personalize its courses. Its cloud infrastructure system called OX360 will provide real-time analysis of performance data and include features such as a chat facility so that students can speak to tutors direct at any time, plus a mobile app to prompt students on which course material they need to study ahead of their next online session.

The AI system can judge, for example, if a learner is struggling with a particular exercise or spending a longer time than average to read through it, and alter the course content accordingly. By identifying each learner’s particular strengths and weaknesses and generating individualized learning paths, the hope is that students will feel the same level of engagement and support as they would if they were consuming the same content on campus. In a digital world where we’re seeing immersive technologies such as Virtual Reality develop at exponential speed, it follows that students will increasingly see this as a viable and worthwhile option for furthering their education.

Alice Bonasio is a UK-based technology writer, strategic consultant and enthusiast. She runs the Tech Trends blog and contributes to Ars Technica, Quartz, Newsweek, The Next Web, and others on a range of topics such as VR, artificial intelligence, and any other tech that impacts the way we live our lives. Write to: alice@techtrends.tech and follow @alicebonasio

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In the Business of Learning

A veteran educator focuses on implementing what schools actually need and want.  

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT Discovery Education Karen Beerer.pngKaren Beerer began as a grade two elementary teacher, then also taught fifth grade, seventh grade and graduate level courses. She served as a reading specialist and an elementary principal as well as a Supervisor of Curriculum and Professional Development. More recently, she has served as the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment in the Boyertown Area School District (PA) for eight years. Karen has a passion for professional development, specifically helping educators utilize research-based practices in instruction to ensure the achievement of all students. She received her Ed.D. from Lehigh University where she studied Curriculum and Instruction. Most notably, her experiences in two public schools in Pennsylvania in the areas of curriculum, instruction and assessment have resulted in higher achievement gains for students. In total, Karen has more than 30 years of experience in education. Today, she is Discovery Education’s Vice President of Learning and Development. Her enthusiasm is refreshing, and her in-the-trenches knowledge of education is revealing of a person with a passion for helping educators and students.

You believe “schools should not be in the business of implementing technology initiatives, but rather, only learning initiatives?” Could you expand on this?             

Karen: Absolutely! So, in my 30-plus years of experience as a teacher, principal, and assistant superintendent and now Vice President of Learning and Development at Discovery Education, the focus of my work has always been on improving student academic achievement. From Scantron tests to the use of VHS tapes to the introduction of digital white boards, technology was always a part of my work, as a critical tool. However, it was just that—a tool. My work as an educator never focused on the technology I was using to achieve my goal of ensuring the success of all students. Rather, my focus stayed squarely on students, and the technology was just one of the many resources I used to get us where we needed to go.

When we consider technology’s role in education today, we also need to consider the importance of the human element, and specifically the tremendous teachers behind each one of these stories.

So, when I work with school districts across the country as they create dynamic digital learning environments, I encourage my school-based colleagues not to think of their efforts as a technology initiative, but rather, as a learning initiative that is driven or accelerated by technology. The implementation of the technology itself is not the goal. Rather, the goal is to create environments in which talented teachers are, through a combination of digital content, educational technologies, and sustained, job-embedded professional development, positioned to better implement what we know to be good educational practice in a fashion that improves student performance. By calling this a learning initiative instead of a technology initiative, better clarity of the intended outcomes is given to all stakeholders.

Why is sustained professional development so critical to the success and return on investment of any tech-driven learning initiative?

Karen: Okay, so here is a scenario for you that I recently ran through with local education policy-makers that goes something like this: If I put you in a kitchen, stocked it with the finest ingredients and the best appliances money can buy, and I tell you to make the best meal you can, what would you do?

According the policy-maker, he said he’d most likely make something he’d cooked before. His reasoning was that by using a familiar recipe and tools he was comfortable with, there was less risk of a mistake, and that while the dish he created would be just ok, it would be predictable. So, why would he change his recipe?

CREDIT Discovery Education.pngProviding an educator a host of new digital resources and educational technologies and then sending them into the classroom without any additional professional development while expecting different results is similar to the kitchen scenario. While an educator many have new tools and resources, without clarity on how to use them effectively that educator will most likely fall back on the instructional methods and strategies they employed in the past and the new resources provided them will not be used. In the best-case scenario, through trial and error, the educator will eventually learn to use the new technologies in some capacity.

So, I would say to the policy-makers, school administrators and school board members out there, please, as you create tech-driven learning initiatives, be sure to include in your thinking plans for a strong professional development initiative. You are making tremendous investments to provide your teachers the best possible tools and resources needed to reach today’s tech-savvy learners. The simplest way to see a return on the investments you are making is to provide your educators the learning and know-how they need to effectively integrate those resources into their teaching in order to evolve their classroom practice. 

What are some of the key markers of a successful PD program supporting a tech-driven learning initiative?

Karen: The first two words that come to mind are immersive and practical. Because best practice instruction today includes the use of digital content and tools, this looks different than what most of us have experienced in our own education and certainly, in our preparation for teaching. So, educators need professional development experiences that immerse them in effective digital pedagogies. This allows educators to see what students will encounter as digital learners and plan for success with their learners and their classroom structure. These immersions also include the element of reflection, an integral professional development practice that allows educators to identify what they have in place and areas where they need to grow.

Then, while immersing educators in these learning experiences, there is also an element of practicality that occurs. Educators actually see and hear what instruction looks and sounds like; they need the opportunity to transfer their learning to their lessons. Successful professional development provides teachers with these opportunities for transfer – time to plan lessons collaboratively, time to share student work, time to reflect on and revise instructional practice. This should occur both within professional learning sessions as well as through job-embedded coaching, another critical marker of a success professional development program. 

What are some of the key questions school administrators should ask as they are working with a company such as Discovery Education to design a PD initiative to support their tech-driven learning initiative? 

Karen: As I work with schools around the country, many of the outcomes that they are looking to achieve are really similar. In addition, the areas of focus are often similar as well – STEM, personalized learning, student-centered instruction, to name a few. One thing that is not similar, however, is the process of change. What I mean by that is that each system has its own process of change, much of which is governed by the culture of the system. So, first and foremost, school administrators need to identify and recognize their system of change and then ask questions of their potential partners to ensure that what they bring aligns to their change process.

In order for any initiative to go well, communication is integral.

Secondly, in order for any initiative to go well, communication is integral. This sounds somewhat trite, but in many situations where our district partners have faced challenges throughout an intended transformation, the underlying factor has been communication. School administrators need to ask how ongoing communication will be handled. How will teachers know and understand the initiative? How will progress be communicated? How will building level administrators know and understand the initiative? Certainly, communication to the community is essential as well.

These are some of the foundational questions administrators should ask.

However, I would also include these questions as well:

  • How does your professional development take a systemic approach?
  • What research both supports and informs the professional development you provide?
  • What measures of success will ensure that the professional development initiative is aligned to the tech-driven learning initiative?
  • How will capacity-building and the sustainability of growth be achieved? 

Can you share any examples of school districts that are doing this really well?

Karen: There are many examples! And, what’s so interesting is that these examples are from small districts, large districts, urban, suburban and rural districts as well as public and private school systems.

So, here are three school districts that are different in size and demographics, but are really doing great work:

  • East Stroudsburg Area School District, located in rural Pennsylvania near the Poconos Mountains has 10 schools with approximately 7,000 students and is the 7th most diverse school in Pennsylvania. As they integrated more technology into the classroom, they recognized the importance of a systemic, collaborative approach focused on the improvement of instruction through digital tools and resources. So, they have two strands of professional learning interwoven throughout their district, one focused on the intentional support of their building level leaders and the other designed to grow teachers as leaders to build capacity and sustain meaningful change around effective digital pedagogy.
  • In Nashville, Tennessee, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) is quite the opposite in size from East Stroudsburg. MNPS has approximately 86,000 throughout its approximately 157 schools. However, MNPS also valued the importance of a systemic approach. They decided to tackle this goal through a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) Transformation plan. Through a unique combination of dynamic digital content, immersive professional learning and sustained, job-embedded classroom support, MNPS will cultivate inquiry-based transdisciplinary instruction across the district’s middle schools.
  • Finally, Missouri’s Mehlville School District, which serves close to 11,000 students, is a great blend of East Stroudsburg and Nashville. Mehlville has embraced the “teachers as leaders” approach and uses this model to transform their teaching and learning in both the areas of STEM as well as a specific focus on Math.

One other final point as we celebrate and acknowledge the success of these districts is the fact that they recognized that this transition does not happen overnight. They have committed to a multi-year focus, minimizing the “last year’s new thing, this year’s new thing” mentality that sometimes pervades our educational culture. 

This transition does not happen overnight. They have committed to a multi-year focus, minimizing the “last year’s new thing, this year’s new thing” mentality that sometimes pervades our educational culture. 

What are your thoughts on the state of education these days? What makes you say that? 

Karen: Overall, I think the state of the American K-12 educational system is strong.

Now, that is not to say we are not facing some very serious issues within education – we are. Equity issues, funding issues, the poverty many of our students are facing at home—these challenges are very real, and we, as a nation, need to do a better job of addressing them.

However, in the face of these challenges, our education system continues to improve. According to the National Assessment of Education Progress, academic achievement in America has improved over the last 40 years, and minority students in particular have experienced some of the biggest gains. Record numbers of students are now attending college, and according to the 2016 PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, the share of Americans giving positive grades to the nation’s public schools has grown 7 percent since 2014. Why? I strongly believe the answer lies in the great work of the talented teachers and administrators who are the backbone of K-12 education in America.

In the face of adversity, each day our educators are working hard to prepare millions of students nationwide for success beyond school. Teaching is not a job—it’s a calling, and educators in our schools across the country are answering that calling by helping prepare our students for successful lives beyond the classroom. For this reason, I am very optimistic about the state of education in America today. 

I am very optimistic about the state of education in America today. 

What are your thoughts on technology’s role in education these days? 

Karen: Well, as I alluded to earlier, technology has always been a presence in my career. However, what I think has changed is our collective perception of the power of technology to improve academic achievement.

Now, make no doubt, I’ve seen first-hand the impact digital resources can have on teaching and learning. In school systems like South Carolina’s Rock Hill Schools and North Carolina’s Asheboro City Schools and many others across the country, these resources are having a positive impact on student achievement. These systems and so many others like them have redefined “best practice instruction.” They’ve shown us that teaching today includes research-based instructional strategies and digital content and tools. Notice the word “and,” not or.

Additionally, when we consider the technology’s role in education today, we also need to consider the importance of the human element, and specifically the tremendous teachers behind each one of these stories. In every case of a successful tech-driven learning initiative, you will find dedicated teachers supported by forward-thinking administrators who believe in the power of professional development to build capacity for great instruction that meets the needs of all learners.

I think if we keep in mind the importance of continuing to provide our educators sustained, job-embedded professional development as new educational technologies enter the classroom and impress upon education policy-makers, the tech community and other stakeholders the importance of this connection, we’ll continue to see technology’s impact on teaching and learning grow.

CONNECT WITH KAREN

karen_beerer@discovery.com

C: (240) 893-5162

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

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