Cool Tool | Taken Charge

CREDIT Taken Charge gameAn online educational game that brings comprehensive technology education into a game-based learning environment created by Galvanize Labs, Taken Charge submerges players in a captivating story while giving them the building blocks for a quality technology education. Players progress through 49 levels and have the opportunity to earn 36 unique digital badges for each new technology skill set on topics ranging from hardware to file types, networking to cyberbullying, and much more. While players learn the fundamentals of technology education, they also have the chance to demonstrate and validate their newly acquired skills in-game via Taken Charge’s mini-game assessments. Apparently the only video game in the world to receive educational and teaching validation in the form of the ISTE Seal of the Alignment, Taken Charge also offers an LMS and Administrator Portal or organizations to track their students’ progress in-game, and to create and distribute customized reports. Have a look.

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

Achieving Efficacy

Integrating the right technology tools in schools to meet learning challenges.  

GUEST COLUMN | by Raj Valli

CREDIT TabtorMost classrooms already have technology assets, according to the US Department of Education, which reports that virtually all schoolrooms have at least one computer and that 90% of classrooms have Internet connectivity. The challenge for teachers is to integrate the right digital learning tools into their classrooms to drive measurable results. Achieving efficacy is the key, and to translate digital learning tools into improved classroom performance, educators have to make sure students use them.

The bottom line on integrating technology into the classroom is this: Does it produce results?

Choosing the right programs can be difficult since technology assets differ from school to school, and learning programs are typically not compatible across every platform. Some schools rely on a lab environment with desktop devices. While there are advantages to digital learning programs geared toward delivery in a lab environment, it makes it more challenging for students to adopt because desktops and Chromebooks are typically less interactive than tablets.

Students of all ages usually find learning on a tablet more personal. Students respond well to animation-driven and interactive apps, which make lessons more interactive and entertaining than linear modules delivered on a desktop. And tablets are more portable, which gives students more opportunities for learning. But regardless of the device, it’s important for educators to ensure that the experience is as hands-on and personalized as possible to promote efficacy.

Aside from the device itself, gamification strategies are another way educators can pique student interest and make learning fun. Many educators have introduced elements of games into their lesson plans to effect a shift in how students learn, with active engagement making learning less of an abstract exercise and more of an enjoyable activity. The result is higher motivation levels, which can translate into better test scores and improved classroom performance.

Gamification works because the years students spend playing video games conditions them to respond to rewards in the form of points – plus the motivation that comes with competitive leader boards. Digital learning solutions built on a gamification model can provide practice opportunities that students actually look forward to, but the challenge for educators is to choose a program that provides the right type of practice.

Educators should look for a program that actually teaches new concepts and helps students think through problems. For example, there are programs on the market that help students learn basic math facts, which can be somewhat valuable. But a program that teaches mathematical concepts and guides students as they think through the steps involved in solving a problem are even more valuable – and engaging for students.

Educators should also look for a program that effectively motivates students. In the classroom, teachers routinely use assignments to help students practice new learning concepts, but when teachers augment pencil-and-paper lessons with gamification delivered via digital programs, they can reinforce what students learn in the classroom. To find the program with the right motivational strategy, teachers should take a look at how students get credited for achievements on their favorite video games, (i.e. badges, gifts and other rewards). A digital program that harnesses these motivating factors can be highly effective.

The good news for educators is that there are many digital programs on the market, so there are a variety of options. But one snag educators often run into is an overreliance on academic research to determine efficacy of any digital programs. Technology evolves so rapidly that it outpaces formal academic research, so educators who want to apply cutting-edge tools to give their students an advantage have to look to other sources to verify a program’s promise.

To address this problem, it’s a good idea for educators to look at what works in the consumer sector. The adoption rate for mobile devices on the consumer side has been nothing short of phenomenal, which is a good indicator that consumers – and students – find the devices useful and entertaining. But for educators, the ultimate test of value is in a given program’s ability to bolster student performance and test scores, and the best way to find out for sure is to try it out in the classroom. Educators may want to consider bypassing sales teams and interacting directly with vendor CEOs and managers to ask about a pilot program.

The bottom line on integrating technology into the classroom is this: Does it produce results? Educators should look for solutions that students will use, like interactive programs that go beyond the basics to teach concepts. They should seek a solution that motivates students, and they should look for delivery devices that have popular appeal. With the right program, educators can not only overcome challenges to learning – they can create a new generation of lifelong learners.

Raj Valli is the founder and CEO of Tabtor, a tablet-based math tutoring program that combines technology with a live tutor to provide teachers and students with a highly personalized learning experience. For more information, visit

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

Cool Tool | PEAK from Fuel Education

CREDIT fuel educationFuel Education’s PEAK is an open, easy-to-use technology platform that gives districts a way to personalize, integrate, and manage online learning programs. It reduces system complexity, simplifies administrations, and provides intelligent reporting and analytics, empowering teachers to deliver a next-generation digital learning experience with “point-and-click” course customization tools that make it easy to differentiate instruction and improve student outcomes. By aggregating all of a district’s online curricula, content, instruction, and administration activities into a single, unified system, the platform enables a highly personalized and efficient online learning experience. A state-of-the-art tool that brings together all of the elements needed to empower teachers, drive student success, and improve district outcomes, it includes:

-An intelligent, interactive dashboard with single-click access to all online learning assets

-A personalization engine that makes it easy to modify courses with content and learning tools to create Individualized Learning Plans for students

-Administration tools that simplify time-consuming tasks and activities such as enrollment management

-Reports, dashboards, and alerts that support real-time program management.

PEAK’s open technology platform adapts to each district’s infrastructure; eliminates the need for multiple logins and enrollment systems; and gives administrators, teachers, and students a unified view of academic performance. Check it out.

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

Making Learning Fun

The family that makes together learns together.

GUEST COLUMN | by Heather Weiss and Gregg Behr

CREDIT MAKESHOPWhen families wander into MAKESHOP, they are greeted with an inviting array of electronic tools, circuitry, sewing needles, and saws. Educators at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh makerspace help visitors develop a project that family members can complete together. The idea is to build something physical while building knowledge and relationships at the same time – all while having fun together.

Maker education provides an accessible and fun pathway to connected learning for families.

In traditional schooling models, families have participated mostly at the margins, helping with homework or chaperoning field trips. Now, with the spread of anywhere, anytime learning, a school is just one setting where kids can learn. Connected learning posits that the best education begins with a child’s own interests. A range of institutions and mentors then help kids connect their passions to academic and professional opportunities.

This new learning landscape requires—and presents opportunities for—updated parental roles.

Parents are often eager to become more involved in their children’s education, but they may not know where to begin. The explosion of digital learning tools only compounds the confusion.

This curiosity is actually a fruitful place to start. Take maker education. Emphasizing exploration and risk, the hands-on maker movement creates abundant opportunities for families to get directly involved in their children’s schooling and learning. Ambitious and creative maker projects demand and inspire collaboration with parents and caregivers. At a MAKESHOP electricity workshop, kindergarteners and their fathers were presented with a pile of batteries and motors. Together, they designed and built functional inventions, including a handheld fan.

Often, tech tools and gadgets are new for both parent and child, giving each the chance to be a teacher, or the option for both to learn as peers. In other cases, the materials are low-tech but still offer prospects for cooperative learning. A MAKESHOP blogger wrote about a father-daughter duo who visited Pittsburgh and ended up spending two days at the makerspace sewing a fabric pouch for the family tablet.

The Harvard Family Research Project has spent years tracking the boom in informal learning opportunities, and advocating for wider access. High-income families outspend their low-income counterparts on extracurricular programs nearly seven to one, write Greg Duncan and Richard Murnane in Wither Opportunity?. Lower income families often have less time to dedicate to children’s educational enrichment, and less money to spend on expensive afterschool programs. By sixth grade, middle-class kids have spent 6,000 more hours in extracurricular learning programs than poor students, according to The After-School Corporation.

Public makerspaces give all parents and guardians an opportunity to play a supportive role in their kids’ exploration. The programming at places like Pittsburgh’s MAKESHOP or the New York Hall of Science makerspace is designed to be flexible and interactive. The spaces facilitate connection between family members and also act as community resources. Like MAKESHOP—where low-income families can present an EBT card to receive $2 admission for up to four people—many maker sites are affiliated with museums, libraries, or community centers where families can join a social network or find access to other public programming.

In Pittsburgh, these spaces exist at the Millvale Community Library, where there are maker programs for kids and teens; at Carnegie Mellon University, where the CREATE Lab churns out community-oriented tech; and at Assemble, where the assorted community programming includes a summer camp that neighborhood kids can attend for free. The explosion of maker learning in Pittsburgh is part of the city’s effort to “remake learning” into a connected, inclusive, hands-on experience, and to expand these opportunities to all of the region’s young people. There are now more than 100 documented maker spaces in the Pittsburgh region.  At the National Maker Faire, The Remake Learning Network, will launch a new Playbook, designed to help scale learning innovations like those that are happening in Pittsburgh to other cities and regions across the country.

When families are involved, young learners have a framework for connecting their work at school to their life and community beyond campus. With parental support, kids are more likely to pursue projects and maintain focus. Maker education provides an accessible and fun pathway to connected learning for families.

Gregg Behr is the executive director of The Grable Foundation and co-chair of the Remake Learning Council, a civic leadership group advancing maker learning and learning innovation generally. Heather Weiss is the Founder and Director of the Harvard Family Research Project.

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

MOOCs in Review

CREDIT CourseTalkA study of 74,000 MOOC reviews – from one of the world’s largest source of student-powered MOOC ratings – suggests online course providers should not be afraid to charge for classes, assign challenging workloads or point students to third-party review platforms. CourseTalk analyzed its entire review catalog and found:

  • Paid courses were rated, on average, 1.4 stars higher than free courses (out of 5 stars). CourseTalk users are willing to pay for good courses.
  • No direct link exists between hours of study required and course rating. CourseTalk reviewers do not penalize courses for heavy workloads.
  • The average course gets 4.18 out of 5 stars, with reviews submitted directly on CourseTalk averaging a half star higher than ones submitted on course provider sites. Students using third-party review platforms like CourseTalk seem especially satisfied with their learning experiences, perhaps because a vast, cross-provider catalog helps them find the right courses for them.

The study covers 7,500 courses from 46 providers. For more findings, see the full analysis, “What Reviews Divulge About Online Education.”

Posted in trends | Tagged , , | Leave a comment