An Experience to Love

Inspired by frustration, a recent college grad creates a next-generation LMS.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT Justin Chando of ChalkupHis first real introduction to learning management systems came when he was in college. “I was using one of the most widely-used LMSes in the country to receive and submit assignments,” says Justin Chando, who earned a Bachelor of Arts, Economics and Business from Lafayette College in 2013, “and it was just a terrible experience. Besides being massively difficult to use, the LMS I had to work with did very little to connect me with my classmates and share resources. Discussion threads were empty and using the system was a formality, if it was used at all,” he says. “Most of my classes opted to forge ahead without the system, even though the college was spending lots on the service.” For a school with such vast resources, recalls Justin, “I couldn’t figure out why we were using a system that hadn’t received any major updates since it was launched in the late

As scary as change is – we need it. It’s important. It’s the only way we’re going to make ourselves and our students better.

1990s, early 2000s.” There had to be something better out there, he thought. When it didn’t look like there was, he got a group of friends together to create Chalkup, a next-generation LMS and class collaboration platform. That was in 2012. The platform is simple on the surface, but dig deeper and you’ll find a powerful learning tool – something Justin would have wanted for himself as a student, and something he’s making sure to provide to others. Here’s more from Justin.

You have written publicly about the shortcomings of classroom technology. How did you become passionate about this issue?

Justin: Well, my college experience was really what made me understand that there is so much work to be done as far as classroom technology is concerned. I felt underserved – and the more research I did, the more I realized there were many others who felt this way.

But it was actually a piece of engineering homework that started it all and convinced me learning management systems had it all wrong in general.

I was stuck on a homework question and knew that there were 18 other students in my class working on the same problem as I was (basically at the same time). I just didn’t have any easy way to reach out for help because LMSes were created to manage the learning process, not to facilitate collaboration.

That’s when I gathered that group of equally-frustrated friends and we got to work. We wanted to create the LMS our classrooms deserved. We built the system from scratch, engineering solutions from the library basement and our dorm rooms. We put connection and collaboration above all else and built a system that was ridiculously easy to use.

And as this was happening, I developed a genuine passion for making tools that allow classrooms to do and learn more. I want to make stuff they want to use – technology that enhances their experience. When I was a student, I didn’t feel like there were tech companies trying to do that for me.

What’s something interesting about its development history? Why do you choose not to call your product a learning management system?

Justin: I quickly threw my hands up when I was researching LMSes. Despite the way these companies were marketing themselves, every single one I tested was designed as a glorified assignment machine, or was suffering from gross feature creep. They just tried to do everything, and in that pursuit, they did nothing because the experience was so overwhelming.

I was still in college at the time and my school kindly let me pilot the product there to get more feedback from teachers and students – which instantly made Chalkup better. As we started to figure out how to better design the platform so it was as collaboration friendly as possible, I realized that I wasn’t making a learning management system. I was making something different altogether. Chalkup fundamentally values a different user experience than any other LMS.

Soon after we decided to start calling Chalkup a “class collaboration platform.”

How is Chalkup any different than the classroom technology that’s come before it?

Justin: As I learned more about different types of classroom technology, I started to appreciate feature creep. As far as learning management systems go, it boggles my mind how many say they’re all about connecting classrooms, but really they’re just creating a new feature for every need. It’s overdeveloped and overwhelming.

In short: by trying to serve everyone, they serve no one.

So in the LMS field, I think we’re different because Chalkup is amazingly able to do what any other LMS can, but we’ve steered clear of making it a do-everything-for-everyone platform that ultimately teachers stop using.

Overall, I’m proud that we approach product development by asking what is going to be the most useful, connective, and relevant features for teachers and students. We don’t do things just because we can.

I really respect the edtech companies that have created products that aren’t technology for technology’s sake. We approach Chalkup the same way, and I think that puts us in an elite group.

How was it working in the classroom, talking with the students, collaborating with specialists? Any lessons learned? Was it a shock going from development theory to classroom practicality? Did you make some key adjustments at that time due to student or teacher feedback?

Justin: Yes times 1,000.

It all started to click when we piloted the product with real classes. I felt like we had a head start because we were approaching the development of Chalkup as students who wanted a different experience. But wow, even then. We learned a lot.

Shortly after our initial testing we adjusted the entire interface to make Chalkup easier to use and to optimize collaboration features.

So early feedback was everything. Getting in classrooms was huge. And we still have a lot to learn from our users to keep making Chalkup better. With that, the next year will see expanded mobile features, new product integrations, and stronger school-wide messaging capabilities.

First on the list is our expanded iOS and Android apps this spring. We can’t wait for the release.

Anything interesting about your own background that informed your current approach?

Justin: I said this in another interview recently, but my role has always been the starter. I like to bring people together and make things happen. I started my first company when I was 12 and I used the profits from that experience to create another business when I was 16.

But at the end of the day: I love the grind, I love the work. And I learned from these early entrepreneurial opportunities; I felt ready to make Chalkup. I also felt like I had an extra edge being fresh out of the classroom and building something to make that experience better. With Chalkup, we really got the right team in place and found great advisors to help along the way.

What’s your 60-second pitch to someone on what exactly it is, benefits?

Justin: Definitely – okay, here it goes:

Chalkup is the world’s first class collaboration platform.

We do everything a learning management system can, but with a gorgeous, user-friendly interface that is optimized for keeping classes in touch and sharing resources.

Beyond being ridiculously easy-to-use, Chalkup integrates seamlessly with Google Drive. From online conversations to grading to assignments, it’s simple, it’s beautiful, and it’s effective.

And when you build a platform that is as easy-to-use and powerful as Chalkup is – something really cool happens: teachers and students actually use it.

Do you consider that you have any direct or indirect competition? 

Justin: We understand that even though we believe we’ve built something fundamentally different than the modern learning management system, we’re competing against all the other LMSes out there in both K-12 and higher ed environments.

We’re the only ones doing what we’re doing, but it’s not lost on me that we’re going head-to-head with lots of other LMSes.

I hope that we can spark more dialogue on technology in classrooms – its role, what we want out of it, how tech is really going to be a value add – and further distinguish ourselves from what LMSes have traditionally been.

Any highlights about test marketing it or starting out; any interesting feedback, reaction to it?

Justin: It was important to us that we waste no time getting the product in real classes. So we developed it for two months, and by the third, Chalkup was in classrooms.

We had the opportunity to be in those classes every day and gain feedback about how it is being used. It was crazy helpful to improving the product. We even did a pretty drastic redesign early on because we learned so much from our users.

We’ve maintained this practice, but now our scale is so much larger. We no longer get feedback from 10 classes, now it’s thousands.

I take a lot of pride in how we developed Chalkup initially to solve for the student first so that students would spend more time thinking about their learning and getting un-stuck.

Solve for the student, empower the educator. That’s the way we like to do things.

As far as getting Chalkup on the market, one of the largest factors in our growth has been how closely the product works with Google Apps for Education. We really carved out a niche and went about working with Google in a different way from other LMSes.

What else can you say about the value and benefit of Chalkup?

Justin: In a nutshell, we’re doing something that no one else is. We’re optimizing for connection and collaboration, and we’re making a beautiful user experience along the way. Powerful tools don’t need to be ugly tools. We’re putting the care and thoughtfulness behind designing a user experience that works for students and teachers (not just one or the other).

And let’s also talk Google Drive. We integrate seamlessly with Google – you can even sign in with your Google account. This is a great example of how we’re trying to be smarter with functions traditionally performed by LMSes. By last count, there’s over 40 million Google Apps for Education accounts.

We know a lot of teachers love using Google Drive with their classes. But when it comes to powerful grading or creating a classwide discussion space, there is something left to be desired with Google Classroom.

You can access your Google Drive to upload documents anywhere in Chalkup. We even change the file permissions automatically. You can share, you can assign, you can submit, and you can even grade using a rubric.

Anything else in the works?

Justin: On the product side, we’re all about developing the best mobile learning experience right now. Our expanded native iOS and Android apps will be released this spring.

We’re also internally working on quite a few completely new projects that we’ve identified as real opportunities to help both students and teachers.

On the blog side, we’re thrilled to be releasing a new series of Q&As with amazing, innovative teachers who are using Chalkup to stay connected with their students. Meeting these educators has been a treat. It’s been really inspiring to hear their stories and how they’re using the product.

Your thoughts on education in general these days?

Justin: You know, as much as there is that we need to work on, education has been moving forward. We’ve developed new resources and new opportunities for students. U.S. high school graduation rates are up. Good things are happening.

But I do believe we’re at a crossroads as we reach critical mass with education technology. It’s more potential than we’ve ever had before and it’s easy to lose focus.

At the end of the day it needs to be about the students. When implementing edtech, it’s easy to get caught up in the needs of administrators and teachers – who need to be heard and play a role in the process – but when their needs overshadow students’, it’s clear we’re forgetting why we’re doing this in the first place.

Your thoughts on technology’s role in education?

Justin: I obviously love education technology. It’s incredibly exciting. But make no mistake – I don’t think technology is the silver bullet. Technology is a vehicle. It still comes back to what we do with it.

I wrote a post recently on Medium about why your classroom technology needs to be smarter than paper. It’s all about not adding technology for the sake of adding technology, but to achieve new learning gains.

First, I think we need to make an agreement that we can’t throw devices at classes and believe that we’re done. We can’t just post assignments online and have that be the end of the conversation. We can’t keep teaching as we always have even though the game is fundamentally changing.

Any guidance or advice to educators these days?

Justin: I understand that I approach Chalkup – and the edtech world – as a student who wanted a different experience. So far be it from me to offer advice to teachers.

The only thing I’ll say is that Chalkup has allowed me to speak with educators from around the world about how they use technology, what they like, what they want, and what they worry about.

A consistent thread in many of my conversations is that change can be scary for instructors who have done the same thing in their classrooms for years. And I understand that.

But as scary as change is – we need it. It’s important. It’s the only way we’re going to make ourselves and our students better.

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

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A Take-Home Mission

In depth with Pearson’s managing director for North America.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT Alfred BinfordHis first year at the world’s largest learning company has been the most exciting of his career. One of the first things Alfred Binford realized when he arrived was how dedicated Pearson’s team is to truly improving education. “We have 40,000 employees around the world and more than 15,000 are former teachers or had careers in education,” he says. “Every conversation I have at Pearson has been focused in some form or fashion on improving learning outcomes, and preparing students for success in school, college and careers. This is also a personal mission of mine. My wife and I are parents of three sons, so this is a mission that I take home.” As Managing Director of Pearson North America, Alfred is in the hotseat and many eyes are on him as he represents Pearson (or what was Pearson Education, rebranded to simply Pearson in 2011, then split into an International and a North American division). The company generates about 60 percent of its sales in North America (though it operates in more than 70 countries). The international division is headquartered in London with offices across

Every conversation I have at Pearson has been focused in some form or fashion on improving learning outcomes, and preparing students for success in school, college and careers.

Europe; the North American division is headquartered in New York City, Alfred’s home turf. Pearson has a very long history for any company, having been founded 171 years ago, and that’s another story — but its publishing interests in particular began over one hundred years later, in the 1950s, with ownership of the Financial Times and a 50 percent stake in The Economist, and even later, buying paperback publisher Penguin in 1970. In the 1990s and 2000s, there were many more acquisitions, and between 2006 and today, the company had swallowed up enough testing, assessment and digital technology companies to place a large part of it squarely in the emerging ‘edtech’ sector; in 2013 there was further restructuring of the company’s education interests into three main groups: Pearson School, Pearson Higher Education, and Pearson Professional. As the largest for-profit company in one of the most important (it’s our future) and thus often politically-charged fields of human endeavor, concerns about the company’s influence on public education haven’t abated. In this interview, we go in-depth with Pearson’s Managing Director for North America to see where he comes from, his approach to learning, what his current mindset is, his impressions of some basic areas of education, even some of his thoughts on the most recent ISTE conference, and where he sees things headed. We hope you find it educational.

I understand that you are new to your role at Pearson. What made you want to join the company?

Alfred: The best things that have happened in my life are because of my family and education. My single mom made schooling a top priority for me and two older siblings, and I am a proud product of the Bronx Public Schools in New York City. Education has always provided “access to opportunity” for me and helped shape me as a husband, dad, neighbor, employee and citizen. Having the opportunity to work at Pearson brings my passion for family and education to my everyday work.

My first year at Pearson has been the most exciting of my career. One of the first things I realized when I arrived was how dedicated Pearson’s team is to truly improving education. We have 40,000 employees around the world and more than 15,000 are former teachers or had careers in education. Every conversation I have at Pearson has been focused in some form or fashion on improving learning outcomes, and preparing students for success in school, college and careers. This is also a personal mission of mine. My wife and I are parents of three sons, so this is a mission that I take home.

What are your responsibilities as Managing Director, Assessment and Direct Delivery, Pearson North America?

Alfred: I lead the teams who are actively helping our learners, teachers and schools, implement the various forms of assessment that we provide, and I also lead and drive the growth of our K-12 virtual learning business (which we also refer to as “direct delivery”). Pearson does everything from running virtual K-12 charter schools, to providing schools with courses, teachers, and even turnkey platform that power fully online and blended learning. Accelerated by the development of the Internet over the past two decades, the virtual learning space is very exciting right now, as it continues to provide learners with pathways for success and school districts with options to expand access and improve achievement. For example, we worked with one student who was very talented in math, but her school did not offer the calculus class she needed to apply to Stanford. She petitioned her school, and they found one of our Connections Learning online courses, and she was able to take the course and off to Stanford she went.

From your perspective, what is the role of assessment in education today?

Alfred: Assessment has — and always will — be a part of teaching and learning. From the weekly quizzes that we all took in grade school to end-of-course exams in high school, assessments provide teachers with ways to measure student progress, and then to adjust and personalize instruction based on the results and analysis. Also, I know firsthand how parents rely on feedback and progress reports to help them support their kid’s success.

While Pearson has a large profile for the work we do with state assessments, we also do a great deal of innovative work in developing and providing classroom and formative assessments as well as important clinical assessments. In fact, some of our products leverage technology in such a way that students don’t even view the assessment as a test. For example, at ISTE, we launched TELL (Test of English Language Learning), a tablet-based assessment developed to support schools as they ensure that the growing population of English language learners (ELLs) build English language skills and stay on track to meet today’s rigorous academic standards.

TELL is a totally interactive assessment experience. A principal from a school in California that pilot tested TELL told us he had never seen an assessment like TELL, and that students were overwhelmingly positive about it. In fact, he said the kids thought they were playing some kind of educational game and really tried hard to score well.

One teacher recently told me his students were able to write 33 essays last school year — a number that would have been impossible for him to grade individually. 

Another product we have with embedded assessment is WriteToLearn, an online literacy tool. Nearly half a million students around the country use WriteToLearn to practice essay and summary writing and receive automatic feedback on their work. One teacher recently told me his students were able to write 33 essays last school year — a number that would have been impossible for him to grade individually. He said they were all challenged to improve each draft by the feedback they received as they worked, while he was able to watch their progress through the teacher dashboard on the tool.

The bottom line is that assessments are a tool for improving student learning — showing what individual students have learned and how schools are preparing them for their next step in college or their careers. Getting it right and designing balanced accountability and assessment systems are pivotal to ensuring achievement for all students. We share a common goal with the teachers, parents and students we serve—to make certain that every single child graduates from school ready for success in life on her or his own terms and able to fulfill their full potential.

Speaking of ISTE 2015 in Philadelphia, what were a few of your impressions? What edtech trends did you see? What impressed you most? Any surprises?

Alfred: ISTE 2015 was an amazing experience! From the vast and busy expo hall to the nearly 20,000 attendees and educators who were engaged in talking about everything from how young is too young to teach students to code to what are the best tech tools for building literacy skills — the excitement and energy were palpable.

In her opening keynote, well-known journalist and TV personality — and child of teachers —Soledad O’Brien provided a great kick-off to the show by challenging educators to take students to new heights through technology. It was funny because I think she thought she was going to be a little provocative when she said “I think technology for technology’s sake is a complete waste,” but instead she almost received a standing ovation.

Then, in demonstrations on-stage involving volunteers from the audience, she showed how technology is an education tool — not a means to an end — with a virtual reality technology that allowed students to “test drive” from their classrooms, a career in veterinary surgery.

Her demonstration tied back into Pearson’s ISTE theme of “Reimagining Learning to Prepare Students for Jobs of the Future,” when she said, “You could actually let them experience a different career; they could dive right in.”

I was also privileged to spend some time in the Pearson booth in the expo hall where I watched our dedicated team engage with ISTE attendees, talking about the challenges that they face in their classrooms, and how Pearson might be able to help them.

You mentioned that Pearson’s theme for its Spotlight Session at ISTE 2015 was “Reimagining Learning to Prepare Today’s Students For Jobs of the Future.” What kind of a conversation did you have around that topic at the conference?

Alfred: Our whole theme for ISTE 2015 was “I Can Imagine…” We wanted to challenge attendees to think about the ways that learning must change to ensure that Generation Alpha — kids born after 2010 — and the generations that follow are prepared to succeed in a world that we may not have yet imagined.

As I prepared to moderate our Spotlight Session panel, it made me think back 35 or 40 years and imagine Steve Jobs in his garage, building the beginnings of what we now call the personal computing industry. It is incredible to think about the power of his imagination at a time when there were no jobs in the paper for computing in the Silicon Valley.

According to research at the World Bank, only one in five of today’s elementary students will find a job that exists today. So how do we shape our educational system to give students the tools they will need to be successful? This is a subject that’s important to me, both professionally and personally. I want to set my three sons in a direction that’s going to lead them to lucrative, fulfilling jobs.

Our stellar group of panelists inspired a thoughtful discussion about how we ensure that students will be successful in careers that we can’t even imagine today. There was a common theme among their points of view that we must help students build critical thinking skills versus train them for projected “jobs du jour.” They emphasized the continued importance of a liberal arts education, and building strong foundational literacy and critical thinking skills. They also discussed ways they are personalizing learning and reaching students through project-based and blended learning. I was particularly intrigued by the idea — mentioned by several panelists — that we have to change our educational system from one-size-fits-all to an environment where students chart their own pathways and coaches help guide them through blended learning opportunities.

One of the highlights of the panel for me was the participation of Briana Jamerson, a sixth-grade student, from Riggs Elementary in Chandler, Arizona. Briana is a member of Kids CoLab, a team of students who worked side-by-side with our product developers every week last school year to create solutions with “real world” applications, while building skills in subjects such as technology and math through hands-on learning.

It is understandable that, for now, Briana doesn’t know what her job of the future will be, but she likes playing soccer and creating things and is considering being a chef or an educator. Whether she chooses a career we know about today or one we’ve not yet imagined, there’s no doubt that Briana will be prepared. And Pearson is committed to collaborating with educators around the country to ensure that all students have access to the tools to create their own learning pathways so that they are prepared to become whatever they can imagine they want to be.

What is Pearson doing to help prepare today’s students for the jobs of the future? What else needs to be done?

Alfred: One critical thing that Pearson is doing to prepare today’s students for the jobs of the future is listening to and participating in the dialogue around what needs to be done. Our spotlight session at ISTE 2015 is an example of that and there are many others that

One critical thing that Pearson is doing to prepare today’s students for the jobs of the future is listening to and participating in the dialogue around what needs to be done. 

occur throughout the year — both formally at conferences and seminars and more informally when our team members talk to customers on the phone or visit their schools.

We also need to continue to look at all of our products for learning, especially assessments, and think about the ways they support helping students develop the skills that are requisite for being successful in careers we might not even imagine today — critical thinking, collaboration and creativity skills.

And, like today’s students, we need to be nimble enough to make changes and chart a new course as the world around us changes.

How does the way that the classroom looks need to change to prepare students for the jobs of the future?

Alfred: Maybe not this year or even this decade, but I believe that in the not-too-distant future, “physical classroom” might not even be the biggest part of our lexicon when we talk about education. As our panelists described at ISTE, “school” will be an environment — maybe not even one designated place — where students map their own pathways to learning, working with their teachers and parents to design a trajectory that will prepare them for the future, based on their skills, abilities and, most importantly, passions.

It is exciting to envision, and Pearson is committed to listening to and participating in the discussion as we make this transformation.

What role do you believe technology plays in improving learning and teaching for students?

Alfred: Like Soledad said, technology for its own sake can be a waste. However, as she also demonstrated, used well, it has tremendous power to transform learning and lives.

Virtual and online courses can present students with educational opportunities that might not have otherwise been available to them. A small rural school in Nebraska can offer high school Chinese language courses to the two students who are interested; or a student who is also an Olympic skier can keep pace for high school graduation while training on the slopes in Colorado.

If you asked them if technology should be a part of education, you would probably get a “duh,” an eye roll or a “look.”

The possibilities and the implications are endless. However, we must always keep a keen focus on the learner as we develop technology solutions to support learning and continuously study their impact on learning with an emphasis on efficacy.

Today’s students are truly digital natives. They have been tapping, swiping, texting and Googling from a very young age. If you asked them if technology should be a part of education, you would probably get a “duh,” an eye roll or a “look.” We really need to think carefully about the role it plays in education so that we maximize the impact of the investment.

What other formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your views today?

Alfred: My family heritage is quite diverse. I am an African American man, and my wife is part Latina and Irish. Raised by a single mom, I went to public elementary, middle and high school in the Bronx. I was fortunate to have a ”very good” K-12 educational experience; teachers who went beyond normal instruction and ensured I knew that going to college was essential and “accessible,” as well as extracurricular programs and coaching that led to a basketball scholarship which allowed me to avoid leaving college under the burden of student loans. But I know way too many other kids in my community were not as lucky.

Great teachers are key to any student’s success and I was privileged to have my basketball coach at W. H. Taft High School, Donald E. Adams, as a teacher, coach and mentor, who went beyond teaching physical education and helped so many kids (including me) dream beyond all the difficulties and socio-economic challenges in our neighborhoods. He helped us realize that graduating high school was just the start — if we were willing to work really hard and respond to the investments teachers and coaches were willing to make in us.

As it often is with so many important things we learn from parents, grandparents, teachers, and coaches, the most powerful insights and lessons often sink in much later in life. Great teaching has a way of echoing, and increasing in value, as you mature and your life unfolds.

What is your outlook on the future of education?

Alfred: As a result of my personal educational experience and that of our kids, I have always been optimistic about the future of education. The millions of dedicated teachers, administrators, parent volunteers and professionals in schools around the country are there because they care about students and learning and I know that companies, like Pearson, are in this business to support them in preparing today’s students for the world of tomorrow.

Everywhere I looked I saw educators engaged in spirited conversations about what does and doesn’t work with their students.

My experience at ISTE 2015 took that optimism to the next level. Everywhere I looked I saw educators engaged in spirited conversations about what does and doesn’t work with their students. They spent countless hours going from session to session to learn more about best practices on topics such as instructional design, coding, professional development and communication and collaboration tools. They walked the vast exhibit floors to preview the latest and greatest technology, and think carefully about what they are trying to achieve in their schools. In fact, according to an infographic from ISTE, the average attendee walked 24 miles over the four days!

After spending time with these passionate educators from around the globe, I am more excited than ever before about the ways we can all work together to improve learning, and teaching and cannot wait to see what the next year and the next decade holds.

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

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Peer-to-Peer Learning Power

Students creating a foundation in programming and computer science.

GUEST COLUMN | by Ryan Seashore

CREDIT CodeNowFour years ago, we launched CodeNow as a nonprofit focused on helping underrepresented teens look under the hood of technology to learn about coding. To date, we’ve run 33 in-person trainings, and have seen over 1,000 students pass through our program, 80 percent of whom received free or reduced lunch. Many of our earliest students are just starting their college careers, and a good percentage have selected disciplines in computer science. Our imperative is to shine the light on coding for teens at the beginning of the pipeline, and we look for as many access points as possible to show any

We think learning to code is like playing a sport. How will someone know if they like it unless they try? Kids need exposure in order to learn whether it’s for them.

student that they can have a bright future in computer science if they want it. We do this through in-person workshops and trainings on weekends and summer break, and we often work with teachers and community groups to recruit students curious about coding. Through our CodeNow In A Box initiative we work with corporations such as Adobe, Bloomberg, Infor, Symantec and others who provide us with space, volunteers and funding.

We’ve witnessed firsthand the power of peer-to-peer learning during our in-person trainings – students can explain things to each other in very easy-to-understand, relatable terms and context. And when it comes to engaging with our program overall, our students are far from shy about sharing their opinions and ideas about how to solve the problem in front of them, and also how to improve what CodeNow does. We listen. We invite them back to keep learning or, in some cases, teach at our workshops. They influence curriculum and methodology, as we recently saw in our newest form of training: #CodeHow. (Our students picked the name.)

#CodeHow is a series of short concept videos, three to six minutes in duration, that feature CodeNow alumni explaining important programming and computer science concepts and ideas — for example, variables, arrays, if/else statements, and other introductory fundamentals. Each of the videos includes a key aspect students should understand about a concept. They are available on YouTube and free to anyone who is curious about learning to code.

Peer-to-peer learning is not a new idea; it is just a matter of who is creating the content and who the audience is. #CodeHow is unique in that it involves teens teaching teens about coding. There is no power dynamic affecting the learning process, and students share the status as fellow learners, making learning to code more accessible. For those doing the “teaching,” it is an opportunity to pay it forward and externalize their knowledge, both activities that positively affect learning. For those doing the learning, it has the added benefit of presenting a relatable model of what can be achieved, a “possible self.”

Not every school offers programming classes, and not every student has the resources to pay for coding education outside of school. The internet allows students with curiosity and interest to find the resources they need to begin learning. #CodeHow is designed to be a relatable starting point, where teens can try their hand at learning from other teens who not too long ago were in their position – just starting out, not sure where to look, but wanting to explore whether computer science might be for them. We think learning to code is like playing a sport. How will someone know if they like it unless they try? Kids need exposure in order to learn whether it’s for them. Our workshops and videos demystify programming, allowing teens to dive in and see if it’s for them.

Ryan Seashore is the founder of Find him on Twitter @RyanSeas

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A Collaborative Future

Transforming education with multi-touch, multi-person technology.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jonathan Priestley

CREDIT MultiTactionRecent studies from Harvard and Michigan State University have shown that group activities empower individuals to perform better in a variety of tasks compared to working independently. In a group setting new processes, ideas, solutions and conclusions are easily developed and increased cognition amongst students is evident. The future of education involves collaborative learning, and this means moving beyond the integration of the latest tech gadgets.

Unlike traditional classroom technologies, interactive touch technology gives students the chance to learn by seeing, doing and implementing.

Technologies such as tablets, projectors and whiteboards have evolved learning, but they also limit the number of users at a given time and prohibit groups of students from collaborating when using these devices. In order to advance collaborative and group learning environments, educational institutions need to make the incorporation of technology that supports group interaction a top priority. Schools need to look to technology solutions that facilitate unlimited users to prompt social exchange and allow the seamless contribution of ideas. Interactive technology in the form of large multi-touch displays offers a viable solution as learning, interacting and collaborating is transformed and students are placed at the forefront of a dynamic experience.

Classroom Interaction and Group Learning

Students today are part of the Touch Generation. Not only do these student want to play with touch devices, they want to learn with them as well. Unlike traditional classroom technologies, interactive touch technology gives students the chance to learn by seeing, doing and implementing. It immerses students into activities and allows educators to bring lessons to life. Students are encouraged to explore news way of learning by utilizing a strategic approach to lessons.

Interactive touch technology also caters to the learning styles of students and adapts to their needs. Many educational institutions have turned to touch technology to incorporate gamification in learning especially since 60 percent of learners believe that friendly competitions motivate them. Technologies that don’t support this level of interaction can actually hinder engagement. If students are not engaged with the content or topic, they don’t feel the need to pay attention in class and can easily miss important information. Collaboration on the other hand intensifies the information students retain and sparks creativity. By using touch technology, there is increased group cohesion which has a positive impact on group performance as well.

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)

According to a College Explorer study from re:fuel, 85 percent of the college student population own a laptop and students are spending an increasing amount of time on these personal devices since they are permitted to use them in the classroom. As such, there is an increasing need to integrate technologies that can support these types of portable smart devices. For instance, touch technology that can easily communicate with personal devices supports the BYOD trend. Students can easily share information for an individual project, work with other group members on a project, or create a presentation that visually draws students into the content.

Millennials are particularly interested in the BYOD trend as their personal devices are second nature to them. A Back-to-School Technology Usage survey by AMD found that 67 percent of students say one of their biggest fears is having their technology stop working. As universities seek to effectively close the gap and encourage the use of interactive technology in the classroom, the ability to easily sync and collaborate on personal devices is highly significant for the Millennial demographic. In fact, college students own up to seven tech devices so a smooth integration from device to device is critical to prevent loss of information.

The future of higher education needs to boost engagement amongst students and encourage collaboration within the classroom setting beyond collaborative software alone. Interactive touch hardware will play an integral role in the success and growth of students as learning is transformed like never before. With the right kinds of touch technology, professors and instructors can ensure that their lesson plans are being fully comprehended by students and students on the other hard can be actively involved in their learning and cooperate with their classmates as well.

Jonathan Priestley works for MultiTaction, a leading developer of interactive display systems. Write to:

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Innovation Alive and Well

At Penn State, a new network and a national edtech summit.

GUEST COLUMN | by Rosemarie Piccioni

CREDIT Penn State EdTech NetworkAdvances in technology are pushing higher education into new realms. From the continuing growth in online degree programs, to incorporating mobile devices and multimedia into teaching environments, educational technology is being used to help improve student outcomes. Penn State is developing an EdTech Network to expand the educational technology sector in State College, Pennsylvania. The goal of the network is to attract entrepreneurs and develop relationships with companies by providing opportunities for collaboration with Penn State faculty, staff and students.

The goal is to accelerate the transfer of new ideas into useful products and processes.

Penn State’s EdTech Network is part of the $30 million Invent Penn State initiative announced by Eric Barron, president of the University, in January 2015. The mission of Invent Penn State is to leverage the University’s size and broad research strengths to be a driver for job creation, economic development and student career success. Educational technology will be one of several areas, including energy, food security, environmental protection, health care, manufacturing, medical devices and pharmaceuticals, where the goal is to accelerate the transfer of new ideas into useful products and processes.

EdTech Summit

The team behind the EdTech Network is a part of Penn State Outreach and Online Education (OOE), a unit of the University led by Vice President for Outreach and Vice Provost for Online Education Craig Weidemann. OOE also leads the team fueling the international reach and nationally ranked programs of Penn State World Campus.

To further advance Penn State partnerships, the EdTech Network will host a summit at the University Park campus November 2–4, 2015. Select companies, investors, alumni, entrepreneurial students and faculty who specialize in educational technology will be invited to attend. Segments of the summit will be live streamed including a presentation by Jaime Casap, Google’s chief education evangelist.

Students Succeeding

Penn State’s EdTech Network growth has already begun with the expansion of a partnership between Penn State World Campus and InsideTrack, a leading student success organization that supports colleges and universities in improving student enrollment, completion and career readiness. As part of a four-year agreement, the California-based company will co-locate six full-time employees and four student interns to an office on the University Park campus.

The expanded partnership with InsideTrack is the network’s first step towards creating similar partnerships with other educational technology companies to develop environments that will help students succeed.

Rosemarie Piccioni, Ed.D., is Director of The Penn State EdTech Network, with a mission to facilitate student success by improving the accessibility and quality of higher education through the use of innovative educational technology solutions. Write to:

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