Harvey HELP

Higher education taking a unified response, students helping students through GoFundMe.

CREDIT Harvey HELP higher ed community.jpgTexas and national leaders from higher education associations, institutions, foundations, and businesses have come together to launch the Harvey HELP Fund, a crowd-sourced relief fund dedicated to aiding the close to 500,000 students impacted by Hurricane Harvey—almost a third of all of the college and university students in the state. Announced September 1, 2017, HELP, which stands for Higher Education Learning Pathways, will provide emergency funds to enable students in southeast Texas to stay on or more quickly return to their education pathway.

“This is an opportunity for anyone, within the higher education community or beyond, within Texas or beyond, to make a real difference.”

“The storm has disrupted hundreds of thousands of students’ lives, most of whom were just about to start the new school year. We all know students, neighbors, and fellow Texans who are now displaced from their homes, employment, schools, and are even coping with the loss of loved ones,” says Richard Rhodes, Ph.D., President of Austin Community College. “Like volunteers and citizens across this country, we were determined not to just stand by, but to take action. We formed Harvey HELP to pool the collective strength, resources, and passion of higher education to enable and streamline community support for these students. We want to make sure the students have what they need to overcome these challenges and return to the classroom.”

The relief efforts are being led by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), Austin Community College(ACC), Texas Association of Community Colleges (TACC), Independent Colleges and Universities of Texas (ICUT), Council of Public Universities Presidents and Chancellors (CPUPC), Civitas Learning, and Communities Foundations of Texas (CFT), the parent of Educate Texas.

Tax-deductible donations can be made through the Harvey HELP GoFundMe page at GoFundMe.com/HarveyHELPStudents or directly through Communities Foundation of Texas. The Communities Foundation of Texas is serving as the charitable partner as education has been a primary focus of its philanthropic investments and through Educate Texas, its statewide, public-private initiative.

Emergency aid will help students and their families recover from and manage immediate life-and-logistics emergencies so they can afford to resume their studies and complete their higher education pathways. Research shows that many students leave school because of non-academic challenges related to work, family, and personal finance. Hurricane Harvey is likely one of the most extreme examples of the range of issues that can knock students off their education pathway.

“This is an opportunity for anyone, within the higher education community or beyond, within Texas or beyond, to make a real difference,” says Mark Milliron, Ph.D., Co-Founder and Chief Learning Officer of Civitas Learning, one of the corporations stepping up to donate. “With Harvey HELP, everybody who believes deeply in the power of education to change lives has a simple way to get involved and help the tens of thousands of students who were planning on attending Texas colleges this Fall and are now grappling with much more pressing challenges than getting to class, including finding food, shelter, transportation, child care, health care, and more.”

To ensure that all of Harvey HELP’s funds are used in a way that best benefits students, Harvey HELP’s steering committee of nonprofit and institutional leaders will evaluate applications from colleges and universities. Approved institutions will receive Harvey HELP’s funds to support aid programs, respond to their students’ specific needs, and help with students’ school expenses – such as tuition and textbooks – as well as personal expenses like transportation, rent, and groceries.


To get involved or donate to the fund, visit www.GoFundMe.com/HarveyHELPStudents or contact Carolyn Newham at the Communities Foundation of Texas at 214-750-4146.


About Communities Foundation of Texas. Communities Foundation of Texas works with families, companies and nonprofits to strengthen our community through a variety of charitable funds and strategic grant making initiatives. Communities Foundation of Texas is committed to serving and understanding donor needs, expertly handling complex gifts, wisely managing charitable funds, and leveraging its community knowledge to increase charitable impact. CFT professionally manages nearly 1,000 charitable funds and has awarded more than $1.7 billion in grants since its founding in 1953.

www.cftexas.org. Facebook: www.facebook.com/CFTexas Twitter: @GiveWisely

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Putting the ‘Fun’ in Fundamental Concepts

Two educators share how augmented reality and robots help them make lessons playful.

GUEST COLUMN | as told by Mary Amoson and Amanda Puerto Thorne

Every teacher wants her students to be happy at school and excited to learn, but sometimes, the pleasure of discovery can get pushed aside when educators are forced to balance the demands of curricula and state standards. Here, two educators share their perspective on the techniques and technology they’ve used to keep the joy of learning alive in every lesson they teach.

CREDIT Mary Amoson teacher.pngMary Amoson: How Augmented Reality Made My Kindergarteners Want to Skip Recess

I went to school to earn a special degree in instructional technology. That is, the study of how to use technology “the right way” when engaging students and helping them extend their minds and ways of thinking. Using classroom tech in this way has been a specific passion of mine from the start, and it’s partially why I got involved with Augmented Reality (AR) when planning learning activities for my kindergartners.

These lessons go beyond just seeing a letter and hearing a sound. They allow the students to hear, see, touch, and learn.

Using AR-centered lessons to introduce early concepts to young kids allows me to present essential skills, like letter recognition and sounds, through a fun, full-body experience. As any kindergarten teacher will tell you, five-year-olds are not meant to sit still. AR-based lessons provide a way to combine their excitement and imagination with their understanding and critical thinking.

I have created my own AR activities with apps and iPads, and have also used supplemental AR learning kits from Alive Studios. Both approaches take something from the real world that my students can interact with and manipulate, and connect it to a 3D or digital response that comes to life on screen.

I introduced Letters alive Plus to my class by just playing around with the AR kit in front of them. We used letter, word, and zoo-animal cards that, when viewed through the provided document camera, activated a series of changeable 3D animations. My kids lost their minds the first time they saw bears and peacocks coming to life on screen. No matter how frequently we use these tools, their reactions never get old. I love seeing the little twinkle in their eyes and the grins on their faces. These lessons go beyond just seeing a letter and hearing a sound. They allow the students to hear, see, touch, and learn.

It was especially fun to see them experiment with the card combinations to see what might happen. The joy my kids had putting words and sounds and sentences together was astonishing. Since we used Letters alive Plus later in the year, a lot of them knew these skills already, but it forced them to think creatively. They explored all the different layers of the program, structuring and restructuring the sentences as they broke down the words.

We use our AR technology with our daily lessons, but I also leave it available for my kids to interact with during our pen choice “center time.” The game-changer, however, was when a group of girls from my class one day asked me if they could play with the AR reading kit instead of going out to recess! Reading, spelling, and building sentences was more appealing than playing outside because the tool to do so was so fun and engaging.

CREDIT Amanda Puerto Thorne.pngAmanda​ ​Puerto​ ​​Thorne​: ​Early​ ​Engineering​ ​with​ ​Programmable​ ​Robots

Kids are naturally very curious, and I believe “joy of learning” is actually their default state. It’s only after they’ve been integrated with certain classroom expectations to sit quietly and follow instructions that some of that wonder starts to go away.

I try to make everything I teach fun by making sure there is always room for kids to experiment and make a project their own. That’s why the decision to teach robotics to our kindergartners was such an easy one.

We open the door for their exploration and let the children’s creativity and critical thinking lead the way.

At KID Museum in Bethesda, Maryland, we use robot kits and “coding blocks” specifically
designed for children ages four to seven to provide a fun and engaging introduction to basic coding concepts for young learners. The robots we use are called KIBO, and are customizable, allowing our kids the hands-on experience of building their own robots. When they put their robots together using building blocks where they build their code, scan it in, and experiment with their construction, they’re able to take control of their learning experience and can understand from the start exactly how their robot will work.

I feel the most successful when a child uses the tools or skills that I have provided to them to create something I never would have thought to make myself. That’s also when I see the most joy in the kids: when they feel that they’ve figured out something for themselves. Research shows that robots provide kids positive ways to express identity, communicate with peers, and engage in civic activities, so our role is to give them the initial instruction they need: put your coding blocks in a certain order, scan them, and watch the robot carry out your instructions in that order. After that, we open the door for their exploration and let the children’s creativity and critical thinking lead the way. Each block comes with a bar code for the robot to scan. Once they understand that, along with the cause and effect reaction of their commands, the rest is up to them.

I had one student who was so excited about “if/then” statements that he decided he wanted to make a robot that he could control in real time to navigate the miniature city we had created for the class. On his own, he created a program that had the robot move forward continuously but could be triggered by two different sensors (light and distance) to turn right or left. He spent the rest of that session joyfully chasing his robot around, pointing a flashlight at the light sensor or waving his hand at the distance sensor when he wanted it to turn right or left. I couldn’t believe how creative and complex the program was, and the child was in first grade!

Young people learn best by experiencing new concepts with their own minds and bodies and “figuring it out” when they encounter something they don’t yet understand. By allowing our kids to experiment, design, test, and even play with a tool that brings these lessons to life, we’re making their learning experience not only meaningful, but joyful as well.

Mary Amoson teaches kindergarten at Brooks Elementary in Coweta County Georgia. She can be reached at maryamoson@gmail.com.

Amanda Puerto Thorne is a Maker Educator at KID Museum in Bethesda, Maryland. She can be reached at amanda@kid-museum.org.

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A Personal, Digital Tutor

Former Google and Venmo employees get busy building a mobile app for education. 

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT Socratic team grid.pngBack in 2013, Chris Pedregal and Shreyans Bhansali (pictured below), both experienced tech entrepreneurs, met and realized they had a shared passion for education. Chris has spent four years at Google, working on Gmail, Google Maps, and other consumer-facing products. Shreyans had been the first employee and VP of Engineering at Venmo. Both wanted to contribute their skills towards big, important social problems. “We realized that for many of the problems in the world, education was the root solution, empowering people to solve the problems they experienced and understood best.” Thus, their company, Socratic, was born. “The company started with the insight that students everywhere constantly turn to the Internet for help, but usually find low quality resources that don’t effectively teach them,” says Sheryans. From its inception, the company’s mission has been to make learning easier for these students.

We’ve found that when kids are stuck on homework, they use the tools that they are most familiar with.

Over the past four years, the company has grown from two to 12 people, has transitioned from a website to a top-ranked mobile app, and has helped over 60 million people answer over 100 million questions.

What real problems in education does the Socratic app solve?

Shreyans: A lot of learning happens after school, when a student is doing homework, catching up on lessons they missed, or preparing for a test. One-on-one tutoring is proven to produce significantly better outcomes than any other method of instruction, so those who can afford it hire tutors. Most families, however, cannot afford tutors. The vast majority of students turn to the Internet for help, where they have to navigate low quality sites with complex explanations and contradictory answers.

Our mission is to make learning easier for these students. We are building a personal digital tutor for every student – low cost, high quality instruction, and available at any time for all subjects.

Our app makes it as easy as possible to ask a question – simply take a picture of the question – and the Socratic AI does the heavy lifting. Like a tutor, the app figures out what underlying concepts the question is about, and teaches the student those concepts using content that was designed from scratch to be consumed on a mobile device.

What’s the role of educators in creating this app?

Shreyans: Educators have been closely involved at every stage of the app’s design and development. All the content in the app was designed, created, or curated by educators. To design the content, educators looked over thousands of real questions asked by students in the app, designed content and algorithms to find the right content for each question, and tested their results with real high school students. Educators on our team are constantly examining the results we show in the app to make sure any weaknesses are discovered and fixed.

How have parents and teachers reacted to it?

CREDIT Shreyans Bhansali.png

Shreyans: Both parents and teachers have reacted very positively to the app.

For many parents, a challenge is knowing how to help their kids with their schoolwork. This is already challenging for parents that spend all day at work, and becomes increasingly challenging with age, as material becomes more challenging and parents never studied it or no longer remember it. So when parents hear about us, their most common reaction is: “Amazing! Now I can finally understand what my kids are learning and can help them.”

Teachers know that their students go online for help every day, and often end up on unreliable sites. So when they hear about Socratic’s approach and content, the most common reaction is: “Finally a resource I trust my kids to use since it doesn’t just give them answers, it also gives them good explanations”. Teachers want their kids to have reliable resources to supplement their in-class lessons.

We’ve heard a lot of buzz around “artificial intelligence”. How would you define this (in light of education and learning), and how do you believe this technology will impact educators and classrooms in the next decade?

Shreyans: “Artificial Intelligence” means many different things in different contexts, from big things like self-driving cars, to small things like saying if a comment is spam or not.

We believe AI will impact education in massive ways in the long run, and in many small ways in the short run. AI will start by giving both students and teachers superpowers. Many tasks a teacher does outside of instructing students – things like spotting plagiarism, grading tests, suggesting practice problems, etc., – will all become easier, faster, and more accurate. AI will slowly get better at learning the patterns of each individual students, and making predictions based on it – where will a student get stuck, what are they most likely to find confusing, what would be most helpful to learn next.

We believe that AI will not replace teachers, nor should it. Instead AI will help teachers focus their limited time and effort where it is most needed.

In the long run, AI will help realize our vision of a lifelong personal tutor for every person on the planet. It will be by our side from our earliest lessons, and will guide us through all our educational journeys. It will learn what we enjoy and what we are good at and will encourage us to pursue those fields, and it will also know what we need to learn and are struggling with, and will supplement our in-class education. Used correctly, AI will help us continue on our collective journey of unlocking all human potential.

What do you think educators need to know about students in this age of rapidly changing tech?

Shreyans: Over the last few years smartphones have slowly but surely gotten into most student’s hands, and that has transformed how students study and get help. Students have more choices for where they get educational help than ever before, and they will increasingly find the tools that work best for them, and will rely less on the tools that are sanctioned or provided by schools, unless these are highly effective.

We’ve found that when kids are stuck on homework, they use the tools that they are most familiar with: Google and messaging. They first go to Google to get help, and when that doesn’t work, they message their friends. Teenagers are highly social, spending their days sending and receiving hundreds or thousands of texts and snaps. They use these same tools for their homework. Since it’s difficult to type out most questions, they rely heavily on photographs – both to ask questions, and to provide answers. They will message individual friends often, and will sometimes participate in group chats set up specifically for school work.

Students are so used to using their phones, we’ve found that they will often search for help on mobile devices even when a desktop or laptop computer is available. When they do consume content on phones, they find that most existing educational material was not meant for the phone, and the experience is painful and slow. Desperate students will swipe dozens of times through one page to find their content.

We’ve also found that students tend to treat the Internet like a tutor, not a textbook. This means they go to the Internet with very specific questions, and usually end up on Q&A sites like Yahoo Answers. Only later, if they are still stuck, will they search for the concept behind the question. The more granular the content, the better it is for students.

What’s the vision for your company; where will it be five years from now?

Shreyans: Our vision is to be a tutor in your pocket, giving you high quality and personalized answers for all your educational questions in all subjects. We will be a tool you start using early and will be by your side all through your education. We will answer specific questions you have while doing homework, we will assess whether you learned the material, and we will create custom study guides that will help you prepare for tests. And we will do all this for a fraction of the cost of a tutor.

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest and oversees the annual EdTech Awards program, featuring edtech’s best and brights innovators, leaders, and trendsetters. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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Shifting the OPM Conversation

Managing online and blended with more choice, control, and differentiation.

GUEST COLUMN | by Scott Moore

CREDIT ExtensionEngine.pngAs the debate over the value of online program management (OPM) companies rages on, the baseline requirements for colleges and universities seeking to expand their presence online remains the same — increased enrollment, revenue, student retention, and student satisfaction.

OPMs emerged about 10 years ago and now comprise a $1.5 billion industry. They help universities address a specific and important opportunity — move curriculum online by minimizing up-front expenditures while also managing enrollment and marketing. By providing the capital and resources to build online programs, OPMs benefit from multi-year, high revenue-share models for developing and managing these programs. The institutional benefits of reduced up-front costs while establishing and/or increasing an online presence has made this an attractive choice for higher education institutions.

An unbundled, fee-for-service model has emerged that is allowing institutions to maintain greater control over pedagogy, student experience, marketing strategy and revenue model.

Ironically, some of these strengths are increasingly being seen as disadvantages, such as the homogeneity of mass-produced courses and the shared revenue model that enables OPMs to take 50 percent or more of online tuition for the life of the program.

The first direction that institutions are turning for a solution is inward, looking for in-house resources to create online learning. It provides the most control over and insight into the process. However, this approach raises difficult-to-answer questions that institutions end up trying to ignore:

  • Does our staff have the needed expertise in project management, modern online pedagogy, applicable instructional design experience, modern user experience design expertise, and technical integration and development for both desktop and mobile? Does this staff have availability when priority demands are placed on them?
  • Do our internal processes encourage and support innovation in conjunction with on-time and under-budget delivery?
  • If we don’t have the staff, do we have the ability to attract, manage, train, up-skill, and retain good employees combined with the ability to release those who under-perform?

Many institutions who have used in-house resources end up realizing too late that their institution’s expertise only seemed to be related to what they were already doing in support of their face-to-face courses. The end result is usually a non-differentiated program that underperforms related to the institution’s financial goals, bores the students, and doesn’t allow the faculty to create courses that build on their strengths.

More recently, institutions are seeking new models that allow colleges and universities to launch and manage online and blended programs with a greater degree of choice, control and differentiation. In contrast to the traditional approaches of either outsourcing to traditional OPMs and sharing the revenue or doing everything in-house, an unbundled, fee-for-service model has emerged that is allowing institutions to maintain greater control over pedagogy, student experience, marketing strategy and revenue model.

As the market for online learning matures and institutions seek new ways to increase revenue and create engaging student experiences, authentic, visionary curriculum is driving the future of higher education. Now more than ever, institutions are seeking more flexible models that enable them to emphasize choice, flexibility, and differentiated educational experiences that complement their internal resources while building on their own distinctiveness and putting pedagogy back in the driver’s seat.

Traditional pure-play OPMs will continue to be a good choice for institutions that need to create an online presence where none exists, those that don’t have access to funding sources—either directly or through partnerships, gifts, or budget planning—and in situations where unique, differentiated curriculum is not a requirement.

The unbundled approach complements institutions that are looking for a more unique and customized learning experience, and want to do it on a fee-for-service basis so they can pick and choose program elements that best align with their program goals and the overall academic brand. In this model, colleges and universities take more control over the curriculum, student experience, marketing strategy and revenue model. Doing so ensures that pedagogy drives technology decisions rather than the other way around. And, unlike the traditional, revenue-sharing approach, institutions make the initial investment for services and then retain all of the tuition revenue.

An Eduventures’ survey of 175 online learning leaders indicated that institutions currently engaged with OPMs are expressing a more nuanced set of goals and priorities for these engagements than they have in years past. Compared to results from a similar survey conducted in 2015, institutions continue to exhibit strong interest in marketing and recruitment services, but appear to have a greater expectation that their OPM provider will improve student performance metrics through better online course experience and enhanced support.

The bottom line is that as online learning continues to evolve, a new market paradigm is emerging — one in which higher education institutions and their students will benefit from the variety of choice and opportunities that emerge.

Scott Moore, Ed.D., is Principal Learning Strategist at ExtensionEngine, where his role is to help institutions navigate the transition to online- and blended-learning. His passion is creating great learning experiences that both work for students and make sense for the institutions providing them. Scott was a tenured faculty member at the University of Michigan for 20-plus years and led the undergraduate business programs at both the Ross School of Business at Michigan and Babson College.

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Back-to-School Pulse Check

Incorporating open-ended creation tools. 

GUEST COLUMN | by Monica Burns

CREDIT ASCD Monica Burns Tasks before Apps.jpgSearching for the perfect app is more than substituting a set of virtual flashcards for the index cards students are used to holding in their hands. Yes, there are clear benefits to having a digital tool like this – access to an endless number of vocabulary words, the ability to hear a word read aloud, or see a picture pop off a screen definitely transforms this experience. But let’s move away from these type of tools for a moment, to highlight the power of open-ended creation tools.

An open-ended creation tool doesn’t have set instructions to follow or levels to win. It gives students the space to make a product that demonstrates their understanding. A math tutorial to show how to solve a word problem, an e-book that documents the process of a science experiment or a movie that brings a personal narrative to life, are all examples of open-ended creation tools in action. In my forthcoming book Tasks Before Apps: Designing Rigorous Learning in a Tech-Rich Classroom I dive into the idea behind the importance of giving students a space to create.

Creation in the Classroom

When students are given the opportunity to create a product they can dive deeper into a topic, think critically about how to present this information, and design something to share with an audience. First grade students might snap a collection of images on a neighborhood walk as they explore different roles in their community. When students return to their classroom they might share one tablet and record their voice to add an explanation to each page.

When students are given the opportunity to create a product they can dive deeper into a topic, think critically about how to present this information, and design something to share with an audience.

Alternatively, a group of high school students might visit a waste management plant as they explore topics related to environmental stewardship. Using a video creation tool they might create a set of public service announcements that support a city council campaign and are shared on the town’s website. The possibilities are endless when we have tools that give students a space to capture images, movie, and voice and support it with text and music.

Spotlight Open-Ended Creation Tools

In the examples above, there is no magic app or website to make these learning experiences come to life. Educators can thoughtfully choose how to structure these type of tasks so students can either choose their own open-ended creation tool or work with one introduced by their teacher. The tools spotlighted below provide a blank canvas for students where a teacher can be their guide through the creation process.

Book Creator is a Chrome-browser friendly tool also available as an iPad app. With this tool students can create eBooks that include video, voice recording, text and images. If students capture their own photos they can add them to the page, or they can search and add pictures to go along with their text.

Spark Page is a web-browser friendly tool and iOS app students can use to create a website. It has a drag and drop format making it easy for students to get started without any prior web design experience. A website created with Spark Page can incorporate a variety of media and is easily sharable.

Explain Everything is a screencasting tool available on multiple platforms that students can use to create videos and tutorials. Similar to what students might be familiar with from Khan Academy, this tool can be used to give students a space to explain their thinking as they solve a math problem. Explain Everything gives users lots of easy export options so students can share their videos in a handful of different places.

As you design learning activities this school year, leverage the power of open-ended creation tools. Although providing structure and support is essential, giving students the space to create is empowering for children of any age!

Monica Burns, Ed.D., is a former one-to-one classroom teacher, founder of ClassTechTips.com and author of Tasks Before Apps: Designing Rigorous Learning in a Tech-Rich Classroom to be published by ASCD in October 2017.

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