Flipped and Tracking

Flash progress comparisons help teachers bolster and customize student learning.  

GUEST COLUMN | by Tony Glockler

CREDIT SolidProfessorTeachers have incredible amounts of data and information to juggle. Keeping track of grades, assignments, and engagement is a challenge that teachers gracefully overcome each day. With more teachers embracing next-gen learning and moving to a flipped classroom model, this challenge becomes even more daunting. The flipped classroom model, where students view video lectures and complete hands-on exercises and quizzes as homework, allows educators to guide interactive projects during class time. The benefit of this model is the ability to demonstrate real-world applications and engage students with interactive projects.

Individual tracking helps educators ensure achievement for every student by giving real-time visibility into progress.

However, the added challenge of the flipped classroom model is that foundational knowledge is being learned outside of the classroom, so teachers lose direct visibility into student progress.

In a traditional classroom, teachers can scan their class to see the nods of understanding during key points. With a flipped classroom model, teachers need integrated tracking tools to measure engagement and retention.

Teachers who embrace technology to help them flip their classroom are also embracing technology to help them track and measure their students’ progress. Next-gen online learning platforms now provide at-a-glance visibility into student learning, tracking both engagement (watching the lectures) and retention (quizzes and assessments). The digital revolution in education is helping educators rethink how they track their students and classes by seamlessly integrating technology and independent learning with face-to-face interaction and collaboration.

Every class has a spectrum of learning speeds and styles. An advantage of a flipped classroom is that students have the opportunity to go over lectures as many times as they need without slowing down the pace of the class for other students. Individual tracking helps educators ensure achievement for every student by giving real-time visibility into progress.

If a student is struggling on a particular area of the course and could use additional help or resources, teachers can easily identify the gap in learning before the student gets left behind. Or, if a student is flying through the course topics, teachers are able to suggest additional opportunities to deepen their understanding.

Using technology to customize a student’s education frees teachers from a “one size fits all” classroom to a targeted learning experience that identifies students’ needs. Over time, student performance data can also help educators fine-tune their curriculum. Students are more engaged with a personalized learning experience and enjoy tracking their own progress, as well.

With digital tools, students become more active participants in their own education. Immediate feedback motivates students and pushes them to improve. Next-gen learning allows new approaches to assessing student progress that benefits both teachers and students.

Tony Glockler is the co-founder of SolidProfessor, an online learning company specializing in software applications used in engineering and design. His passion is combining the best of instructional design and technology to help engineers and designers become more effective. He has helped students and design teams keep up with their rapidly evolving software tools with an ongoing, guided learning experience.

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Trends | 5 Mobile Apps for the Classroom

CREDIT RefMEIt’s no secret that technology is making students’ lives easier than ever before (the edtech industry alone is expected to receive more than 2B in funding in 2015). In preparation for back-to-school, we wanted to share some top mobile apps you may see in the classroom, library and home this fall.

  • RefME is a free tool that eliminates the most miserable part of drafting a term paper: writing bibliographies by hand. The platform allows students and researchers to create citations and bibliographies in a matter of seconds – in fact, and in addition to their mobile app, RefME recently launched a WebClipper extension for Safari and Chrome user, making citing any source as easy as hitting the “like” button on Facebook. Nearly one million students have used RefME to automate citations in more than 7,000 academic formats since it launched in September 2014.
  • My Study Life. The free My Study Life app replaces any paper planner by keeping track of your workload across multiple platforms and devices. Manage your classes with week and day timetables, keep track of tasks and exams in the cloud and receive notifications to keep you up to date for exams and classes.
  • Duolingo. The Duolingo app is an addictive, fun way for students to learn a new language. Duolingo pairs new words with pictures much like the Rosetta Stone versions do, only the app is completely free with no ads to get in your way.
  • Khan Academy. More than 4,200 educational videos on Khan Academy let you learn about anything you want, from math and computing to music and the college admissions process. You can even prep for the SAT.
  • Brainly, is one of the world’s largest social learning networks for students, to help each other get unstuck with their homework problems. The social learning network announced a $9 million funding round in October 2014.

Certainly, there are hundreds more. Let us know your thoughts on some of your favorites. Meanwhile, check out this infographic on Student Research Trends.

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Capable Creators

Preparing students to produce digital content.

GUEST COLUMN | by Joseph Sanfilippo

CREDIT TeqWith technology becoming more prevalent in schools and the need to prepare students for the 21st century workplace becoming more pressing, understanding how to prepare students to create digital content is now more important than ever. Whenever I speak with educators about digital content creation, I always refer to a Common Core Anchor Standard that calls for students to produce writing in a digital format:


Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

Here are some things to consider when shifting your classroom into the digital age, and preparing your students to become capable digital content creators.

The classroom is an important place for students to learn the skills they’ll need to communicate and thrive in today’s digital world.

Distinguish Between Digital Content Consumption and Digital Content Creation

Do you know the difference between using devices such as iPads and other tablets as consumption devices, versus leveraging them as creation devices? While simply giving a student access to an app or an educational game does expose students to technology, it may not lead to the higher-level thinking that should be the goal of incorporating technology into the classroom.

While there are plenty of great applications that are useful to students to consume content, using applications that allow them to create and share content can completely change what a student’s end product is. This can be as simple as using an online storyboarding tool for students to collaborate, or as advanced as using video editing software to create a book report as a digital story.

Student Ownership of Content

A student-centered activity that ends with the creation of a final project engages the student because of the sense of ownership to the final piece. This is common practice and has not changed today, where students are surrounded by digital content and rich media. Think about the level of engagement you can achieve with your students when the projects they produce are digital and can compete with the digital world they live in every day. Tools like iMovie, Windows MovieMaker, or collaborative tools like SMART amp, can all be used to create exciting digital content.

Same Skills and Content, Different Medium

The process of research, planning, scripting, storyboarding and presenting information has not changed in the digital world. What has changed is the medium in which we have students create the projects. Building a diorama in a shoe box or creating a poster board, may have been something we all did in school, and the research that goes into these projects remains extremely valuable.

Today, we can replace these projects with online tools to create multi-media posters that can include interactive web links, videos and more. These tools are more engaging to students simply because they incorporate technology into the creation process. For example, when I was in high school (circa 1999) I wrote articles for the school newspaper, which was then printed and distributed. Today, I would most likely be writing articles for a classroom blog or website. The process I go through to write the article is the same—only the medium has changed.

Global Access

Now that the medium has changed, so has who can access it. My high school newspaper probably did not make it past the cafeteria, but with an online blog and social media, the range of people who can obtain access to student-created content can literally be global. While it was very unlikely that another student from Australia could have read my high school newspaper, today being able to comment back and forth on my article with a student from across the globe is a very real possibility. Giving students a louder voice with their creations allows them to see how small the world can be, thanks to the Internet.

Digital Citizenship

Along with the benefits that digital content creation brings, there are also new responsibilities. There are many facets to being an upstanding digital citizen, and one of the most important when it comes to digital content creation is proper sourcing and citations. Would you allow a student to write a research paper and not source or cite their research? Then why allow students to use an image or video without citing the source, just because they were able to find it through Google Images?

While a student may not be penalized for using a copyrighted image in your class, they would be in the workplace. Understanding the rules around using “creative commons” or rights -free media is just as important a skill as the project itself.

Preparing Students for the 21st Century Workplace

It is a safe assumption that technology and digital content will not just disappear once the student reaches the workforce. In fact, it will most likely be a prominent skill that is in high demand by employers. With many online creation tools lending themselves to collaboration between two people without ever needing to actually be together, putting students into this situation as early as possible will not only give them the technology skills to create digital content, but the interpersonal skills it takes to be able to collaborate through technology.

Keep these concepts in mind when teaching students how to approach creating digital content, from activities as simple as formatting a letter, to drafting an email, to creating multi-media projects and more. The sky is the limit when it comes to digital content creation—and the classroom is an important place for students to learn the skills they’ll need to communicate and thrive in today’s digital world.

Joseph Sanfilippo is Director of eLearning for Teq, a leading professional development and educational technology firm. During his three years at Teq, Joseph Sanfilippo has been instrumental in launching the Teq Online PD (professional development) platform. Before his promotion, Mr. Sanfilippo held several positions at Teq, including eLearning Specialist and Instructional Technologist. Prior to Teq, he was Vocation and Technology Coordinator for the Center for Developmental Disabilities. He holds a Masters in Special Education and Training and a B.A. from Wagner College, in Staten Island, NY.

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Deeper Learning with Technology

Three classroom tips to prepare high school students for the future.

GUEST COLUMN | by Kevin Zahner

CREDIT SmarterSchoolsWe hear it often. Employers want college graduates with critical thinking skills, and colleges want students to have developed these skills before they arrive on campus. High schools have a big responsibility to prepare students for success in college and beyond.
Technology can help.

Teachers in Denton, Texas, are using technology to help students explore the relationship between problems and the questions they raise – a process known as inquiry-based learning. Like teachers around the country, we have found that savvy use of readily available tech tools can help improve student engagement and ensure students are prepared for the future.

As a teacher, I’ve often wished that I had more opportunities to hear from my peers about what works in their classroom.

As a teacher, I’ve often wished that I had more opportunities to hear from my peers about what works in their classroom. It’s also important for parents and employers to understand how students are learning in schools today – so that they can help build these critical thinking skills at work and at home. So here’s my three-step approach to promote deeper learning in my classroom.

1. Get students to ask questions.

School-age kids need practice thinking about their thinking. They thrive when they receive a combination of validation and suggestion to guide them toward the kinds of thoughts that help find answers and solve problems.

To do this, I create a space where all students can access and work through an essay prompt on one shared document. To save time and ensure that every student’s voice is included, I use online collaboration tools such as Google Forms and Sheets.

As they attempt to understand the essay prompt, students have to ask basic questions to figure out what information they need. Technology allows all of my students to view and edit the same document, at the same time. They learn to work together and I’ve found it strengthens the bonds within our classroom

Getting students to write their own questions allows teachers to show them the importance of asking questions to learn. It also builds their confidence to know that if their questions are not going to point them in the right direction, they can trust their professors or professional leaders for guidance.

2. Help students evaluate questions.

During class discussion, we talk about the kinds of questions we value. This helps students gain the confidence they need to distinguish between questions that are helpful and those that could be changed to become more useful. Students work together in small groups on computers to assess the value of each question.

The first step is about thinking, this second step is about evaluation. It teaches students to make decisions while understanding that those decisions could change with new information or ideas. It’s the kind of ability that colleges and employers are looking for in the people they choose. In a professional setting, people might call someone with this skill “flexible” or “creative,” “a real team player.”

3. Encourage students to prioritize research.

The importance of prioritizing is understated in many high school classrooms. Anytime I have the opportunity to let students make a decision, I try to leave the room to let it play out. This often leads to students asking things like, “How will I know if it’s the right one?” I remind them that there’s only one way to find out: test it.

Each group is tasked with rating the questions based on which ones should be the start of preliminary research. This is when students put their questions to the test. Inquiry-based learning is about building and rebuilding our understanding based on new information. It’s as critical as thinking gets.

For my students, this inquiry-based approach to learning has meant an average achievement gain of about 20 percent on essay assessments, and a 10 percent increase on the College Board Advanced Placement exam.

In my history classes, students are becoming more aware of their thought process as they try to understand the demands of a problem–better preparing them for the rigors of college. The trick is creating a learning environment where students have control of the content–and that’s where technology plays a powerful role.

While it’s too soon to make definitive conclusions about the connection between this approach and achievement gains, we know that our students are reading more critically and beginning to better develop their own ideas when making arguments and writing essays. Instead of being handed a pattern to apply to a problem, the students are the ones coming up with the pattern and making decisions about how to respond – a lifelong lesson that will serve them in college, career, and beyond.

Kevin Zahner is a high school history teacher in Denton, Texas, and a contributor to the Smarter Schools Project (smarterschoolsproject.com). He can be reached at kzahner@dentonisd.org.

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Devouring Digital: The New Participation

Personal tech in the classroom doesn’t have to be a distraction.

GUEST COLUMN | by Shaunak Roy

CREDIT YellowdigPeek in on just about any university-level lecture and you’ll notice a student audience armed with a variety of technologies. Laptops. iPhones. Tablets. Probably even a few wearables. These are the tools that today’s (and most certainly tomorrow’s) students were born into. They shape their identity. They power productivity, social lives, problem solving (see: Siri, Google), scheduling, collaboration, influence, prioritization and most intrinsically, communication. Texting is gouging away at phone conversations. Ideas, articles, photos and videos are shared on countless social networks. Related discussions, comments and amplifications happen in the same place. Amongst this demographic, digital communication is simply devouring its analog predecessors. And regardless of whether or not you like it, this trend is here to stay and it isn’t satiated yet by any means.

Imagine if we said, “Okay, you’re digital kids in the digital age, so we’re going to facilitate participation in a digital way that you know.”

This behavior is showing up in the college classroom, too. Seemingly every professor has a “they’re just not raising their hands to participate much anymore” story. The knee-jerk reaction to that experience is that it’s a bad thing: “Digital first,” social network-based communication amongst students is creeping into the academic setting and it’s minimizing critical parts of education, specifically engagement, discussion and participation. This sounds valid, but it’s a limited view. The truth is that this very behavior is simultaneously creating real, potential-filled opportunities around engagement, collaboration and yes, participation in the college classroom.

Just as smart coaches build schemes around the existing skills and talents of their star players instead of force-feeding their own (which likely won’t fit well and thus may fail), faculty should take a step back and acknowledge that today’s student prefers a different set of communication and collaboration tools. You wouldn’t throw an iPad at yesterday’s student and say, “Go forth! Use this magical machine to discuss the course material!” Nor would you force an antiquated (and perhaps less preferred) mode upon today’s student. Neither will find real success, just frustration—which leads to disengagement.

We need to stop comparing which tools are better because frankly it’s a moot point. It’s the student that’s different now. Once this fact is recognized, the perspective can change. Instead of bemoaning why this difference is bad, progressive administrators and faculty should focus on the massive opportunity that resides in collaborative digital communication that can supplement the in-class experience.

So what exactly is that opportunity? In simplest terms, it’s the new participation. Over the last five to 10 years, particularly as social platforms like Facebook and Twitter have ascended, a small number of brave academics have recognized the impact digital tools can have on engagement and participation. They’ve implemented message boards or attempted to use an existing tool that, while perhaps not built specifically for an educational use, might be good enough to achieve some sort of moderate success. The results of these efforts have been admittedly modest, but they’re on the right track.

Now imagine if the tools were no longer the hindrance to participation. Imagine if we said, “Okay, you’re digital kids in the digital age, so we’re going to facilitate participation in a digital way that you know.” We see how conversation builds exponentially upon itself on the social platforms students are familiar with (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), so why not facilitate that behavior in an environment designed specifically for education?

Picture this scenario: After an anthropology lecture, the students spill out into the hallways and get on with their day. Browsing Twitter on their phone, they click through to a blog post that reminds them of a point made in class. They question that point. They wonder what the rest of the class (and the professor) might think of it. That right there is the new class participation moment. Call it digital, call it social, but at its core, that moment hits the proverbial bullseye of engagement and participation.

What’s more, embracing a digital participation model allows for measurement. Instead of trying to remember how often a student raised his or her hand in class throughout the whole semester, instructors could quantify digital activity.

For those picturing a flatlining of in-classroom participation, fear not. Participation powered by technology is a circuitous loop that comes back to the classroom. Everything happening online, after a class fuels the next one. So that blog post our anthro student came across on Twitter becomes part of tomorrow’s class discussion. That sort of supplemental education has limitless potential.

Digital collaborative platforms hold immense promise when it comes to extending and enriching higher education. They are going to be second nature to today’s students who had an iPhone before they could drive and were raised on Facebook and Snapchat. They are going to unleash a whole new mode of participation and engagement. And the institutions that recognize and embrace this shift will generate a deeper, more immersive educational experience.

Shaunak Roy is the CEO of Yellowdig, a social collaboration platform currently used by more than 30 institutions including The University of Pennsylvania, The University of Virginia, and Duke University. Learn more at yellowdig.com.

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