A Step Further

Technology’s role in the evolution of useful data.

GUEST COLUMN | by Brian Ludemann

CREDIT AppersonIt is well known among education technologists that adoption of technology in our industry has always lagged behind others. There are many reasons for this – the outdated infrastructure, the expense of providing devices for all students, funding, limited direction from district leadership. And for many of the early adopters, many of the applications were half-baked. Applications were small in scope, bandwidth was miniscule, and solutions were mostly just paper substitutes. In regards to data, aggregation was at best, only happening at the building level.

Systems, and the companies that develop them, need to have education in their DNA to be relatable to an educator’s data-to-day life.

This slow adoption has had its benefits, however. It has allowed our industry to avoid the struggles that the early adopters had to withstand and benefit from those lessons learned. Today, we are adopting technology at a point further along the industry’s maturation, and in many cases, without the hassle of having to support as many legacy systems as the technology moves forward. Now that SaaS-based solutions have become the norm, and large amounts of data are being stored and manipulated in the cloud, a whole new realization of how we can use data to help administrators, educators, and students is coming to the forefront for the first time.

Data Analytics Lead to Being Data Driven

When vast amounts of data end up in a centralized location, performing data analytics becomes the most logical next step. But educators need technologists to take it a step further. Providing the raw results of analytical processing might not be enough for the time-strapped teacher. Results not only need to be directly correlated to the information a teacher deals with day to day, it also needs to be actionable. Many data warehouse and analytics consumers are decoupled from source systems of the data. In the case of teachers, using the results in an actionable way, in real time, is truly being data-driven.

Being data driven starts with obtaining quality detailed (source) data. Deficiencies in data become compounded when analysis is performed on top of it. Further, decision makers need to acquire systems that allow easy integration, movement, and correlation of data. Ultimately, data will need to converge to a centralized data warehouse, where the data analysis can be performed, in some cases across heterogeneous platforms. There is an awareness of this need forming in the market however. Standards compliance and ubiquitous semantics are becoming more widespread across the industry. Decision makers should consider the underlying architecture when making a buying decision. The explosion of the EdTech market is having an effect on this. The days of a single monolithic system for all the technology needs of a district are ending and solutions and strategies that aid internal IT to connect disparate systems are becoming more common.

Analytical results can provide insight into data that would otherwise go undiscovered. But unless some action can be taken, that value is lost. Just as the data flowed into a warehouse, the results of the analytical processing must somehow flow back into the source systems or workflows so that meaningful action can be taken. This may seem obvious, but most applications are narrowly focused on the transactional tasks they are designed to perform, leaving the responsibility on the educator to take meaningful action. Data driven educators are ones who take that action and develop an awareness of the effects. Unfortunately, manual consideration requires an awareness of many aspects of the data – how it was derived, what systems the data was sourced from, and what aspects of their curriculum should be adjusted, can take time and a broad scope of insight. Ideally, the systems themselves will provide mechanisms to bring data back into the system. In either case, a feedback loop (See diagram) is established and we can actually measure the effects of a data driven environment.

Barriers to Being Data Driven

When it comes to collecting and accessing student data, privacy and security of the data are primary concerns. The acceleration of technology adoption in our industry is coming at a time where the public in general is oftentimes on the receiving end of data breaches, spam, and overzealous sharing of data by the software vendors they use. Trust is eroding, most feel that they have little control over who can access their data and how this information is being shared. Our industry has compliance guidelines to adhere to, but with a lack of trust, compliance standards can have a diluted impact. However, while educators should be careful with their data, these fears should not stop them from being data driven. Any time there is data in a system, there is a chance that someone will use that data for malicious purposes. However, in the grand scheme of things, data breaches are rare. The bottom line is that the reward of being data driven is so much greater than the risk.

Technology Helps Make the Case for being Data Driven

It’s not enough for software to simply collect data any longer. Systems, and the companies that develop them, need to have education in their DNA to be relatable to an educator’s data-to-day life. The needs of the educators are unique when compared to other industries. The time crunch felt by educators cannot be underestimated. This, along with a very wide gap in technology proficiency, will present significant challenges for districts that aim to be truly data driven. As the industry presents many new options to IT leaders, educators, and administrators, decision makers need to keep all these factors in mind for each system they implement if they aim to be truly data driven.

Brian Ludemann is Director of Application Architecture and Development at Apperson.

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Trends | How Technology is Changing the Classroom

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Creating with Technology

Five ways to make your classroom more creative with technology.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jessica Sanders 

CREDIT MindMeisterCreativity is no longer relegated to the art room, nor should it be. A 2010 study of 1,500 CEOs, in 60 countries and 33 industries found that creativity is the most important quality for succeeding in the 21st century business world, more so than rigor or management discipline.

This groundbreaking study tells us one thing: educators needs to focus on creativity —teaching students the skills they need to apply a more creative mindset outside of school.

Much of this technology encourages students to explore a more creative side of learning.

Luckily, teachers have access to more technology than ever before, and much of this technology encourages students to explore a more creative side of learning. Here are five ways to use these tools to create a more creative classroom and prepare your students for the future.

Student Blogging

Take the traditional book report or paper into the 21st century with blogging. When students create and submit their work in a blog format, they can use the built-in tools to be more creative. For example:

  • Formatting: Students can add headers, breakout quotes, colored text and links to their sources (rather than putting them in parentheses).
  • Images: Students can use their own images, or ones they find online, to show what they know, rather than just telling you. Encourage students to create their own images and graphs, encouraging them to truly push the creative envelope.
  • Videos: Students can embed YouTube videos into their blog post to further exemplify their point and show their knowledge. The process is as simple as copy and pasting a line of code, and the outcome is a more exciting product.

Mind Mapping

Brainstorming is a fun classroom exercise, but you, as the teacher, do all the work by writing the topics and ideas on the board yourself. When you put this work in the hands of your students they’re able to exercise their creativity and are more likely to remember the topics and ideas: students remember 90 percent of what they do, as opposed to only 30 percent of what they see and 50 percent of what they hear according to Dale’s Cone of Experience.

Use a product like MindMeister, where students can add colors, smiley faces, and icons to their mind map. Not only is this a fun exercise, but personalizing their mind map may help them associate these ideas with things they understand and like.

Comic Strip Creation

Let students tell a story with pictures, rather than words. Image-based assignments force students to think creatively about a topic, in order to find the most appropriate way to display it in this alternative format.

Use a program like BitStrips, with a free 30-day trial, that comes pre-loaded with a variety of layouts, clip art options and text bubbles. It’s also available as an app in Google Play and the Apple app store.

Higher Order Thinking (HOT)

“HOT takes thinking to higher levels than restating the facts and requires students to do something with the facts—understand them, infer from them, connect them to other facts and concepts, categorize them, manipulate them, put them together in new or novel ways, and apply them as we seek new solutions to new problems,” said Alice Thomas and Glenda Thorne, with Reading Rockets.

This way of thinking inspires creativity and imagination. A simple way to encourage HOT and creativity is to assign students open-ended comprehension questions more often.

One program that allows you to do this is Whooo’s Reading, a free, online teacher tool that requires students to answer open-ended, Common Core-aligned comprehension questions.

This forces students to think about the question and come up with their own answer, rather than choosing from a list of multiple choice answers, for example.

Digital Labeling and Image Creation

Instead of having students fill in worksheets, allow them to create their own “worksheets” to label and show what they know. The Stick Around app is an easy way to implement this in your classroom. With it, students use drawing tools and imported photos to create a diagram or image that they label using fun stickers and text.

For example, students could upload an image of the solar system and then label all the planets. They can download the finished product and submit it to you for grading.

Creative thinking is a critical skill in the modern world, and one that’s easy to encourage with a few basic tools. Inspire a culture of creative thinking in your class to better prepare your students for their future.

Jessica Sanders is the Director of Social Outreach for Learn2Earn, an online fundraising platform that allows students raise money by reading books. She grew up reading books like The Giver and Holes, and is passionate about making reading as exciting for young kids today as it has always been for her. Follow Learn2Earn on Twitter and Facebook, and send content inquiries to social@learn2earn.org.

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Here Come the Accelerators!

Can education innovation scale to save the world? 

GUEST COLUMN | by Don Burton

CREDIT EDGEedtechSome of the world’s biggest challenges, including housing supply, healthcare, and food shortages, will be improved through private sector innovation in partnership and with oversight from government. Charities and philanthropic agencies can sometimes provide needed stimulus, but sustainable solutions require a complete ecosystem that includes both public and private participation. Education, one of the largest such challenges, is an area with the potential to be drastically improved by private sector innovation in concert with government efforts. Throughout both the developed and developing worlds, nations are looking to education as one of the most important natural resources of the 21st century. Those countries that fail to educate their citizens will fail to compete globally.

The right startup accelerator can dramatically increase the chances for success, the speed at which the startup gets there, and the flow of funding that is the life blood of the business. 

Technology has a critical role to play in helping to tackle some of the world’s biggest education issues, from skills gaps in STEM and literacy to education access and income achievement gaps. Even in the most developed nations such as the US, we are seeing increasing disengagement and demoralization of student populations with formal schooling. Less than 25% of the US population graduates high school prepared for college or a compelling career. Traditional modes of teaching and learning, dated back centuries, are failing our millennial students.

Education technology startups are approaching some of these problems by introducing technologies that transform the way that teaching and learning is delivered. However, these fledgling companies not only face the same general business challenges faced by all startups but also a set of challenges very specific to the education sector. As a result, they often need specialist help in order to ensure success.

Solving the multidimensional puzzle of global lifelong education will require an army of innovators. That’s where the recent model of edtech accelerators comes in. Accelerators will help to recruit, develop, and support thousands of new innovations and entrepreneurs around the world. Some companies will fail, and some will succeed. But as a whole, edtech accelerators will galvanize the industry, connecting governments, entrepreneurs, investors, researchers and educators.

An edtech startup accelerator helps startups with navigating the specific market minefields. It helps them understand the issues and build the capabilities they need to be successful in this unique market space. It gains the startups access to the right people who can help them think through their strategies and tactics to best grow their businesses; the right partners who can distribute their products or help overcome a key barrier. The right startup accelerator can dramatically increase the chances for success, the speed at which the startup gets there, and the flow of funding that is the life blood of the business.

Critical considerations for an edtech accelerator

Never before has there been this level of interest in technologies that make learning more engaging, interactive and accessible. The power of cutting edge technologies to transform education is leading to increased opportunity to improve learning, from K-12 to higher education and beyond. I have long been involved with the edtech startup community, and have seen firsthand the potential of education technology to transform learning. That’s why together with co-founder Jonathan D. Harber, we recently launched the new EDGE Accelerator for edtech startups in New York City. But before launching a new specialist Accelerator for edtech, there are a number of critical considerations to take into account to give startup participants the right launch pad for success. These include:

  • The right location: Accelerators need a physical place, a city and metro area, with the right infrastructure and talent to create an ecosystem for edtech innovation. A place like New York city has all the raw elements to ignite an edtech innovation fire. It has an abundance of students and learners with the country’s largest school district, some of the most prestigious private and charter schools, the country’s largest community college system, as well as the headquarters of some of the world’s largest corporations and corporate training programs. It has the largest educational publishers and some of the most prestigious teacher’s Importantly, it also has a large investor community investing in edtech.
  • Access to the right network of advisors and mentors to make an Accelerator successful: A quality Accelerator also needs to provide access to a vast network of resources and talent to ensure participants can benefit from a wide range of specialist expertise.
  • Providing enough funding to really help Accelerator participants set themselves up for success: In addition to providing enough funding to help Accelerator startups participants to grow their businesses, a good Accelerator should also be designed to help participants with the further goal of securing their next round of financing to help ensure their continued success.

Don Burton is a co-founder of EDGE Edtech, together with Jonathan D. Harber. The EDGE Accelerator is now accepting applications for the September 2015 class from innovative edtech startups. The intensive, three-month mentor-led Accelerator, housed in EDGE’s offices in New York City, runs from September to December 2015 and each of the ten companies selected for the program will receive $170,000 in funding. Applications are available at www.EdgeAccelerator.com, with selections concluding on June 25.

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Request for Help

How technology can fight campus sexual assault.

GUEST COLUMN | by Danial Jameel 

CREDIT OOHLALAOver the past year, gender related assault and misconduct on college campuses has, rightly, generated a fantastic amount of attention, action, press coverage, debate and punditry.

Whether or not the volume of incidents is growing on campus, awareness clearly is. And awareness and education, as well as more visible and pro-active support structures, are all beneficial and predictable responses and preventions. Nearly every campus has recently reviewed their investment in education and support services. And I’m sure every campus has some level of professional security or police as well as emergency call boxes and safe spaces. These are good things too.

A well-designed app, connected to the college community and part of daily student life already, could harness important resources instantly – even sending location information to friends or authorities.

But, surprisingly, real tools seem to essentially stop there. And that’s not good enough.

Technology can’t solve every problem but here, it appears to me, is a real problem with a tech solution which could have a real impact.

Every college in the world should integrate their existing sexual violence resources – emergency assistance, law enforcement, treatment and support – with their growing online, mobile campus communities. I’m shocked it hasn’t happened everywhere already.

Over the past decade, schools have moved several of their academic and social resources online. Nearly every college and university has an online portal for registering for classes, checking or submitting assignments, navigating the campus or learning about social events. Today, that’s pretty standard. And more and more of those schools are moving those resources from online to mobile – putting these resources literally at the fingertips of their students and staff.

At the same time, the only thing growing more rapidly than college resources moving to online and mobile, is the ubiquitous nature of smart phones on campus. Few college students are without them – and students do everything on them from order food and exchange class notes to RSVP for parties.

That’s the world I work in – helping colleges consolidate and migrate their resources into mobile app-driven communities and connect those resources with their students. It’s why I’m surprised that schools haven’t yet insisted that the sexual and gender-based violence resources they already provide be available through a mobile campus community.

It’s seems so obvious and easy. And, for the most part, it is.

When conventional wisdom says that a sizeable number of sex and gender crimes take place in apartments and dorm rooms or at parties, it’s downright foolish to not put crucial resources there – in the hands of those effected. A callbox down the block, while important, physically can’t be in the places where a timely call for help could do the most good.

Since people (especially young people) are inseparable from their phones already, that’s where help should be, at the touch of a button.

A well-designed app, connected to the college community and part of daily student life already, could harness important resources instantly – even sending location information to friends or authorities. It could also do that without the same situational burden of actually calling for help. Discretely touching a button to request help – as easily checking a text message or the time – could make a real difference in a host of situations.

I know that’s possible because we’ve done it already. We build campus safety alerts and support resources into our campus community app and it’s being used on 50 campuses right now. But that’s not enough. Every college president, dean and parent should be insisting that safety features like these be part of online campus life — wherever or however those are actually made available.

There’s no excuse that I can see for not doing everything that can be done to stop sexual, domestic and gender-based offenses on campus. Since this can be done, it should be done. And immediately.

Danial Jameel, cofounder of OOHLALA Mobile, the largest mobile campus community, was recently named Forbes 2015 30Under30 – Education.

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