Changes and Challenges

A view from within the edtech industry.

GUEST COLUMN | by Orly Fuhrman

CREDIT LingualyThe Internet is a digital playground for education and learning. Over the last few years, we’ve seen edtech startups climb the ladder of the venture capitalist portfolio to the point where some brands are now widely recognized and are beginning to change the way people engage with education. As desktops become more affordable and smartphone and tablet devices become the norm, the education market has grown to include students and teachers who actively participate in a variety of edtech platforms, both in and outside of the classroom.

This willingness of investors to fund edtech ventures has also seen a 180-degree shift in the industry, particularly since we introduced our own unique style of digital learning just a few short years ago. In the past, from a VC’s perspective, the market was too hard to break into because ventures required connections with schools, higher learning institutions, education boards, and solid monetization strategy. The pressure to slot into established teaching parameters is what brought about the initial change from companies like Coursera and Khan Academy, whose founders decided to tackle digital education in their own way. Now, ventures across the edtech spectrum — whether they are language platforms, personal dictionaries, translation apps, or applications that can be integrated into the classroom — see billions of dollars in investment each year.

As with any other industry, edtech continues to evolve. But through our own experience as an edtech startup, we see that global education needs a massive shift.

As with any other industry, edtech continues to evolve. But through our own experience as an edtech startup, we see that global education needs a massive shift in its structure to cater to a growing population that now has more access to information than previous generations. Students today no longer need to be restricted to rigid curriculums; rather, they require a more personalized medium to effectively take in information.

The Changing Ways of Edtech Platforms

Before adaptive platforms were the norm, digital content was king for most edtech ventures, especially for language teaching programs. Solutions that offered a “new” way of learning a language were concerned mainly with bringing existing content online, creating new digital content and structuring lesson plans—all of which took no account of the individual skill level or interests of the student. Although this approach made it easy for educators to create content and students to access it, it proved hard to get learners to actively engage with online lessons.

Now the industry is shifting again and turning away from content creation. While it is still important to have quality content, it is not the entire focus of the learning process. Rather, the importance lies in an educational immersion method that matches readily available content with the exact needs and interests of the student. This focus on customization has been the biggest shift in the industry. It is not just about sending students into the web equipped with a dictionary and Google Translate. It is about contextualizing real world content — available for almost every language — and applying it effectively to a new way of learning.

Technology’s Role

New digital devices — such as tablets and smartphones — that change the way students interact with language lessons have complemented this shift in edtech. Now it is easier for platforms to combine games with content and intuitive interfaces to engage their audience and, in so doing, match their style of learning with something they are actually interested in.

Lingua.ly has grown from a few thousand to over half a million users over the past year. It has evolved from being just a Chrome extension to a cross-platform app. The real power and opportunity in edtech startups lies in the possibility of ubiquity across portable devices: a user can sync to the cloud, refer to content and learn from it no matter where they are. For language platforms, mobile apps can now pro-actively remind users of words, prompt them to read articles in another language, or tell them exactly how to pronounce a word.

Applying Crowd-Sourced Content

A key trend within edtech is the shift towards a crowd-sourced means of digital content generation, including videos and sound bites. There are already a number of edtech language sites that enable people from around the world to teach other people pronunciation, commonly used words and phrases from their own countries. Simple yet effective platforms include Tatoeba, which is a database of useful sentences in many languages, and Forvo, which lets anyone hear exactly how words are pronounced in 325 languages.

As a language startup, we promote the expansion of educational content and the methods used to teach it. By leveraging tech and constantly applying new ideas for learning and engagement, edtech can provide a different perspective on the type of content that is taught and can personalize the experience, while learning from users around the world about what does and doesn’t work.

Orly Fuhrman is the co-founder of Lingua.ly, a digital immersion platform that utilizes readily available news content from across the web to teach students of all proficiency levels a new language. The cloud-synced solution is available for desktop and mobile devices and supports 18+ dictionary languages.

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Embracing Virtualization

Four schools solve their biggest edtech challenges with a simple solution.

GUEST COLUMN | by Ilan Paretsky

CREDIT Ericom SoftwareVirtualization technology is changing the modern classroom. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies and HTML5 capabilities extend the reach and flexibility of students, staff, parents, IT personnel and administrators to enhanced educational experiences, far beyond the chalkboard.

Teachers and students are able to access all of their materials through the browser — the software is transparent to the user, meaning there’s no learning curve. Moreover, updating different applications and software for multiple and diverse endpoints no longer creates an IT headache.

Growth in online education and BYOD trends in the classroom are fueling the need for schools to adopt more progressive technologies. 

But most importantly – virtual desktop and application delivery provide better remote access, offering greater flexibility and involvement in the education process for everyone from the students to the administrators.

Remote access makes it easier for parents to get involved in their child’s education, and gain a better understanding of their child’s curriculum. It also allows students and teachers to have access to educational materials at all times, streamlining the communication process outside of the classroom. IT personnel and administrators can make updates to applications and infrastructure without the headache of physically touching endpoint devices, whether they are school-issued or not.

Virtual desktop and application solutions provide a step towards a simpler implementation of education technology and learning environments, including cloud adoption, online testing, security and the reduction of IT complexity.

Here are four examples of how educational institutions from K-12 to colleges and universities are embracing virtualization.

Movement towards the Cloud

Virtualization is making the move to the cloud easy for all levels of educational institutions, from K-12 schools to universities.

Greater Lawrence Technical School (GLTS) in Andover Massachusetts is in the process of transitioning to the cloud. As part of its one-to-one Chromebook initiative, GLTS is implementing virtualization technology to provide web-based access to Windows-based software (as well as Google apps) for every student.

With between 1,350 and 1,400 students and an expected growth of 375 students per year, GLTS needed a solution that was scalable and worked with their across-the-board adoption of Google technology as well as their legacy Windows applications.

The adoption of virtualization software greatly reduced their budget, allowing them to update a lab and make other necessary upgrades in various departments.

Streamlining the Testing Environment

With increasing national and state requirements for online testing, teachers need more computer time for their students. Schools are providing more hardware and software licensing to properly prepare their students for online testing.

Virtual access technology in the browser makes this an easy task as it allows schools to deliver the necessary applications without having to manage several hundreds or thousands of endpoint devices.

The Hapeville Charter School’s implementation of an affordable virtualization technology in June of 2014 helped them to better prepare their students for an online testing environment without compromising security.

They gained a turn-key mobile solution that expanded their computer accessibility by 400 percent.

Security for Students and Staff

The growing BYOD trend in universities and other higher education institutions is making security more of a concern.

Centrally managed, virtual desktop access gives universities more control over their applications, databases and online testing environments.

Access via the browser mitigates and sometimes eliminates device management and support costs on top of this security aspect – an important pain point for North Greenville University.

The university is using virtualization technology to drive key initiatives at the university such as BYOD policies and distance education, which require easy access to a broad range of applications from all types of devices. For them, security was a big concern, and being able to access key application through the browser mitigated this risk.

Reducing IT Complexity

Many types of virtualization technologies require software installation, but this is not the most desirable solution in an education setting.

Without endpoint installation, everything can happen in the browser. Updates and software changes are maintained and managed in one place, greatly reducing IT complexity and school IT costs.  Multiple device support becomes a Helpdesk pain of the past.

Penn State University recent transitioned to a virtual environment, reducing their help desk ticket generation by 90 percent – a huge alleviation of complexity for the IT department.

From a business perspective, the solution allowed the university to extend the learning environment to off-campus students and faculty, at home or during off hours, better facilitating remote learning and off-campus collaboration.

Growth in online education and BYOD trends in the classroom are fueling the need for schools to adopt more progressive technologies. Scalability, security and performance in a virtual desktop solution is necessary for education technologies to progress in the classroom.

Ilan Paretsky is VP Marketing at Ericom Software, a leading provider of virtualization technology that flexibly accommodates a wide range of learning scenarios,  providing educational institutions with the opportunity to extend the reach of their classrooms.

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Cool Tool | eZuce’s Viewme

CREDIT eZuceeZuce’s Video Collaboration Solution Viewme (formerly SeeVogh), is available to higher education institutions as part of the Internet2 NET+ initiative. Faculty, staff and students at member institutions can have unlimited access to the  video collaboration solution to support virtual classrooms, intercampus learning, extended office hours, study groups and many other applications. It eliminates costly setup fees, and provides free clients enabling every user their own meeting room. The solution integrates with legacy telepresence systems while delivering a high-quality, enterprise class video collaboration platform, and it supports Windows, Android and iOS-based mobile devices to facilitate immersive visual collaboration with anyone, anywhere, at any time. Jack Suess, VP for Information Technology and CIO at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, is a strong advocate. “UMBC was looking for something that was very easy to use, and didn’t require administrative setup, that worked with our enterprise H.323 systems,” he says, “and was inexpensive enough that we could deploy it to all faculty and staff without charging extra for it.” For Suess, this solution is the first product that hit all three. It currently provides visual collaboration for thousands of researchers on a global basis as part of the The eZuce SRN (formerly The SeeVogh Research Network). Check it out.

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Trends | Mobile Learning in the United States

CREDIT SpeakUp 2014 National Research Project

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Cool Tool | Activate Instruction

CREDIT History Channel and Activate InstructionA free tool that helps teachers nationwide share resources, Activate Instruction also helps students direct their own learning, and helps parents stay in touch with what’s happening at school. Founded by the Girard Education Foundation, Activate is a unique collaboration of teachers and leaders from successful schools, educators-turned-developers and passionate philanthropists. Teachers use Activate to organize, share, and search quality Common Core-aligned resources, and curate them into student playlists. Parents and students can follow teachers and search by topic. Activate’s content bank includes more than 39,000 resources and 4,500 playlists—largely contributed by high-performing Summit Public Schools and High Tech High. The flexible platform supports a variety of learning models, and engages teachers, students and parents with a collaborative, social environment. The platform was built by Illuminate Education and tested in a two-year pilot by Summit Public Schools. Girard Education provides funding and proactive program management, and works with a growing ecosystem of schools, content contributors, and technology partners. The Activate community is working with other foundations, policy experts, and nonprofits to advance blended learning nationwide.

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