Cool Tool | Grammarly

CREDIT GrammarlyGrammarly is a leading online application for perfecting English writing. Its online spell and grammar checking application helps users find and correct English writing issues. Its powerful algorithms check for more than 250 types of spelling, grammar and punctuation errors, enhance vocabulary usage and suggest citations. It’s available as a web application and Microsoft Word Add-in. Also, a free Chrome Extension was recently launched that grammar and spell check your online writing from emails to Facebook messages. This extension will be available for other browsers as well. With over four million users, the application’s main users are students and teachers. Grammarly’s software shows specific and actionable comments so students can understand and correct mistakes in their writing assignments. As they notice the reoccurrence of the same errors, they have an opportunity to identify and break bad habits. Classroom teachers also appreciate its time-saving components, including the plagiarism checker. Within just a few moments, educators can verify that a document is original and offer detailed feedback about writing mistakes. Grammarly has obvious applications in the classroom, but teachers and students are not the only ones who use its automatic grammar checking capabilities. Bloggers check their posts, Tweets, and Facebook communications with Grammarly. Professional writers customize what writing corrections are flagged by selecting one of the 30 available document types. Very cool tool! Check it out.

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Serious Play School

A critical look at the use of games as educational vehicles to advance learning.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT Games4EdThere’s a lot of excitement brewing in the area of games and education this year, to wit, over 25 representatives from different sectors of gaming and education came together to examine the possibilities and issues regarding the use of game-based learning back in January of 2015, and there’s more to come in coming months. At that first gathering, higher education, K-12 education, game developers, publishers, policy makers, and others converged for a unique opening dialogue between leading edge stakeholders. Chaired by Mitch Weisburgh and Larry Cocco, the result is the Games4Ed (G4E) collaborative. Mitch is a partner at Academic Business Advisors, co-founder with Steve Anderson and Tom Whitby of Edchat Interactive. The goal of G4E is to establish collaborations between educators, researchers, game developers, publishers and policy makers to further the use of games and other immersive learning strategies in schools to help the education sector fulfill the mission of preparing all children to become successful 21st century learners and citizens. Here, Mitch answers some basic questions about what’s underway in this interesting area of education.

The Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the Smithsonian are investing tens of millions of dollars into developing and testing games.

Victor: Most teachers already use games, why are you talking about expanding the use of games?

Mitch: Yes, surveys do show that over 70% of teachers use games. But they also show that by far the majority of game use is supplemental to learning. Many times, games are used as drills or as rewards.

There is this really interesting body of research that indicates students are very engaged when playing games, and that when they are engaged in games they are operating at a much higher cognitive level, and that they are willing expend more time and effort. When kids are in the zone like this, they are unstoppable.

Add to this that all games are tracking what the players are doing, assessing their abilities, providing feedback, and suggesting next actions. In traditional teaching, we teach, we practice, and then we test. What if it were all rolled into one? How much more time could we spend teaching and learning if we didn’t have to stop for three plus weeks a year to test?

Finally, additional research shows that games use is tied to growth in 21st Century skills, like problem solving, perseverance, creativity, and collaboration. Aren’t these the skills that are most in demand?

That’s the type of transformation we’d like to see in education.

Victor: If games are such good pedagogical tools, why aren’t they used more?

Mitch: Originally I thought that the problem was the cost of marketing and selling games. That all you’d need is to consolidate the efforts of a few game developers, perhaps create a portal, and bingo, problem solved and games would proliferate.

But I’ve found out it’s a lot more complex than that, and that’s why I teamed up with Larry Cocco to create Games4Ed.

There are parent (and teacher) attitudes, that time on games is wasted learning time.

There are the technical problems with students having to remember user names and passwords, and teachers having to look for student competency information in many different places.

There is the issue of trusted sources, schools and teachers want an easy way, from a source they trust, to find the game that’s going to teach the lessons they need to cover.

We started Games4Ed to get educators, administrators, policy makers, researchers, and game developers collaborating to solve all of these issues and a few more. We want to make it easy and productive for schools and teachers to employ game based learning, really engage their students, and know when to some type of intervention would be helpful.

Victor: Teachers are already overworked, how can they use games to improve student learning and continue to raise test scores without further increasing the stress and time they already put into teaching?

Mitch: Game-based learning is a different type of learning. Using games requires different teaching techniques. And today, with very few exceptions, you can’t substitute play for everything you would normally cover. These are all issues.

The first time you use a game in your classroom, it’s going to require more time. You really have to play the game yourself and experience it. You often have to think of some pre-game activity, and some post-game activity.

But there are places that are starting to address this. It’s not as onerous as it was a few years ago. GlassLab Games, and Graphite are two places that can help. And probably my favorite time saving place is the Game Based Learning group on edWeb, where experience game educators are dying to help newbies master game based learning.

At Edchat Interactive, we sometimes have sessions on Game Based Learning. You can learn a lot by watching the archives of Ryan Schaaf, for example. Ryan also has incredible links to articles on edugames in an Evernote folder.

Victor: Won’t parents object to their kids using games instead of doing “learning” activities?

Mitch: Not if it’s handled right. It’s all in the way you communicate with parents.

First of all, we need to acknowledge that parents generally start off feeling that Video Games have a negative effect on their children. This has been documented in surveys, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise. We don’t want kids in school playing shoot ‘em up, or see how much you can steal games. And if you just go about and start having students play games to learn, you’re going to run flat into that argument.

But parents also want what’s best for their children, and communicating with parents about the positive results that games have will have a dramatic effect on changing their perception. The Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the Smithsonian are investing tens of millions of dollars into developing and testing games. Games are an effective learning tool, and we just have to communicate that to parents before they come to an erroneous conclusion that their kids are wasting time playing.

Victor: Is there a way schools can pilot and try out games in my school or classroom to help advance education?

Mitch: Yes.

Oh, that wasn’t just a yes/no question?

First of all, the GBL community we referred to earlier on edWeb has about a request a week from a game company wanting schools or teachers to pilot. If you are a member, you can always respond.

But if you are concerned and want someone screening the requests, our process at Games4Ed is to screen the game, determine the results that the game developer believes will happen, make sure the school has the proper support, and then write up the results. We are rolling out our first pilot study now, and we have a signup page for schools, educators, or game developers who are interested.

Victor: What’s next?

Mitch: For us, there are a few really cool initiatives we are talking about for the 2015-16 school year. We are looking into creating a free online conference offering professional development around game based learning. We are working with researchers at CUNY and NYU to devise a framework for evaluating games. And we are discussing providing Game Days in schools across the country.

It’s very exciting.

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

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On EdTech

Inspiring education technology quotations for a productive summer.  

GUEST COLUMN | by Jessica Sanders

CREDIT Summer Landscape by Larisa KoshkinaSummer is the perfect time to focus on honing your edtech skills, but that sunshine might make it hard for you to sit down in front of your computer or go to a teacher conference. Let these quotes inspire you to find some time for learning this summer.

“Technology integration is not an event. It should be an everyday part of our classroom… like crayons and breathing.” – Venspired

“When technology integration is at its best, a child or a teacher doesn’t stop to think that he or she is using a tech tool—it’s second nature.” – Anonymous/Edutopia

“I was once asked by a group of educational state representatives if the flipped classroom would allow them to hire less teachers… When I heard this question, I came unglued. They had missed the point of the flipped classroom.” – Jonathan Bergmann

“Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.” – Bill Gates

“At the heart of effective technology integration, technology offers opportunities to be more actively involved in the learning process.”  Vanessa Vega

“The technology itself is not transformative. It’s the school, the pedagogy, that is transformative.” – Tanya Byron

“Why shouldn’t we give our teachers a license to obtain software, any software, for nothing? Does anyone demand a licensing fee each time a child is taught the alphabet?” – William Gibson

“There can be infinite uses of the computer and of new age technology, but if the teachers themselves are not able to bring it into the classroom and make it work, then it fails.” – Nancy Kassebaum

“We need technology in every classroom and in every student and teacher’s hand, because it is the pen and paper of our time, and it is the lens through which we experience much of our world.” – David Warlick

“To understand their world we must be willing to immerse ourselves in that world. We must embrace the new digital reality. If we can’t relate, if we don’t get it, we won’t be able to make schools relevant to the current and future needs of the digital generation.” – Ian Jukes

“Teachers need to integrate technology seamlessly into the curriculum instead of viewing it as an add-on, an afterthought, or an event.” – Heidi-Hayes Jacobs

Hope you enjoyed these gems! Did we miss any insightful, provocative, dead-on or thoughtful quotations from other voices out there weighing in on issues and challenges in the edtech arena? Feel free to leave your comment below.

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

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Cool Tool | e-SignLive

Screen Shot 2015-06-27 at 10.54.05 AMHere’s a good use of technology to give the education sector a very nice efficiency boost: nearing one billion documents processed each year, e-SignLive by Silanis  is one of the most widely used e-signature solutions in the world, used by organizations to efficiently handle document workflow processes. Their solution gives all the building blocks to create an exceptional signing experience for customers, employees and business partners. With it, users configure the e-signature workflow to fit any type of process on any device, in any channel – in a way that makes it easy and convenient to sign electronically. Most recently, they announced a working relationship with Teach for America to help the non-profit improve compliance and efficiency when on-boarding new staff and save nearly $450,000 in admin costs over the next five years. With up to 6,000 deployed teachers each year and relationships with an additional 40,000 current and past teachers across 50 regions, Teach for America’s need to demonstrate compliance and efficiency had been increasing rapidly. By using e-SignLive’s e-signatures and Box for cloud storage, the non-profit is expected to reduce the amount of time spent on admin paperwork from 25% to 10%. Check it out.

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A Girl’s World

Why female participation in STEM will power our economy.

GUEST COLUMN | by Harsh Patel

CREDIT MakerSquareThe global focus on STEM — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — is an acknowledgment by industry watchers around the world that these fields fuel our innovation for a brighter future. A subset of that focus is promoting gender diversity in STEM, in other words, to get more girls in STEM education and more women in STEM jobs. There may be a knee-jerk reaction from some to simply say “Shouldn’t the most-qualified person get the job, regardless of diversity?” On one hand, that’s certainly true, but the issue with female participation in STEM is that their opportunities from the ground floor are limited. Thus, the most qualified person for the job may be a woman, but how will we know if she didn’t get a chance to learn STEM as a girl or didn’t get her foot in the door with a STEM job?

Middle-school girls perform better on beginner web development curriculum than boys. The goal, then, is to expose these ideas and fields to girls early on.

“Building awareness, interest, confidence and growth mindset are important pieces of the puzzle to increase girls’ interest in STEM,” says Marina Park, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Northern California. “87% of girls who complete our multi-week engineering program believe that they can become an engineer when they grow up!”

Diversity in STEM matters, and it deals with a lot of bigger-picture issues beyond re-normalizing social norms and acceptance. In fact, the biggest issue here is an economic one. Here are four economic reasons why the world needs more women in STEM:

#1 Industry Innovation

For STEM industries, low female participation is like trying to cook a meal with one hand or riding a bike with one leg — feasible but highly inefficient. Statistics are highly skewed in STEM fields; computer programmers are only 20% female (source: NPR). Imagine the innovations created by bringing the best female minds to STEM fields. The world is missing out simply because the opportunity to enter these fields is minimized.

#2 International Business Competition

In 2010, Bill Gates was speaking to primarily male audience in Saudi Arabia and asked about the country’s potential to be a top tech nation. Gates’ answer? “Well, if you’re not fully utilizing half the talent in the country,” Gates said, “you’re not going to get too close to the Top 10.” Regions vary in STEM diversity, but the eventual leaders behind global business will come from countries that embrace this. The proof is in the numbers: gender-diverse companies (15%) and are more likely to outperform companies with limited diversity (source: McKinsey).

#3 Jobs Need To Be Filled

“The lack of women and people of color is not just a gender issue, nor is it just an ethnic issue. It’s an enormous economic issue,” says Robin Hauser Reynolds, Director and Producer of CODE Documentary. “By 2020 there will be one million jobs unfilled in the US.” Without anyone to fill those jobs in the United States, employers will look towards the overseas work force — foreign countries will receive the benefits of American ingenuity. The way to keep these jobs at home is to simply have a greater base of talent to pick from.

#4 Encouraging STEM Diversity

So how do we get more women to STEM jobs? The simple answer is to introduce them to the idea early on in life. The responsibility for that, however, comes from all sides: parents need to encourage girls, schools need to teach science and coding, and popular culture has to show positive role models. At MakerSquare, we’ve discussed this issue with a number of partners, and one fact that consistently sticks out is that middle-school girls perform better on beginner web development curriculum than boys. The goal, then, is to expose these ideas and fields to girls early on and it becomes a valid career choice for them.

The trickle-down effect created by female STEM participation is immense; everything from the local economics to gross national product to quality of life benefit from a long-term shift towards this. “Jobs in STEM fields command higher wages, greater job security, and excellent potential for growth,” says Tamara Hudgins, Executive Director of Girlstart. “In addition to the benefits of STEM innovations to the U.S. economy and to Americans’ quality of life, STEM careers offer pathways out of poverty. This is particularly meaningful for girls, as more than 63% of the nation’s households have a woman as sole or co-breadwinner.”

From jobs to global economics to industry innovation, only benefits come with a diverse STEM foundation. Our job, as the leaders of today, is to make sure that the opportunities are there for both young girls and women who want to explore new fields.

Harsh Patel is the co-founder and CEO of MakerSquare (recently acquired by Hackreactor), a 12-week coding bootcamp with locations in SF, LA and Austin.

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