Embracing the Dream 

Effectively navigating the college planning, search and application process.

GUEST COLUMN | by Justin Shiffman

credit-nexttier-education-imageSince the introduction of the GI Bill in 1944, college has been an important part of the American dream, in large part because it is viewed as the best pathway to career development and economic security. Today’s high school students continue to embrace that dream, as multiple studies show that more than 90 percent of them aspire to earn a bachelor’s degree or beyond. In reality, however, there are significant problems with postsecondary access for today’s students – to the extent that only 40 percent of students who intend to go to college will ultimately enroll and less than 50 percent of those who enroll will graduate within six years.

I have always believed that school counselors should be able to create detailed action plans for each student.

Much of that unfortunate reality can be attributed to two major challenges: school counselor workloads and the complexities students and their families face when tackling the college planning, search and application process.

Unrealistic expectations for our school counselors

School counselors are charged with guiding all of their students through the planning, search and application process – matching the academic, social and financial needs of each student with thousands of possible colleges and universities. According the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), the majority of high school counselors view this as their primary goal.

In truth, however, those same counselors are severely hampered by extreme student-to-counselor ratios – up to 500 to 1 – meaning they often can spend no more than 38 minutes with each student in a school year. And much of their time is consumed with things like helping students research financial aid and organizing college fairs. The NACAC reports that as few as 18 percent of ninth graders even get to speak with their counselors about college.

Given these conditions, it is simply unrealistic to expect that school counselors can successfully address the unique needs and backgrounds of every student to the degree that they can make a meaningful contribution to each student’s postsecondary success.

This means that the vast weight of the college planning, search and application process falls squarely on the shoulders of high school students and their parents.

The planning, search and application process is tough to tackle

There are currently more than 4,700+ colleges operating in the United States, each with unique offerings in terms of academic emphasis, environment, and approach to academic development. Each one has its own pricing structure and options for scholarships, grants and other forms of financial support. And every college in America has its own standards for student enrollment and processes by which students must apply to be accepted. That’s 42,000+ different sets of application task and 42,000+ deadlines for each of those steps in the application process.

In what reality can counselors, students and their families not become bogged down with to-do lists, deadlines and unique information needed to find the “right fit” school and navigate multiple processes for application, financial support and more?

The process mandates collaboration

In a perfect world, counselors, students and their parents would all have access to comprehensive information on U.S. colleges and the numerous requirements for acceptance. Students would be able to identify and research schools that meet their interests, and receive recommendations for similar colleges that also might be the right fit.

I have always believed that school counselors should be able to create detailed action plans for each student – every step in the application process and the deadline for each task – while monitoring each student’s progress and providing hands-on guidance along the way.

This is the only way that counselors can effectively address the postsecondary needs of their sizable student populations and the only way students and their families can avoid becoming bogged down by an unfamiliar, highly complicated process.

Enabling collaboration and automating the process

The only way that all involved parties can manage their extreme workloads and wade through multiple colleges’ unique, complex enrollment requirements is to utilize today’s most advanced technologies to facilitate collaboration and automate the process. On a broad scale, it must be web- and mobile-friendly, as that is most efficient for group implementation and what appeals most to today’s students. It must include detailed information on every school in America, all of their requirements and all of their financial assistance offerings. And it must walk the students through the entire process while allowing counselors and parents to monitor each student’s progress to keep them on point.

We have spent the past three years creating such a platform and carefully validating it through a network of seasoned school counselors and other expert advisors to redefine how school counselors, students and their parents navigate the entire college planning, search and application process.

We built a web- and mobile-based postsecondary readiness platform that delivers critical information on every two- and four-year college in the U.S. in ways that help match students with “right fit” colleges. The platform aggregates this data to provide each student with a comprehensive college application plan, including a detailed list of every school’s required tasks, step-by-step guidance and deadlines for completing each task in the process.

At the end of the day, we have to make it easier for school counselors to carry out their jobs under extremely challenging circumstances so that we can make it easier for more students to successfully find the right academic fit and secure a higher education. The solution is the application of cloud-based, highly analytical technology that vastly simplifies counselor-student-parent collaboration and automates the complex planning, search, and application process.

Justin Shiffman is Founder and CEO of NextTier Education, Inc. He holds a bachelor of administration in Political Science from Indiana University, a masters of business administration from the University of Illinois Chicago, and a juris doctorate from The John Marshall Law School Chicago.

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The Best Way to Keep Millennials Engaged

Surveyed insights into what drives a new generation to work.

GUEST COLUMN | by Darren Shimkus

credit-udemy-surveyUdemy recently conducted a national survey to find out why organizations have trouble with employee engagement. We discovered that millennials, now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce, are nearly twice as likely to be bored at work than their colleagues. So why is the most connected generation feeling disengaged at work? It turns out that very different factors drive job satisfaction for them than other generations, according to our survey. They’re not necessarily after bigger salaries or interested in climbing the corporate ladder. Rather, millennials want to use their talents in a company that makes the world a better place and provides them ample opportunities to learn, grow, and acquire new skills. In fact, 80 percent of employees surveyed agree that learning new skills at work would make them more interested and engaged in their jobs.

They’re not necessarily after bigger salaries or interested in climbing the corporate ladder.

In short, millennial employees want to control their own destinies. They want a clearly defined path for building the professional future they envision for themselves. They want to grow! This presents both opportunities and challenges for corporate learning and development teams. You can be a hero by listening to your employees’ goals and helping them get there, but you’re probably also going to have to change up the way you operate to better anticipate and cater to this generation’s demands.

Employers need to foster a culture of self-driven learning across their organizations that entails more than offering (even well produced) mandatory training. In addition to delivering learning content that’s interactive and engaging, companies need to get comfortable supporting millennials’ interests beyond the current role they find themselves in. Marketers will learn how to code. Software developers will learn finance. This is good! Adapting to this world means letting employees cross-train in other disciplines to explore a broader range of skills.

Millennials consider themselves multifaceted, and many pursue personal projects outside the office, such as blogging, selling on Etsy, coding their own websites, building projects in their garages, or teaching yoga. Recognizing and championing their pursuits can go a long way in demonstrating commitment to the whole person, not just the employee as a job resource, and alleviating that pernicious feeling of boredom.

Conquering employee boredom may seem daunting, but new innovations in online learning make it easier and more efficient than ever before to roll out on-the-job skills training to an entire workforce of diverse workers with diverse ambitions and interests. When millennials are empowered to develop their skill sets at their own pace and on their own schedule, they’ll reward their employers with greater engagement and productivity. And that, of course, will do wonders for your bottom line.

Darren Shimkus is General Manager of Udemy for Business. Udemy is a learning platform using more than 16,000 instructors to change the way organizations teach and learn. Darren has an MBA from Stanford where he was an Arjay Miller Scholar.

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Cool Tool | Axis 360 Digital Media Library App

credit-baker-taylor-axis-360-appEarly last year, Baker & Taylor introduced the Axis 360 mobile app, and made it available from both the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store for Android. The app is a simple, powerful tool: it simplifies access to digital content by allowing library patrons and students to browse, select and read/listen to e-books and digital audio books in one place with a clean design. Since its introduction, the Axis 360 app has steadily risen in the app ratings, now garnering a whopping 4.5 stars out of 5 in both store sites for the newest releases. But what makes the app cool and stand apart from other reading platforms of its type? Students, teachers—any library patron for that matter—can use the Axis 360 app to:

  • Read and listen to digital content with a single tap;
  • Place items on hold and see at a glance where they are in line;
  • Add digital content to a Wish List for later check out; and
  • Change font sizes, create notes and bookmarks, and immediately jump to any page within their e-book with just a few taps.

The way Baker and Taylor is inviting customers and employees to vote on improvement ideas for the app is another way this platform is different. According to Baker & Taylor’s Amandeep Kochar, this ‘crowdsourcing’-type of continuous input is the secret to the app’s success. “Here’s the cool thing, we focus on singularity in design and features that bring joy to consumers,” relates Kochar, executive vice president for K-12 Education, Software Products, and Services. “Everyone gets to vote on the ideas—all employees and all customers. Every month we meet and look at ideas with more than 50 points. We’ve democratized product development, with our employees and customers as the true innovators and the developers as guides for the journey.” Learn more.

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From Geneva with Love

A young international company sets a new trend in edtech culture.  

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

credit-goodwall-omar-bawa-and-taha-bawaThey have nearly as many passports as they do team members; this is a company continually looking to learn and understand new cultures. “We’re all different but share a common mission and goal,” says Taha Bawa (pictured, right), CEO of Goodwall, a Geneva-based edtech company. Goodwall is a social network for high school students to tell their stories, discover opportunities, win scholarships, and get recognized by universities they might like to attend. By way of background, Taha already lived in five countries by age 11; the company culture he’s developed is a reflection of that honest, open and equal treatment. He’s spoken at TEDx, Google Btalks, and ECIS. Leading the team as chief strategist, he studied economics, and is a member of the Human Rights Watch Youth Committee. His Chief Product Officer, Omar Bawa, 25, (pictured, above left) co-founded Goodwall “to inspire the next generation to make better choices and pursue their passions.” He, too, has been a TEDx speaker, he is considered a “High Potential Global Leader” according to IMD’s Global Leader Index. He studied law, intellectual property and marketing, and served on the editorial board of — that’s right, the United Nations Magazine. Here, Omar talks about edtech, drawing strength from diversity, and what the future holds for a company doing good for students.

If your company were a coffee, it would be a rich, international blend. How’d you assemble such a team?

Omar: I started by trying to convince the best person I know to join my team. That person was my brother. He then introduced his closest friends who were in business development, design and computer science to get us started. Then, as our needs grew, we started recruiting outside of our own circles.

The future of education is looking good. More students are pursuing their passions and becoming the best they possibly can.

This meant recruiting online and focusing on recruiting the best talent and best person for the job. We ended up with a team with more passports than people from Switzerland, France, Italy, India, Serbia, Ireland, Greece, the Philippines, Israel, Mozambique and Sri Lanka.

When I say rich, I mean full of life, dynamic, speak a lot of languages, a great mix of cultural backgrounds. What is /has been the value and benefit in having a broad spectrum of perspectives from every corner? 

Omar: Our team is completely bilingual – we speak both English and French at the office. The great mix of cultural backgrounds and diversity allows us to be very creative and have very different perspectives. It’s also really valuable to have such a diverse team given that the students we serve come from over 150 countries. It allows us to serve them better.

How did you arrive at your goals? What prompted you to build a company from them? 

Omar: Our goal has always been to maximize our impact in the world. Building a company dedicated to transforming education, recognizing talent and providing opportunities was our vehicle to achieve that goal.


How’d you arrive on the name, what is its significance?

Omar: Goodwall was born out of an incredible team brainstorm where we listed every possible idea for our community. We decided on the word “wall” since we wanted to build a place where people could post their stories and achievements, like on a “wall”. At the same time, we chose the word “good” since we really wanted to focus on creating a positive community. Today Goodwall has become an incredible positive community with students from around the world supporting and congratulating each other on their achievements.

You’ve said, “With Goodwall, we aim to remove chance and privilege from the equation and provide every student with the opportunity to succeed in life. Easy and free.” Bold statement! Care to elaborate? Do you see a tipping point where there is way too much inequity surrounding education and now something needs to be done about it? why are you in higher ed, not earlier? 

Omar: Not everyone in the world today has the opportunity to a full holistic education. By that we’re referring to both the access to guidance counselors and advice and universities, but also to what happens outside the classroom. On Goodwall, our students, irrespective of where they are or what school they go to inspire each other to achieve more and pursue their passions. We wake up because we want to give hope to the one person who thought that they would never achieve what they’ve always dreamt of.

“Goodwall is the social network for high school students to tell their stories, discover opportunities, win scholarships and get recognized by universities.” There’s a lot of ways to accomplish this. How did you narrow this down? What sort of group meetings, focus groups, talks, discussions did you have to sort through issues such as using digital portfolios, being a LinkedIn like service, being a sort of micro-facebook? what sort of ideas and then, choices, did you go through? are you still churning through, or do you have a bit of a workable template now? will you iterate daily? monthly? 

Omar: This is the result of months of iterations. We have fine-tuned our message to really deliver to maximum value to our students. We follow a very powerful agile sprint method. We hold weekly product sprints we clearly defined deliverables and every morning we have a scrum meeting to track our progress and address any challenges. This allows us to iterate very quickly while progressing steadily to achieve our goals.

Do any sailing on Lac Leman? I see that’s an analogy in some of your writing. Any sailing parallels for your edtech startup?

Omar: While I would love to learn to sail, unfortunately that involves time that we don’t have. That said, our senior backend engineer sailed across the Atlantic before he joined us. As for sailing parallels, I think we just have to keep sailing faster in the same direction as the wind.

With your level of dedication and commitment to your cause, it looks like you’re in this for the long haul. Are you finding funding sources (seems like Geneva has money, but is it the kind of money that will fall into startup coffers)? What edtech startup type of meetings, conferences have you been to? What is the startup life like in Geneva? 

Omar: We are financed by both private and institutional investors. Startup life in Geneva is relatively quiet compared to San Francisco or Berlin. There is a huge benefit to this. It allows us to stay humble and focused and not get distracted by the noise and hype of the Valley. Also life in general in Geneva is quiet, allowing us to really focus on our objectives without being distracted.

We’re focused on building humans not robots.

In a global world where one can work from anywhere, “place” sometimes becomes even more interesting. Has your Geneva-based company been influenced by a sense of place? a world-class city, hub for diplomacy and banking, HQ for Europe’s UN, there’s gotta be some takeaways?

Omar: Of course, being in Geneva has many benefits. It gives us a lot of credibility, it is the HQ of the UN, the World Economic Forum and the International Baccalaureate Program with whom we have worked closely. We are also next door the International Olympic Committee who have worked with us. Finally we are neighbors with some of the most prestigious high schools in the world including the oldest and reputed international school in the world. We work closely with the schools and their students to deliver the best experience and the most value.

Anything else you care to add or emphasize regarding education these days? social networks with an education-related purpose? 

Omar: Our focus is on providing a holistic education for everyone. We’re focused on building humans not robots. By connecting our students through a social network dedicated to their success, we’ve been able to encourage and inspire them like never before while building an incredible passionate community that supports each other.

Thoughts about the future of education? is it looking good? Trends to watch? opportunities for leadership?  

Omar: The future of education is looking good. More students are pursuing their passions and becoming the best they possibly can. An interesting trend we have noticed and are following closely is that more 80 percent of our network and community dedicated to pursuing success is female – I think that’s something interesting to watch and says something about our future as a society.

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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Cool Tool | Knovation Content Collection

credit-knovation-content-collectionThis rich collection contains 360,000+ professionally evaluated, standards-aligned digital resources contextualized for educators to easily find and implement into their lesson planning. As a result of a partnership between Knovation Learning and Core Learning Exchange, teachers and school districts can:

  • Identify students’ needs using Core Learning Exchange’s assessments, and then search their digital library (content sourced from over one thousand providers) to create personalized Mastery Learning playlists.
  • Confidently select Knovation-sourced digital resources and know the content is current, appropriate and usable on any and all devices.
  • Use an infrastructure that simplifies the implementation of competency-based, personalized learning.

Knovation ensures digital resources in its Content Collection are relevant utilizing its 127-point certification process. Knovation-sourced digital resources are also regularly monitored for availability, appropriateness, and safety for instructional use. The Knovation Content Collection can be accessed through Knovation’s netTrekker and icurio applications and through platforms such as McGraw-Hill Engrade, Canvas, Schoology and Google Classroom. Check out this Cool Tool for yourself, right here.

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