The Compelling Case for EdTech

The process of learning has changed surprisingly little since the days of Socrates.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jay Chakrapani

CREDIT Barnes & Noble Education.jpgWhile banking, shopping and even driving a car have all become more intuitive and user-centric in recent years, the process of learning has changed surprisingly little since the days of Socrates. Learning, perhaps by its very nature, has always been presented as something hard to access and hard to do. Our students have already asked the question, ‘I live one way, why do I need to learn in another?’

While Provosts and administrators are facing operational pressure to do more with less, they are also facing the challenge of improved academic achievement.

Finding an answer to this question preoccupies us at Barnes & Noble College. Technology, and its impact on the learning experience is inevitable. While Provosts and administrators are facing operational pressure to do more with less, they are also facing the challenge of improved academic achievement — to get better outcomes with less. Here’s how I believe technology can help with both issues:

For me, technology in learning starts with the student experience. Each learner has their own unique needs, goals and styles. Technology isn’t about one size fitting all, rather it is an enabler to personalize a learning experience for each individual. Amazingly, this can happen at a massive scale without a massive cost outlay. As more academic institutions come to realize the value of data, as other industries have done, we can take a diverse and disparate student body, pinpoint each learner’s unique needs and scaffold a learning pathway to their desired career or goal faster and cheaper than ever before. All while empowering a support system of faculty, advisors and coaches to help a student at the right time with the meaningful guidance.

With the widespread availability today of new learning software and platforms, differentiated instruction can take on a revolutionary role under the guise of personalized learning. And, this could alter our thinking about education and the way students learn. With personalized learning, the more a student interacts with the learning materials, the more the software adapts to the individual student’s learning strengths and weaknesses — modifying the learning path accordingly. In this way, personalized learning provides students with access to more individualized tutoring and with it the opportunity for greater student success.

What sets this model of learning apart from other modern-day learning technologies is that it analyzes the learning history of the student and uses it to provide interactive adjustments based on their understanding and ability to learn. Supporters of personalized learning say it could be the answer to what has become now known as the ‘iron triangle’ of education’s biggest challenges: cost, access, and quality.

More than anything else, these kinds of tools are arriving at a time when campuses are teeming with ‘digital natives’ — Millennials and Generation Zs  — who have grown up with consumer-based interactive technologies anticipating their needs and, that too, may guarantee a higher level of engagement with their lessons.

While technology will have an impact on course delivery, it will also have an impact on how those subjects are taught. According to the recent Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology, a study conducted by Gallup on behalf of Inside Higher Ed, 61 percent of respondents believe that personalized learning has “great potential to make a positive impact on higher education.” But how do you teach it? Although technology can be programmed to provide a similar interaction to that of a professor, their job isn’t going away anytime soon. We’ve noticed this with our own LoudCloud learning platform, particularly our Courseware offering.

In its initial pilot programs, educators voiced some concerns managing another new initiative that might require extra time to adapt to their lesson planning and were concerned they would lose the flexibility to teach their courses in the way they have always found most effective. However, the opposite proved to be true; the platform provided the ability to add and edit teaching components, gave the freedom to present the course material in the way their experience told them would be the most engaging, and supported their student’s progress with adaptive tests and quizzes that offered important information about their understanding of the lesson.

With less time needed to deliver class content, educators can concentrate on at-risk students or participate in one-on-one or small group settings that support the interactive lessons. The learner-centric analytics — personalized data that the software learns about each student — can also provide not just the professor, but the students themselves, feedback on their particular learning strengths and weaknesses as a further measure of student success.

If this is the beginning of the revolution in education, it will undoubtedly present the biggest change in learning since those early Socratic teachings, and provide the greatest opportunities and value for student and institution alike.

Jay Chakrapani serves as Chief Digital Officer of Barnes & Noble Education (NYSE: BNED), the parent Company of Barnes & Noble College, a leading operator of college bookstores in the United States. Jay leads the product team for the digital business and is responsible for product innovation, strategy and development.

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Virtual Mentoring

Harnessing the power of technology to connect college and career ready leaders.

GUEST COLUMN | by Matthew Olson

CREDIT Matthew Olson PhD Putnam County FL with UNF.pngWelcome to CAMP! Collegiate Achievement Mentoring Program, or CAMP Osprey, is a mutually beneficial leadership-development program where collegiate students from the University of North Florida serve as mentors to elementary and middle school students. To overcome the scarcity of available mentors, geographic isolation, and financial barriers faced by our high-poverty, urban, and rural partners throughout the Southeast, CAMP Osprey harnesses the use of videoconferencing to conduct weekly virtual leadership mentoring sessions.

The district is far from the resources of a major university, but through the virtual mentoring program, students are able to meet weekly with their collegiate mentors.

The success of the program is grounded in the implementation of a core leadership curriculum, preparation in the use of videoconferencing technology, adaptation of the mentoring sessions to create an engaging virtual learning environment, and leadership training that mentors and mentees complete collaboratively; solving problems, practicing effective time management and fostering college and career readiness skills. Students also use the weekly virtual mentoring sessions to role-play leadership “soft-skills” including a proper handshake, public speaking, and working with others. In addition, the students use mobile technology to conduct virtual campus visits to college classroom lectures, science lab demonstrations, athletic events, and collegiate student musical performances.

This model is based on the previous initiative at the University of Florida (CAMP Gator), where mentors conducted virtual leadership mentoring sessions with more than 500 students in three states. Participants in both programs experienced increased academic achievement, increased attendance, decreased school suspensions and an increased awareness of diverse communities and cultures.

Benefits for the K-12 Schools

Through the use of videoconferencing technologies, this virtual mentoring program brings the benefits of mentoring to schools and communities that would otherwise not be able to participate due to their geographical locations. One such school is Mellon Elementary, located in rural Putnam County (FL). The district is far from the resources of a major university, but through the virtual mentoring program, students are able to meet weekly with their collegiate mentors and learn the essential skills to become college ready. Principal Joseph Theobold recognized the benefits of the program by stating that the virtual mentoring provides extra focus and effort that can be beneficial to their students enabling them to succeed as they continue through school. He also noted that opportunities like this don’t come along very often in poor, rural districts like Putnam County. and we are so thankful to be able to participate in an enriching program like CAMP Osprey.”

At Oakwood Elementary in Gainesville (GA), Principal Shane Rayburn explained, “Having support and guidance from someone that is outside of the teacher, parent, principal (role) who you think genuinely cares about you – that’s vital to the success of our students.”

Julie R. Alm, Principal of Aventura City of Excellence School located just outside of Miami, attested to the value of involvement with the CAMP Osprey program. She stated, “Our partnership with the University of North Florida has allowed us to offer our students opportunities to receive mentorship from college students. The program is enabling us to support our boys as they hone their leadership skills to positively impact their lives and the lives of their classmates. Students have expressed their pride in knowing that the college mentors are vested in their success.”

Technology: Connecting the University to New Communities

Without the use of virtual mentoring and the adaptation of traditional face-to-face sessions, the University of North Florida would not be able to make these positive connections and impact these partner schools miles away from campus. Technology has brought trained mentors, an innovative college campus and a comprehensive leadership curriculum to these partner schools. In turn, this initiative increases exposure and awareness of the academic programs offered at the University of North Florida, reaching populations that are often underrepresented at the postsecondary level.

Future growth includes the expansion of K-20 virtual mentoring programs to schools throughout the nation and even internationally, in places such as St. Kitts and Belize. Program expansion incorporates the collection and dissemination of research to spotlight the mutually beneficial outcomes for both mentor and mentee. Then, a best practices guide is in development to expand the virtual mentoring model to include strategies that go beyond the field of education towards a universal virtual mentoring framework. Imagine the possibilities that come from the use of virtual mentoring- overcoming barriers of cost, distance, and time. Hopefully, this is just the beginning of an educational mentoring network that will connect university faculty and students with K-12 teachers and students to positively impact learning and leadership development.

Related resources and features:


Matthew Ohlson, PhD, is a 2017 EdTech Awards honoree and part of the Taylor Leadership Institute, College of Education and Human Services at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. Write to:

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Trends | Get into the FLO

CREDIT Zack Gilbert people at EdChat Interactive are excited to roll out their first course on April 17: When We Stop Playing, We All Lose. It’s a micro-course that will be run over two weeks teaching the “FLO” pedagogy to provide practical ways for educators to create fun, challenging learning in the classroom. Over the long haul, classes work best when we are having Fun, when the activities are targeted to Learning goals, and when we are learning with Others. After completing this course, you will be able to:

  • Get to know your students and what they find enjoyable and meaningful
  • Provide learning activities for your students that are authentic and personal
  • Provide your students with the ability to learn from and with others

Full description here, and register here.

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Practical in Prosek

A Czech school’s story of engaging students in the hands-on world of 3D printing.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT Lukas Prochazka.pngEngaged students, creating students — are motivated students. That’s the premise of 3D printing for education from Y Soft, a provider of intelligent enterprise office solutions that build smarter businesses and schools, and empower students to be more productive and creative. With headquarters in the Czech Republic, they employ over 300 dedicated people, serve more than 14,000 customers and do business in more than 120 countries. Founded in 2000, the privately held company acquired be3D in 2014, and continues to lead the way in simple-to-use 3D technology, the sort that has found an easy home in Prosek, a Secondary Technical School in the Czech Republic. Officials there  had a goal to leverage 3D printing so graduating students had the design and computer skills to meet employer’s needs. With the determination of Lukas Prochazka, Deputy Headmaster (pictured, left), they continued to look for the perfect way to use 3D printing technology beginning in 2011 when they purchased their first printer. In 2015, they came even closer to reaching their goal, creating a special classroom equipped with 15 YSoft be3D 3D printers and opened it up to students and teachers. Finally, they were able to fully integrate 3D printing with their own general four-year curriculum. They then added a course on 3D printing not only as an individual subject, but also as a complementary Czech map.pngtechnology to improve the interactivity of lessons in other subjects like CAD or Machine Construction. Most of the printed projects were used towards student graduation requirements. Today, Y Soft and the school keep the classroom open for other school teachers in Prague, so they might learn to use 3D printing in their curriculum. Here, Lukas shares their story in hopes of inspiring other educators well beyond their country to gain insights, get ideas, and to ‘get practical’ about learning.

Your school implemented a 3D printer program in 2010, which apparently, for whatever reasons, did not work out. So what made you want to bring it back in 2015? What changed your mind?

CREDIT 3D lab Prosek Tech Secondary School.pngLukas: It wasn’t like the program failed. In 2010, we purchased our first 3D printer with SLM (Selective Laser Melting) technology and started to practically use it in the education process. We printed one predefined model with a student, and then they tried to design and print their own. Early on, we found this particular technology too cost-demanding for such an approach—we couldn’t afford to let each student print more than one small model—and found it contradictory to an iterative, project-based education. Then we moved to FFF/FDM technology with much friendlier costs. That helped to make 3DP more accessible to students and raised their interest in using the technology even in graduation projects. Then, capacity problems emerged; with one FFF/FDM and one SLM printer, we were unable to satisfy the demand.

I define success as long-term cross-subject usage of the technology with high relevancy to curriculum.

So, we came up with an idea to set up one classroom equipped with an entire fleet of printers. At that same time, upon positive evaluation of the influence the technology had on students, we started to change our education program to focus more on prototyping and to integrate this into more subjects. In total, the process took us six years before we found the most functional way for using 3D printing in our school.

It’s interesting that doing simple things like placing a printer on each student’s desk and leaving them out all the time could make such a huge difference between success and failure. Whose decision was it to not lock up the printers? Was that a big fight, a real challenge?

Lukas: Now it’s different – printers are in a separate part of the classroom for noise reduction and keeping accessibility to others even during classes. But the important thing was keeping the technology as accessible as possible — that was the key focus, even in prior years when the classroom went through different setups. The decision for this approach was driven from my side but formally was a result of my discussion with school management that was open to it. Accessibility is important for several reasons. Eliminating barriers in process, communication etc., goes towards students’ curiosity. It helps to stimulate students will to self-study and supports tech integration across different subjects. It also enables students to use printers for graduation projects as they don’t depend on certain opening hours or certain personnel to be on place. Of course, there are issues connected to such an approach. Keeping printers clean, for example, students forget to clean the print bed after the job is done; switching off others students’ print jobs to avoid waiting for a free printer; monitoring costs. Part of these were solved by implementing new technology for 3D print management. Other issues such as keeping printers clean are still being faced. But it’s really about communication with students.

I imagine boosting student morale is key. How did integrating a working 3D printing program excite the students? Was it ‘making cool stuff’ or that here was something new? Where did the energy boost come from exactly?

Lukas: It’s hard to point to one concrete factor that would motivate them. For some, it’s the encounter with a completely new technology that, with even minimal effort, allows them to create. For others, it was the fact that now they are able to prove their concepts, and adjust them easily and quickly if they don’t work out. A big success was that, students who didn’t experience 3D printing in education so far used the opportunity to try it —from their first days in school — and very quickly learned how to model and print simple objects. This helped them substantially in CAD based subjects. For some, 3D printers were adopted as complementary technology in their hobbies – they started to combine the technology with construction kits like LEGO and electronics (Arduino).

What did they make? Any real-world solutions or more along the line of toys?

Lukas: A functional turbine model with engine. Teaching aid: explaining regulation automation (3D printed modular cones, plus fan, plus ball that levitates). Automated road-junction model – a teaching aid for programming education. Their own 3D printer (Delta type) with 3D printed components. Today our curriculum contains different projects and objects: cell phone covers, covers for electricity sockets, accessories for MTB frame (fork, suspension, breaks) that are tested on a real bike.

Very impressive! Any students use this experience to get an internship? Did this deeper learning with all this help them land a job?

Lukas: A student that created the Delta printer after graduation used his skills in a company that distributes 3D printers in the Czech market – his job was to service them and help install them for customers. At the same time, he became a part of our teachers’ team in Prosek.

Should schools interested in integrating more technology into their curriculum set up a dedicated 3D printing lab? If so, what’s the first step?

Lukas: What I see today among my Czech colleagues is buying a 3D printer without any plan how to use it effectively. Before any school decides to invest money into this equipment, it is crucial to be absolutely clear about their expectations for deploying the technology—complementary technology for different subjects? Tool for graduation projects? This will depend mainly on the overall focus of the school. Then they need to develop a plan for integration: which subjects will use printers? how it will effect the curriculum of those subjects? Based on that, the school can estimate the needed capacity. When those things are solved, then the school has a pretty good idea about 3D printing technology, the number of printers, and the level of accessibility. That means there is no universal solution — a similar 3D printing lab like we have in Prosek might work for some schools; others will find that a different setting is more appropriate.

Why did you decide to go with the particular type of printers you chose?

Lukas: As for FFF/FDM technology, I’ve addressed this previously. SLM is great for those who want to print complex models with different colors but I consider it not suitable for education and not only because of the high price of material. First, complex models that can be created only with a SLM printer are not good for technical education. With those you show to students that anything can be printed but that is not how it works in real life – for mass production (with very few exceptions) 3D printing is still not effective (regarding costs and time). We want to use 3D printers as an enabling technology for more effective and enjoyable education of subjects like the construction of machines. And for that FFF/FDM is more than sufficient while cost friendly. As for real 3D printing models: accessibility outweighs the demands for sturdiness and construction quality. For that reason, we always preferred a closed 3D printer model built mostly form high quality metal parts. The flexible service availability was also important for us. Last but not least we preferred a Czech manufacturer to show students that anyone can come up with great innovations regardless of the country, which they come from. And the YSoft be3D eDee solution that we are using now helps us to administrate, manage and secure printing effectively while not compromising on our commitment to accessibility.

What are your thoughts on education these days? What makes you say that?

CREDIT Prosek Tech Secondary School.pngLukas: I can speak mainly about the situation in Czech Republic. What our education system copes with the most is an insufficient amount of teachers. The average age of the teaching staff in schools of all types is rising and interest in a career in education has been decreasing constantly for last two decades—mainly because of salary conditions that are not adequate to the demands of the job. 
From the perspective of modern technologies, the accessibility for schools is good. However, two problems are blocking technology adoption. First there is – in general and with exceptions – a low willingness to cooperate and transfer the know-how of deploying those technologies in curriculum effectively. The other problem is related to the above-mentioned undersized staff in schools. In order to keep up with the tempo of new technology development, new teachers acquainted with those technologies are necessary.

What are your thoughts on technology’s role in education?

Lukas: Using as actual as possible technologies in school is very important because they determine to a substantial measure the skills the student will need for his or her job in the near future. However, technologies by themselves are not panaceas. What is even more important is if the school and teachers have actually some strategy for using the technology in classes. First, the thing is that if used incorrectly their effect could be detrimental for students as it could give them an incorrect idea about how things work in real life. 3D printing might be a good example – if used in its full potential, students might come to the conclusion that any object, regardless of size, shape or complexity is printable. So they would not think about problems like, “if I design this object that would be made of such components how hard would be to assemble it? Would it work as intended after I put all pieces together?” But thinking this way is what employers are expecting so they are sure that their products could be actually made. So in the case of 3D printing, I focus for example on their ability to help quickly realize and verify prototyping projects when thinking how I can use the technology in classes. A second reason that makes the strategy more important than the technology itself, is success of deployment. I define success as long-term cross-subject usage of the technology with high relevancy to curriculum. And I believe that without the proper strategy that is widely agreed on within the education institution prior to acquiring new technology, you can’t reach that success.

What are a few trends regarding technology in education that you are looking at, some technologies to watch in the next few years? Why those?

Lukas: Honestly, this is quite a hard question for me to answer. On a general level, I see efforts to secure the most current technologies that are now used and that students will work with once they enter their professional life. My experience is connected to a technical education category where, in recent years, different construction kits were massively used. Their value regarding acquiring practical skills is usually very low, so currently schools are trying to change them for real industrial devices which students can use (e.g. CNC machines, 3D printers, etc.). In the near future, I expect the implementation of complex automated systems connected to IT infrastructure to allow simulation of current industrial environments.

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


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A Good Look

Six ways to make data work for teachers and their students.

GUEST COLUMN | by Woody Dillaha and Jeanette Haren

CREDIT Performance Matters.pngThanks to the rise of technology, K-12 teachers have more student data than ever. Even so, it’s not always easy to make decisions based on that data, particularly when it’s siloed into disparate systems.

When data is difficult to access, analyze or share, it can be a challenge to create a holistic view of student performance and growth. It can also be an onerous task to see how different areas might be impacting each another:

  • Has our new mathematics curriculum made a difference in student performance on local and state assessments?
  • Are the instructional strategies I learned in my last professional development course actually improving my students’ mastery of our reading standards?
  • How are factors such as attendance or behavior affecting my students’ academic performance?
  • How can I use student data from our last benchmark assessment in science to shape my professional learning choices?

According to a 2015 report published by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, titled “Teachers Know Best: Making Data Work,” 93 percent of teachers regularly use some form of digital tool as an input to guide their instruction. However, more than 67 percent are not fully satisfied with the effectiveness of the data and tools they have access to.

Here are a few ways to make data work for teachers to help them better support their students’ learning as well as their own professional learning and growth.

Make it easy to access and analyze data.

Teachers have limited time. So, when data systems aren’t compatible or integrated, it can be difficult to carve out enough time to manually collect, aggregate and analyze data.

Good teaching is not just about knowledge or pedagogy, or taking part in PLCs or data meetings. It’s about relationships.

To make it easy for teachers to get a complete view of student performance, choose a student growth system that will integrate with existing data systems. For example, a student assessment and analytics system should include or be          compatible with other key analytics systems — e.g. a Response to Intervention/Multi-Tiered System of Supports system, and an early warning system — and these should all be compatible with the district’s student information system.

Using a student growth system, teachers should be able to:

  • Access data from local assessments, historical state test results, and third party assessments, including drilling to specific standards.
  • “Drag and drop” multiple measures of student performance and college and career readiness, alongside demographic data.
  • Use interactive dashboards and reports to aggregate and disaggregate data for all of their classes and students.
  • See a longitudinal view of each student’s performance as well as their current results to inform personalized, targeted instruction.
  • Securely share live assessment results while maintaining student privacy.

Provide the training and the time for data analysis and action.

Easy-to-use data systems, however, are only part of the solution. Teachers should also be provided with the training and support they need to effectively use these technologies, and analyze and act on that data.

While some teachers may be data experts, others may not. In addition to in-person professional development (PD) on data management and analysis, it is helpful to offer online PD opportunities. This allows teachers to choose the right course at the right time, and complete it at their own pace. Micro-credentialing is also a great way to boost teachers’ comfort levels and skills in working with data.

Another way to build teachers’ expertise is to encourage collaboration. Set aside time in professional learning communities (PLCs) for data sharing and discussions, or create online PLCs. This collaboration not only helps teachers take ownership of their data, but it allows them to share and develop best practices for data-driven instruction and interventions.

Focus on growth, not gotcha.

The quickest way to foster open, honest data sharing is to make sure teachers understand that the purpose of all that data is growth. In districts where data is used punitively against teachers, there is often a sizable gap in trust between teachers and administrators. That makes it difficult to have productive conversations about what needs to happen to improve student growth. Instead, student data — and data from observations and evaluations — should be used to help each teacher create a personalized professional learning path.

A good way to build trust and accountability is for school leaders to schedule regular data meetings with teachers. This creates a setting where teachers can discuss where their students are and what they need to get them to the next level, and leaders can provide the guidance and support to make that happen. The outcome should be an action plan that will be implemented immediately. Following the meeting, real-time data can provide insights into how the plan is working and what needs to happen before the next data meeting.

Look at non-academic data, too.

Good teaching is not just about knowledge or pedagogy, or taking part in PLCs or data meetings. It’s about relationships. Data can provide useful insights to help teachers better understand and address their students’ unique needs, and build stronger student-teacher relationships.

With early warning indicators, for example, teachers can peek behind academic data and stay ahead of the curve. Factors such as attendance, discipline referrals, and mobility can all impact a student’s ability to learn. By digging into data other than assessment results, teachers can find the clues they need to intervene before small problems become large.

Further, by combining academic and non-academic data, teachers can paint a more complete picture of individual students, their struggles and successes. For example:

  • Did David fail his benchmark assessment because he hadn’t yet mastered the standards, or because he was absent for three days during that unit?
  • Did my fourth-period algebra class perform poorly on the practice test for our state assessment because they hadn’t yet mastered the standards, or because there were an unusually high number of discipline incidents that morning?

Armed with this information, teachers can adjust their classroom management and instructional strategies as needed.

Connect student and educator growth data.

Forward-thinking districts are taking this data-driven approach a step further by seeking ways to integrate student and educator growth data. With the right platform, for example, educators can access tools for student assessment development and delivery, as well as professional development, evaluation, and observation. Together these solutions, leveraged with a real-time analytics engine, provide specific, actionable insights that can boost student performance and build educator capacity.

Using a single platform that captures student and teacher actions, teachers can measure the impact of their professional development, as well as their educational programs and tools, to see if they are actually impacting student learning. They can create multi-dimensional views of their students’ growth and their own growth, and see how each is impacting the other.

Place student needs at the center of every decision.

With easy access to real-time data and analytics, teachers can build accountability and focus into their teaching, and ensure that student needs are at the center of every decision. They can adjust their instruction and interventions, and collaborate with their colleagues to close learning gaps and accelerate students’ progress. In addition, they can personalize their professional learning to accelerate their own growth and create a path to continuous improvement.

Woody Dillaha is the president and co-founder, and Jeanette Haren is the chief product officer and co-founder of Performance Matters.

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