Cool Tool | Cognii

Large group of students writing.Cognii uses powerful natural language processing technology to provide automatic assessment of short essay answers and create virtual learning assistants for online education and training. Education platforms today use primarily two types of assessments – multiple choice or human reviewed. Multiple choice question answers lack the measurement of conceptual understanding or critical thinking while teachers are already spending a significant amount of time on grading related work which reduces the time available for instruction delivery and personalization. This company’s automated assessment technology solves these problems and improves students’ learning with more frequent formative assessments, optimizes educators’ time and lowers the cost of delivering engaging education. The primary focus is on engaging students in a constructive conversation by providing qualitative hints and tips when incorrect or incomplete answers are given. This “assessment for learning” is designed to act as a virtual personal learning assistant similar to “Siri for Education.” Their assessment solutions are available to any online educational platform such as K-12 schools, universities, MOOCs, educational publishers, corporate training departments and educational app and game developers. For more information, visit http://cognii.com

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Old School, New School

Managing the new digital classroom.

GUEST COLUMN | by Ryan St Hilaire

CREDIT AbsoluteSoftwareStudents used to pass notes to one another. Now they send texts. Students used to spend hours in the library reading, or doing research. Now they download an eBook or search the web. School announcements used to be made by PA systems. Now they are streamed to classroom monitors. Computer Class no longer exists.

The introduction of new technology has transformed the way students learn and absorb information. Deploying these new technologies can be incredibly cost effective. The emergence of cheap, easy-to-use computing devices like Chromebooks presents an economic alternative to costly textbooks that become outdated quickly. The adaptability of these mobile devices also offers schools new ways to customize curricula, so students are not subject to a static, one-size-fits-all course pack. The early results of this shift from paper to digital content appear to be very promising: in some cases, student performance has improved by double digits. [Click on the image above to see this generational shift.] 

In some cases, student performance has improved by double digits.

The above graphic highlights some telling changes to the traditional classroom. More and more, lessons are being delivered through mobile devices. Content is gradually shifting to digital, and a variety of supplemental aids (video, online assessments, search tools, and context-sensitive hyperlinks) are being leveraged to enhance the learning process. Teachers are no longer the sole information gatekeepers; instead, they are guides to a self-directed learning experience, helping pupils navigate their way through this array of digital tools.

No question, technology is revolutionizing the classroom from the past generation and changing the way students learn and communicate. With new technology, however, has come new risk to the education sector. K-12 schools are currently the top place laptops are reported stolen, with schools with known one-to-one programs being targeted by thieves. Use of these devices also needs to be closely monitored – educators have the added responsibility of overseeing deployed devices to ensure that the content accessed is sanctioned.

Another common issue is the lack of resources. IT departments are often understaffed and underfunded; they struggle to both secure and manage devices. And as new technology like Chromebooks are introduced to grade schools, IT departments can find themselves unable to manage, let alone secure, the variety of devices like iPads, tablets, laptops, and Chromebooks that are now commonplace.

In order to sustain the digital classroom, new technology must be introduced safely and efficiently by administrators. School IT staff must be able to remotely manage and secure all endpoints – regardless of form factor or operating system – from a single console. With a consolidated tool, IT can quickly determine the status of each device, manage typical IT maintenance requirements, and take immediate security actions if required. Furthermore, by leveraging persistent technology built into classroom devices, IT staff can maintain a constant connection to track, manage and secure the devices – regardless of location or user.

The ability to manage multiple devices remotely, from a single platform simplifies the management process and cuts down on hundreds of man hours – especially at the beginning of a new school term when all devices need to be reconfigured with new content, permissions and restrictions.

The digital migration represents an incredibly exciting time to be an educator. And IT is playing an important role in bringing this new learning experience to life. The key to sustaining this new classroom is a comprehensive security and management tool that will increase IT efficiency and foster a safe environment for students and staff who carry school devices.

As VP of product management at Absolute Software, Ryan St Hilaire is responsible for the strategy, roadmap and requirements of Absolute’s products. With more than 11 years of product management and 15 years of technology experience, Ryan is skilled at growing and scaling product management teams. He has a Bachelor of Science, majoring in computer science, from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.

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Evaluating Wireless Needs

Three questions to ask before selecting a K-12 Wi-Fi solution.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jason King

CREDIT ADTRAN erateMobile devices are instrumental in creating an innovative and interactive educational experience in today’s classrooms. To support these advanced digital tools, K-12 IT staff across the country are working to meet new district-wide 1:1 computing and BYOD mobility needs and expectations—but it hasn’t been an elementary task for everyone.

In 2014, the FCC estimated that 50 percent of school buildings have inferior wiring for today’s broadband speeds1, while three out of every five schools lack the wireless needed to deploy educational tools.2

There are several questions that today’s K-12 IT staff should consider in order to make the best network decisions.

Luckily, during the same timeframe, the FCC earmarked $5 billion in E-rate funding to be distributed over the next five years for wireless spending. This funding empowers schools with state-of-the-art Wi-Fi capabilities and enables IT departments to become more nimble and responsive, as well as provide tighter security, increase scalability and be more cost effective.

As IT managers wade through all the options to pick the right wireless solution, there are several questions that today’s K-12 IT staff should consider in order to make the best network decisions for their students, staff and schools.

Question 1: Which is better for my school: a hosted/managed service or managing Wi-Fi onsite?

E-rate now supports managed Wi-Fi networks—an attractive option for conserving budgets and the time IT staff spends maintaining the network. However, schools should not get locked into a long-term subscription model if it does not fit their needs.

The debate of whether to have the Wi-Fi network hosted or to keep it all on-site is an age old question. The answer is really a business decision to determine whether they have the resources to keep provisioning new users and access points (APs), or if offloading those activities to an outside vendor or partner would be most valuable. If offloading is the most attractive option, districts should make sure they have the flexibility to switch back to an on-premises model in the event their circumstances change.

Question 2: Should I go with 802.11n or 802.11ac?

The latest generation wireless standard, 802.11ac, features greatly increased speeds that almost match the wired network. In a cloud-based environment, upgrading from 802.11n to 802.11ac is as simple as a software upgrade and deployment of the new APs. With traditional controller-based Wi-Fi networks, an upgrade to 802.11ac would also require a new controller, adding to the expense and perhaps making 802.11n the most attractive option.

IT staff should also consider that the current marketplace is only on its first wave of 802.11ac APs; products supporting the second wave will be available in the second half of 2015. The second wave of the 802.11ac standard promises speeds of over a Gigabit. If high-speed connectivity is a goal of the Wi-Fi network, IT staff may want to hold out for this generation of APs until wave two is available.

Question 3: What kind of security do I need to ensure privacy mandates?

The security of the Wi-Fi network is paramount. Networks can (and should) be segmented by user populations, such that students, teachers and administration can be segmented into different roles, each with unique and specialized access to the network and applications. Teachers also need to have control over what kind of information students are accessing over the Internet in their classrooms. Additionally, geo-location tracking on devices is helpful for maintaining the security of teachers and students. Even guests who come to a school can be tracked on campus using a location-based service.

Managed service providers are highly experienced with secure networks, delivering multiple levels of industry-standard encryption and fine-grained access controls. This can be particularly important in an environment where students and teachers are using their personal devices, as opposed to devices provided by the school.

There are many ways to optimize your wireless network and the wireless budget. It is important to carefully weigh all available options to ensure the right solution is selected to meet the unique needs of your school and/or district. In the end, it can be as easy as 1-2-3: the school wireless network should (1) enhance the learning environment with (2) reliable wireless connectivity and (3) delivered at a reasonable cost.

1 FCC, “Reply Comments of the Consortium for School Networking,” 2014

2 FCC, “Access to the Underserved: Keeping up with the Times,” June 20, 2014

Jason King is the Director of Marketing for the Bluesocket Business Group at ADTRAN. With over 15 years’ experience in the industry, he is responsible for the overall promotion and positioning of the company’s Wi-Fi solutions. Find him on Twitter @jjking24

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Digital Life Lessons

Three ways to start a digital citizenship conversation.

GUEST COLUMN | by Gillian Wilson

CREDIT CCPSThere are a lot of great resources out there for digital citizenship lessons, including all kinds of modules students can complete, prepared lessons teachers can download and even courses and games students complete online. There is a lot of value in these lessons and many schools are giving at least a fair shake at finding time to imbed these lessons into an already packed curriculum. Students of all ages need to learn about their digital footprint, and the effect it could have on them later in life. Spending dedicated time on such things – be it once a week, once a month or more, can really make a difference in the way students use and understand the Internet.

Slip mini digital citizenship tidbits into your lessons by modeling appropriate use and behavior, and take the time to point out to your students how and why you are doing what you do.

However, the biggest way to show relevance and create retention is to embed these lessons in the everyday, which will stress importance and help create good habits before bad have formed. When immersed in a project or topic you learn a lot of information, but if you move on and don’t use the information, it’s lost. While carving time out to teach the occasional half hour or longer lesson on digital citizenship is important, try to embed 30 second teachable moments in your already planned everyday lessons. As we head further into the new year and for most schools, approach the start of a new semester, resolve to take small steps to help your students build habits for life. Here are three easy ways to start a digital citizenship conversation in your classroom:

  • You are teaching students to find an image for a project or presentation. As part of the lesson, choose to use a royalty free site like pixbay.com or openclipart.org, and explain to the students why you chose this site specifically; or take them through a Google image search, but use the search tools to filter for usage rights.
  • You’ve got your students set up on a site that allows users to choose a profile picture. Have them give suggestions for good pictures. If kids are having trouble identifying what makes a good picture vs. a bad one, use your own as an example. Show them your profile picture, but have it be of another teacher or the principal of the school. Why is this a bad choice?
  • If you’re using a digital message board, type a short joke, have the students read it silently to themselves. “What’s a pirate’s favorite letter? R.” Works well. It’s not funny when you just read it. Now, tell the joke out loud to the students with facial expression, body language and (of course) a pirate voice. R becomes “aaarrggh” and the joke becomes much funnier. This is a great way to demonstrate how intention and tone do not always come across the same way verbally as when you type.

Slip mini digital citizenship tidbits into your lessons by modeling appropriate use and behavior, and take the time to point out to your students how and why you are doing what you do. Show them that being conscious of their digital life is not a once in a while thing to focus on, but standard practice.

Gillian Wilson taught secondary school for nine years before leaving the classroom to become an Instructional Technology Integrator with Chesterfield County Public Schools just outside of Richmond, VA. She is a Google Apps for Education Qualified Individual and loves snow days. Write to: gillian_wilson@ccpsnet.net

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Trends | Demand for Big Data Skills

CREDIT ASA This is StatisticsPick up a magazine or newspaper these days and you’ll likely see something about statistics and data science and how it’s become one of the decade’s hottest fields. Unsurprisingly, the demand for Big Data skills has had a big influence on education from primary school all the way to higher education. For example, the Common Core Standards contain data and statistics requirements that collectively will raise standards for statistics education in a majority of states. There’s also been a steady increase in the number of students taking the AP statistics exam. In 2006, roughly 90,000 students took the AP statistics exam; that figure doubled by 2014, reaching 185,000. The same trend is playing out at the college level. Enrollments for elementary-level statistics courses in fall 2010 exceeded the levels of fall 2005 by 50 percent, rising from 54,000 to 81,000, according to the American Statistical Association (ASA), the largest professional organization of statisticians and data scientists. Organizations like ASA are helping to further reinforce the value of statistics education among parents and students, even waging a national campaign—This is Statistics—to change the image of the field so that it appeals to more young people. Visit www.ThisisStatistics.org, a mobile-friendly site featuring interactive content including videos, a quiz, maps, and more for students, parents, and educators. The underwater scene (pictured) is explained on the campaign site.

 

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