Cool Tool | Coursera

CREDIT Coursera.pngCoursera is a global online education platform, founded with a vision to provide life-transforming learning experiences to anyone, anywhere. Coursera helps dramatically reduce cost, distance and time barriers to provide more than 22 million registered global learners unprecedented access to the best universities – from Yale and Stanford to the University of London and Sciences Po (Paris Institute of Political Studies). Flexibility and choice are central to all Coursera experiences, and their mobile platform – available on iOS and Android – allows users to learn on their own schedule. Whether at home, work or commuting, learners can complete courses through their mobile devices with features such as course browsing and enrollment, calendar integration, offline viewing, and audio mode that make learning on-the-go easy to fit into a busy lifestyle. Coursera has one of the most robust mobile apps among online learning providers and it is heavily utilized and growing. Forty percent of their learners use mobile to learn and 24 percent interact exclusively on mobile. Our modern world is increasingly driven by mobile;  Coursera’s mobile offering uniquely enables successful lifelong learning experiences for not only millennial learners, but provides education in the most accessible way to people across a broad range of geographical, income and education levels. Learn more.

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Low-Tech, High-Impact

MIT learning program challenges edtech assumptions.

GUEST COLUMN | by Richard Larson

CREDIT MIT BLOSSOMS.pngLike it or not, education technology is here to stay. The industry is growing fast, bringing more smart boards, computers, iPads and mobile apps into classrooms. There’s a new and rising focus on the role of robots in schools and more educators are exploring how virtual reality can be used to improve learning. But the in-class reality is, innovation in education doesn’t always have to involve high-tech solutions or devices. There are other, lower-tech approaches that can work just as well.

The in-class reality is, innovation in education doesn’t always have to involve high-tech solutions or devices. There are other, lower-tech approaches that can work just as well.

In my view, the key to improving education is more about encouraging critical thinking, creative thinking, lateral thinking. The people today who inspire innovative companies are individuals who put things together in interesting and compelling ways, who enjoy thinking outside the box and wrestling with challenging situations.

That’s why business leaders have repeatedly called on schools across the country to do a better job of teaching students to think critically, particularly when it comes to the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields where professionals with these key skills are in critical demand. There’s an urgent need to encourage more students to study STEM, but unfortunately the solution is unlikely to depend on the latest techno-gadgets. If we want to motivate more students to pursue STEM careers, we need to show them how the various topics relate to the real world.

That’s the idea behind the MIT BLOSSOMS project (the name stands for Blended Learning Open Source Science Or Math Studies.) It’s about using video to translate the complex into a form that will provide students with a different view of the world, one that will create a foundation for understanding why things work the way they do while, at the same time, encouraging students to ask questions, not merely come up with answers. You might say, “The solution is the process of thinking about, framing and formulating approaches to problems they have not seen in textbooks. The solution is not a number.”

The appeal of BLOSSOMS lessons is that they help students relate STEM to everyday life, and provide teachers with opportunities and ideas for hands-on learning sessions (which take place during designed video breaks.) The point of the interactive exercises is to have students work in teams, rather than be immersed/isolated on an individual device, such as iPads or smart phones.

One BLOSSOMS video, for example, kicks off with a figure skater going into a spin on ice and then, as she spins around, pulls her arms in closer to her body. Why, the video asks, does she go faster and faster the more her arms contract?

Another poses the question: “How do mosquitoes fly in the rain?” After all, if you were being pummeled with objects 50 times your own mass, you might have a hard time staying upright. Nevertheless, the mosquito, weighing a mere one milligram, shrugs off the 50-milligram droplet of water. In fact, she just keeps on flying. Exactly how does she manage to do that? David Hu, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and biology at the Georgia Institute of Technology, takes students through the equations, leaving them at the end with a sense of, okay, I get that. While at the same time, engaging them in a fun and provocative way that might prompt them to view things differently and, perhaps, explore other questions. Perhaps the flying capabilities and/or constraints of drones.

In the decade since launching the BLOSSOMS initiative, we’ve witnessed first-hand what works and doesn’t work when you bring technology in to enhance education in the classroom. And putting the teacher off to the side, essentially removing him or her from the experience, definitely does not. What’s more, we know students learn best not as isolated units but as part of a socially connected group.

That’s why, modest as it is from a technological perspective, MIT BLOSSOMS is ideally designed for learning. The video lessons are designed to effectively move educators away from the scripted lecture format with its emphasis on memorization for tests, to one that promotes active learning and critical thinking. They are presented in a way that students find both interesting and challenging. And perhaps most importantly, they demonstrate to students how many STEM topics relate to their everyday lives.

Our goal is to develop a large, free repository of video modules to be used by math and science teachers in high school classrooms around the world. And, at the same time, to get students excited. We believe we’ve taken important strides in that direction. If we want to put learning goals ahead of technology, then skip the apps, robots and mobile devices and give video lessons like these a regular, leading role in the classroom.


Richard Larson is Principal Investigator of the MIT BLOSSOMS Initiative. He is Mitsui Professor of Engineering Systems and Director of the Center for Engineering Systems Fundamentals at MIT. He is also the Founder and Director of MIT LINC (Learning International Networks Consortium), an MIT-based project that has held four symposia and sponsored a number of initiatives in Africa, China and the Middle East. He first became interested in technology-enabled education when in the early 1990’s he saw what a valuable addition it was to the education of his own children. From 1995-2002, he served as director of MIT’s Center for Advanced Educational Services (CAES) where he focused on bringing technology-enabled learning to students living on the traditional campus and to those living and working far from the university, often on different continents.

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Cool Tool | Albert.io

CREDIT Albert.io.pngStudents looking to master difficult academic subjects should check out Albert.io for their interactive learning needs. The successor to Learnerator, which over a million AP learners have turned to for academic help, Albert.io features tens of thousands of practice questions for a variety of subjects including but not limited to the APs, SATs, ACTs, GMAT, GRE, and college-level courses. With Albert.io, students can pinpoint what they need the most help on by selecting a unique set of tags to curate a truly personalized learning experience. Try out Albert.io for yourself.

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Cool Tool | Tinkercad

CREDIT Tinkercad Glanton Elementary.pngTinkercad is an easy, browser-based 3D design and modeling tool for all. It is also a perfect 3D printing companion – it allows students to imagine anything, and then design it in minutes. Tinkercad is used by designers, hobbyists, teachers, and kids, to make toys, prototypes, home decor, Minecraft models, jewelry – the list goes on and on. No design experience is required, one doesn’t need to know CAD to make and 3D print very cool 3D models. Check out some of the user-generated designs on their website. It’s a tool that includes a mobile app for middle and high school students and keeps them engaged and interested in learning more. Learn more.

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Bent on Discovery

Insights, trends, and analysis from a veteran leader in the edtech space.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero


CREDIT Scott Kinney Discovery Education.jpgSCOTT KINNEY

Title: Senior VP Education PartnershipsOrg: Discovery Education

Reach: 4.5M educators, 50M students

Fame: EdTech Leadership Award

Quote: “Any classroom technology, from the pencil to the iPad, should have as their end goal the improvement of student achievement.”

Looking Ahead: “I think the rise of embedded formative assessment is one development that will really change teaching and learning in the future.”


An acknowledged thought leader and powerful voice dedicated to supporting the success of each learner, Scott Kinney has nearly 25 years of experience in the fields of professional learning and educational technology. As Discovery Education senior vice president of education partnerships, Scott collaborates with educators and administrators around the world to develop and implement customized solutions that empower them to meet strategic goals and build modern, digital learning environments supporting student achievement. Under his leadership, Discovery Education is serving 4.5 million educators and over 50 million students around the world, and transforming teaching and learning in half of U.S. classrooms, 50 percent of all primary schools in the UK, and in more than 50 countries.

The true strength of the American public education system lies in the administrators and teachers at the front lines of the effort to prepare students for life beyond graduation. 

Previously, Scott served as Discovery Education’s senior vice president of professional development. In this capacity, Scott led the creation and launch of Discovery Education’s professional learning portfolio and managed all facets of the professional development line of business. During his tenure at Discovery Education, Scott also launched the Discovery Education master’s degree in instructional media, oversaw all Discovery Education public policy initiatives at both the state and federal levels, and supervised the continued growth of the organization’s professional learning community, the Discovery Educator Network.

Scott regularly consults with high-level education officials and policymakers, and has testified before Congress on the future of learning. An accomplished public speaker and author, Scott has keynoted countless education conferences, presented at numerous administrator events, and has contributed articles and opinion pieces to various education publications. In 2015, Scott was recognized by EdTech Digest with its prestigious Leadership Award for his efforts to support school systems worldwide as they transition from static textbooks to dynamic digital content as a core instructional resource.

Prior to joining Discovery Education, Scott spent 15 years in public education, serving at both the school district and regional service center levels. In addition to his K-12 work, Scott has taught undergraduate and graduate classes for Kent State University and Penn State University and has served on numerous education-focused advisory boards.

What is the state of the edtech industry in 2017?

Scott: The state of the edtech industry in 2017, in my opinion, closely mirrors the state of K-12 education nationwide in the sense that, like classroom teaching and learning, the edtech industry is undergoing a period of tremendous change.

As I look back at the industry’s impact on education over the last decade or so, I think you can see some distinct phases.

As I look back at the industry’s impact on education over the last decade or so, I think you can see some distinct phases. In the first phase, the focus was on hardware and devices. Across the country, we saw a proliferation of laptops, tablets, digital whiteboards, student response devices, and other pieces of hardware. Relatively quickly however, I believe educators realized that, without truly understanding how these new technologies supported effective instructional practice, these devices were, well, just machines.

This realization led to the second phase of edtech’s impact, which was marked by the rise of high quality digital content. During this period, the content industry caught up with the hardware industry, and began creating and distributing the high quality digital content that make the various pieces of hardware, now ubiquitous in classrooms, truly impact teaching and learning.

That brings us to the edtech industry’s current state. With the rise of OER and many choices in hardware and various technologies, educators find themselves awash in content and devices. Today, I think the really successful companies in edtech are saying to their school-based partners, “Look, you have a lot of choices to make in terms of content and hardware, and we know that the way your teachers teach is going to change based on the decisions you make, so let’s work together on a seamless plan that is going to help you choose the right digital content, the proper devices on which to deliver that content, and the professional development your educators need to help you realize a return, or digital dividend, on your edtech investment.”

Companies that are ready to provide that type of support to school systems today are the ones that are best prepared to help schools improve teaching and learning well into the future.

What do you think has changed in the last five years? 

Scott: As I speak with school leaders across the country, I hear all the time that the biggest change in education has been the rise of new education stakeholders.

For years, the stakeholders in education could be counted on one hand: the board of education, teachers, students and, to a lesser extent, parents. However, the number of local stakeholders have grown tremendously in the last five years. With information now ubiquitous, no longer are school communications disseminated once a month through the local newsletter. Today, the availability of real-time data related to curriculum, school performance, and spending decisions have made the inner workings of our community schools almost completely transparent.

This increased transparency has resulted in everyone from community groups to local businesses having a view into the administration of their school system, and social media has provided the platform from which the new stakeholders can voice their opinions. Sometimes these groups have varying needs and conflicting objectives, but no matter their stance, school administrators must work hard to be responsive. Managing these groups, and meeting their sometimes-conflicting needs, has made the school administrator’s role exponentially more challenging.

This trend is mirrored on the national level. The number of organizations contributing to the national dialogue on education has grown tremendously over the last five years. New organizations representing the business community, parents, teachers, and others have sprung up to advocate at the national level for the many new voices in education, which personally, I see as a tremendous benefit. The more ideas and the more perspectives brought to the national discussion on improving education for all learners, the better.

How have you seen the role of service providers change in that time period?

Scott: Five years ago there was very much an “us and them” relationship between service providers and school systems. However, since then, we at Discovery Education have seen this dynamic change considerably, and I believe today, school systems now see us as their partner.

A couple of things are driving this change. On one hand; school leaders are looking for more from their service providers. There is a realization that a company like Discovery Education, which is working with school districts across the country, has a lot of value-added expertise it can bring to the table. We can say, “You know, we’ve worked with a school district like yours, over here, and they had the same challenge, and they overcame it by doing this, this, and this. Can we show you how they did it? Can we connect you to the school leaders that worked on this challenge so you can learn from them?” It is these kinds of value-added conversations that build trust and help grow more positive relationships between services providers and school districts.

In addition to school districts looking for more from their service providers, I think the businesses serving educators have made a significant change to how they operate as well. For instance, from the CEO on down, there is a belief at Discovery Education that we only succeed as a company when our educational partners succeed. I think that ethos drives our team to go the extra mile or take the extra step to make sure the schools we are working with see great results.

Discovery Education has been around for more than a decade. What do you think contributes to your organization’s staying power?

Scott: Part of the reason we’ve been so successful for so long is the corporate culture I spoke about earlier: “we only succeed when you succeed”. The school systems we work with recognize the fact that the Discovery Education teams that come to their school district are ready to roll up their sleeves and help them meet their goals, and that this attitude has helped us grow a lot of strong, long-term relationships with the school systems we serve.

After all, if one of our district partners utilizes our services and does not see the academic achievements they expect, I’m sure they would not look to us for further support, and frankly, they are going to tell all their colleagues and friends about their experience. However, the opposite is true is well. If we deliver on our promises and our school-based partners see academic gains, we have confidence that we will expand their relationship with us over time.

The role of the educator is changing as technology becomes more prevalent in teaching and learning, and I think two factors are driving this shift.

The other factor contributing to our longevity is the quality of our services. Our product development, curriculum, and professional development teams are, in my opinion, the most talented folks in the industry, and are dedicated to developing and delivering the best-in-class digital resources and professional development services. So, when you put together a winning corporate culture and truly top-notch services, I think you have a recipe for success.

As technology integrates deeper into teaching and learning, how have you seen the role of educators change?

Scott: The role of the educator is changing as technology becomes more prevalent in teaching and learning, and I think two factors are driving this shift.

The first factor is the realization that we know more about what good instructional practice looks like than any other time in history. I believe one of the most important roles technology can play in the classroom is to support those practices. Things like formative assessment, differentiation, etc. have always been employed by great teachers. Today, however, I think technology gives educators the ability to utilize these proven instructional practices at scale and in a way that was simply not possible five years ago. The understanding by educators that technology can help them better apply best practice to their classroom instruction is motivating educators to transform their teaching.

In addition to technology empowering educators to scale good instructional practices, I believe that in the Information Age, where every fact and figure is at students’ fingertips, the educator can be much more impactful showing a student how to apply, analyze, and evaluate information than they can be simply delivering information. In today’s world, there is a growing understanding that the ability to help students achieve these higher levels of understanding and ultimately create new original thoughts and ideas, truly defines the evolved, 21st Century educator.

I believe that most school district leaders, and indeed, most teachers, understand that these concepts are reshaping teaching, and for the most part, educators at all levels are comfortable with this new reality. Eventually all educators evolve their practice, but if we want to accelerate this change, we need to get serious about a true, systemic investment in professional development.

What’s the next big innovation that will change teaching and learning?

Scott: I think the rise of embedded formative assessment is one development that will really change teaching and learning in the future.

For the past several years, Discovery Education has been working with districts to replace their traditional print textbooks with a digital core instructional resource that incorporates multiple languages, reading levels, media types, etc. Along with providing content that meets the needs of diverse learners, we are also incorporating into our services formative assessments that help educators gather and analyze data on student learning and promote academic growth.

We believe that assessment does not need to be distinct from instruction, but that our checks for understanding can be rolled up in a way that meet the needs of both students and teachers. After all, what educator wants to stop “teaching” to start “testing”? I think if the technology can grow to the point at which the line separating teaching and testing disappears, everyone wins.

Got any stories that really capture how service provider/school system partnerships truly improve education?

Scott: So, one day, I was sitting at my desk and I received an email from a school administrator in South Texas with the subject line: TECHBOOK.

As I read this email, I learned that a student in this administrator’s Texas school district, who for a long time had struggled with their schoolwork, finally had an academic breakthrough. In the past, since the student’s parents did not speak English, they could not help with their child’s homework because all the materials were in English. However, the administrator reported that since the school system began using our Techbook and its Spanish translation, the student’s grades improved tremendously because the parents could now support their child’s academic efforts at home by toggling back and forth between the English and Spanish translation.

For me, that story really encapsulates the impact school systems and service providers can have on learning when they collaborate.

While there are some very serious political, demographic, and economic challenges facing education today, I firmly believe that America’s public education system is among its greatest success stories.

What are your thoughts on the state of education today? What makes you say that?

Scott: While there are some very serious political, demographic, and economic challenges facing education today, I firmly believe that America’s public education system is among its greatest success stories.

Yes, there are some brilliant education policy makers, service providers, and political leaders at the top of the pyramid who are supporting public education in important ways. However, the true strength of the American public education system lies in the administrators and teachers at the front lines of the effort to prepare students for life beyond graduation.


CREDIT Scott Kinney Future of Learning hearing 2009.png

Flashback. Scott Kinney speaking at a 2009 hearing before the Education & Labor Committee, U.S. House of Representatives, in Washington, D.C., on The Future of Learning: How Technology is Transforming Public Schools. Scott has been a longtime advocate of modernizing learning.


The administrators I meet with on a daily basis are truly dedicated to their students’ success. They have high standards for their students and have an equally high standard for their teachers. They seek to improve their teachers’ classroom practice through effective professional development, and they treat parents as partners in the effort to have each student reach their highest potential. Finally, they are inclusive leaders that seek the input of a variety of stakeholders across their school systems.

Likewise, the classroom teachers I meet through the Discovery Education Community are also a source of my optimism. Like their administrators, they hold their students to high standards and they seek to build great relationships with their students. They are creative, prepared, and organized. They are masters of their subject matter and communicate frequently with parents. They innovate and believe that failure really is just the first attempt in learning.

With administrators and teachers like this, I have no doubt that no matter the current situation, the future of teaching and learning in our country is bright.

Your thoughts on the role technology should play in education today?

Scott: In a sense, technology has always been in education. Pencils, books, chalkboards, they all are technologies. So, I think we really need to ask ourselves, what is the role of the latest generation of technology in education, and I think the answer there is simple: to improve student achievement.

Now, that will look different in different circumstances. Some technologies help teachers improve their professional practice. Other technologies better engage students in learning. And some technologies help teachers measure student progress to goals. Collectively, all these technologies work to support and inform teachers when designing instruction, selecting teaching strategies, and choosing materials and resources, ultimately leading to improved student achievement.

No matter the scenario, at the end of the day, any classroom technology, from the pencil to the iPad, should have as their end goal the improvement of student achievement.

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

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