Twisting Fate

An influential music and entertainment exec with a bright view brings lessons to education.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT Julie LeeNamed one of Fast Company’s Most Influential Women in Technology (2010), Julie was most recently one of the founding members of VEVO, the leading all-premium music video and entertainment platform, where she was responsible for defining and executing upon VEVO’s growth strategy with oversight of all business development, business affairs and licensing. Julie previously lead development efforts for Universal Music Group (UMG) with partners including Apple, AT&T and WalMart to deploy new digital products, services and business models. Prior to UMG, Julie was part of Sony Pictures’ digital media incubator, Sony Pictures Digital, where she launched and developed Sony Pictures Mobile, and divested GoPlayTV (interactive TV service sold to YooMedia). So why is she appearing here in an interview with EdTech Digest? If you think of education as knowledge delivery, and look at what she’s already delivered, then you’ll see that she may have a few lessons for everyone to learn. With Edtwist, a collaborative ideation platform for people to grow ideas

Education is the largest industry in the world – over four trillion dollars spent per year. We’re already witnessing a shift in this massive industry to “new media” spend.

together, Julie delivers a search and research tool and collaborative space that moves across Google, YouTube, Wikipedia – and Edtwist itself – to create a new learning environment that is best simply experienced to fully understand. Here, Julie speaks from her own experience in discussing why education is in need of change – and in listening to Julie’s enthusiasm, it becomes clear that its continued transformation will happen because of innovative leaders like her.

You’re not from the education sector, tell me how your background will help you in the technology and learning space.

Julie: Not directly, but most recently as a founding member of VEVO, I helped launch what is now the world’s largest music video platform to enhance the music video experience with the biggest superstars in the industry. I’m incredibly lucky to draw from that experience and launch edtwist with the biggest superstars in knowledge building – UNESCO.

I think the best technology aids in enhancing physical experiences through personalization, community and friction-less consumption. This is the principle I’ve applied in innovative tech-enabled consumer experiences to enhance discovery, consumption and engagement of information in media – whether that’s in the form of movies, television shows or music. Today, education is going through a similar transformation that the media industry once underwent. Physical learning experience is now enhanced through tech-enabled solutions to empower greater personalization and collaboration. I’m applying my passion for enhancing information discovery, collection and creation by utilizing technology to innovate on eLearning with the help of experts in the education sector.

You’ve been called a new media genius. What’s ‘new’ media these days? How can your expertise in this area be of benefit to the education sector?

Julie: Thank you, that’s quite flattering. In the “old days”, new media referred to the manner in which media was transmitted and delivered electronically (vs. physical media like CDs and DVDs). Today, I think “new media” refers to the friction-less manner in which media is available (anywhere, anytime access) and what consumers are able to do with it (interact, co-create, collaborate to make the media more personalized).

Entertainment media went through the evolution of material that was once static to one that can now be mixed, interacted and co-created. A great example is the transition of LPs to user-generated playlists. Fans had limited voice other than through sales but now they have direct voice through immediate viewing and feedback through social channels. I’ve learned a lot about how “new media” transformation requires a bridge between the digital immigrants (creators and publishers) and natives (consumers) to empower the ultimate customer – the fans and in this case, learners. I am applying my experience to creating a learner-centric service that bridges the gap for digital immigrants and natives in the eLearning arena. I envision a world where knowledge creation is made more efficient, fluid and continuously growing through engagement.

You’ve worked and accomplished much in the entertainment industry – will you be blurring the line with edtwist and creating what could be called edu-tainment?

Julie: I happen to believe that the most effective learning is one that is inspired by passion and applicability. A hike can be an opportunity to learn about geology, a swim to learn about physics of buoyancy and the list goes on. If edu-tainment means inspiring learning by making the process of discovery, analysis and consumption of knowledge more fun and engaging then absolutely! I want to help make the sexiest muscle the brain!

What prompted you to move into the education and technology space?

Julie: I was inspired by my curious little boy and his ability to learn through fearless inquiry and exploration. This is the main reason I decided to leave my career as a successful digital media executive and create edtwist. I believe that the line that divides play and study should be erased to fuel learning through everyday experiences.

I am applying my passion for leading digital media transformations to revolutionize e-learning through edtwist, a connected learning platform simplifying research and accelerating knowledge creation.

How would you describe edtwist? How is it different from other curation and collaboration platforms?

Julie: edtwist is a collaborative research platform that takes a fresh twist on research by bringing together premium resources and genuine people to grow ideas together. edtwist empowers knowledge networks like libraries and schools by providing a simplified research tool containing quality content, curation and co-creation tools to grow ideas as a community.

It’s not surprising that many people struggle with finding good information online as there is simply too much data and information to sift through. With 90B searches conducted monthly in the U.S. alone, 7.8M app downloads per day (iOS), 1B websites, and 1M Vines watched every minute, people are lost in information overload.

Good information is out there, but it’s hard to find. In fact, only 25 percent of the 13 billion monthly searches are successful in finding answers and in contextually connecting them with their insights. Knowledge networks may have identified credible channels of information (e.g. Scholastic, JSTOR) but learners struggle in switching and bringing them together. edtwist integrates premium content sources in one place, providing learners with space to collect quality information and co-create for streamlined connected learning experience.

Good information is out there, but it’s hard to find. In fact, only 25 percent of the 13 billion monthly searches are successful in finding answers and in contextually connecting them with their insights. 

It is different from other curation and collaboration platforms as our focus is in accelerating knowledge creation for people seeking to improve their lives and the world around them. This is one of the reasons that our launch partnership with UNESCO is important. We’re helping one of the world’s most important organizations to engage the youth to identify, research and communication solutions to improve the world. We look forward to working with other NGOs and social organizations to provide research solutions to further their mission. Ambassadors and activists can use the edtwist platform to raise awareness around an important topic.

Do you see any direct competition?

Julie: No direct competition but certainly the big search giants with greater resources than our start-up can be innovating in this space. This is one of the reasons we’re finding paths to work with them vs. recreate the amazing solutions they’ve developed to augment the research experience for our users.

Okay. Now, let’s get a little personal. Where do you derive your global view? Were your parents international people? Did you have a mentor or teacher that helped you see the world?

Julie: I’m fortunate to be a Korean-American and moved to Orange County when there weren’t ESL classes available. The result was total English immersion – sitting with a blank look listening and repeating to what appeared to be utter gibberish. I repeated Tom Brokaw speak during his Nightly News broadcast and he became a great teacher along the way. Did I know what I was doing? No, but I picked up English in less than a year.

Growing up, I’ve always had a fascination for ancient history – this, coupled with my immigrant background have fueled a passion for gaining understanding of new cultures through travel (and food). Through my career, I’ve had the great fortune of not only traveling for pleasure but conducting business internationally to fully appreciate the global economy in which we live. Now, as a mom, I’m even more focused on helping my son grow up to be a global citizen.

My greatest mentor was my dad. He was an incredibly hard worker but always made time for me. He also taught me to reach for the sky but to be humble at the same time. He told me about the story of the sunflower – the brilliant bloom that is filled with seeds of experience and knowledge and one that as it gains greater fulfillment, humbly bows so that it can continue growing.

Wonderful, Julie. Very nice! Alright, how does the UNESCO arrangement reflect on your edtwist mission?

Julie: UNESCO was the perfect partner for us to launch the edtwist platform with as their needs aligned with the fundamental problems we’re solving for researchers in general. The UNESCO Youth Forum provided us with the perfect launchpad, as thousands of change agents from all over the world are using edtwist to identify and collaborate on research and brainstorm ways to activate change around the globe. I believe knowledge has transformative powers to change the world for the better and it’s exciting to help support UNESCO’s effort to engage youth to ideate together and share their collective findings to create a chain action for change.

Lastly, your thoughts on the opportunity we have these days with education and technology?

Julie: Education is the largest industry in the world – over four trillion dollars spent per year. We’re already witnessing a shift in this massive industry to “new media” spend. The U.S. alone spends over eight billion per year on educational content and software. MOOCs including Lynda, Udemy and Khan Academy are popularizing e-learning while knowledge networks are getting comfortable with connected learning through implementation of learning management systems. We’re in very exciting times as these advancements help establish a solid foundation for innovation in how we learn through technology.

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

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Cool Tools | GameDesk’s GeoMoto and Pangean

CREDIT GameDeskAn innovative learning games organization just released a couple of new and novel interactive gaming titles for education, GeoMoto and Pangean. Their embodied learning experiences allow players to create and manipulate geographic features with movement. For the IOS, Android, and Leap Controller/PC platforms, GeoMoto and Pangean allow players to learn through direction and movement by creating geographic features by pulling, smashing and grinding tectonic plates and moving entire continents. The games emerged out of research and development and performance testing supported by The National Science Foundation, the National Academy of Science, the Betty Moore Foundation, as well as the Science and Entertainment Exchange. Working in collaboration with content experts from Bill Nye the Science Guy, LucasArts, Cal Tech’s Tectonics Observatory and Boston University, GameDesk merged its assessment-driven and game-based learning design practices to foster deep conceptual learning of various geosciences subjects. GeoMoto, which is now currently available in the Apple App and Android Store for $4.99, invites players to navigate a planet devoid of geographic features. Students are challenged to complete objectives by inducing the movement of tectonic plates, forming mountains, valleys, and volcanoes in the process. The interactive, animation-based learning experience allows students to physically move tectonic plates and observe as a landscape forms on the planet’s surface. Pangean is a didactic puzzle game that introduces the geological concept of continental drift. As galactic members of the United Colonies, players travel the universe in their own scouting ship, using a hologram interface to piece together continents and demonstrate the shift that occurs over 100 million years. Initial levels challenge players to simply move and rotate landmasses, but as the difficulty increases, players are armed with advanced tools that help them complete their final mission of returning present-day Earth to its Pangean state. By leveraging the touch screen of a tablet, GeoMoto and Pangean link students’ tactical actions to Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, resulting in profound understanding and retention of complex material. “During our strategy and development phases of creating any game, we ask ourselves, ‘Will this change the way students learn?’ We feel that GeoMoto and Pangean further our commitment to providing new, interactive learning opportunities, ensuring students are making the right connections,” says GameDesk’s CEO and Founder Lucien Vattel. GameDesk is a 501(c)3 Research and Technology Development Institute whose mission is to develop the next generation model of education, revolutionizing the tools we use and the way we teach. Learn more:

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Trends | Gamification Working

CREDIT Capterra imageRecent research surveying over 400 LMS users has found that e-learning gamification is not only widespread, but incredibly effective. Huge proportions of teachers and instructional designers (83 percent) use gamification functionality, like points and badges, built-into their LMSs. Even more (90 percent) have used learning games to help students learn material, retain it longer, and enjoy it more fully. According to the study, 71 percent report gamification increases student scores, while 83 percent say it improves course content retention rates, and 84 percent say it has increased student satisfaction numbers. The most popular gamification features were points, progress bars, and levels. Though, surprisingly, trendy social gamification features like activity feeds, avatars, and leaderboards were least used and desired by respondents. The research does point to one potential negative with gamification, however: 42 percent say it has increased the costs associated with their eLearning initiatives. But given the overwhelmingly beneficial impacts reported by users, these costs may be more than worth it for most instructors and learning managers. The full research report can be found here.

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Instructional Coaching

How the right relationships help teachers grow.

GUEST COLUMN | by Michael Moody and Maura Dudley

CREDIT Insight Education Group video in the classroomBetween new standards, increased accountability measures, and seemingly constant change, it’s no secret that teachers today face a lot of stress. The most recent Study of the American Teacher from MetLife showed significant declines in job satisfaction among educators, and attrition continues to be a concern for districts across the country. With headlines like this, it’s natural to wonder – Is the joy of teaching and learning fading? Can technology help deter this?

The shift in focus to teacher quality in particular has brought about a greater understanding that teachers need effective supports and resources in order to grow.

Not necessarily – and maybe just the opposite. According to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Impatient Optimist community, there are several reasons to be hopeful about the future of education, including greater access to technology and an increasing appreciation for the value of great teachers.

The shift in focus to teacher quality in particular has brought about a greater understanding that teachers need effective supports and resources in order to grow. And given the connection between teachers’ satisfaction and the level of support they receive, this could make a big difference in educators’ careers – and their students’ success.

Finding the right support

As many educators will likely attest, when it comes to the support and professional development they receive, the problem is not a lack of opportunity, but rather, a lack of quality and connection to their own classrooms. It’s no surprise that one-time “sit and get” sessions, for example, aren’t very effective in enacting lasting change or growing teachers’ practices.

However, one form of professional learning has stood out among the rest: instructional coaching or even better, online video based instructional coaching. The use of video not only improves the process, but increases a coach’s ability to provide feedback from a distance.

According to research from the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, coaching that is both job-embedded and content specific has been shown to improve educators’ practices by helping them make connections to their own classrooms and feel more confident in implementing new strategies.

Making it work

As part of a team of content specialists and coaches at Insight Education Group, we have supported educators around the country and seen firsthand how instructional coaching can create and keep the joy in teaching by building strong, collaborative relationships and achieving goals together.

Over the past two years, I (Maura) have had the wonderful opportunity to work with math teachers in Georgia’s Newton County School System (NCSS) to build their capacity to implement Common Core-aligned instructional strategies through both onsite and virtual coaching using video.

The video technology has made it possible to provide specific, actionable feedback and help teachers engage in meaningful reflection. Just as coaches and athletes rely on game film to analyze performance, video gives observers and teachers a chance to pause and rewind moments to truly see all the moving parts of a classroom. The teachers have quickly embraced the technology, which is no surprise. A recent poll Insight conducted with SmartBrief Education showed that 91 percent of teachers believe filming their instruction would help them improve their practices.

It has been exciting and gratifying to see that not only have students’ pass rates significantly improved as a result of the coaching, but that these teachers have become more invested and enthusiastic about their own professional growth. It was particularly amazing to see several teachers go – on their own accord – to the school board meeting and ask to extend the coaching program.

Maura has been a personalized resource that has provided advice about my strengths and struggles. She has challenged me to enhance my teaching style by being more student focused. 

—Caiti Ewing, Algebra Math Teacher, Eastside High School, Newton County, GA

However, it’s important for educators – particularly district and school leaders – to recognize that not all coaching is created equal, and not all models are so effective.

In order for teachers to feel truly supported by and invested in a coaching program, a strong relationship must be built around trust and respect. According to Elena Aguilar in The Art of Coaching, a coach should foster a safe environment in which teachers can take risks, acknowledge struggles, and celebrate successes. Ultimately, coaches should build the foundation for joyful communities of practice and new outlooks on professional learning.

To help build these strong relationships and improve teachers’ practices through coaching, we believe these four strategies are essential:

  1. Set goals: Before we begin any formal work, coaches and teachers meet to identify short and long-term goals and work to design an ambitious, though achievable, plan to accomplish them together.
  1. Model best practices: Effective coaching is much more than a conversation – it’s showing, not telling. Our coaches demonstrate best practices in the teachers’ unique context and show them how to assimilate and incorporate strategies.
  1. Give actionable feedback: In our efforts to grow as coaches, we have identified the features of effective feedback: it’s specific, actionable, timely and relevant to teachers’ needs.
  1. Provide continuous support: Coaching shouldn’t be seen as a scheduled event. Rather, it’s a relationship that must be sustained through frequent communication and continuous support and feedback. Our coaches regularly share new resources and instructional practices with teachers that are specific to the challenges they face in their classrooms and check in often for successes and to help with new challenges. 

There’s no denying that daily stress in a classroom and the feeling of being underappreciated and unsupported can quell even the best teacher’s desire for excellence. But when a coach and a teacher can connect and together build a safe place for feedback and support, great things can happen.

Michael Moody, Ph.D., is the founder and CEO of Insight Education Group. His experiences as a classroom teacher, school and district administrator, and consultant have given him a unique perspective on both the challenges and opportunities in education today. He regularly shares his expertise and thoughts on the Insight Education Group blog. Follow him @DrMichaelMoody

Maura Dudley is an associate with Insight Education Group. As a math content specialist, she works with school districts across the nation to implement effective instructional strategies and increase student achievement. Follow her @MauraDudley

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Trends | K-12 Apps Grants Awardees


CREDIT Library of Congress ceiling detailThe Library of Congress has awarded $950K in grants to three groups, Muzzy Lane Software (Newburyport, Mass.), the Indiana University Center on Representative Government (Bloomington, Ind.) and the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University (Fairfax, Va.), to develop online interactives and mobile apps on the subjects of Congress and civic participation for use in K-12 classrooms. Awards come through the Congressionally-funded Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) program, a partnership of the Library of Congress and colleges and other educational organizations to deliver professional development programs that help teachers use the Library’s rich reservoir of digitized primary source materials to design challenging, high-quality instruction. The selectees will work with the Library and its TPS partners to develop the interactives and apps. They will use and incorporate not only the Library’s online primary sources, but also many other resources available from the Library. Grantees were chosen from a pool of 33 proposals by panels of individuals with content and technical expertise from government agencies, non-profit organizations, universities, and the Library of Congress. Learn more. And more about TPS.

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