Can After-School Programs Bring Blended Learning to the Masses?

BL at CSC

McNair Middle School’s 1:1 experience

It is clear that school is not the sole provider in a community’s educational system and after-school programs play an integral role in extending the learning day for many students. Given the flexibility around content and program model, out-of-school time (OST) providers often have the unique ability to innovate more quickly than traditional public schools. These innovative after-school programs can drive better blended learning adoption, bringing effective personalized learning opportunities to students beyond just those in charter schools

I witnessed this first hand during my time at Citizen Schools, a nonprofit founded back in 1995 with the mission to revive the apprenticeship model and bring relevant, project-based learning opportunities to students after school. In California, they have forged strong partnerships with prominent tech companies such as Google and Cisco to introduce students to web development, creating Android apps and the BizWorld entrepreneurship program. 

Tinkering with the Model

Over the past few years Citizen Schools has experimented with various blended learning approaches, drawing on best practices from tech-focused charter schools to bring personalized instruction to more students. In California, pilots began in 2010 using  TenMarks and Khan Academy during homework help sessions. Those early informal trials showed the potential for these online tools to augment math instruction without it feeling like ‘more school.’ This year Citizen Schools is continuing with pilots at two sites, Ronald McNair Academy in East Palo Alto and Bronx Writing Academy in New York, with plans to expand pilots to approximately ten schools this fall.

Leadership, at the school and program level, is integral to running an effective site. In launching the program at McNair this year, Citizen Schools recruited Adrian Breckel who was formerly Academic Dean at Rocketship, a leading blended learning charter network. Breckel has worked tirelessly with Ravenswood School District and McNair’s Principal, Jen Gravem, who have been cautiously optimistic about how the Citizen Schools team can help implement this model.

iReady

Let Me Upgrade You

The shift to blended learning at McNair has been in the works for years. In 2011 the school received a School Improvement Grant (SIG) from the Department of Ed, which they used to fund a major technology upgrade which included going 1:1 and and installing state of the art projection and sound systems in each classroom. This tech overhaul also included an investment in selecting iReady as their core software system. Breckel shares that “the usage of this technology (hardware) is fairly integrated throughout the day in different ways; teachers use projectors and doc cams fairly regularly and also assign homework that includes using the districts portal and tools such as the internet and Google Docs.” However, the usage of online software is inconsistent since there is not official guideline or push on how to integrate iReady into instruction. This is where Citizen Schools stepped in to help integrate iReady and create more consistent personalized learning opportunities.

Early Signs of Success

Though the blended learning pilot just launched back in November there have been some clear signs of effectiveness. The iReady dashboard and other software tools help streamline communication between the school day and after-school educators, making it easier to meet student needs. Another benefit is teachers have more flexibility with flipped classroom approaches, including assigning homework via Google Docs, knowing the kids will have access to laptops and the network after school. (This is such an important piece of this work in communities where most kids do not have access to devices and internet at home.) Beckel is most excited about the ability for her educators to conduct small group instruction, which was a crucial aspect of Rocketship’s model.

IMAG0259

One class’s system for tracking time and success on program

The district recognizes that creating a culture of experimentation during the after-school hours enables them to test other approaches, such as the new computer-based assessment coming from SmarterBalance. The District’s STEM Coordinator, Robert Pronovost, who has extensive knowledge of blended learning has been a strong ally. Pronovost and colleagues from the district, Soloman Hill and Liz Gordon-Stoll, have gone above and beyond to show their support by teaching apprenticeships themselves. Hill, the Director of Technology, combined his own passions to design an apprenticeship entitled “Jedi Consulting” which allows students to learn about many new technologies and become consultants for school districts who are looking to implement technology successfully. This apprenticeship requires that students gain an intimate knowledge of different aspects of tech tools including usage, pricing, success rates, functionality, as well as assessing school needs.

This type of collaboration between the school, district and Citizen Schools is instrumental in making the program successful. This marriage between integral entities in the school system models how after-school providers can bring much-needed energy and talent to help schools create effective blended learning environments for more students.

Preparing Educators to Blend Learning

ZayaPDWorkshop

One of the most important aspects of creating successful blending learning environments is preparing educators to effectively manage the students, data and tools available to them. In this final post in the 3-part series on Zaya.org, Soma Vajpayee, Co-Founder & Director of Training, shares some insights on how they are identifying and preparing educators to run Zaya Learning Labs in India.

I’m baffled by how we prepare educators to create personalized, differentiated learning environments by asking them to all sit through the same 6+ hour training session and then hand them a binder of materials to review on their own. (Isn’t this exactly what we want tech to help change in our current learning processes?) Luckily more and more players in the edtech space recognize that in order for tech integration to truly impact learning outcomes, educators need to be prepared to lead and guide students through these new learning experiences.

The key to blended learning is the ongoing feedback, which I believe is actually more important than the content itself if we see the goal as developing critical thinking skills and not just  knowledge acquisition. We are wired to learn by doing and responding to immediate feedback, which educators need just as much as the students do.

Improving teacher PD is a major issue and even startups that are not specifically targeting the K12 space are taking on this challenge. Coursera has a growing number of Teacher Professional Development MOOCs geared towards educators looking to improve their understanding and instruction in their rapidly evolving classrooms. Last fall Vajpayee and I attempted to participate in their Blended Learning MOOC, but unfortunately neither of us made it past the first couple weeks. (This hints at the core issue with purely online PD as my early optimism waned quickly.) With this in mind, she recognizes that while there are numerous resources online, her ability to engage her instructors during their offline sessions is critical.

Adding to that, a growing number of educators are participating in self-directed PD, supported by tools such as Sanderling and Twitter chats that encourage educators to connect and share their experiences. Vajpayee created the Zaya Learning Community group on Facebook to organize and stimulate sharing within the Zaya community.

Vajpayee shares some of her thoughts from the past year of recruiting and training the first set of Zaya educators.

How did you recruit the educators to run the first set of Zaya Labs? 

Identifying the right educators to lead our programs is an important part of our process. Zaya has partnered with Teach For India (TFI) and other women’s empowerment programs like SNEHA and to selectively screen candidates who have the knowledge, passion and energy to pilot these early programs with us. Our most effective early educators have been TFI teachers as they are a bunch of motivated and young people who are mission aligned to improve the education standards by using technology as an accelerator.

How are you blending the training sessions for your educators?

Once we’ve identified those individuals they participate in a 3 day, in-person orientation conducted in a blended learning fashion using the rotation model. From the very beginning we model for the educators what we want them to be doing with the students and believe this is incredibly powerful for them. They themselves experience the new learning style we seek to create for the students.

The initial teacher training program was formulated based on detailed competency required for a Zaya teacher like pedagogy, technology and classroom management, which includes reviewing case studies from Rocketship, KIPP and learnings from other blended learning sites. We are also creating our own library of resources which includes research on blended learning and “how to” technology related videos and feedback/ideas videos from our advisors.

ZayaTeacherPDRubric

During first two months of implementation we invest a significant amount of time coaching and monitoring each class. Using a detailed teacher rubric (formulated by a volunteer from UCLA) we are able to measure at a micro- competency level where each teacher stands. This is done more frequently at the beginning of the session and then once more at the end.

Based on early feedback we are developing self-paced modules for the teachers to refer to on a regular basis. We are curating the content from free resources and making our own videos with expert teachers.

Even with all the high-quality content we’ve made available online we directly see the importance of face-to-face time. We meet once a quarter to hold small discussion sessions and share success stories. This is an iterative process and will be refined as the platform becomes stronger and Zaya will be more attuned to working with more diverse group of educators.

What could be done to share learnings across different sites and even programs beyond Zaya?

The real magic in blended learning is collecting and analyzing the data effectively to improve instruction, and doing this well is extremely difficult. Even at the top blended learning sites in the Bay Area I observed some of the challenges they face given all the different software tools that don’t communicate with each other.

Beyond that, are we even collecting the right data? We should think more about how data is being mined for “student interaction” with the content and how they are learning it. We need to be able to look beyond which videos students watched and the exercises they completed.

Lastly, we need a uniform tagging nomenclature followed by content providers and shared across schools, content providers and teachers that are mutually agreed upon so that students benefit. The US seems to be moving towards this with the Common Core but there is still quite a ways to go.

Beyond Tech in the Classroom to Deeper Blended Learning

This is a follow-up post to Zaya.org: Bringing Blended Learning to the Base of the Pyramid.

IMG_2520

Soma Vajpayee, one of the co-founders from Zaya.org made her way to the Bay Area last September to observe some top-performing blended learning schools in action and is now working to incorporate those methods into their work on the ground in India. Zaya’s approach to blended learning in India is two-fold: 1) implementing blended learning in low-cost private schools and 2) creating new blended learning centers through their Learning Labs model. She optimistically recognizes a shift taking place from simply having technology (mainly tablets) in the classroom to actual blended learning practices that include dramatically different instructional practices with deeper emphasis on improving learning outcomes.

Vajpayee shared more of her insights and what she’s bringing back with her to Mumbai.

What were your expectations for the blended learning school visits?

My goal for this trip was to observe a few blended learning classrooms in the Bay Area, as it has been the fountainhead of innovation in education technology. At Zaya we have been researching various blended learning models, such as Rocketship, KIPP and Alpha Schools and it was inspiring to meet with those school leaders and hear some insider perspectives.

We have incorporated approaches from these models into our initial teacher training sessions to introduce our educators to new instructional practices and set expectations for these new learning environments.

What were some highlights from speaking with these people who are pioneering innovative teaching/learning practices?

I was so grateful to meet with some of the thought leaders in this space, including Greg Klein from the Rogers Family Foundation and Jennie Dougherty from KIPP. Given my focus on teacher training it was great to hear some of the innovative approaches around preparing teachers for effective blended learning instruction. Many people are focusing on developing the software and devices that is fueling this movement, but we believe developing educators to run blended learning environments is the key to successful outcomes for students.

Dougherty shared that KIPP’s seen early success “by creating ‘blended learning champions’ in each school who in turn trains the other teachers in the school.” Similarly, Klein has built a strong teacher feedback loop for his network of Oakland sites, with a few blended learning experts that provide on-going tech support and coaching. While these innovative schools are experimenting with different PD models, I noticed that a scientific and structured way to measuring the teachers performance seems to be missing.

Beyond teacher preparation, John Glover, Principal of Alpha Schools, shared that his key issues are data collection from the various learning programs they are using in the different subjects and also the accurate tagging of skills and competencies to the content.

IMG_0851

What struck you as the biggest differences between blended learning sites in the Bay Area vs. India?

The investment in hardware and infrastructure in the US is astounding. While I’ve read a bit about 1:1 methods it was another thing to walk into a classroom and see each student with their own Chromebook. Beyond the hardware, the investment in the connectivity was significant with one KIPP school sharing that their broadband setup cost ~$1M. These systems are all still very basic in India and it is unlikely to see schools make this type of investment.

With regards to the educators, they were extremely competent and it helps a lot that the typical charter school teacher is young and relatively comfortable using technology. In India, we see a huge variation in the quality of teachers and even fewer teachers who are proficient in using innovative ways of teaching. An interesting revolution that has started for the last 5 years is the influx of young and motivated individuals who join the workforce for two years of focused teaching at the bottom of the pyramid, through Teach for India. They create a change in the way teaching works in their isolated classroom, however, as you can imagine the bigger challenge is to sustain positive change beyond those isolated classrooms.

As for students, charter schools in the US serve a similar population of students as Affordable Private schools in India, so I noticed that there is a similar hunger to learn. The use of technology in the classrooms has instilled a new sense of engagement in their own learning which is really motivating our work.

Lastly, what innovative practices have you observed in India that could be shared to the US?

This is an interesting question since most of my focus has been bringing innovative practices to India. We at Zaya are working on an education solution which is an on and offline delivery model outside of the traditional school system. Our Learning Labs create blended learning environments where there is no internet or even electricity, and even space is a constraint. This innovative “class in a bag” package is definitely a scalable and shareable model.

Zaya.org: Bringing Blended Learning to the Base of the Pyramid

I first met Neil D’Souza in the fall of 2011 after hearing him speak at the Global Education Conference which just wrapped up this year’s sessions last week. As he shared his story of leaving his comfortable job at Cisco to travel to Mongolia and Indonesia to prototype ideas around improving educational opportunities for low-income kids, I was compelled to learn more about his approach. Even with the explosion of free online/OER content Neil was struck by all the hardware (remember OPLCs?) that sat around, under-utilized. One of the main reasons for that being lack of connectivity.

In just two years what began as D’Souza’s early experiments as Teach-A-Class in orphanages in Mongolia has evolved into Zaya.org, reaching 1200 students through 5 schools in 4 countries. EdSurge recently profiled Zaya’s progress in Mumbai, contrasting their slow approach with the tumultuous journey of the now infamous Indian edtech startup Educomp.

ZayaMumbaiLab

Zaya’s long and patient approach represents their deep focus on improving learning outcomes for low income students in a sustainable manner. To help support work in this sector the Zaya team has recently published a whitepaper (pdf), Overcoming Challenges to Bringing Blended Learning to the Base of the Pyramid, which explores some of the pain points they are tackling in implementing blended learning at affordable private schools in Mumbai, India. Some of these issues include “unreliable electricity, limited or no access to the internet, and a lack of funds to maintain technology.” Beyond the resource limitations and logistical issues, the report cites the main issues are knowledge gaps where “many school leaders and teachers do not understand how to use the technology, much less how to implement it.” Sound familiar?

The report goes on to outline a case study of overcoming some of these resource and connectivity issues by implementing the Zaya Lab Kit at an affordable private school (APS) in Mumbai. However, as with many edtech endeavors, the key challenge lies in overcoming the knowledge gaps by providing educators and school leaders with the training and on-going support they need to integrate the online content in a meaningful way. One of the co-founders, Soma Vajpayee is solely focused on the Professional Development (PD) piece; recruiting and preparing a team of educators to build the first set of Learning Labs. Zaya’s partnership with Teach For India (TFI) helps attract bright and energetic educators looking to experiment with blended learning practices in their classrooms, but training them to successfully run Learning Labs is a crucial and often over-looked step in the process.

In an effort to bring best practices around blended learning instruction to India, Vajpayee recently made her first trip to the US to meet with practitioners and observe schools experimenting with blended models. In the next two of this 3-part series I’ll cover Vajpayee’s tour of key blended learning schools in the Bay Area, including visits to Alpha Schools and the newly opened KIPP high school in San Francisco. I’ll share her insights and global perspective on blended learning, including what translates between learning environments in India and California and what is needed to prepare teachers for this “new” style of teaching.

What Does Blended Learning look like for Educators?

Last night I began my first Coursera MOOC (massively open online course) entitled Blended Learning: Personalizing Education for Students, taught by some of the key folks who are driving this movement. I watched the four short videos for this week, participated in the quizzes and poked around in several of the already active discussion forums. The first homework assignment (which I haven’t done yet, don’t judge me) is to post your own definition of blended learning. While it would be premature to make any meaningful assessment about this particular course, I’m struck by how much of the conversation around blended learning for students is about personalization, self-paced instruction with some component of creating/making, while much of the professional development I’ve seen for educators is not.  While MOOCs have a certain appeal to some, if you don’t learn well from watching video lectures, then you’re pretty much out of luck as self-paced is not the same as personalization.

Earlier this week I participated in a small discussion at the Krause Center for Innovation (KCI) with school leaders, funders and entrepreneurs who are really thinking about blended learning PD for educators. KCI, which has been serving K12 educators since 2000, offers one of the best edtech PD workshops in the country, the MERIT program. While it is not explicitly teaching educators how to manage ‘flex/station/rotation’ blended learning environments, it is empowering educators with the knowledge, confidence and support system to experiment with various tech tools and strategies. KCI also offers some less popular online courses that they themselves admit are not as effective. While KCI has an incredibly effective offline experience if MERIT teachers want to engage online they do so on their own through Twitter and other online communities where educators gather. It seems that most PD opportunities for educators still fall in one camp and have yet to be blended.

During my session at KCI I was introduced to the TPACK Model.
TPACK Model
This visual representation really captures the complexity in developing ‘Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK)’ where teachers seek to understand how their knowledge in the three areas of tech, teaching and content shapes their teaching practice. I think we can all agree that this will not be achieved through teacher PD MOOCs alone, while they may be one valuable piece of the blended learning puzzle.

Gay Krause, Founder of KCI, acknowledged a real shift in thinking amongst school administrators.  Where previously school leaders required convincing, often asking ‘why do we need to this?’, now more often they are asking ‘how can we implement technology effectively?’.  Demand for blended PD exists and is growing.

If the blended learning movement is to truly become mainstream and lead to learning gains for students in schools beyond high-functioning charters (like the 3 highlighted in this MOOC), then we must provide personalized, high-quality blended learning for our educators. And let’s remember the exciting aspect of effectively blending instruction is that it will free up time for students to make stuff; work on projects to stimulate deeper learning. In a recent post from KQED MindShift on empowering educators, they highlight the importance of collaboration and creating opportunities for educators to be makers as well.

For a majority of students their teachers are the gateway to their learning experience, so if we do not adequately prepare and support educators I doubt we’ll see high-quality blended learning really take off.

What do you think? Have you participated in any exceptional blended PD? What has been your experience with PD MOOCs? Please leave your comments below or tweet me @Jessie_Arora.

Angela Estrella: Empowering Educators to Embrace Edtech

Profile #2 in the Teacherpreneur Spotlight Series that I’ve produced in collaboration with EdSurge.

Angela Estrella’s personal fascination with technology began during her undergrad years at UC Berkeley, using her Palm Pilot whenever she was riding on BART. “I used that Palm Pilot ALL the time- as a calendar, to take notes so in many ways that was my first ‘smartphone.’”

Her passion for teaching traces back to her own experience in middle school, where she was deeply inspired by teachers who took an interest in her and motivated her to become the first in her family to graduate from a university. Fast forward a few years after graduating from Cal and she found herself teaching at Overfelt High School in East San Jose, which didn’t quite have the resources to match Angela’s passion for technology. Still, she quickly noticed that her students were more engaged when she used various tech tools, especially those that involved using videos to demonstrate their learning. This inspired the savvy entrepreneur in Angela to seek out tech grants, and in collaboration with a visionary principal her school was awarded a substantial grant to start a Multimedia Academy at Overfelt through the CA Partnership Academies (CPA) Program.

“I encourage aspiring teacherpreneurs to identify small pots of local funds, such as the SVEF Innovation Grants or funding from your PTSA, to fuel your vision. I’ve also had 3-4 grants funded by DonorsChoose, so that’s been really helpful.” She added that starting off small creates a unique sense of ownership and the ideal scenario is to collaborate with local schools or educators to apply together. “As a member of SVCUE (the Silicon Valley chapter of Computer Using Educators) I can apply for their mini-grants. I think joining organizations like your local CUE affiliate is a great way to connect with educators and learn more about professional development and grant opportunities.”

Things changed when Angela began teaching in the more affluent Cupertino area in 2010, where teachers and students had more access to technology. But new challenges surfaced. While teachers had access to the latest devices, such as iPads, Apple TVs and SmartBoards, few of them had the knowledge or confidence to integrate them into their teaching practices.

So Estrella took it upon herself to create a more collaborative environment among her students and fellow faculty to help one another locate and try out new tech tools. As Lynbrook’s Library and Media Teacher for the past couple years, Angela has launched some innovative programs for students and teachers such as the Virtual Vikings and redesigning their Tech Menu Days. Virtual Vikings, essentially a student-powered geek squad, has illustrated for teachers how students can provide real-time tech support and enable the smart adoption of tech tools in the classroom. Through Tech Menu Days, Angela has tapped into the expertise within her teaching community to showcase best practices on how to use various edtech tools, such as Google Aps for Edu and KidBlog.

Fostering support and buy-in from her district has been a major factor in her success. “I’m working with our Director of Technology at the District to expand what we’re doing,” she said. “That guidance and support is essential to scaling what we’ve proven works at Lynbrook.”

Estrella turns to her extensive online PLNs (professional learning networks), mainly via Twitter and Facebook, for sources of inspiration on how to creatively use tech in her class.  She’s constantly trying out edtech tools and finding creative ways to introduce those tools and the entrepreneurs who build them to her school community. It’s all part of her larger vision to create a culture of experimentation and embracing of edtech for both students and teachers at Lynbrook.

Hear directly from Angela about her work from this video profile, connect with her on Twitter @am_estrella or check out her blog.

#EdUnderground: Finding your Herd

EdUnderground_Nov2012_59

As I continue to grow the TeacherSquare community, I’ve been inspired to find other local efforts around the country that are bringing together innovative educators to deepen their knowledge and comfort with using technology to change teaching and learning. One such organization is the EdUnderground, a group of ~20 educators in Rhode Island who have come together to learn from and inspire each other. As the co-founder, Shawn Rubin describes, “we are group of wild horses looking for our herd, feeling a lack of exploration and innovation in our existing school cultures.”

Rubin, Director of Technology Integration at Highlander Institute, is exactly one of those wild horses who has always been “looking for ways to do transformative things inside and outside the classroom,” and is cultivating that spirit of tinkering through the EdUnderground community. “I see the EdUnderound as equal parts edCamp + Apple Store + Fab Lab. A space where there are crazy-inspiring tools, with a balance between being polished while still encouraging tinkering and knowledge sharing.” Through his role at the Highlander Institute, he realized he had this unique acces to hardware and software tools to stimulate that tinkering and invited 7-8 educators to join him. Fueled by some Rhode Island state grants to support PLCs (professional learning communities) this group quickly doubled and is continuing to grow, with geography playing a role in that growth as well.

Being a small state with 11k teachers and 150k students, Rubin quickly found there were lots of ways educators were experimenting with different tools and strategies in a very small geographic area. In addition, Rubin shares that being “uniquely positioned between New York and Boston, we serve as a testing ground for those edtech ecosystems who are all incredibly interested and eager to get access to this engaged group of RI teachers.”

EdUnderground session

The group currently hosts regular meetups and workshops to share best practices and experiment with various edtech tools. Up next, Shawn is working on building a lending library of hardware and software for teachers to bring these blended learning experiments back to their schools. Shawn and his team were also just awarded a significant grant to build a Blended Learning Institute (as part of Highlander Institute) to showcase blended learning(BL) in action and create a space for educators to explore various BL methods.

As TeacherSquare evolves, I have been looking to connect our community with others, like the EdUnderground, to create a national network of entrepreneurial educators to continue their edtech explorations together through on and offline interactions. If you’re interested in getting involved or starting a similar group in your community, please feel free to reach out to Shawn (srubin@highlanderinstitute.org) or me (jasmit@gmail.com.)

Plugging Edtech into Schools

TeacherSquare partnered with Silicon Valley Education Foundation (SVEF) to bring November’s SF Edtech meetup to the San Jose. True to form, it was a fabulous gathering of teachers, technologists, education enthusiasts and supporters. I was particularly excited to support this event, not only because I’m a South Bay resident and am so pleased to see this meetup expanding to other regions of the Bay Area, but more so because I’m passionate about expanding the conversation in the edtech space beyond tools and entrepreneurs, to really focus on teachers and school leaders, who are at the heart of education change.

Muhammed Chaudhry, CEO of SVEF, moderated a really thoughtful conversation between our panelists of local school representatives to highlight the challenges at the core of making this edtech movement a real revolution. The panelists were:

  • Chin Song: Director of Technology at Milpitas Unified School District
  • Bruce Neff: Technology Curriculum Specialist at Oak Grove School District
  • Mariana Garcia: Science Teacher, AdVENTURE STEM Program at Herman Intermediate School (Oak Grove School District)
  • Randy Phelps: Director of Information Technology Services at East Side Union High School District

I storified some tweets for anyone who wants to see quick highlights and some of the questions that came from the audience.
The core of the conversation was framed around  connectivity challenges, mainly around these 3 aspects: 1) infrastructure 2) devices and 3) tools and support.

Bruce Neff from Oak Grove shared that their “goal is to have a wireless access point in each classroom,” which is still a ways off. All the talk of connectivity made me think of efforts like the Education Superhighway, which is trying to bring national awareness to the lack of broadband in schools and how that is an essential element for creating the classrooms of the future that we all fantasize about.

Beyond connectivity, the audience was very interested in hearing more about the complex procurement process in districts and if there are any strategies to navigate that system, especially for smaller startups with shorter runways. The panel shared that for the most part, hardware decisions are made at the district level to enable discounts for buying in bulk while software decisions are made at the school level, and school boards only get involved when it’s a much larger purchase. Chin Song from Milpitas Unified shared his basic rubric for evaluating educational software; does it does it fundamentally change the teaching and learning environment, impact student learning and offer easy access to the data. In response to assessing free tools he also added that-

“We look at it as a VC… is this built to last? Would we recommend this to other districts?”
This is particularly interesting when you consider the growing number of consumer-oriented edtech startups offering their tools for free and exploring freemium business models.The conversation also addressed the anticipation around common core and how everyone is hopeful it will lead to better forms of ongoing assessment as well as the buzz vs. reality of flipped vs. blended learning, to which Randy Phelps replied, “it’s all still pretty much buzz.”

In closing, the panel was asked to share their dream app or what they most want to see from the edtech community. The common response was to remember that the student is the ultimate client, and technology approaches should be appealing for students and engage them in their own learning process. I appreciated Chin’s addition that even as we explore getting more/better technology in schools, “we want to minimize the time that kids are online, in front of a screen, at school” and must focus on character development and social/emotional learning. His comment that “I don’t want (kids) hooked on badges, creating a token economy” reminded me of a LearnBoost blog post from last year on 3 reasons not to gamify education.

It is so refreshing to attend an edtech event where school leaders are at the heart of the discussion, sharing their perspective on the realities of utilizing technology to improve education for all students. Muhammed closed the night with a thoughtful Bay Area based request for this growing community to not just think about students who live off 280, but to also remember the kids and communities off 101.

TeacherSquare plans to continue this effort to host future SF Edtech Meetups in San Jose in the coming year and we are already identifying teachers to serve as panelists and share their insights on how they are bringing edtech tools to their schools. If you know a teacher who would like to participate or you would like to get involved, please contact me (jessie (at) TeacherSquare.org.)

More Ed. Less Tech.

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program is back in the press lately, triggered by an Economist article critique of a recent study conducted in Peru, coverage from Mashable and a thoughtful response from Audrey Watter’s Hack Education. And after overwhelming comments the members of the Peru study posted their own response as well.

So, while the launch and perceived failure of these types of programs is complex, it is clear that no one is surprised. The OLPC project is a classic example of an over-engineered product (too much tech) where little time and resources were actually devoted to the training and implementation (not enough ed.) Teams spend years designing and building the product without much thought on how to distribute and integrate these tools into the learning goals and systems. This is illustrated by Negroponte’s plan to just drop OLPCs out of a helicopter, which luckily was scrapped, but that type of distribution plan highlights all that is wrong with edtech solutions that are focused more on the tech and less on the actual education mission. I’ve have one (from the 2007 Give One, Get One program) and find myself wishing I had some training to help me understand its full potential.

While no one is surprised that the initial efforts of the program were unsuccessful, I don’t believe it’s fair to use standardized test scores to deem the entire endeavor a failure. Rather, I’d like to draw upon the popular notion amongst many valley startups that ‘failing doesn’t mean you’re a failure’ and there is a lot that OLPC and other edtech companies can learn from the past several years. Clearly, OLPC wasn’t quite a lean startup they didn’t fail fast, but they were blazing the trail for others and executing on a very ambitious vision. We should focus on the lessons learned and move on.

By disproportionately focusing on the tech and then labeling the whole effort a failure, this undermines the real role that technology can play, as a tool that improves and enables better teaching and learning, when put in the hands of trained teachers and learners. The real question we should be asking is not whether or not technology tools are needed but more so what are the best methods for integrating these types of tools into the learning environments of global communities. We know that in order to educate a global citizenry that investment in edtech tools are needed, but larger emphasis must be placed on the distribution and adoption plans if we truly want to see impact on student outcomes (and that means more than just standardized test scores.)

I still love the vision behind OLPC, as it was probably my first crush in the edtech world, and believe we will get to a place where access to devices and connectivity will no longer be an issue. However, to truly make an impact on education, from the perspective of teaching and learning, we have got to focus on more ed and less tech.

A Deeper Look- Blended Learning at DCP

Last fall I was fortunate to meet Greg Klein, Director of Blended Learning at Downtown College Prep in San Jose, and got a chance to see one of the few truly blended learning schools in the Bay Area. Greg manages his lab as a startup, piloting a variety of software programs giving himself and his students a chance to test it all out before integrating it fully into their workflow. As the first guest speaker at my Teacher Tech Talk event, Greg gave us all a deeper look into the tools he uses and some of the key decisions he’s made to cultivate an engaging and highly academic blended learning environment.

It helps to start with a deeper understanding of the student population. Downtown College Prep (DCP) in Alum Rock is located in one of the lowest income communities in San Jose. Greg’s campus serves 180 students (6th and 7th graders) of which 89% are on free/reduced lunch, however, 2/3 of the students d0 have access to internet at home. 60 students at a time spend 90 min/day in the learning lab going through 3 30-min rotations. The computers are setup in rows with a simple system of using red/green plastic cups to identify student progress and who may need some additional support.  Greg went on to share the pretty comprehensive list of tools he uses to structure the content and delivery during those rotation sessions.

Greg and the DCP Team are currently experimenting with these products in the following areas, although many of them can be used in other content areas, too.

Communication: Edmodo***, Goalbook*, Google Docs***
(* indicate Greg’s enthusiasm for these different products)

A student and instructor favorite, Quizlet, is in the process of launching a beta version of  a new product, Sentencer, that allows kids to collaboratively create sentences and then vote up/down their writings. One of the obvious gaps was software tools to support science instruction and project-based learning (PBL,) and DCP currently uses Google Docs through Edmodo to deliver lesson plans that the teachers themselves created.

In generating this list during the discussion, a teacher made an interesting point wondering if students then had 11 different logins to manage these systems? While a Google Apps login is shared across a few of the tools, there are still several different logins that students have to remember and enter on a daily basis. This tied directly into an early suggestion on the need for unification of tools/systems to make it easier for students and teachers to use and access data from these different platforms.

Special thanks to Greg for being our first guest speaker and sharing these insights from the blended learning environment he’s creating at DCP. Keep an eye out for similar deep-dives as I plan to connect with the blended learning folks at SF Flex Academy and Rocketship sometime soon.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 214 other followers