Category Archives: Edupreneurs

Balancing Learning Technology with the Human Touch

I guess that image of President Obama learning how to code as part of last year’s Hour of Code was not enough to convince everyone of the value of technology in education. Despite there being little agreement over the specifics of technology in learning, there is a growing trend that values a high degree of human touch when implementing technology in learning. And that can result in some unexpected challenges to the role of teacher in both face-to-face and online learning environments.

She Says, He Says: Arguments for and Against Technology in the Classroom

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal titled “Does Technology Belong in Classroom Instruction?” engaged Lisa Nielsen, Director of Digital Engagement for the New York City of Education; and Jose Antonio Bowen, President of Goucher College in a thumbs-up, thumbs-down war of words over the role that technology can or should play in the classroom.

Nielsen’s portion of the article, titled “YES: New Tools Let Students Learn More, and More Deeply,” highlights how technology not only provides access to more resources but also expands the classroom beyond the walls of the school building. Students, working with guidance from their teachers can learn how to sort through the information available online, appropriately cite their sources, and .share on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter, for example. “There’s more deep thought happening here,” says Nielsen “than there is without technology.”

Bowen’s contribution, titled “NO: Classrooms Must Be a Place of Focus and Mental Stillness,” tells us that “Finding relevant and accurate currents in an ocean of often useless or misleading Internet content is a persistent problem” that technology in the classroom doesn’t solve. “In fact, it is a distraction from the real solution: teachers taking the time to help students learn to process and think.”

Both these educators value the role of the teacher in the classroom, but Bowen insists on a tired, teacher-centric model in which “Teachers demonstrate what smart people do.” Nielsen’s is more hands-on model in which teachers do share expertise but in which they are also expanding their skills and toolsets along with their students.

Designing Interactions to Facilitate Learning

Following the initial skepticism of MOOC-style learning, many in the academic and technology community have begun to push for more cohort-based learning and peer engagement in online courses. At a recent Open edX Meetup in New York, representatives from the McKinsey Academy and George Washington University spoke to the importance of building more of the human touch into the online learning experience.

A massive study of online learning “Preparing for the Digital University,” funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, included an investigation of the different types of interactions required for success in online learning: student-student, student-teacher, and student-content.” This section of the report emphasized that human interaction in online courses can help increase the efficacy of the learning experience. The report calls for “sound instructional design” to create these interactions and included amongst the criteria for instructors “a positive attitude towards technology” as well as their “facilitation and of the learning process and monitoring of learner progress.”

The research found that all three forms of interaction produced positive effect sizes on academic performance, with student-student and student-content interactions having higher effect sizes than student-teacher interactions.

According to the report, important course design characteristics that shape the learning experience are flexibility, personalization, forms of assessment, use of small group learning and designed interactions, and soundness of adopted mix of pedagogies, technologies, and media.

Unexpected Rewards of Failing with Technology in the Classroom

Keeping technology out of the classroom is not a reasonable expectation these days; neither is keeping the teacher out of the class, whether it’s a face-to-face situation or online.

Kids are comfortable and capable with many forms of technology, especially their own personal devices. So, we need to meet them where they are live. At the same time, the role of teacher becomes even more valuable in guiding students through activities that may sometimes challenge their own expertise.

Nick Provenzano, 2013 ISTE Teacher of the Year and author of The Nerdy Teacher blog has some advice for teachers incorporating new tech tools into their teaching: “Don’t be afraid to fail publicly. It’s OK! You’re trying new things.” “You can’t be perfect, and you don’t want kids to feel like they can’t make mistakes, either.”

The same sentiment is echoed in an article on “Computing in the Classroom,” in the latest Harvard Magazine. The article addresses some of the challenges and initiatives to incorporating coding instruction into the classroom. “Students are accustomed to feeling this uncertainty; teachers, less so. Implicitly, many regard expertise as their source of legitimacy: a store of knowledge, in the form of facts, to be transmitted to the children. They want all the solutions to all possible problems before they feel comfortable leading a lesson—and because computers are only beginning to return in the classroom in these new ways, few have that expertise.”

Karen Brennan, who used to head up the ScratchEd forum and is now an assistant professor of education at HGSE, noted that when issues arise to break down the day’s lesson, “teachers could model problem-solving for their students even if they didn’t have all the solutions. Indeed, a small degree of uncertainty might be preferable: making room for more spontaneous discovery, and more authentic and rewarding classroom interactions.”

Teaching Transformed

The challenge to expand one’s skillset is similar in higher education, where faculty are being encouraged to participate in the development and delivery of online courses, something that can take faculty out of their comfort zone. Whereas in K-12, schools are building out the role of technology coordinators to support teachers in their adoption of technology, institutions of higher learning are either building out their own instructional design teams or partnering with external resources to help with the design and building of their online courses. These resources help faculty transform their expertise into more engaging online experiences, ensuring a better blend of interactions within each course.

If the trend continues, they will also build in enough facilitation and tracking of student progress so that the experience is more high touch than that of early MOOCs.

In both instances, teachers are learning new methods of teaching while on the job. It’s about as hands-on as you can get.

Can Two Extra “Vs” Help EdTech Save Education?

Last week I heard Guy Kawasaki talk about his passion for writing, his two latest books: “The Art of the Start-Up 2.0” and “The Art of Social Media,” as well as the updated MVP (Minimally Viable Product) model. During his livestream interview withStartup Grind’s founder Derek Anderson, Kawasaki reiterated his appreciation of the Lean Startup model and provided details on the two additional “Vs” he hoped might strengthen Eric Reis’s model. As Kawasaki says, “The concept is that you have this Minimal Viable Product. You do the prototype, you test, you get the product out there.”

Adding Value and Vision

So why do we need a couple of extra Vs?

According to Kawasaki:

  • The first V is for Viable. It’s foreseeable that you will make a return, that your revenues will exceed your costs.
  • The first extra V is for Valuable: You are changing the world. You are doing something significant. You are not simply making a buck.
  • The second extra V is for validation: You have something that makes a buck, but it validates your vision for the future.

Where Are the Two Vs in EdTech?

The two Vs reminded me of proliferation of EdTech products and companies and how we need to be wary of digital bells and whistles masquerading as the saviors of education. With the endless rollout of iPad apps alone (TechCrunch reported 20,000 education apps developed for iPad in 2012 alone), one has to wonder how much “V” (any V at all, really) has gone into each one.

Lest you label me a Luddite, I should tell you that I’m a huge fan of educational technology, and I spent half my professional career helping corporations train employees using online simulations and schools expand their footprint with online courseware. But I simply have to sometimes wonder how many of today’s solutions are developed with these two Vs in mind. How valuable is the solution in rescuing education from the test-driven, grades obsessed institution it has become? And what vision is the product serving?

EdTech Products in Largest and Smallest Concentrations

Think about where the largest concentration of technology tools in education is focused today. A quick scan on The EdSurge EdTech Index reveals the highest concentration of products in the following five categories:

  1. Math (134)
  2. Language Arts (90)
  3. Games (58)
  4. Assessment (50)
  5. Science (44)

With the exception of Games, these are fairly standard subjects, right? Much of the software in that list is designed to align with and promote success with implementing the CCCS. There’s a theme here.

Where do you think the lowest concentration of tools lies? Looking at student-facing applications in K-12 with 10 or fewer apps in their respective categories, we see:

  1. Digital Storytelling (9)
  2. Arts (9)
  3. Maker and DIY Tools (10)
  4. Social Learning (10)
  5. Video Instruction (16)

To be honest, I think this second set of numbers would be higher if there were more a little extra “V” involved.

Rifting on Value

Guy Kawasaki is as powerful a speaker as he is an effective writer. When he talks, you can’t help but pay attention and enjoy yourself. And most of the time you are wishing you had said whatever he just said. So maybe my rifting on the “two Vs” is my way of showing my respect. That being said, I’ve got to admit that “value” can be interpreted in a lot of different ways.

Using technology to help understand and expand the ways in which people can learn is of tremendous value. The work being done to understand how people think and learn and applying that to blended learning programs, for example, is adding great value to kids previously “stuck” in preconceived notions of how to solve problems and one-size-fits-all curriculum plans. These are real tools that can help teachers support learning in diverse populations. It expands and scales the capability of those who already know how to personalize learning and enables those who may not have been doing so much of that already.

Building a better way to help kids practice for a test?

One of the other topics Kawasaki and Anderson discussed was the concept of “nail it and scale it.” “When do you squeeze the trigger?” as Anderson put it. Kawasaki’s response is to run a qualitative test: “Have you jumped curves and pushed the technology enough?”

I think this is exactly what is happening. Everyone is pushing the technology, and that is a really exciting thing. But without a coherent, game-changing educational mission, an EdTech company on its own may just be pushing the technology. That’s not really enough.

You need a little more “V.”

What Drives Teacherpreneurship? The Need to Get It Done!

Who are your learning heroes? Is it a former teacher from elementary school? Someone you’ve read about making a difference in today’s embattled world of K-12? Or maybe a MOOC innovator within higher ed? Think no further. I have some nominees for you:

  • Maya Gat
  • Kara Carpenter
  • Mike Zamansky

Who are they, and how did they get on this list? Let me set it up for you. Then I’ll get into the details.

Why Teacherpreneurship?

There’s a lot of new terminology that has come out of the influx of technology into education in the past few years. Most of us know about the edupreneurs who have entered the education market to provide tools, services and dollars to implementing technology solutions into the field. More and more, we are hearing about teachers who are taking on the mantle of business ownership in order to parlay their expertise into providing educationally sound technical solutions to educational problems.

I was fortunate enough to spend the other evening at a great event called “Real Teachers of Silicon Alley: Teacherpreneurs’ Impact on EdTech” organized by NY EdTech Meetup, co-organized by Michelle Dervan and Kathy Benemann. I was blown away by the dedication, business savvy and technical expertise of the panel.

Classroom Challenges to Integrating New Technology

The discussion started with a provocative question addressing concern around the products and the bad rap that edtech is getting in educational circles these days. The biggest two challenges, as we have written about before in this space, were summarized as:

  • Teachers are in danger of spending more time dealing with new technology than with actual teaching.
  • Much of the technology being introduced can be classified as “substitution products,” or “digital replicas” of existing, and perhaps sub-par teaching practices. Think test prep on steroids.

Each of the three teacherpreneurs is certified classroom teachers. Two have left teaching to focus on running their companies, one is still teaching. The fourth panelist is serving as the iZone Director of Special Projects for the NYC Department of Education.

The panelists shared various anecdotes and perspectives on gaps in the current offerings and processes for integrating technology into the classroom:

  • Trading existing best practices in the classroom for time spent working with new software programs
  • Not enough release time or time to actually learn the systems
  • Lack of appropriate content or toolset

The Basic Business Challenges to Teacherpreneurship

As our small sampling illustrates, the major challenge to teacherpreneurship is that it often takes people who truly love being in the classroom out of the classroom. Therefore, if a teacherpreneur does leave the classroom to start up a business, maintaining a team of teacher content experts, developers and consultants is a large requirement for developing the right kind of product.

Additionally, while teachers may have their fingers on the pulse of what kids need, they may not have the business acumen required to start and operate a business in today’s dynamic market. Some teacherpreneurs take on a co-founder or partner to fill this role.

More on our learning heroes

So let me present today’s learning heroes, three teachers who have taken technology into their own hands in order to improve learning.

Maya Gat, CEO and Co-Founder of Branching Minds

Prior to starting Branching Minds, Gat taught both locally and overseas. Through her own experience trying to understand why certain students struggle in the classroom, and through the principals of activism that were inherent to her teaching, Gat started Branching Minds to help identify appropriate strategies for individual students. Part of the solution lies in Gat’s understanding of neurodiversity and the role that plays in how people learn.

A series of questions answered on the Branching Minds site, much like those you may input into a “Web MD type application,” provides users with the learning strategies tailored to their particular learning style.

The platform enables you to:

  • Identify students’ learning challenges
  • Find research-back support
  • Track and report on student progress

Branching Minds just won the Netexplo Digital Innovation Award for 2015. Off to a good start (up)!

Kara Carpenter, Co-Founder of Teachley

Carpenter started up Teachley in 2011 while finishing her Ph.D. in Cognitive Studies at Teachers College, Columbia University. She has over 10 years of classroom teaching experience from kids to adults, and has also taught overseas. Teachley’s program is a research-driven, game-based product that recognizes the distinct thinking processes different learners apply to solving math problems. Knowing how that child approaches these problems, a pathway to learning appropriate to that child can be developed.

The platform provides:

  • Personalized learning
  • Progress monitoring
  • RTI and intervention support
  • Professional development

Teachley has been recognized by the Breteau Foundation as a 2015 Prize Finalist and was awarded a Research@Work Honorable Mention in 2014 by Digital Promise. Their work has been cited by Scholastic, the Wall Street Journal and other outlets.

Mike Zamansky, Teacher and Founder of CSTUY

Mike Zamansky was a software engineer who left his job at Goldman Saks to teach. He and a group of fellow master teachers built developed the series of computer science courses taught at Stuyvesant and out of that developed the non-profit organization CSTUY (Computer Science and Technology for Urban Youth) to bring computer science to an audience that may not otherwise have access to the type of teaching and learning that CSTUY provides. Through afterschool and summer school programs, they bring best-in-class CS learning to a much wider audience.

One strong component of the CSTUY program has been bringing together the hundreds of Stuyvesant alumni and creating a network of advisors and connections to those just coming up.

Zamansky is passionate about teaching and learning, about providing quality computer science offerings to students within his school and beyond it.

The Need to Get It Done

The other day I wrote about the need to disrupt education if we want to change it. It was great to hear how these powerful innovators are using technology and business modeling in a way that is truly disruptive in order to improve education. When asked why they would take on teacherpreneurship despite the challenges, the consensus was that “it needed to be done.” These are the reasons I’ve added them to my list of learning heroes.

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