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Personalized learning has been an education buzzword for several years. A recent survey of by the state education technology directors association, or SETDA, put personalized learning at the top of the list of state priorities. But what does personalized learning actually mean, and how can school leaders do it?

A new book offers something like a step-by-step manual. It’s called Pathways to Personalization: A Framework for School Change, written by two long-time school innovators, Cathy Sanford and Shawn Rubin.

Rubin spent 10 years in the classroom, and he has been the Chief Education officer at the HIghlander Institute since 2011, and has led personalized learning efforts in Rhode Island schools. He designed the Highlander Institute’s “Fuse” program, which trains educators to lead personalized learning in schools and districts.

EdSurge sat down with Rubin during the EdSurge Fusion conference in October, to talk about his book and what he’s learned about personalized learning.

Listen to the discussion on this week’s EdSurge On Air podcast. You can follow the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you listen. The transcript below has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

EdSurge: Talk a little bit about how you came to write the book.

Rubin: The first school that I taught at was a big-picture attempt at a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school. That was in 2000 when we started the Highlander Charter School, and it was really fascinating because we were trying to do individual student-learning plans, mentors, and a lot of goal-setting.

That was way before much of today’s conversation around personalization in education. Why did you want to do it back then?

We were enamored with the work that was happening at the high-school level and felt like you couldn't just flick a switch when a kid hits ninth grade. And so there was a lot of pre-work around building interest, having families understand deeply that their students were unique.

This was all before Race to the Top and the movement to really standardize everything, and so there was a window of time when we were able to [try out the model]. But we we were doing this in a high-poverty urban environment with students that were multiple grade levels behind in reading and math—and we quickly realized that we weren't necessarily solving for a lot of [the challenges face by the students].

So did they learn? And what are they like now that these are kids in their 20s?

They all developed an incredible sense of curiosity about the world. But I do think in a lot of ways we weren't meeting their needs in terms of being able to read by third grade. The importance of knowing fractions by fifth grade. There were definitely students in that classroom that left those classrooms without that ability.

So, we realized two things. First of all, there were aspects of core instruction that we needed to figure out how to fit into that model.

The second was that once certain teachers left, it was too much effort. We weren't able to replace them. The workflow was incredibly overwhelming, and we couldn't even recruit new teachers because when we described what the work entailed, it was just too much. In some ways that school has really come back to the center, I would say, in terms of what they're doing with regard to education. My son actually still goes to the school. It's a great place to learn but it's no longer doing those pieces, and I think that that's kind of true for a lot of schools.

Everyone wants to rethink schools right now, and they wanna redesign what the classroom experience looks like for students, but they just don't know where to begin.

Let's zoom up to the present, zoom up to the book and talk about how you walk us through this balance question. How do we balance?

One of the ways that we balance it is by deeply relying on the knowledge base of our local stakeholders. That's a piece that we learnt really deeply in Rhode Island over the last five years. We have launched statewide fellowship. And so we brought those folks up in a way to give them an opportunity to partner with each other, learn some skill sets around coaching and consultancy and how you work with and run a district level meeting, building level meetings. They really felt more empowered to take all of that knowledge from their own personal classrooms and when they started to go into other classrooms in other districts.

When you actually break down personalized learning or blended learning or deeper learning or project-based learning, it's a series of strategies that leverage resources. And the more often you can get people talking about what strategies they're using, and how they align to the practices or behaviour changes that we wanna see, then the ideations starts to move and starts to flex across the state. And that's really what's happened in Rhode Island.

In your book you talk about five phases of development. Take us through what those five phases are, and how that brings us to a point of thinking about strategy.

We want to have a real vision for what these pilots or these redesigned classrooms are going to look like. You want to ask: Are we trying to get at a place where there's a lot more dialog happening in the classroom? Is that our goal? Are we trying to get to a place where there's actual students creating media in the classroom? What is it that we're actually trying to do?

Once you get to that point, then you start to articulate more clearly. If we walk in and it's successful what behaviour changes do we actually see on the parts of teachers and on the parts of students? But before you can do those pieces you have know where you're starting from as well. And so we do a lot of student shadows. We do a lot of looking at subgroup data to see who's benefiting from the current structure and who isn't. We do a lot of focus groups and surveys with students.

And then, only then, then you start to decide, "Okay if this is the aspirational vision and these are the practices and behaviour changes we wanna see, and this is the reason why. Who are the right people in our building to carry this forward?"

So, we find those teachers and we get to the strategies. And you can't do that in isolation. So if you have multiple early-adopter teachers that you're able to work with, great. But ideally, you want a little bit of embedded coaching. Somebody to actually be in the room with them. So that's where the fellowship has been valuable.

Listen to the complete interview on the EdSurge On Air Podcast.

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Creativity is one of those ineffable skills that’s important—especially for jobs of the future—but hard to pin down. We know when we feel creative, and we know what creative work looks like. Measuring and assessing such work in a way that keeps kids inspired is another matter, though, and schools aren’t known for being good at it. For years, personalities like Sir Ken Robinson have taken education systems to task for actually testing the creativity out of students.

Author and educator Katie White, who’s something of an expert on the creative process, may have a practical solution.

She argues that creativity actually has a very visible side that can be nurtured. “A lot of people think it’s very formless, but the case that I’m making is that it’s actually very observable, and there’s plenty of things that would indicate creativity,” she says. That means teachers can both tease it out and measure it—provided they know what to look for.

A former art teacher, White is now an education consultant who criss-crosses the continent giving workshops, coaching teachers in her local Saskatchewan district and writing books. Her newest, “Unlocked: Assessment as the Key to Everyday Creativity in the Classroom,” serves as something of a blueprint for schools aiming to spark the creative process in the classroom while staying grounded in a reality that requires them to follow standards and assess students regularly.

White recently spoke with EdSurge about what creativity actually looks like, practical ways teachers can inspire their students and the biggest enemy of the creative process. The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

EdSurge: What does a good formative assessment around creativity look like?

White: There are a few. Depending on the context in which kids are engaging in creative processes, there will be the layer of assessment that relates directly to the content. If they’re exploring various ways to solve various mathematical problems, for example, you’ll have a layer that’s pretty specific. Often you’ll get those criteria from the standards and the outcomes, and teachers and kids can make sense of that work together. That’s sort of the vehicle that’s getting them to the creative process.

But then there’s the criteria for creativity. In other words, “how does creativity look when it’s being lived out?” Well, we want to see kids asking lots and lots of questions. We want to see students who are struggling with ambiguity and are feeling comfortable taking risks. We want to see them recover from mistakes and show engagement and investment in their products and performances. Those will be the same from class to class and experience to experience. But the context that drives creativity will be subject-specific.

Experimentation or risk-taking in a writing class means that students generate an idea they haven’t used before, or come up with new perspectives or opinions. In a science class, risk-taking might be making a hypothesis that goes beyond the surface level and thinking about what might happen and then committing to that idea. Or it might be using less-familiar materials. This risk-taking skill looks different depending on the context.

In your book, you talk about “the four stages of creativity.” Can you describe what this process looks like?

The stages I talk about are a synthesis of the work of lots of other people. I sort of rename them so they’re easier to understand. I talk about introducing kids to creativity through a catalyst or a critical notion: I call that the exploration stage. It’s a time when kids are asking questions and invited into learning experiences that create curiosity.

The kind of assessment I talk about most is dialogue with others, or feedback, and then dialogue with self

The second stage is elaboration, where students will mess around with their initial questions and their engagement with materials. They will deepen their understanding and their questions might shift a bit.

The third stage is expression, and that’s where kids and teachers decide together how to share their thinking with other people. It could be with parents or other students or just sitting beside someone and sharing a solution to a problem. The fourth stage is reflection and response. It’s a little different from self-assessment, which happens in all stages. Reflection and response is that really deep longitudinal thinking about creative processes and which strategies worked for kids, which environments made them more creative and how they’d like to apply it to their learning.

Layered over that is the notion of thinking about assessment in new ways. People most often think of the final summative event where we verify learning. But the kind of assessment I talk about most is dialogue with others, or feedback, and then dialogue with self, or self-assessment.

In order for children and adults to move through these stages, we need to invite them into the kinds of assessment processes that allow them to think about what they are trying to achieve, the degree to which they’re being successful in that moment and how to plan for future engagement—like what they’re going to do next.

Where in those stages might students get tripped up and not able to move on to next stage?

The biggest enemy of creativity is time

If we let kids free with great materials and good catalysts, I don’t know that they get tripped up. You have to provide physical space, emotional space and time for kids to try things and experience either success or failure. In a school environment, we’re often marching through a very content-heavy and skill-heavy curricula, which makes teachers feel pressured to move through things as quickly as possible.

You might go through the exploration, where children are invited to generate their own questions, but then they don’t get the chance to fully search for answers and experiment and experience the creative process. We rush to the answer too quickly.

Or maybe they have a chance to do some exploration and elaboration, but there isn’t enough time for them to express and share their work with meaningful audiences. Often their expression is in the form of handing something in to the teacher.

And then the stage that gets most short-shrifted is reflection and response. Because this is how teachers and kids can connect their creative personality, and who they’re becoming as creative individuals. They can connect past tasks to future tasks and future creative endeavors. We rarely have the time to do that reflection. The biggest enemy of creativity is time.

You’ve written before about using observation as an assessment tool—where the teacher is almost like an Olympic judge. Why do some teachers feel more comfortable than others using observation?

Observation and conversation are just as important as student artifacts

Well, I can only speak from my own perspective. I’ve taught every grade, K-12. When I was teaching the early years [i.e., young learners], we accepted that, developmentally, children aren’t ready yet to commit their thinking in a written form. So we’re willing to have children represent their thinking through images or sounds or puppet shows. There’s lots of ways kids can express their understanding.

The same is true in highly performance-based environments like physical education and practical and applied arts. We would never ask in a P.E. class for children to sit down and write about every time they’re learning a new skill. It’s perfectly acceptable for teachers to observe that, and it’s very powerful because it’s really authentic.

But in some subject areas—science and math and English-language arts—the older kids get, the greater the emphasis on written documentation of understanding. Part of that is justifying a grade. It’s easier for me to justify it if I have visual evidence that I can speak to. Another part has to do with confidence: “Did I really just see what I thought I saw?” And finally there’s the perfectly legitimate reason, which is that we need students to be able to express thinking in a written form by the time they graduate because our society is very text-heavy.

But the power of observation is really critical to creative development. There are a lot of things that we need to see and hear to know that it’s happening. I’m talking about things like engagement or investment, or kids being curious. These are often expressed orally. We need to be able to listen and document. We need to be able to sit back and observe kids trying new ideas on and listen to them confer with others. All of that is really important in a creative environment.

At the very least, in the book I try and make the case for the triangulation of evidence, or the notion that observation and conversation are just as important as student artifacts. Looking at many sources of information would tell us what kids are thinking and feeling about their work.

What are some practical things teachers can do to heighten the way they assess creativity?

Sharing assessment with students is a critical first step. Teachers should be willing to open themselves up to having conversations with kids, about what they’re trying to achieve, what their goals are—both short and long term—and about the decisions they’re making. This helps kids understand that assessment is a process to help determine where they are right now, where they are headed and the space between those two things.

In my workshops, I invite participants to engage an a creative act and then I ask them to co-construct with me criteria for the product. In other words, what needs to be in the finished product? And then we co-construct another set of criteria around what creativity might look like in this context. What would we see if someone was engaging in creativity?

Having that criteria up-front, we can invite students to consider how successful they are. We can actually do a self-assessment feedback session. Teachers can also create a chart with student names along the left-hand side and the criteria for creativity along the top. And when they’re doing observations, they can be formally looking for those things being lived out in the classroom space.

Creativity requires students to make their own choices, but it also requires some structure. Can you talk about the push and pull between free choice and structure?

We don’t have to make a binary choice between creativity and curriculum. We can do both.

I've taught art classes in the community since I was 17-years-old, so for a very long time. I feel like I’ve tried everything under the sun in terms of getting kids to engage in creative processes.

For a number of children, when you place a blank canvas or a blank page in front of them, because there’s no criteria or structure to guide their thinking, it almost requires of them a spontaneous creativity. And that’s really difficult for people who aren’t experienced in terms of their own creative inclinations.

Structure can come in the form of any number of things. Giving kids a question or a series of objects and asking how they might go together provides enough structure to unleash creativity. It’s not so daunting when there’s a framework. It’s easier to think outside the box when there’s a box. We need to know what’s there so we can figure out whether were pushing beyond it.

In art classes, I've said: “Here’s a blank canvas. Create whatever you like, but you need to have two straight lines, three curved lines, a geometric shape and an organic shape.” For some reason, those guidelines really help kids move into that creative part. It seems to inspire them more than just giving them a blank canvas.

But the bottom line is that we do have outcomes and standards we need to work toward. I want teachers to understand that we don’t have to make a binary choice between creativity and curriculum. We can do both.

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This article is part of a collection of op-eds from thought leaders, educators and entrepreneurs who reflect on the state of education technology in 2018, and share where it’s headed next year.

Community colleges have long served the U.S. by providing access to career and technical training, as well as quality education in the liberal arts, mathematics and sciences. Much has changed since the humble beginnings of community colleges, though. Now, as we enter into 2019, many core elements of the community college sector are threatened due to anecdotal student success metrics, broken funding models, and increased public skepticism over the value of higher education.

Worsening this issue that that many families aren’t familiar with the higher-ed landscape and the opportunities that community college can open up for their children. In 2019, improving the way we connect K-12 to higher education—and bringing families into the conversation about college and career pathways—will be key issues to tackle.

Economically, the U.S. is at a crossroads. Technology has advanced with new innovations, opening the door to new and exciting career options. However, our country has failed to train segments of its eligible workforce with skills necessary to take advantage of these opportunities. Furthermore, society has failed to convey the value of these opportunities with our youth, creating a gap between available jobs and those equipped to fulfill employer needs.

Understanding the implications facing industry and education, the charge now is turning these career opportunities into successes by identifying solutions to meet workforce needs—and community colleges stand at the forefront of this charge. However, while technology has been integrated in education for many years, not every higher-ed institution has utilized the tools available to solve this challenge.

Higher education has yet to embrace strategies that align K-12 education with college and career pathways.

Specifically, higher education has yet to embrace strategies that align K-12 education with college and career pathways. More importantly, our educational systems have failed to educate both our youth and their parents on the importance of the various workforce pathways available.

Better lines of communication about educational opportunities will not only improve the lives of students, but their successes will impact the lives of others. And this will have major impacts on diversifying demographics in higher education as well as meeting the needs for our workforce.

As we move forward into 2019 and beyond, stakeholders spanning K-12 and higher education must commit to utilizing technology to educate our youth on the opportunities available to them. Secondly, those who work in education must consider and educate parents on the career pathways available to their children.

Far too long society has placed emphasis on four-year degrees being the sole path towards opportunity and success. Unfortunately, while that traditional pathway towards success has proved to be true for some, it has failed to be a reality for all. As the demographics of our country’s youth continues to evolve, using technology to communicate workforce awareness will serve as a catalyst for change for those seeking social and upward mobility.

Simply put, the technology exists, the infrastructure exists, but a commitment to aligning our youth with workforce pathways does not—yet.

The good news is this can and must change. To begin to see these changes, we can start by asking local education leaders the following questions: What interactive and immersion programs can both education and industry create at local levels that incorporate technology that involves both the student and their parents? How can we create a movement that adds societal value to the various workforce pathways available to all, and place great emphasis on workforce’s ability to promote social and upward mobility?

The future of our country relies on our ability to make answering these questions a priority. If we don’t, our country will not only fail to meet current and future industry needs, but these gaps in achievement and the workforce will worsen.

From their beginning, community colleges were poised to ensure that citizens have a pathway to the knowledge and skills necessary to economically advance themselves or advance their education at a senior institution. The economic success of our country depends on our ability to seize these opportunities.

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Some apps do more harm than good. And “free” apps often come with hidden costs. These tenets hold as true for education apps as they do for those in the consumer market, privacy experts contend.

A recent New York Times investigation found that many companies receive such precise, extensive data on their users that they—and anyone else they share this information with—could easily identify a single individual and pinpoint their location. That user data is often sold to or shared with other companies, such as advertisers who have a vested interest in behavioral data, and it’s not as anonymous as people think. This is how many free apps monetize.

Every time users click “allow” when an app asks them to enable location services or provide access to their contacts, microphone or folders, they are potentially making a transaction: sharing their personal information in exchange for using the app.

Yet few users read the fine print—let alone students, as researchers have found. Today, the Apple app store alone features more than 75,000 education apps. Countless more are available for Android devices. But which are safe to use with students? And how can you be sure?

There’s not enough time in the day for educators to read each company’s privacy policy. Those who make the time will often find that the policies tend to be long, dense and difficult to decipher. Harder still is uncovering the trackers that reveal how the data is being shared.

Fortunately, several tools have done the heavy lifting for educators and parents. Below are three resources you could use when considering whether an app is appropriate for students.

Common Sense Privacy Evaluations

Common Sense, a nonprofit education and advocacy organization, maintains a database that evaluates edtech tools on whether they are safe for use in schools.

The privacy evaluations are broken down into three tiers: blue (“Use Responsibly”), yellow (“Use with Caution”) and red (“Not Recommended”).

“That’s our best way of communicating what’s in a 20-page privacy policy,” says Girard Kelly, counsel and director of the privacy review at Common Sense.

When establishing each rating, Common Sense’s privacy team considers federal and state privacy regulations as well as industry best practices. It’s all covered in the team’s 150-question rubric, which is used to assign a tier to each tool.

Tools that earn a “Use Responsibly” badge meet Common Sense’s minimum criteria, while those that are labeled “Use with Caution” fail to clearly or fully define how they protect student information. Apps that are deemed “Not Recommended” either don’t support data encryption or lack a complete privacy policy.

Since the project began in 2015, the privacy team has evaluated nearly 300 education apps. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, Kelly tells EdSurge.

The team started by evaluating about 200 apps that school district leaders indicated as high priority—in other words, those that were most downloaded in the app store or that district leaders identified as most popular in their schools. “Some of these apps have millions of kids using them,” Kelly says. “That alone is a huge footprint.”

Common Sense recently began chipping away at the remaining 3,000 apps they identified, going in alphabetical order. Most of the ones that have been evaluated are outright educational apps. The ones they’ll be focusing on in the next year tend to be situated in the consumer space—think Angry Birds, Instagram and Pinterest, which are not intended for learning but are used widely by kids.

The team may never be able to provide an exhaustive list, not least because the privacy evaluations are incredibly time-intensive, Kelly explains. For each app, the team spends between eight and 16 hours reviewing it.

Of the 297 apps evaluated to date, the majority (187) earned a yellow “Use with Caution” badge.

Take Duolingo. The language-learning platform earned a yellow badge and received an overall score of 31 out of 100. That’s because Duolingo shares data for advertising or marketing purposes, displays behavioral or contextual advertisements and provides data to third-parties, according to Common Sense.

Quizlet, on the other hand, earned a yellow badge and received an overall score of 52. Quizlet, like Duolingo, displays behavioral or contextual ads and allows third parties to collect its data. However, it earned a higher overall score than Duolingo because Quizlet’s privacy policy explicitly states that it does not sell or rent data to third parties, whereas Duolingo’s policy doesn’t clarify one way or the other.

This is an important distinction, Kelly says. Just because a company does not have a clearly written policy does not mean that it is engaging in bad or questionable practices. At the same time, by not having a clear statement, the company implicitly assumes that users are okay should the company decide to do them.

Before publishing a company’s privacy evaluation, someone at Common Sense contacts the company to discuss what was found and “open up a dialogue,” Kelly says.

“If we want to raise the bar, we need to make sure these companies understand,” he says. “It’s very valuable information for them.”

Kelly has had many conversations with officials at companies that fall into the “Use with Caution” category, and what he’s noticed is that a lot of them aren’t writing certain practices, such as the selling of user data or behavioral advertising, into their privacy policies “because they feel it doesn’t apply to them,” he explains. “They’re asking, ‘Why do I need to talk about behavioral advertising if I don’t do it?’”

In a number of cases, Kelly adds, vendors have reached back out about a month after their initial conversation to say they’ve updated their policies to better reflect their practices. It’s a huge reason Common Sense is spending the time on this project, he says.

The privacy evaluations have been useful for educators, too. Common Sense meets with its 200 district partners every month and hears that many of them are using the evaluations in their procurement processes.

AppCensus

Another tool—though not specific to edtech—is AppCensus.

AppCensus, powered by a group of privacy and security researchers based in Berkeley, Calif., analyzes smartphone apps and outlines the personally identifiable information (PII) the apps extract and share with third parties. (Its slogan is “Learn the privacy costs of free apps.”) It issues badges if an app falls into any of these three categories: “Transmits sensitive data,” “uses sensitive permissions” and has “no privacy policy.”

For example, ClassDojo, a classroom communication app, earned a badge from AppCensus for “transmitting sensitive data” on its app. ClassDojo requests permission to access users’ location, storage, microphone, camera and start silently (a setting that allows the app to start running when the device is turned on).

AppCensus determines whether an app transmits personal information or device identifiers, which are unique to each person and track behavior over time. Device IDs are very helpful for advertisers and analytics companies. The AppCensus tool also identifies the recipients of each app user’s data. In the case of ClassDojo, a relatively harmless example, data goes back to the company and to Google Crashlytics. In the case of Quizlet, data is sent to Facebook and Google ad services, according to AppCensus.

AppCensus has tested many of the same education apps reviewed by Common Sense (search for other app reports here). The catch with AppCensus is that, due to certain restrictions on iOS, AppCensus is only able to analyze Android apps.

Source: Common Sense, AppCensus and Exodus.Exodus

Another privacy evaluation tool, created and maintained by Exodus, a French non-profit organization, is also limited to Android apps.

Exodus publicizes how many trackers—or software that collects data about users and their usage—and permissions are found in each app. For Duolingo, it found 15 trackers and 22 permissions, and for Schoology, a K-12 learning management system, it found three trackers and 11 permissions.

In each report, Exodus identifies where the trackers are coming from. Some common origins are ads and analytics services offered by Google and Facebook, along with other tools like Flurry, Inmobi and MixPanel.

None of the three aforementioned tools provide a perfect picture of an app’s data-sharing practices or privacy policies. The important thing, Kelly says, is that educators, parents and students use these tools as a gateway into greater awareness and control of their own data.

“Because this can happen invisibly,” he says, referring to the sharing and selling of user data, “those two big things—awareness and control over the collection and use of your information—are a good place to start.”

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Students in Jacqueline Prester’s entrepreneurship classes melt wax for candles, sew hair scrunchies and formulate hand sauce (yes, hand sauce) as part of their learning. By crafting their own products, they get essential hands-on experience learning how economic principles are relevant to their current lives, their future careers and the world around them.

Makerpreneurs in action
Having that interactive content is crucial, especially when something is difficult to explain and I need to give students really solid examples. Now, it’s much easier for them to see and understand how something like supply and demand works, for example.

Prester, a business teacher and instructional technology specialist at Mansfield High School just outside of Boston, Mass., has been pioneering authentic learning for seven years. Students run small businesses while developing essential real-world skills such as critical thinking and problem solving.

When she started teaching entrepreneurship ten years ago, Prester tried the traditional lecture-based model, but the concepts were too abstract; students weren’t connecting with the material. She decided to shake things up, taking a makerspace approach to entrepreneurship where students (she calls them makerpreneurs) learn and apply economic principles to create, market and sell handmade products.

But something was still missing.

She needed an engaging way to teach her students the necessary concepts to run their businesses. Enter Econ Essentials from CME Group and Discovery Education, a free online curriculum for high school educators and students that helps make learning core economic principles more accessible. Its modules are focused on fuel and food prices, including engaging games, quizzes, videos and other interactive components that create an authentic learning environment for students.

EdSurge chatted with Prester to learn more about how she uses interactive technology like Econ Essentials, the teaching methods required to take her entrepreneurship class from theoretical to practical and the life skills—budgeting and understanding supply and demand—her students are acquiring throughout their learning journey.

EdSurge: Can you tell me about the students in your classes?

Jacqueline Prester: My course is open to grades nine through 12 (I have three classes, each with a max of 28 students). So we have different grade levels and different ability levels. We also tend to get students who might not be college-bound. They're looking for practical skills they can use in the field right after school.

Which specific skills are you trying to teach your students?

In school, their careers and life in general, they need to understand what an economy is and how economic factors can affect them and their business. Because my students actually run small businesses in class, they need to know how to do things like figure out pricing structures and determine customer wants and needs. They look at supply and demand and create products they will actually sell. They need to decide how to sell those products, how to find a target market, how to advertise.

When all is said and done—after they've sold their products—they analyze their finances and donate the proceeds to local charities. In the seven years I’ve been running this program, we’ve donated just over $9,250 and made microloans on Kiva.org to aspiring entrepreneurs in 19 countries around the world!

Because this course is so hands-on and interactive, every student learns how to work together and how to run a business. This course gives them confidence to know they can be an entrepreneur.
Beyond the classroom

It’s a very practical course on entrepreneurship with hands-on, authentic learning.

Why did you decide to add Econ Essentials to your class?

Having that interactive content is crucial, especially when something is difficult to explain and I need to give students really solid examples. Before I started using Econ Essentials in 2015, it wasn’t easy (or fun) for students to learn the concepts necessary to develop all those skills by simply talking about them.

Now, it’s much easier for them to see and understand how something like supply and demand works, for example. Because they have an interactive sliding scale they can work with at their own pace. Or they understand how world events impact gas prices and the consequences of those changes for businesses.

With Econ Essentials’ simulations and interactive activities, students can really test situations. They can take quizzes and challenges where they have to run different scenarios and try to reach a goal, such as predicting the price of gasoline so they can set ticket prices for a shuttle service. They can try over and over again until they're satisfied with where they've gotten or how much they've earned.

And that interactive content helps them when they're making decisions later on about everything from how to set the price of their hand creme to how they’ll source the fabric for hair scrunchies. They haven't just read about it; they've actually seen how scenarios can play out.

Do you think there's value to the business community in offering this kind of real-world learning opportunity to students?

Absolutely. This gives students practice being an entrepreneur. It gives them the opportunity to learn about how businesses run and a taste for working with accounting documents, creating a marketing plan, working in sales.

Jacqueline PresterMakers Gonna MakeAs part of Prester’s class, students develop, pitch, create, market and sell their own unique products. Here are some of the products these innovative high school students have created:
  • Hand-poured wax candles made with upcycled baby food jars
  • Homemade hand lotion cleverly marketed as “Hand Sauce”
  • Hair scrunchies made with fabric donated by family and community members created via assembly-line in the classroom
  • Handmade necklaces, lip balms, Christmas decorations, keychains and more

It gives them a taste for all of those different business functions. And if you're going to be an entrepreneur, you need to at least know what those different roles are going to entail.

Do you have any favorite success stories of students that have gone through your classes?

I’ve had a lot of students who didn’t know they were interested in business and had never thought of it as a career until my class. They ended up loving it and applying to business school. One student started his own photography business outside of school and still does it on the side today even though he’s an engineer.

Stories like that always make me happy.

See more on Mrs. Prester’s website at www.mrsprester.com.

But what’s most important is, because this course is so hands-on and interactive, every student learns how to work together and how to run a business. This course gives them confidence to know they can be an entrepreneur. They've done it already as a 14 or 15-year-old freshman, so every one of these students knows they can do it again later on in life. They all have the potential to be a success story.

Hands-on learning
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While the fate of humanity did not rest on her pulling it off, Australian English teacher Sarah Gunn faced a daunting task. Her high school literature students at St. Laurence’s College in Brisbane had just 50 minutes to write up a formative assessment on the representation of robots and artificial intelligence in the movies. For that to happen, she had to play five-minute clips from both "The Avengers: Age of Ultron" and "Wall-E" in quick succession—twice.

I couldn’t waste time flipping between videos. I really needed a quick process.

In the past, such an assignment would have required Gunn to stream the clips through a projector and the school’s wifi—an arduous process that often left her battling lag time, poor video quality and balky sound that sometimes forced her to clamber onto a table to fiddle with speakers. With the class in the middle of an exam, “I couldn’t waste time flipping between videos,” says Gunn, who is also the school’s director of teacher performance and development. “I really needed a quick process.”

To the rescue: the video-streaming and screen-mirroring technology St. Laurence had recently installed. Using wireless presentation tools by Vivi, an education-focused company founded in Australia, Gunn was able to mirror her tablet screen on the classroom screen and play YouTube clips directly through a hardwired receiver without slowing down the school’s wifi—or her students’ work. “Vivi has been really reliable, so I’m happier and the students are much less frustrated because I’m not having to send someone down to the IT department for help,” says Gunn.

Wireless screen-mirroring, which allows the projection and sharing of device screens without cables, frees teachers from worrying about what became of the HDMI cord and which dongle goes with which tablet. It also eliminates the need for them to be glued to the front of the room—and the imperative to stand and deliver. And it saves time, lots of time.

Here are six ways the technology can maximize classroom time and boost student and teacher productivity:

1. Fewer uploads and emails

Gunn’s school has a one-to-one device policy; when she projects her screen to model her writing process, for example, students can connect their own devices to use the platform’s annotate tool to take a screenshot and add their own notes. Because Vivi works with any device or platform, Gunn’s students are free to use their Apple laptops, Chrome tablets or Android smartphones. “Previously, if I was doing annotations on my screen and then if I wanted to share that work with students, I would have to either upload it to a OneNote or email that document to students,” she says.

Sarah Gunn at St. Laurence’s College in Brisbane, Australia.2. Quick and seamless connections
Gunn estimates that she saves 10 minutes out of every 50-minute lesson.

Gunn saves even more time by being able to set up her classroom technology within about 20 seconds of walking into her classroom. In the past, she’d spend several minutes of at the start of every class connecting to her computer, waiting for the projector to warm up, synching it to her laptop and then trying to project videos or PowerPoint files—an operation that often caused the projector to disconnect. Gunn estimates that by avoiding those hassles and little things like having to send emails of annotated documents, she saves 10 minutes out of every 50-minute lesson.

That benefits her students directly: She gets through her content more quickly, so her students are into the skill development stage of their learning faster. That will enhance their achievement down the road, says Gunn, “and it means I’m freed up to conference with students, or to run master classes with my extension students. Having that extra time has been really beneficial.”

Interested in how your teachers can benefit from Vivi? Qualified schools can pilot our solution for free. Request a demo today. 3. Greater efficiency and more flexibility

Amanda Pfeffer, a science and chemistry teacher for grades seven through twelve at the Shore School in Sydney, has found that using screen-mirroring in conjunction with a new laptop has changed the way she teaches—in part because she can move away from PowerPoint. “Chemical formulas, with subscripts and superscripts, are incredibly difficult to type,” says Pfeffer, whose school is trying out Vivi in select classrooms. “It’s really helpful to be able to handwrite things on OneNote, project them on the screen, and then for the students to be able to go back and re-access them—through a read-only file or screen capture—later on in their own time.”

Using screen-mirroring, Pfeffer is able to model how her students should construct formulas and reactions; she can also share her annotations and modifications much faster than she could before. “That way a secondary explanation of a concept can happen instantly as opposed to the next day,” she says. “That gives us time down the track to work on additional examples, or extend the students’ understanding in a different way, or talk about it from a different perspective.”

Amanda Pfeffer’s classroom notes projected for her students using Vivi.4. Multitasking made easyAmanda Pfeffer and Sarah Gunn's favorite classroom resources:

Like most teachers, Natalie Harris, a primary teacher at St. Francis de Sales School near Sydney, could really use a clone. A multitasking screen could be the next best thing: In the past, Harris might have needed to prepare her math lesson but couldn’t because the children were using her screen. With Vivi’s pause screen feature, which allows teachers to mirror their screens and still work privately, she says she can “put the lesson up, go back to my computer and do things without the children getting disrupted.”

Pfeffer has also found the platform’s video features to be useful, if not perfect. Because Vivi works closely with educators on product development, those functions are improving. “I often start and stop a video part way through in order to replay or pause and take notes, and I asked for a better tool that I could use to scroll back and forth through video,” says Pfeffer. “They listened to that feedback and are improving that capability.”

Natalie Harris at St. Francis de Sales School near Sydney, Australia.5. Quicker and more collaborative feedback

Harris’s students all have iPads, so after they complete writing tasks, she has them film themselves reading their own writing. Then she can easily project each student’s filmed story onto the classroom screen to share with the rest of the class. “That’s when we can give feedback and say, ‘That was good,’ or ‘You needed to put a full stop in here,’” Harris says. In the past, students couldn’t give each other feedback because they weren’t looking in each other’s writing notebooks. “But now we’re bringing our books to life and showing them up on the screens and making them interactive where the kids are able to point out mistakes and quickly edit them.”

In the past, students couldn’t give each other feedback because they weren’t looking in each other’s writing notebooks. But now we’re bringing our books to life.

Gunn says one of her favorite aspects of device-agnostic screen-mirroring is the ease of presenting student work no matter what device the student has. “If I have a model group who is doing something really well and I want to demonstrate that, I just ask one of the students within that group to flip their document up on the screen and have them talk through their processes with the class,” says Gunn. “Students are able to connect in and showcase their own work, which is leading to more autonomy and student-driven learning.” Significantly, she adds, “we’re also seeing fewer behavior issues because they aren’t waiting for things to get connected or fixed.”

6. School-wide broadcasting

Fortunately, St. Laurence hasn’t had to use Vivi’s Emergency Broadcast feature yet. But they have taken advantage of the Digital Signage feature. Last month, the school used the system to broadcast a reading in honor of Australia’s Remembrance Day, followed by a moment of silence. “None of the teachers needed to do anything,” says Gunn. “Previously the school would have had to send out a PowerPoint to all the homeroom teachers and ask them to all make sure they do that with their homeroom. Instead it was just a school-wide, consistent thing that happened at the same time. Every learner had the same experience.”

And every teacher won a little extra time.

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That’s the beauty of ClassLink—it’s technology that makes using other technology easier. For us, SSO has become a learning enabler when sometimes technology can be a learning variable.

Can you imagine an edtech tool so supportive and effective teachers cheer when it arrives?

That’s exactly what happened when Dr. Sheryl Abshire and her IT team at Calcasieu Parish School District rolled out Single Sign-On (SSO) technology in September 2017. Almost instantly, nearly 40,000 students and staff each received a single, unique password to use (and remember) for access to almost 3000 different applications and resources.

Abshire has been Calcasieu’s Chief Technology Officer for 21 years. Her extensive experience and many stellar accomplishments in edtech are staggering; just reading her LinkedIn profile will exhaust you. Drawing on her own knowledge and expertise, she strategically chose ClassLink’s SSO technology. She says it’s the final leg in the “three-legged stool of learning”: devices, infrastructure, and student access.

And now with SSO in place, Abshire says, “It’s take no prisoners; it’s no more excuses. Our kids have all three levels of access.”

EdSurge caught up with Abshire to learn why teachers are cheering for SSO, why she sees it as a key component of learning success and exactly what made this the “easiest implementation” she’s ever undertaken.

EdSurge: You have experience with so many types of edtech, why was it important for you to bring SSO to Calcasieu?

Sheryl Abshire: A lot of people think I’m all about technology. But my job and my prime objective are to support learning, and this technology supports learning.

Dr. Sheryl Abshire

Our District Technology Coordinator and software reports were telling me we had low software adoption and usage rates in many areas, and I just thought, ‘My God we’re paying all this money and we’re not getting the pick up on it.’

But more than that, we in public education have an opportunity to provide stellar educational experiences, create lifelong learners and future-proof students—all using technology.

Dr. Abshire’s Advice for Choosing and Implementing SSO Technology:
  • Don’t wait to find a single sign-on solution for your district, do it ASAP. If you wait, you’re just disenfranchising students in your district.
  • Ask plenty of questions. Talk to other districts using the technology about ease of implementation and features.
  • Choose a provider that can help you personalize the applications available to students and classes through SSO. They should also work with the vendor community on your behalf to ensure the software you use works with SSO.

Education opens up a myriad of doors for students—and technology supports that. It’s also a differentiator that helps ensure students are relevant in the job market today and in the future. That’s been my motivation.

And that’s the beauty of ClassLink—it’s technology that makes using other technology easier. For us, SSO has become a learning enabler when sometimes technology can be a learning variable.

How are teachers reacting to having this technology across the district?

Before SSO, teachers had 10 or 15 software programs, and every single one of them had a different login. When students forgot their passwords, the teacher had to go look them up.

It was frustrating for teachers. They have a rigorous learning pathway schedule and cannot lose time for tasks that should be automated for them. So what do they do? They give up.

That’s why—when we showed them SSO—teachers were so excited they were clapping!

What kinds of benefits are you seeing since you adopted SSO technology?

Since we adopted SSO, analytics tell us technology usage and adoption trends are up. But we’re also capturing more time to learn. Students open their laptop or iPad and they immediately know what to do. I’m not kidding you, within less than a minute, they’re on task.

They’re immediately into a learning space personalized for them. They have various software applications based on their learning needs. They don’t need to sign in to any of them because ClassLink is passing those credentials on the backend. So the time to task is instantaneous.

Even in our early learning classes, pre-school, kindergarten and first grade, we’re hearing rave reviews about the time it’s saving.

Now I know how much software is being used in my district school by school. I didn’t know that before. It’s like The Wizard of Oz; we’ve been able to peek behind the curtain.

Can you tell us more about how the technology supports learning?

Student access is the third leg of what I consider the three-legged stool of learning (the core components needed for learning with technology). We already had the other two legs; device capacity, and robust, reliable internet connections in every classroom.

For us, ClassLink was that last piece we so desperately needed. Our teachers are not burdened by the fact that students can’t log on. SSO increased the time for learning, and it’s increased the efficiency of lesson implementation in the classroom.

How difficult was it to implement this solution across your district?

I’m going to tell you something...it was painless. In the technology world, there aren’t many things that are painless, but this was pain-free because we did our research and chose the right technology.

We had a dedicated implementation specialist from ClassLink assigned to support implementation and professional development. Email questions were answered right away or within just a few hours. Our implementation specialist constantly calendared meetings to answer questions or provide training.

We’ve done tons of district-wide implementation—this is the easiest implementation we ever did. It took less than two months to roll out from start to finish.

And now I know the true total cost of ownership and total return on our investments because I know how much software is being used in my district school by school. I didn’t know that before. It’s like "The Wizard of Oz"; we’ve been able to peek behind the curtain.

ClassLink offers additional resources for schools and districts considering the switch to SSO:
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This article is part of a collection of op-eds from thought leaders, educators and entrepreneurs who reflect on the state of education technology in 2018, and share where it’s headed next year.

Is Amazon a sleeping giant of edtech? Or one of its biggest, underreported failures?

Those are questions to which my answers have varied, especially this year. But now I can definitively answer yes. To both.

As someone who lives in Seattle and has both worked in education technology as an executive and analyst, and observed the tech sector as a columnist, Amazon is inescapable. Its indirect impact on education is huge: as a source for parents and teachers to buy classroom supplies, as a distributor of ebooks and e-readers, as a fundraising tool for school-related nonprofits through the AmazonSmile program, and even as an Amazon Web Services backend for edtech startups and established education companies delivering software through the cloud. It is, at least figuratively, everywhere.

But what’s surprising to me is how inconsistent and inept Amazon has been when it comes to directly addressing teachers and students with technology for learning. It’s almost as if the company doesn’t realize that educators’ memories, just as students’ educational careers, are long.

Amazon’s latest misstep is the abrupt, and still unexplained, shuttering of TenMarks, a math and writing software startup it purchased in 2013 and announced in 2018 it would close in the following year, leading to a lot of frustrated, Twittering teachers. That was preceded by the forever-in-beta Amazon Inspire, an educational resource sharing site launched in 2016 but kicked hard in the knees immediately afterward, when a handful of copyrighted items had been found posted. A year later, the company also lost its education general manager, who had come to Amazon with the TenMarks acquisition.

Things are so bad, Amazon was a no-show on the exhibit floor at ISTE 2018 in Chicago, after sporting a huge booth and presence just two years earlier when Inspire was launched.

Amazon’s booth at ISTE 2016, announcing the launch of Amazon Inspire. (Photo credit: Frank Catalano)

And yet, there is so much—as a school counselor might say—potential.

It may be that public education, notably K-12 education, is simply a poor fit for Amazon’s otherwise successful approach of self-service at scale. Districts, schools and teachers need a lot of hand-holding when it comes to technology. That’s neither inherently good nor bad; it just is. And it’s very understandable when the development of kids and their brains is at stake.

Going to directly to K-12 parents seems more compatible with Amazon’s retail approach, with products such as the Amazon Rapids children’s reading app (think of it as a multi-media Kindle app for kids), the Echo Dot Kids Edition, or even Alexa learning skills from third parties such as Bamboo Learning and its music and math instruction products. But there are signs that as Amazon gets a better handle on what it does really well—outside of retailing packaged and digital goods—2019 may be the year it finally solidifies its role in K-12 education and takes a relatively stable place alongside other tech titans such as Microsoft, Google and Apple.

And what it also does really well is provide cloud services.

It already sells cloud computing services to not just companies, but educational institutions at the district and campus level as well. It already had a free AWS Educate program to help students (and teachers) learn about cloud computing and technology careers. So when Amazon announced its free Amazon Future Engineer (AFE) initiative late in 2018, I didn’t find it a surprise. It was simply a logical next step.

Now, Amazon apparently would like everyone to view AFE—with its emphasis on computer science education for underserved communities—solely as a philanthropic effort, not an education technology initiative. (I know; when I wrote about it for GeekWire, I received a phone call from a polite but persistent Amazon public relations representative urging me to re-frame my story. I didn’t.) But AFE is about STEM and computer science; it’s education about the most pervasive and critical of modern technologies.

Having AFE associated with edtech is not a bad thing. And it may indicate, going into 2019, that Amazon has found its sweet spot when it comes to its K-12 education efforts. They’re perhaps not best tied to the legacy Amazon.com online retailing business. Instead, they may be better tied to its other major business that underpins and makes that web presence possible: Amazon Web Services, and the cloud.

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I attended Everest Public High School in Redwood City, Calif., and during the years that I was in high school, never once did I hear about computer science, coding or hackathons. To this day, I still do not have a clear idea of what those phrases really mean.

However, I am not the only one who seems to be in the dark. So many students go through their entire high school career without being exposed to computer science—a rapidly growing field of study that is an important key to opening doors to jobs at tech giants like Google, Apple and Facebook. And ever since I started interning with the Code Next team at Google this past summer, I became even more curious to understand: Why aren’t students into computer science?

Statistics show that “computer science” programs produce fewer bachelor’s degree graduates in the U.S. when compared with other STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) majors, as can be seen in the image below. For several years now, researchers have been conducting studies to find the relationship between students and their relatively low interest in computer science. As a current college student myself, I’ve spent the past few weeks having conversations with professionals who work for Google, high school students who are pursuing an interest in computer science and mentors who desire to guide students to success in the field. Through my own research, I have isolated three reasons as to why students are not interested in computer science (CS).

Data via National Center for Education Statistics, danwang.coLack of Exposure

Throughout middle school and high school, I was never exposed to CS, which I believe is a big reason as to why I never developed an interest in the subject. That doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be codified into the curriculum. Exposure can mean lots of things. A 2018 study, which looked at the factors that influence students to pursue CS degrees in higher education found that, “School education appeared to have limited influence on students’ decision to study CS, though exposure to problem solving, programming, online self-learning and internships appeared to be important positive influences.”

This research paralleled very closely with the interviews I conducted with incoming ninth graders who will be attending the Code Next program this fall. During the interviews, students who had already been exposed to CS activities were much more enthusiastic and excited about the program than students who hadn’t been exposed to CS before. According to Orvil Escalante, an incoming student: “Once I was taught how to use the tools to create designs and prints of my own, I really began to find interest in CS.”

Support is Key

Support from family, friends, teachers and mentors is crucial to a student’s success in CS, according to several students interviewed in that same study referenced above. Take the following quotes from two of the study’s subjects:

  • “One of my dad's friends, I went to talk to before the university, because he actually works in … Computer Engineering.”
  • “I have quite a few friends who study and work in computer-related subjects. They told me about what they were learning, so I want to do that.”

Similarly, Graylene, a Code Next student in New York, said that she heard about the program from a teacher who helped her through the entire application process. Once Graylene got into the program with the help of her teacher, she received a lot of support from the coaches she worked with.

She explains: “The coaches really push you to do your best because they believe that you can do great work, and the fact that the coaches come from a similar background as me, really inspires me to pursue a career in CS.”

Social Factors

In today’s world, students are exposed to an infinite number of hobbies and activities, making it extremely difficult for a student to focus on one thing. I think of my own friends—whether it is playing Fortnite online, looking at other people’s lives on social media or watching videos made by their favorite YouTubers, teens are always performing social activities in technological environments.

But despite that comfort with technology, some research shows that many students think of computer science as an activity where one sits in front of a computer screen all day in the darkness, typing away—without any engagement. For example, one student told the authors, “I don’t think I could do that, sitting in front of a screen all day, just looking at the typed stuff,” while another responded, “I’m more of a people person.”

Clearly, there is a disconnect. Students need to have CS explained to them in a way that will relate with their passions and interests, rather than listening to a presentation about circuit boards and coding languages. But that is not the only component necessary for engaging students. They also need the access and opportunity to CS equipment in order to develop first-hand experiences with CS projects that will give them the skill-sets they need to increase their engagement and level of interest in CS.

There’s also a problem of perception—which can be solved by getting students to think about CS differently. Many of the students that did not find CS interesting in research studies stated perceived CS as sitting in front of a computer typing all day. However, those who said they found the field interesting were more likely to see it as a creative one. These students found that CS is a way to express their feelings and ideas through code.

Additionally, mentorship is crucial to the success of a student pursuing roles in the tech world. Denzale Reese, a coach for Code Next Oakland, explains that “mentorship can allow the student to expand their network and create connections that will lead them to their future job.”

CS is certainly a creative field. Now it’s up to us to get creative in supporting kids to pursue it.

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Beijing—The Chinese government is pushing online education these days, and like so many things in this country of 1.4 billion people, that means going big. One sign of that: There’s a 22-story tower in the country’s capital officially named the “MOOC Times Building” that houses a government-supported incubator for edtech companies.

The building boasts two tricked-out production studios that any of the companies in the industry park can use to film and edit video for courses. Most of the occupants offer products or services in online learning, though not necessarily massive open online courses or MOOCs, despite being the building's namesake. But MOOCs were trending upward back in 2014 when the education incubator was established, so it made a catchy name for the building.

The building sits in the Zhongguancun area of Beijing, which is known as China’s “Silicon Valley.” The biggest benefit to companies in the building is cheap rent in a prime location—about half of what they would otherwise pay for the space.

About half of the companies that have applied to work in the building were accepted, the building’s general manager, Yang Dan, explained when I recently toured the facility,. When asked how closely leaders of the facility work with the Chinese government, Dan said: “we just follow the policy,” noting that the government “leads how to develop education” and that their goal is to help promote those policy goals.

As part of the tour, I was shown a short promotional video that said of the more than 70 companies in the building, roughly 9 percent focus on preschool, 25 percent focus on K-12, 17 percent on higher education and 28 percent on vocational education.

The size of the companies also varies widely. Some are start-ups with fewer than 10 people each—many of these work in a co-working space on the ninth floor.

Meanwhile, other companies with offices here are already well established and have much larger staffs. The tour included a stop of one such company, called Nobook, which employs 55 people and makes interactive science-learning software for schools in China.

As the education market in China grows, the facility has recently started encouraging some of the larger companies to leave the nest and make room for smaller ventures that are just getting started, said Bill Ning, founding partner of Blue Elephant Capital, a venture-capital firm that is also located in the building and invests in some of the companies there.

But some of those open spots might go to companies outside of the country. The biggest new initiative of the MOOC Times Building is an attempt to attract international companies to set up offices here.

“We hope some international startups will come to our building to know the Chinese culture,” said Dan. “We hope we can cooperate with companies in the U.S., U.K., and elsewhere.”

Justin Reich, director of the Teaching Systems Lab at MIT, visited the building a couple of years ago, and was struck by how government leaders he spoke with stressed that they wanted to let market forces shape online learning. The government seemed to take a more hands-off approach to online learning than in other parts of the education sector there. For instance, he knows someone trying to start a physical school in China, and that process involves navigating several levels of local and district party leaders. Things move more quickly, and with less red tape, for education entrepreneurs starting online companies, it seems.

In a blog post he wrote about his visit, Reich noted that online education may be especially helpful in addressing China’s rural education needs, since the demand for education far exceeds the supply of teachers in many places.

As he wrote: “China has several long traditions that ameliorate concerns about online learning quality. First, China has a long history of distance education with television and video, so MOOCs feel like an extension of that work rather than a new phenomenon. Second, Chinese instruction is generally didactic, so the gap between listening in a lecture hall and listening online is modest. Third, there is some sense of a Confucian tradition where teachers are revered orators and students are responsible for the hard work of memorizing and synthesizing from these teachers. As a result, once you can distribute the teacher's presentations and give everyone an equal chance to hear and process them, you've achieved equity.”

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