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I’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of major news and announcements lately. So I’m going to take today’s post to round up a few.
1) ConnectED: The Obama administration today announced a new initative called ConnectED with a pledge to provide broadband or high-speed wireless Internet access to 99 percent of America’s schoolchildren within 5 years. The administration intends to better leverage the money collected by E-Rate, a longstanding FCC program that charges a fee to all telecom companies in order to provide discounted connectivity to schools and libraries.
Internet access seems to be the fundamental requirement for most forms of tech-enabled teaching, although the proliferation of 3G and 4G enabled devices like smartphones and tablets is helping some schools get around it.
2) Computers Aren’t Enough: According to a paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research, simply giving computers to around 1100 students in California’s Central Valley caused no noticeable improvement across a range of educational effects, like test scores, grades, or attendance. This probably comes as a surprise to no one except maybe Nicholas Negroponte.
3) Spread of Adaptive Learning: Knewton, the leading company in the adaptive learning space, announced a partnership with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt that, along with a previously announced partnership with MacMillan, has the potential to bring their technology to nearly every school district in the country. The product rollout will begin with math, then ESL, then regular English. “We’ve heard a lot about how K-12 is not ready for [one-to-one computing and adaptive learning], that there are implementation difficulties, privacy issues,” founder Jose Ferreira told me. “So it’s pretty exciting that Houghton is forcing the issue. This will put pressure on everybody in K-12, for the printed textbook to make way for the tablet.” Knewton intends to let parents view their child’s dashboard at home, regardless of how the adaptive features are being used in the classroom.
4) LMS for K-12: The learning management system, until now, has been a cumbersome, buggy piece of enterprise software, usually sold by Blackboard, to colleges. Instructure, a startup that paired two Brigham Young University grad students with their professor, launched a commercial open-source alternative called Canvas 22 months ago and it’s been growing like gangbusters with over 6 million teachers and students using the platform. They just announced a $30 million round of funding and are said to be headed toward an IPO.
One year ago Instructure launched a K-12 product and are now in over 100 K-12 schools. “A lot of these schools don’t have the IT infrastructure to use a hosted model,” explains CEO Josh Coates. “Our cloud-based product offers the opportunity to get up and running really quickly.” The LMS serves as a virtual classroom and is aligned with sites like Facebook and Twitter. “In grades K through six, parents use it more than the kids,” Coates explains. “Parents log in to see assignments and homework. But in junior high and high high school students are becoming more sophisticated and using it themselves.”
5) Apps and Gaps: The New York City Department of Education announced the winners of its Gap App challenge which sought techy solutions to the problem of middle schoolers falling behind in math. The competition drew over 200 entries. Next up is a music education hackathon on June 28th and 29th in collaboration with Spotify.
I attended and judged an unrelated education hackathon in NYC over the weekend that came up with some interesting apps. It was good to see teachers and even students on teams with designers and coders. part of a national “day of civic hacking” where developers in many places tackled education-related challenges. Seems a lot of people are thinking about how to relate the real needs of teachers and students to solutions technology may be able to provide.
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