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Facebook creates free education tools

By Queenie Wong, San Jose Mercury News
September 9th, 2015

Social networking giant joins other tech firms offering education resources

facebook-education

Gil C / Shutterstock.com

Impressed by the learning environment at Summit Public Schools, Facebook said Thursday that the social network teamed up with the charter school network to revamp an online education tool.

The tool, dubbed the “Personalized Learning Plan,” allows K-12 students to schedule and track their coursework and assignments, helping them see how it fits into their skills and career path. Eventually, the social network plans to make the software available for free to all schools in the United States.

“This means that every moment of each students’ day is motivated by what they want to be when they grow up,” wrote Chris Cox, Facebook’s chief product officer. “Alongside this, teachers can then check in on how their students are doing to give tailored feedback each day, and parents can do the same to view their kids’ progress at any time.”

Facebook joins other tech firms that have donated money and tech skills to better educate students nationwide.

Google has an array of free apps for educators, including Classroom, Drive and Docs, aimed at making teaching easier and more organized. Microsoft, for example, offers Office 365 Education to students for free until they graduate, giving them a taste of the software for a number of years.

While offering the tool at no cost is altruistic, tech companies are also able to gain their footing in a multitrillion-dollar market and better train students that one day may work for them, education experts say
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“This is big business, make no mistake about that, but there are very well-intended people in these high tech companies that are not just trying to fulfill these business objectives,” said Brian Lewis, CEO of the nonprofit International Society for Technology in Education.

Still, like any other free education tool out there, Lewis said, schools should think before they adopt.

“Don’t just use it because it’s free, use it because you’ve thought strategically how it’s going to tie to your local learning plan,” Lewis said.

Founded in 2000 by a group of Silicon Valley parents, Redwood City-based Summit Public Schools ranks in the top 20 percent of California public schools. About 90 percent of Summit graduates are accepted to at least one four-year university or college, according to the school’s website. The charter school network currently includes nine schools in California and Washington, including two in San Jose. Two more Summit schools are scheduled to open in 2016.

Unlike other classrooms, students learn online using materials created by teachers, who spend classroom time for projects and collaboration instead of lectures. Students also move at their own pace, working with teachers on their long-term career goals.

Facebook started working together to rebuild Summit’s learning plan tool for use in the 2014 school year. More than 2,000 students and 100 teachers spent the school year using the new tool, Cox wrote.

Brian Johnson, one of the founding teachers at Summit Denali in Sunnyvale, said the personalized plan not only helps make his job easier but it’s a hit among students.

“Once they get used to it and start to understand themselves better as learners, which I think is the most important part, they respond very positively,” Johnson said.

This isn’t the first time Facebook and its founder have supported education efforts.

In June, CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, announced they will donate $5 million to a scholarship fund to help hundreds of immigrants in the Bay Area attend college. In 2014, the couple also donated $120 million to underserved Bay Area schools.

“Building software that will enable personalized learning for all children is a new and exciting challenge for Facebook, and we can’t do it alone,” wrote Zuckerberg on Thursday.

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