Watch eSN-TV for video highlights of ed-tech events

The Consortium for School Networking’s annual conference might be smaller than some of the other events on the ed-tech scene in terms of attendance, but it’s certainly not smaller in scope or stature. CoSN’s annual conference is always a premier stop for some of the brightest ed-tech minds in the nation–and this year’s conference in San Francisco improved on an already successful formula by attracting noted educators and presenters from around the world. Bringing all of these talented individuals together under one roof provided for some fascinating commentary–so it’s fortunate, then, that eSN-TV was on hand to cover the proceedings.

You’ll find some of our coverage of CoSN’s 12th annual conference on pages 1 and 24 of this issue. But that’s only a small portion of our coverage. At eSN Online, you’ll also find several video news clips featuring highlights of conference sessions and speakers. You can watch these video news clips, and access our entire breadth of 2007 CoSN conference coverage, at this link:

Personalized Learning

As our story on page 24 indicates, personalizing instruction was a key theme at this year’s show. At the opening general session, attendees learned of two creative, yet distinct, approaches to using technology to personalize the learning experience for students. To view highlights of this illuminating session, go to:

‘Know your audience’

During the conference, eSN-TV had the chance to sit down with Lord David Puttnam, Oscar-winning film producer (The Killing Fields, Chariots of Fire) and British education official, to discuss what education can learn from the entertainment industry, as well as what Great Britain has learned from its extensive push to outfit classrooms with interactive whiteboards. Hear what Lord Puttnam had to say:

Whiteboard Shootout

Speaking of whiteboards, be sure to check out our coverage of a spirited roundtable discussion of the value of interactive whiteboards–and whether they provide an adequate return on your technology investment. With debate on this topic heating up in districts from coast to coast, this is one video you won’t want to miss:

Classrooms of the Future

Through a video address to conference attendees, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell outlined a $200 million initiative dubbed "Classrooms of the Future." The program aims to give a laptop computer to every high school student, hire technology coaches for the high schools, and train teachers to fully leverage these tools. Rendell says these changes aren’t a "luxury," but a "necessity," as the United States risks falling behind its competitors. For more on this revolutionary program, go to:

Our in-depth video coverage of CoSN’s 2007 conference would not have been possible without the support of SMART Technologies, nComputing, and CCC! Video on Demand and the cooperation of CoSN and Cable in the Classroom. CIC’s executive director, Helen Soule, sat down with eSN-TV in San Francisco to discuss her organization’s outreach efforts. To hear what Soule had to say, go to:

New Educator’s Resource Centers for May

Professional Development (sponsored by Atomic Learning)

Document Management (sponsored by Hewlett-Packard Co.)


letters to the editor

Reforming school reform

I was much attracted to your February 2007 article, Bush, lawmakers meet over NCLB ( Beyond the fact that there does not seem to be any constitutional right of President Bush to financially entice the various states to follow the dictates of NCLB, the article in question points out other weaknesses [in the law].

As a longtime teacher and reading teacher educator, I particularly am apprehensive about the fact that "NCLB seeks to ensure that all children can read and do math at grade level." As you doubtless know, the designers of standardized tests in these subjects make sure that the scores by children in general on these assessments distribute themselves into the classic bell-shaped curve.

Bush’s apparent notion, to the contrary, that all children must score on these tests at least at the 50th percentile thus is irrational. If all children did achieve this remarkable feat, no sophisticated statistical analyses of their scores would be possible. In short, these children’s scores would be mathematically meaningless.

–Patrick Groff, Professor of Education Emeritus, San Diego State University

If the federal government wants our students to succeed, then teachers need to be able to group students according to ability levels.

Some naysayers call it "tracking." Those same people have made it politically incorrect to homogeneously group our students since the mid-80s.

The pendulum from that educationally unsound move has created the dilemma U.S. schools find themselves in today. Teachers in every classroom where tracking is not allowed must teach "to the middle"; [with] stanine abilities from 1 to 99 percent in their classes, the top students get bored and the lower end have a hard time keeping up.

There’s no shame in homogeneous groupings when forming classes; it is the intelligent thing to do. It is the first thing a school under restructuring goes through–all students are placed in homogeneous groupings by stanine scores.

So why wait until schools are in restructuring? The president should make a mandate to "track" our students–thereby giving the lower-level achievers the basic skills they are missing, while advancing those students who have the skills and allowing the most advanced group to soar. That is the one "corrective action" that will set all things aright.

In Hawaii, 66 percent of the schools "flunked" NCLB demands. My school is in corrective action; if our administration would approve the aforementioned proposal, then we could improve. Keep the status quo, and we will get the status quo.

–Janet Weiss, teacher (school’s name withheld), Hawaii

Something else worth reading about

In the Jan. 29 edition of <em>eSchool News</em> Online, you included an article with resources on reading fluency programs (Reading expert: Don’t forget fluency, I couldn’t agree more that technology has a key role in advancing reading fluency in students.

One effective program that you might do well to be aware of is Read Naturally: Created by Minnesota teacher Candis Ihnot, this program is becoming more and more widely used across the U.S. While it is a relatively small company compared with Renaissance, Scholastic, and others, the product is very effective. We have used the software for three years and are very pleased with it.

While the first version was somewhat primitive, version 2.0 has improved by light years. Not only is it student-friendly, but it also provides data management that gives easy access to a range of progress reports for teachers. Plus, it is easy for parents to understand. They love it! Training volunteers to become Read Naturally coaches–expanding one-on-one guidance to struggling readers–is very easy and effective. Read Naturally support has also been solid.

–John Helland, Reading/Language Arts Coordinator, Fergus Falls Public Schools, Minnesota

Critical reader

I previously wrote you in December 2005 to complain about an article that asserted a cause-effect relationship between the use of laptop computers and student achievement. [Your Jan. 29] article on reading is much worse.

Except in his own mind, Jon Bower is not a reading expert, a descriptor for which he lacks any academic credentials. The online video presents prima facie evidence of his lack of knowledge about language, learning, and reading. Bower’s agenda is singular: to sell Soliloquy products, computer-related products for improving reading proficiency, an idea discredited several decades ago by Guy Bond and Miles Tinker. Their seminal studies in the use of reading machines revealed no benefit for improving reading performance.

… The idea that fluent oral reading must precede silent reading–or that subvocalization improves silent reading–is obviously false. If this were the case, deaf children could never learn to read or have a means to improve. To teach phonemic awareness as a basic reading skill is nonsense. … There are many children who know how to read but fail reading skills tests. But there are many more children who pass skills tests but cannot read. To teach 400 reading skills is tedious for teachers and meaningless to young readers.

–Hugh Glenn, former Director of Reading Education, Pepperdine University

(Editor’s note: Jon Bower began his education studies as a participant, and then as an instructor, in Stanford’s graduate programs in Development Education. He has spoken at many education conferences, including the International Dyslexia Association and the Florida Reading Association, on subjects relating to cognitive development, reading, learning disabilities, and technology. We’ll leave it to our readers to decide if decades-old research provides the final word on technology’s impact on reading skills.)


Repeaters, not reporters

The efficacy of math and reading software has been maligned around the world as the result of careless, inappropriate, and misguided news reports about a study paid for by U.S. taxpayers. The Bush administration was the proximate cause of this disservice, but so-called reporters supplied the megaphone. All in all, the spectacle was enough to make me want to burn my press pass.

One would have hoped editors and reporters might have learned by now that swallowing whole what comes out of Washington can lead to journalistic indigestion. But it doesn’t look like they’ve absorbed this basic lesson.

Indeed, if any conclusions at all could be drawn from the research released so far, the study boils down to some pretty unspectacular findings, as were cogently enumerated by Computerworld’s senior news columnist Frank Hayes:

•Educational software doesn’t automatically improve test scores;

•Educational software works better when class sizes are smaller; and

•Educational software works better when kids use it more.

At one point, the study itself reveals this astonishing fact: “For a typical 180-day school year, average daily usage is about 10 minutes for all products combined.”

Hmm … Using math or reading software for 10 minutes a day doesn’t boost test scores. Or, as Hayes put it: This software doesn’t work … unless you use it.

A valuable insight, to be sure. But we might be excused for asking if that revelation really is worth every penny of the $10 million U.S. taxpayers had to pay for it.

Now, look: ED was irresponsible to release such a half-baked study. The department should have known how its findings would be misused. But at least the study itself contained caveats aplenty.

In fact, speaking of the report, Phoebe Cottingham, the head of ED’s research agency, confided this to eSchool News: “I think it’s premature to draw any kind of conclusions … we don’t feel we’re done yet, and the rest of the world shouldn’t consider that we’re done.”

One might tremble at the prospect that there’s more of this sort of thing to come. But Cottingham’s admonition did nothing to dissuade the Fourth Estate from plastering erroneous conclusions all over newspapers, television stations, and web sites.

Sadly, most of these news organizations didn’t bother to delve below the punch lines of the news release. Here’s just a sampling of the kind of negligent messages readers around the world were subjected to after ED released its study:

CNN: Study: No benefit going high-tech for math and reading

China Post (Taiwan): Software has no major impact on student performance: study

Fox News: Study: Computers in Classrooms Don’t Make Kids Smarter

The Age (Australia): No benefit to adding math and science software products to classrooms, study says

USA Today: Software doesn’t help hard numbers of math, science scores [Poor USA Today couldn’t even manage to read the lead of its own story before writing that headline. The USA Today story, of course, actually cites math and reading scores, not science.]

Gulf News (United Arab Emirates): No benefit by adding math software to classrooms

Boston Globe, Business Week, Forbes: Study: Test scores unmoved by technology

WIFR-TV (Freeport-Rockford, Ill.): Education Technology Isn’t Helping

And here, in case you’re wondering, was our own headline for this debacle: Ed-tech research under fire (April).

Turns out, that headline of ours was overly optimistic. Knowledgeable observers had plenty to dispute with ED’s work (see our Front-Page story this month, ED study slams software efficacy), but skepticism in the general press was as rare as socks on a chicken.

The news media at large were gullible, incurious, and downright lazy. They took PR punch lines that defy common sense and mindlessly repeated them. The ill effects of their sloth likely will undermine education efforts for years to come–as latter-day Luddites, imbeciles, yahoos, and cheapskates wave accounts of this so-called “research” whenever legislative sessions and school board meetings convene to consider technology expenditures.

The whole fiasco is a dirty shame. But that’s what happens when the reporters and editors we rely on for news and analysis become nothing but repeaters.


Ed-tech research under fire

Report: Ed tech has proven effective


Experts: Ed tech must change its message

Supporters of educational technology need to change their message when talking with stakeholders, and they need to advocate more forcefully for change in higher education: These were the key points made during a special roundtable discussion featuring past board chairs of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN).

Aimed at celebrating CoSN’s 15th anniversary, the event took place during the nonprofit organization’s annual conference in San Francisco March 28.

Seven former chairs of the group’s board of directors, as well as many other industry leaders, gathered for an informal conversation centered on the question: Given the needs of today’s learners, as well as the current context of technology in most school districts, what are the most important ed-tech leadership issues that are not receiving attention?

In a spirited, hour-long discussion, participants touched on a variety of issues–from the need for a formal certification process for school district chief technology officers, to the lack of federal leadership on educational technology under the Bush administration.

But two themes stood out in particular: (1) the need to shift the focus in the national dialogue about educational technology from the technology itself to the changes it enables in teaching and learning, and (2) the need to overhaul teacher education in the United States to produce a new generation of educators who are not only comfortable with technology, but expect it to be used in schools.

‘A new vocabulary’

Cheryl Williams, a former CoSN board chair who is now vice president of marketing for the San Francisco-based professional development firm Teachscape, said ed-tech leaders need to "bridge the divide between technology and teaching." She noted that many conversations about school technology fail to make the vital connection between the two–thereby empowering critics who argue that technology isn’t necessary in schools.

"We need a new vocabulary for discussing [educational technology] with stakeholders," Williams said.

To illustrate her point, she referred to arguments made by the Bush administration in justifying the elimination of federal funding devoted to school technology.

"The administration says, ‘It’s not about technology, it’s about teaching.’ Well, yeah, that’s what we’ve been doing all along," Williams said.

Sheryl Abshire, administrative coordinator of technology for the Calcasieu Parish School System in Louisiana and another former CoSN board chair, cited yet another reason stakeholders sometimes balk at funding for educational technology: Many people don’t understand the ongoing commitment it takes to sustain a strong ed-tech program.

"We still have people who think that, because schools are wired and because we’ve reduced the student-to-computer ratio, the work is done," she said.

Cheryl Lemke, president of ed-tech research firm The Metiri Group, said research points to the essential value of such "21st-century" skills as critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, innovation, and collaboration–skills that educational technology, when used effectively in schools, can help foster.

"Instead, we let No Child Left Behind drive us into using technology [primarily] for data collection," Lemke said. And while data collection is an important function that allows educators to make more informed instructional decisions, she said, this ignores technology’s full potential to transform teaching and learning.

Keith Krueger, CoSN’s chief executive, expanded on Lemke’s point. He noted that the United States has been a leader in innovation for the last few centuries, but countries such as Japan, South Korea, China, Singapore, and India are catching up. "Will we, in 15 or 20 years, be the birthplace of innovation?" he asked.

Krueger described a recent trip he took to Asia. In places such as South Korea and Singapore–where students are outperforming American students on standardized tests in math and science–education officials are worried, Krueger said, because they recognize the need to improve in areas such as creativity and innovation.

"Here, we’re squeezing that out" of the curriculum, he observed.

David Byer, an education executive at Apple Inc., summed up the discussion on this topic by noting that the national conversation about technology in schools should shift to one of pedagogy.

"We need to focus on the learning process," Byer said. "Then, the technology becomes irrelevant."

Fixing the pipeline

Another key theme to emerge from the discussion was the need to overhaul the nation’s higher-education system–and the teacher-education process in particular.

"Unless we address our colleges of education, we won’t fix the pipeline," said Karen Bruett, vice president of K-12 education for Dell Inc. "We need teachers coming in who recognize the need for technology in schools."

Kurt Steinhaus, a former CoSN board chair who now works for the presidential campaign of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, noted that, for his own children, ages 20 and 23, "the whole rhythm of their social life is built around technology."

"We haven’t figured that out yet in K-12 schools," Steinhaus said.

But just because today’s young people are accustomed to using technology in their everyday lives doesn’t mean they will be agents of change when they become teachers themselves, warned Jim Bosco, another former CoSN board chair and a professor emeritus at Western Michigan University.

In their role as students in the classroom, today’s youth are exposed to a model of teaching and learning that is largely devoid of the same technologies they use at home, Bosco said. As a result, he said, "when those students become teachers, they follow the same structure."

And that might happen regardless of how schools of education transform their curricula, Bosco added. To change this dynamic, he said, it’s more important to reach out to college presidents than schools of education.

"Transformation needs to be institutionalized throughout college," Bosco concluded.


ED study slams software efficacy

The use of certain educational software programs to help teach reading and math did not lead to higher test scores after a year of implementation, according to a major federal report released April 5.

The $10 million study, issued by the U.S. Department of Education (ED), was distributed to members of Congress–and its findings could affect future funding for school technology. That worries some advocates of educational technology, who question how the study was conducted.

The study set out to examine the effectiveness of 15 classroom software programs in four categories: early reading (first grade); reading comprehension (fourth grade); pre-algebra (sixth grade); and algebra (ninth grade).

Researchers studied the impact of the school software products in question on about 10,000 students in 439 classrooms across 132 schools. They found achievement scores were not statistically higher in classrooms using these reading and math programs than in classrooms without the products.

Ed-tech experts say the results aren’t surprising, given how the software was implemented in the participating schools.

Nearly all the teachers received training on the products during the summer or early fall and believed they were well prepared to use the technology in their classrooms. But their confidence waned as the school year went on, the study indicates: "Generally, teachers reported a lower degree of confidence in what they had learned after they began using products in the classroom."

This suggests participating teachers didn’t get the kind of technology coaching or peer support throughout the school year that other research demonstrates is a key element of success.

"Brief training at the beginning of the year is not sufficient. Ongoing and sustainable professional development that provides support and mentoring or coaching for teachers ensures that technology tools and resources are used in ways that lead to increased student achievement," said Mary Ann Wolf, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association.

What’s more, student use of the software accounted for only about 10 or 11 percent of the total instructional time for the entire school year in each of the four experiment groups–well below what most of the products were designed for. So it’s no wonder, ed-tech advocates say, that researchers didn’t see any tangible results.

To implement the study, volunteer teachers in each of the participating schools were randomly assigned either to use the products (the "treatment group") or not (the "control group"). While the study worked to ensure that teachers received appropriate training and that technology infrastructures were adequate, "vendors, rather than the study team, were responsible for providing technical assistance and for working with schools and teachers to encourage them to use products more or use them differently," the report said.

"Teachers could decide to stop using products if they believed products were ineffective or difficult to use, or could use products in ways that vendors may not have intended. Because of this feature of the study, the results relate to conditions of use that schools and districts would face if they were purchasing products on their own."

What is absent in this description of the research is any recognition that leadership also is a key component of school technology success. In designing a study that aimed to recreate "conditions of use that schools and districts would face if they were purchasing products on their own," the study merely confirms what ed-tech experts already know: that inserting technology into the classroom without the proper leadership and support won’t do any good.

"It is important to remember that educational software, like textbooks, is only one tool in the learning process. Neither can be a substitute for well-trained teachers, leadership, and parental involvement," said Keith Krueger, chief executive officer of the Consortium for School Networking, in a statement.

"This study failed to address several key pieces that other research and educators strongly agree are critical to the success of any efforts to transform teaching and learning," Wolf added. "Strong leadership is needed to encourage the correct use of technology, provide support throughout, and systemically integrate the use of technology for instruction. Integrating technology is much, much more than putting a piece of software into a classroom … As the study purports, it addressed a very narrow piece of educational technology; but more importantly, the study did not include critical components known to be essential for the successful integration of technology–or any other reform effort in transforming education."

Wolf pointed to North Carolina‘s effort to provide technology infrastructure and peer coaches in its schools, which appears to be paying off.

The NC IMPACT program, which was studied through a federal evaluation grant from ED, provided teachers and students with the hardware, software, connectivity, personnel, and professional development to create a 21st-century teaching and learning environment that ultimately affects student achievement. Students in IMPACT model schools, while originally behind their peers in math and reading end-of-grade test scores, caught up to and surpassed these comparison students during the first year of the grant and maintained that lead at the end of the second year of the grant, Wolf said. (See "Shared leadership makes an IMPACT in North Carolina": news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=6916.)

And that’s just one example of an educational technology project that has resulted in greater student achievement, other federally funded research suggests.

In Utah, Missouri, and Maine, students in classrooms that participated in the eMINTS program–which provides teachers with educational technology, curriculum, and more than 200 hours of professional development–had tests scores that were 10 to 20 percentage points higher than students in the control classrooms, Wolf said. And in Iowa, after providing teachers with sustainable professional development and technology-based curriculum interventions, student scores increased by 14 percentage points in eighth grade math, 16 points in fourth grade math, and 13 points in fourth grade reading, when compared with control groups.

In an interview with eSchool News, the study’s designers defended their methods.

"This was a very well-done study, there are no flaws in it, it had the full engagement of the software developers, and a great deal of attention was given to training and support of the teachers," said Phoebe Cottingham, commissioner of education evaluation and regional assistance for the Institute of Education Sciences, ED’s principal research arm. "I think we’re mystified about why we didn’t see some of the expected effects on test scores."

The report was based on schools and teachers who had not used any of the software products in question before. ED has extended the study for a second year to determine whether the software is more effective when teachers have had more experience using it. The department hopes to release the second year’s results next spring.

"We’ll be very interested in what the analysis produces a year from now," Cottingham said.

The lead researcher for the study was Mark Dynarski of Mathematica Policy Research Inc., an independent, for-profit research organization based in Princeton, N.J.

Cottingham and Dynarski both said it’s difficult to compare this study’s findings to other studies that found technology has increased test scores, because those other studies involved different control groups, methods, and other factors that might have had a different impact on the results.

"I think it’s a signal of how important it is that people really use the most rigorous designs as soon as possible, because they can be fooled into thinking things are happening [that aren’t]," Cottingham said of the research.

Cottingham did say one thing that educational technology advocates would agree with: Observers shouldn’t jump to conclusions based on the results of this study alone–something ed-tech advocates hope members of Congress will consider, too.

"I think it’s premature to draw any kind of conclusion [about technology’s impact on student achievement]," Cottingham said. "This is the biggest, most rigorous study that’s been done–but we don’t feel we’re done yet, and the rest of the world shouldn’t consider that we’re done."


Google’s search engine goes universal

The Associated Press reports that online search leader Google will begin showing videos on its main search results page, along with photos, books, and other content that until now, has been separated into different categories. The new "universal search" approach will produce more than just a series of links and snippets pointing to other sites. Google is hoping that by intermingling different categories of web content will help it become even more useful to its users and maintain its market position, as well as making its search more accessible to new users…


Software for kindergarten Beethovens

CNET reports that Sibelius, a well-known maker of software used by both musicians and composers on Hollywood films, has released a new program designed for use by children aged five to eleven. The software features game-like graphics and design, and it helps teach children the basics of music theory, instruments, and composition. In addition, it the lets them create their own songs. Educators say using the software is so easy that a kindergartner can compose a song. Because of this, it is believed the software will go far in helping young children become music aficionados, and perhaps curtail digital piracy as kids compose their own music rather than illegally downloading songs…


MySpace won’t release names of sex offenders

USA Today reports that citing privacy concerns, the popular social-networking site MySpace said that it will not comply with a request made by attorneys general from eight states to turn over the names of registered sex offenders who use the site. MySpace’s chief security officer said that the company regularly discloses information to law enforcement agencies, but because of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, it can only do so when the proper legal processes are followed…


N.Y. attorney general accuses Dell of fraud

According to CNET, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has accused Dell of fraud, false advertising, and deceptive business practices. The state of New York is asking for an injunction of Dell’s alleged bad business practices, as well as an order for the PC maker to pay an unspecified amount of damages to customers deemed to be affected…