Blackboard launches Charitable Giving Program

More than $200,000 donated to help support ed-tech programs

blackboard-charitableBlackboard Inc. has launched its Charitable Giving Program, the company announced. This year, more than $200,000 will be provided to multiple organizations to help foster education technology programs all over the world.

This inaugural program represents the first time Blackboard has formally rolled out a corporate charitable giving process and marks the latest step in the company’s efforts to support its renewed mission of “reimagining education.”

“As part of the global community, it is important for us to look beyond our four walls and day-to-day activities and find ways we can give back,” said Jay Bhatt, CEO of Blackboard. “I couldn’t be more thrilled about the launch of this program and am excited to work with the organizations selected this year. While each is unique, all are focused on enhancing life outcomes through improved access to both education and technology. This is directly aligned with what Blackboard strives to do every day.”

(Next page: The five organizations receiving donations)

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Education gets spotlight in SOTU

President Obama devoted part of the annual State of the Union address to improving education and access

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Mykhaylo Palinchak, 2014/Shutterstock.com

President Obama in his Jan. 20, 2015 State of the Union Address highlighted the need for high-speed broadband for all Americans, access to higher education opportunities, and the need to protect student data in information.

On the heels of data breaches and proposals to protect student data, Obama called on Congress “to finally pass the legislation we need to better meet the evolving threat of cyber-attacks, combat identity theft, and protect our children’s information.”

The Student Digital Privacy Act would prohibit companies from selling student data to third parties, a move spurred by the increased use of technology in schools that can scoop up personal information.

“Over the course of the past few months, a group of national education organizations, representing a range of perspectives, experience and stakeholders in the field, has been developing a set of shared principles for safeguarding the personal information of America’s students,” the Consortium for School Networking and the Data Quality Campaign said in a joint statement.

“Everyone has a role to play in ensuring parents and others can trust that data are being safely used to help students succeed. In the past year, states have created 26 new student privacy laws, and the education technology industry have pledged a series of commitments to safeguard data that has been signed by 75 companies. All federal action needs to be aligned with all the local and state efforts to protect student data.”

(Next page: Obama outlines a vision for community college access)

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Why technology must be invisible during ed tech roll outs

One district leader shares his philosophy for invisible tech roll outs that focus on goals, not tools

invisible-techWhen it comes to classroom and infrastructure technology implementations, it’s the equipment, software, and apps that usually take center stage. Rob Dickson thinks he’s found a better way to approach K-12 technology implementations, and in his mind the tech itself is not the focal point. In fact, Dickson, the executive director of information management systems (IMS) at Omaha Public Schools, thinks the equipment and tools being installed and put to work should be “invisible.”

“Implementing a project should begin with a vision,” writes Dickson, in a post for SmartBlog on Education. “Technology shouldn’t be the main focus but a vein running through a strategic plan touching every objective and outcome, providing the highway to efficiencies and collaboration. Every district is different across the country, with different views, demographics, policies and procedures.”

Dickson, who has been in his current position for six months, bases his philosophy on the fact that technology should be viewed as a utility that’s provided by the district, rather than a key driver or central focus, during implementation. “Just like gas, water, or electricity, the technology is the utility or the service that’s being provided,” says Dickson, who developed the idea during a recent cloud-based Office 365 implementation, “we shouldn’t be focused on the technology itself, but on the actual learning and benefits that students and teachers get from it.”

This doesn’t always happen in K-12 environments where teachers, administrators, and IT directors are focused on adopting ebooks or rolling out iPad implementations. In these scenarios, the technology tools and applications behind those rollouts become the central focus for everyone involved. “The actual learning that will be enabled by the technology takes a backseat,” says Dickson, “and the question of, ‘How can we provide the best learning environment for our students?’ isn’t always answered by technology, to be honest.”

(Next page: How the SAMR model can help)

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Top 5 education policy issues in 2015

State accountability and school readiness are two of this year’s top education policy challenges

education-policyThe Council of State Governments (CSG) recently issued a brief outlining what it considers to be the top five policy issues that will face education in 2015.

In a blog post, CSG Director of Education Policy Pam Goins noted that “state officials and policymakers have been focused on college- and career-readiness for several years yet challenges still exist to graduate students with the skills and competencies necessary to obtain sustainable employment. 2015 promises to be another busy year concentrated on implementing best practices and enacting innovative policies that prepare America’s youngest students for entry into school, create environments for all students including those at-risk, and offer a variety of experiences so students participate in work-based opportunities.”

The top five issues include school readiness, experiential and work-based learning, academic success for at-risk populations, innovative state accountability systems, and advance attainment of degrees, certificates and other high-quality credentials.

Each policy challenge is outlined below, with an expanded view available on CSG’s website.

(Next page: The five education policies for 2015)

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Which of these top 20 programming languages should your school teach?

One IT expert and educator discusses the how and why of choosing the right programming language

“Always code as if the guy who ends up maintaining your code will be a violent psychopath who knows where you live.” -John Woods

programming-codeWay back in the 1970s, working as a computer programmer was quite prestigious, and if you wanted to get into computer programming, your potential employer would more often than not put you through a batch of aptitude tests in order to determine your suitability: even if you had a degree.

Nowadays, programming is more widespread and you don’t need a degree to be a programmer; it’s no longer mainly for scientists and engineers: students studying the humanities, English as a foreign language students, people building websites, and a whole host of other folks are learning to program. This non-technical article will give you novices [non-expert instructors] out there some basic guidance in choosing a programming language that is appropriate not only for your students’ needs, but for faculty and staff interested in online basics.

The most important question on people’s minds will probably be, “What programming language(s) do I need to learn?”

In order to answer this question, a personal PAL (Purpose, Ability, and Level) should be able to help. A person’s PAL will guide him or her through the complex maze of programming languages so that he or she can find the most suitable one(s):

Purpose: What you need to do, will determine what programming language(s) you need to learn. It is of the utmost importance that your purpose is correctly served by the use of an appropriate programming language: choosing the wrong one may result in a program that is wholly unsuitable for your purposes–as well as wasted hours of code writing.

Ability: If you aren’t especially logically wired, avoid learning difficult programming languages. If you are faced with choosing from several almost equally appropriate programming languages–always go for the one(s) that are most appropriate for your ability–otherwise, you’ll soon discover that “Profanity is the one language all programmers know best.”

Level: Make sure that the chosen programming language is at a suitable level of complexity and appropriateness. You wouldn’t try to teach calculus to kids at grade school–so don’t select programming languages that are either excessively complex or inappropriate for your students’ level of maturity and education. Let’s now look at some specific situations…

(Next page: the top 20 languages and when to choose them)

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Duncan calls for NCLB repeal

Education secretary promotes innovation at state, local levels

duncan-nclbU.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on January 12 laid out a vision for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that continues a focus on the nation’s most vulnerable students.

During a speech on the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the nation’s cornerstone education law, Duncan called for scrapping the law known as No Child Left Behind and replacing it with a version that not only prepares children for college and careers, but also delivers on the promise of equity and real opportunity for every child–including minority students, students with disabilities, low-income students and English learners. Duncan, joined by civil rights leaders, educators, parents, students, members of Congress, clergy, nonprofit community leaders and others, emphasized the critical role of ESEA in protecting the rights of all students to a quality education that will set them up for success.

“I believe we can work together–Democrats and Republicans–to move beyond the tired, prescriptive No Child Left Behind law. I believe we can replace it with a law that recognizes that schools need more support–more money–than they receive today,” Duncan said. “A law that recognizes that no family should be denied preschool for their children. A law that recognizes the hard work educators across America are doing to support and raise expectations for students, and lifts up the profession of teaching by recognizing that teachers need better preparation, better support, and more resources. A law that says that educational opportunity isn’t an option, it’s a civil right.”

(Next: Duncan’s call for high-quality preschool)

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7 steps to creating PLCs teachers want to use

Practical tips for building PLCs that serve every educator

PLCs-communitiesEd. note: Innovation In Action is a new monthly column from the International Society of Technology in Education focused on exemplary practices in education.

plcs-isteAt my district, the MSD of Wayne Township in Indianapolis, we have found that changing the way we think about teacher training not only benefits staff developers and administrators, but schools, the district as a whole, teachers, and ultimately students. A critical part of our revitalized PD plan has been the use of professional learning communities (PLCs), which are essentially groups of educators that work collaboratively and share ideas, often in an online format.

Benefits of PLCs
One of the first reasons many schools and districts begin thinking about online professional development is to save time and money. As we increase the number of digital opportunities for students, unfortunately the number of professional development staff does not always increase at the same rate. The reality is that we must offer more (and better) professional development with fewer resources.

While my experiences with online professional development came out of a need to reach several teachers while working within a limited time frame, the additional benefits and improved learning that happened because of it were a pleasant surprise. It is important to note that if done correctly, creating a PLC is not about simply moving traditional professional development to an online format. A true PLC is a community of learners, all contributing and collaborating toward a common goal. When you create and nurture this culture of sharing, you benefit from the collective intelligence of the group. It also gives a voice to every staff member. By creating learner-centered PD, the learning is more meaningful and mirrors the type of learning you hope to see in the classroom.

Additionally, by creating an ongoing community of learning, staff developers and principals are able to provide more effective support just when the teachers need it. An online presence allows a teacher to feel supported at all times and not just during the hour a professional developer is sitting with them in a meeting.

From our experience, here are seven suggestions for developing PLCs that work.

(Next page: Where to set up PLCs, how to use them, and more)

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App of the week: LightSail

Ed. note: App of the Week picks are now being curated with help from Graphite by Common Sense Media. Click here to read the full app review.

 lightsail-app

What it’s like: LightSail is an ereading “literacy platform” that helps teachers support their students’ independent reading. Students can use LightSail to check out texts from their school’s digital library and read the books directly on their devices. As students progress through a book, questions appear to gauge their comprehension, from simple multiple-choice questions to longer narrative responses.

Price: subscription

Grades: 1-12

Pros: Real-time opportunities for assessment and feedback make monitoring and encouraging student reading convenient and inviting. Teacher and student dashboards offer easy-to-read feedback on students’ achievements and needs.

Cons: Some embedded assessments are deeper than others, and some might balk at making pleasure reading quite so data-driven.

Bottom line: A powerful platform for developing engaged readers.
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5 ed-tech highlights from CES 2015

From robot teachers to “smart” backpacks, CES 2015 had plenty to excite educators

CES-education-technologyThe annual International Consumer Electronics Show, better known as CES, is the showcase for newer technologies already in the marketplace and those soon to debut.

“What is popular in the consumer market is becoming more of the backbone of education, because that’s what students bring in,” said Kerry Goldstein, producer of TransformingEDU, the show’s education track. “There’s no place better than CES to look at what is going on with technology.”

The top five trends at CES this year that educators should know about were:

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Sony’s Morpheus. Copyright: Barone Firenze / Shutterstock.com

Augmented technology/virtual reality: The University of Chihuahua (Mexico) is using the technology in the arts and the sciences. Art students are virtually traveling to different renowned art museums to see different artists work in a much more immersive way than books or simple video will allow. Similarly, chemistry and biology students are using virtual reality to conduct experiments, study how the heart works, and more.

Since schools rearely have access to these cutting-edge experiences, Goldstein explained, the virtual reality technology enables them to teach these subjects without these facilities.

Watch: Oculus Rift Car Flip demo at CES:

 

(Next page: Wearable tech; SmartBackPacks)

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