Blackboard unveils totally redesigned learning platform

Learning approach aims to bring a learner-centric focus to education

learning-blackboardBlackboard is launching a new platform, called the New Learning Experience, which aims to bring together all of its various products and services under one roof, with the goal of making it seem more focused on students and learners, not administrators.

The company describes the new platform as a simplification of its existing offerings. Services like mobile apps, virtual collaboration tools, course management, analytics, learning portfolios, a marketplace to buy/sell things like textbooks, and ways to work with parents and teachers will be included all in the same system.

The goal is to get beyond the traditional LMS, said Jay Bhatt, President and CEO of Blackboard in a video outlining the launch. It is also designed to move with students, from K-12 to higher ed and possibly even beyond as they look for and land jobs after they graduate.

Next page: What it actually looks like for a student


Computer pros volunteer to teach girls programming

Professionals are increasing efforts to help girls develop an interest in computer programming

programming-girlsWhen organizers of a summer camp that includes a number of disadvantaged high-school girls asked about career plans, none of the girls talked about computer programming–work that pays well and has a shortage of women.

Now five are learning basic programming and 15 are in level 2 of the 7-week program created by a national nonprofit called Girls Who Code and taught at a church near Shreveport’s airport in northwest Louisiana.

Shaniah Hutcherson, the 13-year-old daughter of a Shreveport Fire Department administrator, said in a phone interview that she’d never thought about programming before her pastor’s wife asked girls if they wanted to join.

She said she did so “just for my church” but is now thinking of majoring in computer technology.

Next page: Efforts to attract more girls to computer programming


One state’s plan to bring better internet to schools and homes

Ohio’s OneCommunity brings broadband to schools and private homes

ohio-equitySince 2003, OneCommunity of Cleveland has been connecting and enabling public benefit organizations across the state like schools, government agencies, healthcare, museums, and libraries with next-generation fiber optics. And lately, they’re begun working with schools to identify private homes that lack sufficient bandwidth.

Lev Gonick, chief executive, said OneCommunity was born out of the need to elevate Northeastern Ohio’s “Rust Belt” status by infusing the region with faster and more accessible Internet. “Northeast Ohio was looking for a roadmap to reinvent itself,” said Gonick, who at the time was vice president and chief information officer at Case Western Reserve University, one of OneCommunity’s founding partners.

“Community leaders embraced the idea that whatever our future might be,” he adds, “fiber optics would [provide] a very important underlying and enabling infrastructure to get us there.”

To date, the organization has built about 2,500 route miles of its own fiber that currently connect 800 different institutions to the internet, and to one another, at ultra-high broadband speeds.

Next page: How it supports a district one-to-one program


Like Minecraft? Try these 7 engaging world builders, too

Eco, Oort Online, and a host of virtual worlds to keep students busy, and learning

eco-virtualWith the popular explosion of Minecraft among middle schoolers and beyond, it’s worth noting that it isn’t the only open world virtual environment with educational value. Nor is it always the most ideal game for teaching every concept, leading other games to pick up the slack. As a result, inspired educators and students are taking notice and branching out.

“Nobody stays with with one game forever,” said Marianne Malmstrom, an advocate for the use of virtual environments in education and a technology teacher at The Elisabeth Morrow School in New Jersey. “Who plays only solitaire?”

We spoke with several educator gamers about the current landscape of virtual games and what players can expect of the future. What follows is a list of their top picks for the Minecraft generation.

Oort Online. This massive multiplayer sandbox that lets players travel between multiple worlds is only in alpha testing, but early fans say it has great potential. Players assume roles, like hunters or merchants, and build societies that interact with the greater universe. The physics of the environment is rather precise, letting you create things like obstacle courses with slides, trampolines, and structures to swing past with tools like grappling hooks. “I teach game design and development, so for me it comes down to what kinds of games you can build within the environment,” said Steve Isaacs, who teaches at William Annin Middle School in New Jersey. “I could totally see players creating their own American Ninja Warrior-like levels right in that game.”

Next page: A virtual world that teaches sustainability


Study suggests a lack of assessments for coding teachers

Reliable assessments for classroom use remains a challenge, says Google-backed study

coding-assessmentsA small study recently conducted by the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) found a dearth of valid and reliable assessments for measuring student learning in computer science education.

The survey, released during CSTA’s annual conference, highlights the challenges high school teachers face when examining student understanding of computing concepts and identifying current models for computer science assessment.

The study used in-depth interviews with twenty-five high school computer science teachers during the 2014-2015 academic year and found that while CS teachers use a variety of formative and summative assessment techniques and rely on an assortment of sources (test banks, colleagues, even their own undergraduate CS courses), finding valid and reliable assessments to use in their classrooms remains a challenge.

Participants also noted that the variability in how students approach and develop algorithms makes assessment especially challenging and time-consuming.

As a result, CSTA made a number of recommendations to its community:

  • Develop valid and reliable formative and summative assessments for programming languages beyond Java, such as Python, C#, etc.
  • Develop an online repository of assessment items for K-12 computer science teachers.
  • Develop a community of practice surrounding the use of assessment in computer science classrooms.
  • Design and deliver professional development to increase K-12 computer science teachers’ assessment literacy.

“Computer science education is at a crossroads,” said Dr. Aman Yadav, Associate Professor in Educational Psychology and Educational Technology at Michigan State University and chair of the CSTA Assessment Taskforce. “It is crucial that schools, school districts and state education leaders not only provide access to CS for all students, but also equip teachers with the tools and resources they need to understand if and how their students are learning and understanding the concepts that will prepare them for the jobs of the future.”

Conducted by CSTA, the survey was funded by Google. Complete results are available online.

Material from a press release was used in this report.




App of the Week: Monster Heart Medic

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.

What’s It Like? Kids meet a friendly monster, Ragnar, who is suffering from a cardiovascular problem. Kids help Ragnar by completing a series of diagnostic tests to figure out what is causing the problem. They use a map to move from various places like a fitness center and a hospital, while earning achievements and awards for collecting medical items and completing tasks.

Price: Free

Grades: 3-6

Pros: Real-world health simulations and fun arcade games teach kids about the importance of heart-healthy living.

Cons: Kids have to do a lot of reading, which could present a challenge for some less-strong readers.

Bottom line: Fun, engaging adventure teaches kids about the cardiovascular system, medical diagnostics, and the importance of a healthy lifestyle.