App of the Week: U.S. history straight from Ken Burns

Ed. note: App of the Week picks are now being curated with help from the editors of, a free service from Common Sense Education. Click here to read the full app review.

Ken Burns

What’s It Like? 

The Ken Burns App provides iOS users with a new way of viewing Burns’ award-winning documentaries. Burns partnered with the digital agency Big Spaceship to pare down hundreds of hours of documentary footage into six playlists. The app is organized by themes in American history (Innovation, Race, Politics, Art, Hard Times, and War). Each playlist runs from 20 minutes to an hour and covers the theme by pulling clips from the different documentaries.

Price: $10

Grades: 6-12

Rating: 4/5

Pros: Short, engaging video clips will enhance a thematic approach to United States history.

Cons: If you’re purchasing multiple copies, high cost may limit access.

Bottom line: A huge time-saver and an effective way to share Ken Burns’ brilliant documentaries with students.


3 ways to involve students in your ed-tech PD

If you’re not including your students in teachers’ PD, you’re missing a key opportunity

Whenever I’m invited to a school or district to talk with teachers about using technology, I’ll ask the principal or superintendent if I can meet with a group of students to prepare first. Often, my request is met with a puzzled reply: “You realize that we want you to come talk to our teachers, right? Why do you want to talk to the kids?”  My experience is that involving students in both staff development planning and during workshops can lead to a much more successful implementation.

Showing teachers how to use the technology itself—what buttons to push, what features to use—isn’t the real challenge in ed-tech professional development. The real challenge is helping teachers understand their students’ expectations and motivation and behavior and lack of knowledge around basic technical skills that are often over estimated. Not including students in at least some parts of the staff development is like teaching surgeons how to operate only on cadavers.

Involving your students in ed-tech PD can be very powerful. Here are three ideas for doing this effectively.

Have teachers observe others as they teach with technology

One of the techniques I like to use is to have teachers watch as I teach a class. Not only can they see how I’m using technology as a tool to support students’ learning; they also can observe how I interact with the students, and the strategies I use to elicit deeper thinking and give students ownership of the learning process. As the lesson unfolds, teachers can ask questions of me or the students to learn more about why the lesson worked or what I was thinking as I used a particular strategy.

Sometimes, what I don’t do is just as important as what I do. For instance, instead of answering a student’s question, I’ll turn the question around and have the student find the answer, then share it with the rest of the class.

The interaction between teachers and students can be very rich, giving observers a better understanding of the issues they’re likely to face in their own classrooms. Those are the kinds of lessons that teachers would miss in a traditional staff development session. For example, even though every student has a device, I might group students together in clusters of two or three to engage them to reach consensus around an academic challenge.  In this way, the student conversation gives teachers more insights into their thinking.

Watching students learn also removes the possibility of a teacher thinking, “This is too difficult for my kids,” or “My students already know this, and I don’t need to teach it to them.” We often overestimate what students know about technology, or we underestimate what they are willing to do—especially if they haven’t been successful in a traditional classroom setting. Seeing how students respond to instruction that uses technology to elicit deeper thinking can help change that mindset.

Next page: Try student-led workshops


80 percent of schools using digital content, says ASCD survey

Survey reveals that as digital content use increases, the marketplace should ensure content is easy to integrate

Eighty percent of school and district leaders responding to a recent survey said they use digital content in their curriculum or outside the classroom in certain ways, although equity concerns prevent some educators from going all-digital.

Of the more than 2,000 survey respondents, 73 percent have a digital device strategy and 64 percent are aligning their digital content plan to that strategy, Respondents also reported that the ability to deliver individualized instruction, greater student engagement, and movement toward a one-to-one program have spurred the increased digital content use.

Digital Content Goes to School: Trends in K-12 Classroom e-Learning,” was released by ASCD and OverDrive. ASCD members served as the survey’s participants.

Responding educators most want digital content for English/language arts (74 percent), science (62 percent), math (61 percent), and social studies (56 percent). Surveyed school and district administrators said they believe digital content use will continue to grow and be successfully integrated into curriculum if teachers receive proper professional development.

Next page: What’s preventing the transition to all-digital?


Ed-tech’s evolution in schools

Catch up on the most compelling K-12 news stories you may have missed this week

Every Friday, I’ll recap some of the most interesting and thought-provoking news developments that occurred over the week.

I can’t fit all of this week’s news stories here, though, so feel free to visit and read up on other news you may have missed.

In this week’s news:

The top 10 school IT leader concerns
Broadband and network capacity is school technology leaders’ top priority, according to the results of an annual IT leadership survey from CoSN.

All the ways iOS 9.3 will impact school iPad rollouts
Apple’s latest overhaul will impact one-to-one and shared device rollouts.

Virginia heading for dramatic high school overhaul
Virginia high school is going to look different for the freshmen who enroll in 2018. Even the idea of high school will be different, according to architects of a plan that the State Board of Education will flesh out over the next two years.

Report: 41 percent of schools are under-connected
A new report from SETDA and Common Sense Kids Action focuses on K-12 broadband and wi-fi connectivity, state leadership for infrastructure, state broadband implementation highlights, and state advocacy for federal broadband support.


Blackboard launches New Learning Experience platform

Integrated platform enables personalized learning, streamlined communication with family and community engagement, and unified workflows

Blackboard has launched a new K-12 platform for districts and schools that brings together institutions, parents, teachers, and learners in an integrated approach that addresses fundamental requirements for student success including school safety and security, family and community engagement and personalized competency-based learning.

Blackboard’s offering combines multiple products, integrations, and professional services that can be deployed individually or as a comprehensive solution.

Technologies include: Blackboard Mass Notifications™ (formerly Blackboard Connect™), Blackboard Web Community Manager™ (formerly Blackboard Schoolwires™), Blackboard Mobile Communication App™ (formerly Blackboard Parentlink™), Blackboard Social Media Manager™ (formerly Sociability™), Blackboard Collaborate™, Blackboard Blackboard Open Content (formerly xpLor), and a choice of Blackboard’s leading learning management systems: Blackboard Learn™ or Moodlerooms™ and their mobile apps for students and teachers.

The K-12 NLE Platform integrates with hundreds of district technologies including the student information system (SIS), lunch menu, school calendar, payments processing and transportation services to meet the growing needs of school communities.

“We are proud to unveil the K-12 New Learning Experience Platform,” said Stephanie Weeks, Vice President of K-12 Strategy for Blackboard. “Last year we introduced our vision of putting the learner at the center of everything we do, and it’s exciting to deliver on that vision so that our K-12 customers can focus on improving student outcomes. We are already seeing schools and districts achieve measureable success, and many others are making plans for expanding to this full platform approach to achieve their goals.”

North Carolina’s Mooresville Graded School District (MGSD), a recognized K-12 innovator, is deploying the platform as part of the broad digital conversion taking place as schools transition from paper-based teaching and learning to an online approach in which every student and teacher has access to an Internet device.

“Blackboard’s K-12 New Learning Experience Platform provides all MGSD students, teachers, and parents easy access to information and resources to meet the needs of every learner,” said Dr. Scott Smith, Chief Technology Officer for MGSD. “We haven’t purchased a text book in six years. Blackboard is helping us erase the digital divide and provide more opportunities for all students.”


The 7 pillars of today’s digital leadership

School and district leadership isn’t about a position or title–it’s about improving practices around digital learning

If educators want to see results in student engagement and achievement, they must adapt their leadership practices to an increasingly digitally-focused learning environment.

This was the focus of a CoSN 2016 spotlight session by Eric Sheninger, a senior fellow at the International Center for Leadership in Education and a former high school principal.

“Leadership is not about position, titles, or power. Leadership is about the actions you take,” he said.

During the session, Sheninger highlighted seven pillars of effective digital school leaders and talked about how, during his time as a high school principal, he and his staff modeled each pillar. Those pillars focus on how school leaders can ensure that their policies and practices highlight the best examples of digital learning success in schools.

“The environment in which kids learn is dramatically different,” he said. “We fault our kids for being so engaged with technology…how can we prepare kids for the future if we, those tasked with educating kids, are stuck in the past? If teaching, learning, and leadership don’t change, we’re never going to get results.”

Pillar 1: Student learning and engagement

“Technology is a tool–it’s not a learning outcome,” Sheninger said. “What do you want in your vision? What do you want your kids to be able to do with technology that will allow them to demonstrate conceptual mastery?” Engagement can begin with creating projects and learning opportunities that mean something. “If you don’t get instructional design right, technology is just going to speed up the rate of failure. It’s about building a foundation.”

Pillar 2: School environment

When he was principal of New Jersey’s New Milford High School, Sheninger said a change in learning spaces changed student engagement for the better. In fact, he said, data indicates the learning environment design can impact student engagement and achievement by up to 25 percent.

Pillar 3: Professional learning and growth

An unlimited number of professional learning opportunities are available on social media and through professional learning networks (PLNs), Sheninger said. Modeling the practices educators want to see from students is the first step.

Pillar 4: Communications

Communication has changed drastically because of technology, Sheninger said, and now educators are in an era of mass dialogue. “Don’t we want to take advantage of that in our own leadership capacity?” he asked. School stakeholders want news about school events, staff and student accomplishments, and district successes. “It’s about being proactive, not reactive,” he said. “Digital leadership is not just about information; it’s about meeting your stakeholders where they are.”

Sheninger also advised using multiple methods of news distribution, because people use various social media channels and communication methods. “You can’t put all your eggs in the Twitter basket or the Facebook basket,” he said.

Pillar 5: Public relations

“If you don’t tell your story, someone else will,” he said. “You need to tell stakeholders what actually happens in your schools and in your district. There are great stories to share–leverage the media.” Digital leadership is about becoming a storyteller-in-chief and sharing school accomplishments. Sheninger advised pushing out good news and accomplishments in various forms–news stories, photos, etc.–across various social media channels.

Pillar 6: Branding

Branding is a combination of your vision, mission, and values. “In education, a brand is not about selling. It’s about sharing, telling, and building relationships,” he said. A school brand should convey student achievement, teacher and administrator quality, extracurriculars, innovation, and partnerships.

Pillar 7: Opportunity

Digital leaders should consistently look for opportunities to improve existing programs, strategies, and resources.


The top 10 school IT leader concerns

Annual survey outlines broadband, instructional materials, student data privacy as top among school IT leaders’ concerns

Broadband and network capacity is school technology leaders’ top priority, according to the results of an annual IT leadership survey from CoSN.

The fourth annual K-12 IT Leadership Survey Report, released during CoSN’s annual conference in Washington, D.C., also revealed that school IT leaders are spending more time and devoting more resources to student data privacy and security. The survey collected responses from 526 ed-tech leaders, most in public school environments.

“There is innovative change happening in our schools. But with this digital transformation is a new frontier of challenges confronting IT administrators,” said Keith Krueger, CEO of CoSN, in a press release. “The education community should know what is top of mind for school IT leaders so we can better support their leadership capacity and advance learning outcomes empowered through technology.”

Major IT findings emerged from the survey and are outlined in the report:

1. Broadband and network capacity is the top priority for IT leaders. It replacing assessment readiness (which for the first time failed to make the top three).
2. Privacy and security of student data is an increasing concern for IT leaders. About two-thirds said privacy and security are more important than they were last year.
3. Districts are turning to digital learning materials. Nearly 90 percent of respondents expect their instructional materials to be at least 50 percent digital within the next three years.
4. Ninety-nine percent expect to incorporate digital Open Educational Resources (OER) over the next three years, with 45 percent expecting their digital content to be at least 50 percent OER within that timeframe.
5. Nearly 80 percent of IT leaders use online productivity tools – the largest use of cloud-based solutions in education.

Next page: Salary info, demographics, and challenges


Report: 41 percent of schools are under-connected

A new report details the importance of state advocacy in connecting schools, students to broadband internet

A new report from SETDA and Common Sense Kids Action focuses on K-12 broadband and wi-fi connectivity, state leadership for infrastructure, state broadband implementation highlights, and state advocacy for federal broadband support.

The report highlights the pivotal role state leaders and policymakers play in helping districts and schools implement high-speed broadband and wi-fi in schools. This kind of connectivity is necessary, the authors note, to help connect students to high-quality digital learning opportunities.

It also highlights state leaders who have helped their states put these digital learning opportunities directly in front of teachers and students.

“Access to reliable, high-speed broadband is essential to creating and delivering the deeper learning experiences for students for college and careers, and to compete in a global economy,” said Dr. Tracy Weeks, SETDA’s executive director, in a statement.

K-12 broadband and wi-fi connectivity

“Internet access is no longer an afterthought in education; instead high-speed broadband and wi-fi are now a vital component of K-12 school infrastructure, there is an increased emphasis on digital learning,” according to the report.

And though more school and state leaders have made broadband connectivity a priority, a 2016 FCC broadband progress report notes that the digital divide is still very much present, and that 41 percent of schools have not yet met the FCC’s short-term goal of 100 Mbps per 1,000 users. Even fewer schools have met the long-term goal of 1 Gbps/1,000 users.

Lack of broadband access remains a challenge for many Americans–40 percent of those in rural areas and tribal lands lack access to high-speed broadband. However, the FCC recently approved a subsidy to help low-income Americans finance broadband, wireless, or a bundled voice and internet package.

State leadership for infrastructure

A 2015 SETDA report revealed that many state policies have made dramatic shifts to support digital learning opportunities, and many states implemented policies requiring the use of digital instructional materials over the next five years.

Here, the report highlights various states’ progress when it comes to upgrading infrastructure and connectivity for students.

For instance, New Jersey created a regional purchasing consortia to help schools collaborate and bring down the coast of high-speed broadband. The first year yielded $89 million in savings for schools that particiated.

And in Oregon, state agencies are coordinating to provide high-speed broadband to all schools through a partnership with Education SuperHighway. The partnership will help determine where each district is in terms of offering high-speed broadband to students, and the data will be used to improve district offerings and connectivity.

State Broadband Implementation Highlights

According to independent research and SETDA’s 2015 broadband survey, nearly 60 percent of states have established broadband policies that create opportunity to expand broadband access for students.

Twelve states said they are thinking about coordinating statewide consortia for the E-rate’s new wi-fi funding. Seven states reported that they already have acted on implementation.

Two-thirds of states said they provide direct state funding for broadband.

A number of states have policies in support of broadband and wi-fi connectivity. Louisiana compiles a yearly report on broadband guidelines and school recommendations, Maine adopts formal policies for high-speed broadband, and Pennsylvania requires universal deployment of broadband by all local carriers.

State Advocacy for Federal Support of Broadband

SETDA state leaders and members have lobbied for various federal programs that support broadband, including E-rate modernization, the Every Student Succeeds Act, and the National Education Technology Plan.

Federal resources supporting broadband connectivity include BroadbandUSA, a National Telecommunications and Information Administration initiative that gives communities technical advice on how to expand broadband; ConnectALL, a 2016 initiative that helps Americans get online; ConnectHome, launched by the White House to help broadband adoption among children and families living in HUD-assisted housing; and the Lifeline Program, which was recently modernized to include broadband access.

“Something is wrong when coffee shops have faster internet connections than most of our schools,” said said James P. Steyer, CEO and Founder of Common Sense, in a press release. “Policymakers in state capitals, and in Washington DC, are facing the fact that critical funding is necessary to support the continued adoption of technology in classrooms throughout the country. With the use of advances in technology for learning and for administration, we must do everything we can now to finish the job of connecting every classroom and library.”


Meet the next generation of school ed-tech leaders

CoSN and EdScoop announce inaugural winners at CoSN 2016 annual conference

CoSN (the Consortium for School Networking) and EdScoop have unveiled the winners of the NextGeneration Leaders Program, a new national initiative that recognizes emerging K-12 education technology leaders.

Chosen among 29 finalists from across the country, the 2016 NextGeneration Leaders are:
• Michele Eaton, CETL, Director of Virtual and Blended Learning, Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township (Indianapolis, IN)
• Travis Eldridge, Technology Integration Specialist, Laramie County School District #1
(Cheyenne, WY)
• Roshni Lakhi, Blended Learning Specialist, Highlander Institute (Providence, RI)
• Andrew Neiburg, Instructional Technology Resource Teacher, Henrico County Public Schools (Henrico, VA)
• Nathan White, CETL, IT Operations Manager, Elmore County Public Schools (Wetumpka, AL)

The ed-tech leaders were honored in a ceremony at the CoSN 2016 Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. The NextGeneration Leaders Program is co-sponsored by EdScoop with support from Microsoft.

“This is an important moment today to recognize the technology leaders of tomorrow. Chosen by their peers and the entire education community, these leaders have taken demonstrable, visionary steps to drive technology programs and accelerate learning success through digital tools in their schools,” remarked Keith Krueger, CEO of CoSN.

Next page: A closer look at this year’s winners