How technology can provide opportunities for more personalized learning that meets each student’s unique needs was a key theme to emerge from the exhibit hall of the 2013 International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference in San Antonio last month.
For instance, Dell released a document called “Path to Personalize Learning,” a blueprint that comes from the company’s research and its work with school districts such as Clear Creek Independent School District in Texas and Fargo Public Schools in North Dakota.
Here are five steps to implementing more personalized learning environments with the help of technology, according to the document:
• Establish a vision for learning. While leadership at the top is essential, schools also must involve other stakeholders in this process, such as teachers and students. “School districts should set aside one day as a ‘Visioning Day’ to discuss the reality of students’ lives and ways the district is not meeting their needs,” the blueprint says.
• Determine the right IT infrastructure. Students should have personal access to learning devices, but this will create strains on the school’s wireless network. “Often, an assessment of the district’s IT capacity is a first step,” Dell’s plan says. “Key elements in a solid IT Infrastructure plan include mobile device management (MDM), access security, and identity provisioning management to ensure student information protection.”
(Next page: Three more steps to personalized learning—and seven new ed-tech products that can help)
• Prepare for a transition to personalized learning. This involves developing a digital content and curriculum strategy, ensuring that students have equitable access to these resources, and training teachers so they know how to use the new technology to enhance teaching and learning.
• Ensure access at home and at school. “Students who do not have internet at home should be able to make use of extended hours at any district school, plus sync their devices before and after school so that material is available offline,” the paper says.
• Reinforce professional learning. “Teachers need help in their transition from print to digital learning, to hone instruction to the individual needs of their students,” the blueprint says. Professional development should be ongoing throughout the year and should give teachers time to plan and collaborate to ensure success.
Edgenuity, a provider of online and blended-learning services, showcased a new platform for its courses that aims to make learning a more personalized, student-centered experience. The company also announced that its courses now are compatible with tablet computers, making them a good fit for schools with tablet-based or “bring your own device” initiatives.
Edgenuity’s new platform includes an “eNotes” tool that makes it easy for students to take notes as they are listening to the on-screen teacher deliver instruction; a Lesson Glossary that enables them to look up any word they don’t know, and add words to a personal word list for future reference; and transcripts of the videos to follow along with the on-screen teacher. Transcripts can be translated into 17 different languages to support students with limited English-language proficiency, the company said.
These new features join another feature that Edgenuity introduced last year, called CloseReader, a text mark-up tool that supports the in-depth reading and interpretation of complex texts.
“Our new platform delivers an immersive, student-centered, personalized experience that ensures students will be well-prepared to succeed in college and career,” said Sari Factor, CEO of Edgenuity. “Its development was grounded in three things: research that shows how students learn best; our experience from more than fifteen years of close interaction with students and educators; and finally our data, which show that students who become more engaged in the curriculum achieve more.”
Achieve3000 is another company that specializes in online differentiated instruction, and at the 2013 ISTE conference, Achieve3000 announced that it’s going global with the launch of a worldwide reseller program.
The company provides targeted, differentiated instruction tailored to individual students’ needs and reportedly is used by millions of students across the United States. With this new initiative, the company says it will expand the reach of its online services to help students around the world boost their reading proficiencies and academic content knowledge, while building reading comprehension, vocabulary, and writing skills across the content areas.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) announced a major partnership with adaptive learning company Knewton that it said would lead to more personalized learning experiences for K-12 students. Through the partnership, HMH will integrate Knewton’s adaptive learning technology into its curriculum software products.
“Personal Math Trainer Powered by Knewton,” part of HMH’s flagship “GO Math!” program, will be the first K-12 product to combine HMH content with Knewton technology. It will analyze—down to the concept level—each student’s interactions with HMH content to determine his or her personal strengths, weaknesses, preferences, and pace, then provide personalized trajectories for every student to ensure the most efficient path to achieving learning goals. The more students use the product, the more it learns about them and the “smarter” it becomes, HMH said—honing in on the perfect strategy for each student to learn each concept.
McGraw-Hill Education recently announced its acquisition of ALEKS, another adaptive learning solution for K-12 and higher education, in a similar move to make its curriculum software more personalized for students. The deal is expected to be completed this fall.
ALEKS uses research-based, artificial intelligence to rapidly and precisely determine each student’s knowledge state, pinpointing exactly what a student knows and doesn’t know, the company says. ALEKS then instructs students on the topics they’re most ready to learn, constantly updating each student’s knowledge state and adapting to the student’s personalized learning needs. McGraw-Hill Education has marketed and sold ALEKS for math in the higher-education space for more than 10 years.
McGraw-Hill Education will continue to sell ALEKS as a standalone solution over the near term, but the company plans a deeper integration between ALEKS and its content and digital platforms. As part of the acquisition, McGraw-Hill will maintain ALEKS Corp.’s current offices in Irvine, Calif.
Having more information about each student’s strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement is a key to delivering more personalized instruction—and toward that end, Edmentum announced a new platform, called Sensei, that adds a “data visualization layer” to its products, says Andy Frost, vice president of product management.
Free of charge to Edmentum customers, the platform will pull data from the company’s courseware and present it to users in the form of insightful graphs, charts, and other visuals—delivering a real-time picture of student progress and helping educators target their instruction more effectively. This feature will be available to users of Plato courseware and Edmentum assessment products in December, and to Study Island users next year, Frost said.
In a similar vein, PBS LearningMedia announced enhancements to its free content that will give teachers analytics to measure students’ use of the material and target their instruction more effectively. The enhancements, which also include content management tools that will enable schools to manage and add their own local content, will be available on a subscription basis.
Finally, Skyward announced a different tack toward making students’ educational experience more personal: It is launching a Student Reward System that uses the motivational strategies of online gaming to reward students for positive behaviors. The Student Reward System will be integrated into the Skyward Student Management Suite, the company’s student information system, at no additional charge.
Within the system, students can assume a virtual identity, or avatar, and earn points for academic-related activities and game play. When students accumulate points, they can customize their avatar, advance to new levels within the system, and enjoy other incentives, including the ability to redeem “virtual” points to purchase items from their school store.
The reward system is fully customizable, enabling districts to rename the program under their own brands and to set reward parameters, point allotments, and other system features to meet their needs. Educators can define point-earning opportunities, such as achieving a particular assignment score, improving grades, meeting an attendance goal, or exhibiting other positive behaviors. Parents and teachers will be able to monitor their students’ progress through the system, while school and district leaders can analyze data by school, grade, or class to spot trends. The system is being refined this summer and will be available in the fall.
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