When can technology bridge the educational divide

Gadgets and software on its own will not improve education, EdSurge reports. While 21st century technology promises to help students develop a wider, more accessible breadth of knowledge, just putting tech in our schools is not enough to “level the playing field.”  Instead our structural and pedagogical realities run smack into conflict with our hopes for equitable access. I see some daunting–but not impossible–hurdles before technology can truly help all our students in equitable ways. The changes we need starts with our mindset. It also includes facing up to the prolonged inequities between our most affluent schools and our most underfunded ones. The schools with the most need in their communities should get more funding than those with less–starting with more guidance counselors, expert teachers, and resources…

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Why schools make bad buying decisions

Schools buy stuff badly, EdSurge reports. This spells trouble for education technology. Schools will buy the wrong things, at bad prices and for the wrong students. The result: schools will implement ed-tech more slowly, results will improve minimally if at all, the wrong technology will prosper and money will be diverted from more effective goods and services. If we want to avoid this future, we need to fix the procurement process now before it’s too late. Examples of bad personnel management in the public schools are all too common. However poorly designed salary scales and benefit plans may be, they are paragons of efficiency compared to the way school systems spend the rest of their money. American K-12 public schools spend 30% to 40%, approximately $70 billion annually, on curriculum, technology and other support for the classroom. As more of that is spent on education technology, it is imperative that it be spent well…

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Three lessons from Amplify’s melted charger

Last Friday, Guilford County Schools in North Carolina “suspended the use of Amplify tablets, cases, keyboards and chargers, effective immediately.” EdSurge reports that middle school students in Guilford County have been among the first official customers of Amplify, the News Corp. subsidiary that is building a tablet-based curriculum program. Guilford county paid over $16.8 million (of a $30 million Race-To-The-Top grant) to buy the tablets to personalize learning. The shutdown came after a student reported on Oct. 2 that a charger overheated while plugged in at home, partly melting its plastic case. “While a certain amount of technology issues are expected during major roll-outs, GCS felt the safety concern required immediate attention,” noted the district’s press release…

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Five essentials to create connected students

Recently we had a holiday, or at least it felt like one, edSurge reports. Apple released its new operating system. The students knew it was being released at 1pm EDT which was during their lunch, so many ate early and were stationed in various WiFi nodes to “try to get the best signal” to download the new update. At 12:57 some person in California hit the switch three minutes early and you could hear the noise ripple through the building. These students are already connected. But there are students who are not. The most obviously disconnected students don’t have phones or WiFi. They don’t have the technology in their hands because they don’t have it at home. Many are just glad to get a meal and having a cell phone is not high on the priority list for their family…

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Building a “startup culture” in schools

For most, start-ups and school districts couldn’t be more different, EdSurge reports. One is constantly changing, trying new things. The other is stuck in time, mandating a one-size-fits-all solution for unique situations.  In the Albemarle County School District, we see things a bit differently. At Albemarle County Schools in Virginia, we’ve come to support both district and school-level “skunkworks” innovation and design teams. By encouraging an entrepreneurial mentality in our schools, we are constantly exploring new kinds of learning spaces and pedagogies.  We are integrating digital technologies in meaningful ways and expanding the portfolio of customized, intra-district program options…

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What’s the difference between games and gamification?

Perhaps the best way to think about games in education is not to automatically call everything that looks like fun a “learning game,” EdSurge reports. Lumping all digital game approaches together makes no more sense than a toddler’s inclination to call every four-legged animal a “doggie.” Game interest is definitely on the upswing in K-12 and higher education. It seems almost cyclical: every several years, almost in sync with the acceptance of new technologies (such as multimedia CD-ROM, then online, then mobile), there’s a surge of activity with games in education…

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A checklist for engaging a school district’s central office

Many edtech startups (understandably) try to sidestep the complexity and bureaucracy of the central office, and go straight to teachers, edSurge reports. Unfortunately, while going directly to teachers is a good route to test usability, gain acceptance, generate enthusiasm, and to make a few initial individual sales, monetizing the product at a volume to justify significant investment inevitably requires companies to deal with the central office. Edtech companies must understand and work within the system; they must aggressively pursue a district office strategy in parallel with working directly with teachers. A well thought out Central Office strategy with realistic timing should be part of every business plan.

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How to succeed in a startup and still pass middle school

In elementary school, my friends and I would re-sell snacks that we purchased from Costco at a lower price than what the vending machines and lunch lady charged, edSurge reports. Profit margins were low, but hey, making any money at that age was quite exciting. Unfortunately, the school didn’t appreciate such “disruptive” activity. We were (partially) shut down and left with a bitter after taste of the school system. The Incubator School, set to open its doors in Los Angeles on August 13, promises to look more kindly on such enterprising antics. Backed by a Next Generation Learning Challenges grant, the school will kick off with a class of about 50 sixth and seventh graders and three teachers. The plan is to add one additional grade level every year until it serves students in grades 6 to 12…

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A precursor to Google Glass in the classroom

EdSurge reports that one of the more interesting pieces of new edtech research is a paper by Telmo Zarraonandia of the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid in which he describes a pilot experiment involving his latest creation: an “Augmented Lecture Feedback” (ALF) system. So, what exactly is an ALF system? Imagine you’re teaching a geometry lesson. There are eight minutes of class left and you can’t decide whether to spend it reviewing old concepts or introducing a new one. So you press a button on your smartphone and, on your glasses, a bubble appears on each student’s head showing their self-reported “proficiency” on the previous 20 minutes of learning. In addition, the program that’s projecting the bubbles proceeds to perform a few calculations…

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