The Two Sides of the IT Street in Education & the Important Role of Edtech Leaders
Eileen Belastock, CTO, Mount Greylock Regional School District
Informational and instructional technology has felt like two sides of a busy street. The traffic flow of students and teachers whizzing by and pulling up to whichever side provided the needed support and resources. If students and teachers needed instructional technology tools and strategies, they pulled up to the instructional team, and if they needed assistance with peripherals, devices or connectivity, they pulled up to the informational team. However, times have changed, and both sides of the street are now working together like a pedestrian-only walkway. Tech terminology like networks, firewalls, access point, bandwidth, servers, and phone systems now include terms such as student data privacy, accessibility tools, digital equity, cybersecurity, 1:1 initiative, and BYOD. Our students are growing up in a world where learning doesn’t just happen within the brick and mortar walls of schools. Resources such as hardcover textbooks, scantron sheets, poster boards, index cards, and worksheets are being replaced organically with content management systems, collaborative documents, videos, podcasts, and educational software. Teachers and students are personalizing learning experiences thru blogs, virtual field trips, multimedia presentations, robotics, and artificial intelligence.
In the Driver’s Seat
It is an exciting time to be an edtech leader! Influential, effective edtech leaders can impact education on a large scale. The responsibilities put upon edtech leaders guaranteeing robust infrastructures and comprehensive instruction technology integration ensure that school districts are providing students with opportunities to personalize their own learning 24/7 in a global community. Edtech leaders are part of the bigger conversation around educating the whole child, and this is evident when they can be seen observing classes, collaborating with curriculum directors, attending STEM fairs, and participating in school councils and PTO meetings. Their expertise and experiences in both sides of IT street ensure that students and teachers have access to connectivity, devices, software, and curriculum they need for researching, collaboration, connections, reflections and learning personal skills like empathy and self-awareness.
However exciting the position, there are new challenges such as student data privacy and digital equity that edtech leaders must address with all stakeholders. Ask a room of classroom teachers if all educational software and apps are safe to use in classrooms and you may be shocked to hear the answer of yes. Who could blame them for their response? We, as district technology leaders, have been the driving force with technology integration in classrooms. We put devices in students’ hands, opened up our networks for personal devices, provided professional development training on the latest and greatest educational software and send teachers to conferences to see shiny new technologies. When talking to district and building administrators about student data privacy and the policies procedures and training are in place in the district, it is not uncommon for them to look at you like a deer in the headlights. With all they have going on in their buildings and district, data privacy may not be on the top of their to-do pile. Another stakeholder group, parents, are excited that their children are using Chromebooks, laptops, and iPads in classroom instruction and appreciate the parent web-based access to student grades, communications, and digital school forms. However, they are usually confused and concerned when asked whether they know if the apps and software their students are accessing are sharing data with third-party vendors. So edtech leaders are faced with a dilemma: how to secure personally identifiable information (PII) while at the same time allowing students and teachers to access the integrated curriculum and rich content software available today. The solution to this dilemma is education. They (students, parents, teachers admin staff, district, and building administrators) don’t know what they don’t know, and they look to edtech leaders for guidance and support. It is the edtech leader’s responsibility to involve all school community stakeholders in the process of developing data privacy professional development, procedures for vetting and procurement of district-owned software, and district and building level policies so that student and teacher data is monitored and protected.
The second challenge, digital equity, is the elephant in the room. The first day of school is an exciting time for students as they meet their teachers and classmates and are assigned textbooks and workbooks that they would use for their learning during the upcoming school year. In the last five years, we have seen these same textbooks and workbooks either replaced or supplemented with the school issues devices such as Chromebooks, laptops, and iPads. These devices have been game changer in the educational realm. Students have access to technology in and out of school resulting in them learning digital literacy skills that will benefit them now and in the future, as well as expanding their world to include different ideas, cultures, and interests. However, what happens when the library /media specialist tries to give a student a shiny new Chromebook and they refuse to take it home because they cannot access the internet from home? Up pops that large grey mammal of digital equity. According to the 2019 CoSN Digital Toolkit, “students without home access to high-quality broadband connectivity are at a disadvantage, unable to realize the full power of learning. definition of digital equity.” Edtech leaders understand that even one student without access to technology outside of school is one student too many. There is a solution to this problem. By assessing student connectivity needs, exploring funding opportunities including outreach to local service providers, and creating long term goals, all students can have access to the technology no matter their socioeconomic or geographical situations. Whether the district is urban or rural, large or small, a low or high percentage of mostly free and reduced lunch students, or has a high minority or white population, if digital equity is not part of the initial thought process when introducing technology into a classroom or district, we are failing all of our students.
Eileen Belastock, CETL, is an educational leader who is fueled by the belief that learning anytime anywhere is critical for both our students and educators. In her experiences as a district administrator, a building administrator, and a high school math teacher, she has been instrumental in providing students with equitable learning environments through multiple 1:1 programs and online educational environments. Throughout her career in both the corporate and educational environments, Eileen Belastock has encouraged and supported both adult and student learners to challenge themselves to find their passions, be lifelong learners and be contributing citizens in the 21st global environment.
Eileen models what she believes through her involvement on two Massachusetts edtech organizations, as a board director, whose missions are to educate and engage classroom teachers. She believes in supporting and highlighting educators and administrators as they work to ensure digital equity and student safety through her published articles in publications such as Tech & Learning, eSchool News, and EdScoop.
Making Reading More Fun & Engaging Than Ever Before
Sven Huber, Founder & CEO Cristina Puig, Founder & Sales & Marketing Fiction Express
Fun, adventure, thriller, fantasy, myths—types of fiction genres for children today are much more diverse and exciting than before. Reading a wide variety of genres helps children to develop emotionally, socially, intellectually and culturally, making them effective learners. However, according to the Department of Education, one in five children in England cannot read well by the age of 11. An equally worrying statistic also proves that 30 percent of children aged 11–17 do not read for pleasure, which ultimately results in insufficient reading and comprehensions skills. This is the same case for many countries across the world, pointing to a global challenge in education. With extensive experience in publishing industry, Sven Huber identified this issue and founded Boolino, in 2011, to help children increase their poor reading habit.
Based in Barcelona, Spain, the company develops reading tools that support parents to foster the love for reading amongst their children. In 2016, Boolino acquired UK-based Fiction Express—a digital, interactive reading platform that helps primary and secondary schools through the power of engagement and gamification. “For us, technology is an enabler that aids in the creation of a completely new way of interacting with learning content. With the Fiction Express platform, we are re-inventing book reading by turning a traditional linear process (author > book > reader) into deeply engaging experience of co-creation between students and authors,” says Sven Huber, Co-founder and CEO, Fiction Express (by Boolino). Besides enhancing reading and Making Reading More Fun and Engaging Than Ever Before comprehension skills, the platform also develops English language skills for students who are poor in English often due to lack of reading schemes that engage students to read for pleasure.
Establishing a unique value proposition for schools, teachers and students, Fiction Express today revolutionizes digital reading or literary resources. According to Cristina Puig, Co-founder and Sales Director, Fiction Express, e-books are “Stage 1 Reading Resources” that provide easy access to books, but offer no or very limited student/reader interaction. “Under ‘Stage 2 Reading Resources’, we classify a broad variety of online resources, including guided reading programs or reading assessment resources. This allows students to test their reading level by answering reading comprehension questions and there is more student interaction in comparison to the previous group, but rather passive.” In comparison, Fiction Express offers students a completely new reading experience or “the Stage 3 Reading Resources” which includes real interaction with the authors. The result is an unprecedented high level of engagement with reading. The platform not only attracts children who love reading but also reluctant readers, stating that “reading is boring but reading Fiction Express is a lot of fun”.
The stories in Fiction Express are published in weekly instalments; each week, students read the chapter and at the end, they are rewarded with the option to vote to decide what happens next. The author then writes the next chapter in real time. Students can also interact on the online book forum with the author and other readers from around the world to build the story together. “Every half-term, we publish three stories at different reading levels. In total, we release 18 new live books each academic year, written by renowned children and young adult authors who are highly regarded within the education community.”
Often limited access to good books can prevent children from reading more, especially in lower income/socio-economic backgrounds. “We give readers access to the full Fiction Express Library of over 110 books that have already been created using the Fiction Express methodology. This allows them to read as many books as they want, giving them the freedom to try books different from those set in class,” says Puig. The platform’s 6-step methodology (as shown) is flexible and easy to implement in a variety of learning settings, like whole class, guided reading, intervention groups, Family learning, English Language Training, etc. The methodology is designed with the goal to increase children’s reading engagement—both in school and at home. “I’ve seen Fiction Express hugely help kids with special needs, making reading much less daunting and scary process for them. It really is a good reading resource that is both useful and reader-friendly for kids,” notes Catherine Stuart from Guernsey School Library Service.
Fiction Express is today a global platform with new product features and benefits. As a web-based application, its online reader is compatible with a variety of devices like PC, tablets, and mobile phones. It is currently available in English and is used as a reading solution in English for native countries as well as countries where English is taught as a second language. For the 201920 academic year, Fiction Express is also being developed in Spanish language in order to successfully grow in a global education market segment. “Today, we have a presence in around 10 countries. Our goal is to reach a total of 50 countries by 2022,” concludes Huber.
A New Path for Live Video in the Classroom
Douglas Ashton, CEO & Co-Founder, Streamable Learning
A provider of live and interactive streaming content to the K-12 market.
The view that video resources will play an important role in the classroom of the future is not something many would argue. For starters, video-based content is being used to support many of the educational initiatives that schools and districts are implementing in classrooms today. Video is a multifunctional resource and it can be effectively used to supplement existing lesson plans, and bring subject matter expertise and content context into classrooms in ways no other technology can replicate. Also, video is a flexible resource and can be presented in a number of formats: recorded video, video conferencing and most recently, live-streaming.
The format creating the buzz today is live and interactive streaming. A derivation of live-streaming that allows for real time interaction through chats. It promotes classroom engagement and ultimately, improved learning outcomes. Charleston, SC based Streamable Learning was founded to put live and interactive streaming at the forefront of video learning the classroom. Historically, live video in the classroom was predominantly offered through video conferencing, a transactional model whereby supply and demand was basically driven by one-to-one contact. In such a service, each session is scheduled, purchased, and supported individually. Streamable Learning takes a different approach and builds a calendar of hundreds of supplemental curriculum-based events offered to schools and districts through a subscription model.
“We believe live and interactive streaming should slide in front of videoconferencing as the more prevalent service as it offers scalability and equalizes access across a district for a fraction of the price,” notes Ashton. As more teachers experience the value of live and interactive streaming video, they are more likely to seek out and value video conference experiences. In addition, recorded video remains valuable but from a vendor standpoint significantly harder to monetize and thus keep current and sustain. “It is our view that recorded video in the K-12 market is best married with a live and interactive model and not separately monetized.” Streamable Learning has shown that live and interactive streaming can crossover into new market segments and new content segments within existing markets. For instance, through a second platform called The Live Living Network, they offer a calendar of live and interactive streams to the senior adult market. Their latest service, StreamableU, will use live and interactive streaming to enhance student contact with college admissions departments, college planning and test prep.
From a scalability and sustainability perspective, “we believe the K-12 market needs a centralized platform that can create a monetization and exposure opportunity for our content partners but still be affordable and equally accessible in our schools and districts. We are always aiming at the same three things in creating our content—that it is comprehensive, cost-effective, and convenient to access. As with anything, we try to build off of the innovations happening around us, whether cost effective video transmission platforms, mobile video capture technologies, higher speed networks, or improved video editing platforms. Lastly, we enjoy growing our content partner community of leading museums, aquariums, art and historical organizations, zoos, science centers, authors, health and wellness centers, and other qualified educational organizations.” The company’s customer traction in K-12 is both a US and Canadian phenomenon and has now transferred to senior centers and other older adult communities. “What we are encouraged by is that our services work well in groups with differing demographics, whether large and inner-city, small and rural or suburb.
According to Ashton, the keys in education technology is to demonstrate to the market one has staying power and the ability to effectively showcase successes. “When you are a content company, you have to keep adding more content and applicability across grades and subjects. Your content calendars and catalogs have to keep growing and getting better.” For Streamable Learning, this is in fact true as they are focused on continued growth in the amount of content partners they showcase in their calendars. Going forward, they will continue to serve any community that wants to enhance viewer interaction beyond traditional video.
NoteAffect: Engage, Interact, and Learn
Jay Tokosch, Co-Founder, CEO, NoteAffect
Before testing the ground, a seasoned entrepreneur looks for a way to provide a personalized experience to his/her target audience. With a successful track record of creating technology startups and scaling them into profitable companies, Jay Tokosch well succeeded in accomplishing this through his latest brainchild, NoteAffect—an application that allows instructors to broadcast ANY digital lecture/course material to students’ digital devices for personalized and interactive learning. Jay often finds it in his passion to explore the hottest segments in the market and design newest products that do not exist in the market. As an engagement application, NoteAffect is a unique platform that improves engagement, knowledge retention, and empowers higher education decision makers.
“The key to NoteAffect is the engagement features and the embedded algorithms that deliver unprecedented analytics, enabling data-driven decision making,” claims Jay, CEO and Founder of NoteAffect. By putting together engagement and analytics, the company increases the knowledge rate and helps provide more effective training, education, and meetings. This in fact solves the challenges faced by the three major stakeholders in the education ecosystem—Students, Instructors, and Administration. NoteAffect increases student’s grades by combining together the course content with their notes, annotations, highlights, polling answers, and instructor’s answers to questions, which promotes knowledge retention and easy studying. Additionally, students are being given a platform to openly engage with course content while instructors are provided with the tools to enhance that engagement. The engagement between the students and instructors is then tracked and produces powerful analytics to help isolate “at risk students” for any additional help. NoteAffect’s analytics dashboard, at the same time, offers instructors detailed insight into each student’s learning objectives as well as the classes’ overall learning.
Consequently, the administration of the school also benefits through the analytics captured that are delivered and rolled up from the students, classes, and departments, providing insight on institutional performance, comparing instructors or departments, and finding opportunities for educational or organizational improvement. The details available in the analytics for Higher Education top administration level reduces the accreditation burden process through easy-to-use reporting and exporting of files. Administrators in K-12 education use the analytics to show a RIO for the purchase of students’ digital devices.
Unlike disparate education products with features like polling, lecture capture, note taking, or Q&A forums, NoteAffect streamlines and enhances all of these features and functions into one application and delivers detailed analytics that is not available in these separate products. “These offerings all have individual costs, unique set-up requirements, and unique support arrangements. However, we consolidate and significantly reduce the cost, streamline the set-up and support, and prioritize long-term success with each of our clients,” notes Jay. For instance, NoteAffect possesses the unique ability to capture not only lecture material but also the audio, and combine them together with the file size only being 1/8 of the size of a video file; the smaller file size is saving a lot of money of data storage. In addition, for online classes, they enable live polling when a student views the class lecture at the time of the class and post class. “So, the students that viewed the class as it was happening online answered the polls live and the students that viewed the lecture class later also get to answer the polls for the first time with the analytics being updated as each student played back the lecture.” In this way, instructors also get much more knowledge about each students’ consumption of their material.
Since the successful launch of the company in the March 2018, a few businesses and government entities want to use their product for company/ product trainings and are adapting it to internal meetings as well as company-wide meetings. “Going forward, we will launch a corporate/government version that will use our base platform but also add in security controls for the presenter that will secure company presentation material with strict tracking,” says Jay. Alongside, NoteAffect also plans to add an aspect that companies could use the product/ platform to share material with external sources such as customers without losing security control and the analytics will give them the unprecedented ability to be “the fly on the wall” with sales presentations to help win business.