How Edtech Tools Evolve Introduction: We’ve Heard This Before

Introduction: We’ve Heard This Before

Great inventors have proclaimed technology’s potential to transform education before. In 1913, Thomas Edison asserted that “books will soon be obsolete in the public schools,” replaced by motion pictures. Nearly a century later, Steve Jobs, according to his biographer Walter Isaacson, believed print textbooks were “ripe for digital destruction.”

Not so fast. Over the decades, a parade of technologies—television, “teaching machines,” interactive whiteboards and desktop computers—seemed to have a far more muted impact on learning than futurists and entrepreneurs predicted. Even the trusty wood-pulp book still soldiers on: Roughly half of district IT leaders surveyed by the Consortium for School Networking believe that print materials will still be used regularlyby 2018.

“The pattern of hype leading to disappointment, leading to another cycle of overpromising with the next technology, has a long history to it,” notes Larry Cuban, an education professor at Stanford University who began his career as a high school history teacher in the 1950s.

And yet, puncturing this bleak scenario are shining examples of times when technology has made a difference. In North Carolina, educators at Mooresville Graded School District (hailed by The New York Times as the “de facto model of the digital school” in 2012) attribute a boost in test scores, attendance and graduation rates to the smart use of laptops and online software (earning itself the title). In rural Central California, Lindsay Unified School District’s ongoing efforts to refine its competency-based learning model has led to small bumps in test scores—but a dramatic drop in truancy, suspension and gang membership rates.

So what’s the difference? When can technology have a galvanizing effect, rather than amplify existing educational practices?

Kentaro Toyama, a professor at University of Michigan’s School of Information, has often observed the latter. How can new practices extend beyond just a single class or a hero teacher, but for a community, and on a sustained basis? What portion of the answer lies with technology—and what portion with how it’s used?

The pattern of hype leading to disappointment, leading to another cycle of overpromising with the next technology, has a long history to it.

—Larry Cuban, emeritus professor at Stanford University

This chapter of our year-long survey of the role of technology in education dives into technology’s contribution to that fragile equation. And arguably one of the most thoughtful perspectives on technology’s role in education comes from Ruben Puentedura, a former teacher and university media center director. His investigation into the role of technology in education in the late 1980s led to an observation that was simultaneously clear-eyed yet profound: Not every device or app can or should transform how teachers teach.

To wield technology well, Puentedura asserts, teachers must ask and answer: “What opportunities does new technology bring to the table that weren’t available before?” Puentedura codified his observations in a framework nicknamed “SAMR,” which offers an invaluable window into understanding the different ways that technology can support changes in instructional practices and learning outcomes.

Yet there is a non-negotiable requirement for technology to make a difference. It has to work without requiring herculean workarounds.

Sometimes the lynchpin requirements are technical. Electric cars were infeasible without lithium batteries and lightweight composites. Sometimes the requirements also involve structural issues. Digital readers and e-books first came to market in 1998, but it took nearly a decade to resolve problems around limited memory and storage, title selections, copyright, conflicting file formats and other technical issues before e-books captured significant consumer market share.

Rocket e-book, launched in 1998. Credit: Mark Richards Computer History Museum

For educators to be able to count on technology, it has to work with the reliably of a lightswitch. And for decades, it has not. Justeight percent of all computers in U.S. public schools had internet access in 1995. A decade later, that figure jumped to 97 percent—yet only 15 percent of all public schools enjoyed wireless connection. Software incompatibility and technical problems, such as creating and managing accounts, proved problematic for educators. Nearly half of the educators surveyed in 2008 by the National Education Association reported feeling adequately prepared to integrate technology into instruction. Fewer than one-third used computers to plan lessons or teach.

In economics, things take longer to happen than you think they will.

—Rudiger Dornbusch, MIT economics professor

Today, more than 77 percent of U.S. school districts offer bandwidth speeds of 100 kbps per student for accessing online resources. This, coupled with cloud computing services that allow apps, services and data to be accessed and shared on the web, have made technology much more feasible for use. The marketplace for online educational tools has also grown; Apple’s store now boasts more than 80,000 such apps. Interoperability standards are beginning to ease how data from different schools systems and instructional tools are stored and shared. From 2013 to 2015, U.S. K-12 schools purchased more than 23 million devices, according to Futuresource Consulting.

“In economics, things take longer to happen than you think they will,” Rudiger Dornbusch, the late MIT economics professor, once said, “and then they happen faster than you thought they could.”

Today’s education technology has matured after decades of fits and starts. Improved bandwidth, cloud computing power and distribution channels such as app stores, among other infrastructural improvements, have helped developers make technologies more accessible, affordable and, most importantly, reliable for students and teachers to use.

Yet the question remains: What will technology do once it is in the hands of teachers and students? To better understand the interplay of new technologies and instructional practices, we’ll explore how edtech tools in three popular categories—math, English Language Arts and assessment—have evolved over time, how they reflect the pedagogical trends and then what this means in the context of Puentedura’s framework.

How are these products changing?

To better understand how instructional practices have transformed, we’ll explore how the capabilities of tools

Product Profiles: What Today’s Tools Offer

SAMR: Is Technology Making the Difference?

Case Studies: From Technology to Practice

Transforming Education through Technology

by AT&T

Mobile technology, applications, and services are empowering students to achieve, removing barriers to graduation, enabling teachers, and preparing today’s learners for the jobs of tomorrow. Through the AT&T Aspire Accelerator, AT&T invests in startups that share the company’s goal of transforming education through technology. The six month program is designed to accelerate the startup organizations–both for- and non-profit–that have the potential to improve student success and career readiness. Participants receive a financial investment, access to expertise, services and relationships tailored to their organization and expert mentors from the education and technology ecosystems.

Product Profiles: What Today’s Tools Offer

How have today’s technologies evolved to help children develop math and reading abilities—the two core competencies that typically reflect how well they’re learning in school? And how do new tools allow them to demonstrate what they know, aside from traditional paper-and-pencil tests?


In Search of the Middle Ground

“Who gets to learn mathematics, and the nature of the mathematics that is learned, are matters of consequence.”

Alan Schoenfeld, UC Berkeley Math Professor

Is it more important for kids to memorize math formulas and compute—or understand concepts and create their own approaches to solving problems? Whether students use pencils or iPads, the question has long stirred impassioned discussion among parents, teachers, mathematicians and policymakers. In 2004 University of California, Berkeley math professor, Alan Schoenfeld, described this debate as “Math Wars” that have persisted throughout the 20th century.

Disagreements persist today between “traditionalists” who believe math instruction should focus on calculations and processes, versus “reformers” who want students to develop the logical and conceptual understanding behind math. The “New Math” movement of the 1950s, championed by professional mathematicians, attempted to introduce conceptual thinking, such as the ability to calculate in bases other than 10. (Below is a satirical song by pianist and mathematician Tom Lehrer.) The effort floundered, derided by parents, teachers and mathematicians who lampooned the instruction as overly abstract and conceptual.

A 2007 report from the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, assembled by the U.S. Department of Education, summed up these battles as a struggle over:

“How explicitly children must be taught skills based on formulas or algorithms (fixed, 2 step-by-step procedures for solving math problems) versus a more inquiry-based approach in which students are exposed to real-world problems that help them develop fluency in number sense, reasoning, and problem-solving skills. In this latter approach, computational skills and correct answers are not the primary goals of instruction.”

This polarization is “nonsensical,” Schoenfeld noted. The two approaches are not mutually exclusive. Why can’t math instruction embrace both procedural and conceptual knowledge?

The Common Core math standards, released in June 2010, is the latest attempt to find a middle ground. Originally adopted by 46 states, the standards aim to pursue “conceptual understanding, procedural skills and fluency, and application with equal intensity.” Yet some students, parents and teachers have heckled the standards for befuddling homework problems and tests. It seemed not even curriculum developers knew how to translate Common Core math principles into instructional materials. See one example of a math problem gone “viral.” Concerns about “fuzzy math” resurfaced, amplified through social media channels and YouTube.

Yet one fundamental difference between the math wars today and those of a half century ago is that today’s technology—in the form of Google or software such as Wolfram Alpha—can solve nearly any math problem with clicks and swipes. This ability will influence what teachers teach and how those subjects are taught.

“Math has been liberated from calculating,” proclaimes Conrad Wolfram, strategic director of Wolfram Research. Computers, he states, can allow students to “experience harder problems [and be] able to play with the math, interact with it, feel it. We want people who can feel the math instinctively.”

How Math Tools Evolved

From Drilling to Adapting

The earliest instructional math software didn’t offer much in the form of instruction. In 1965, Stanford University professor Patrick Suppes led one of the first studies on how a text-based computer program could help fourth-grade students achieve basic arithmetic fluency. The program displayed a problem and asked students to input an answer. Correct responses would lead to the next problem, while incorrect ones would prompt a “wrong” message and give students another chance to get the correct answer. If this second attempt was still incorrect, the program would show the correct answer, and repeat the problem to help reinforce the facts.


Credit: Number Munchers (left) and Math Blaster (right)

Decades later, many instructional math software would retain the same “drill-and-kill” approach. This trend was best reflected in the popularity of games such as Number Munchers and Math Blaster in late ’80s and throughout the ’90s, which also incorporated gaming elements such as points and rewards into their drill exercises.

Even so, during the 1960s, when enthusiasm for artificial intelligence was on the rise, university researchers began work on “intelligent tutoring systems” aimed at identifying a student’s knowledge gaps and surfacing relevant hints and practice problems. There were limitations, to be sure; researchers lacked enough fine-grain data for their algorithms to make useful inferences. Yet after decades of research, Carnegie Mellon University researchers released one of the first commercially available K-12 educational software programs, Cognitive Tutor. That was followed a year later with ALEKS, based on the work at researchers at University of California, Irvine. The products use different cognitive architecture models to attempt to deduce what a student knows and doesn’t. (To learn more about what happens inside these engines, check out our EdSurge report on adaptive learning edtech products.)

More recently other “adaptive” math tools use frequent assessments to try to pair appropriate content with learners. When a student answers a question incorrectly, such programs attempt to identify knowledge gaps and surface relevant instructional materials. Some tools, like KnowRe, will provide instructions on how to solve a problem. Others tools reinforce procedural concepts in videos that offer instruction ranging from step-by-step explanations (Khan Academy), to animations (BrainPOP), to real-world scenarios (Mathalicious).

Despite the ability of technology to deduce what students need and provide instruction, developers also recognize that educators must still retain their instructional role. DreamBox, which sells adaptive math software, recently added features to allow teachers more control over content assignment. “While we are still really focused on building student agency, we also want to ensure that we build teacher agency,” says Dreambox Chief Executive Officer and President Jessie Woolley-Wilson.

‘Seeing’ Math Beyond Symbols

Everyone uses visual pathways when we work on mathematics and we all need to develop the visual areas of our brains.

—Jo Boaler, education professor at Stanford University

Math is often represented by symbols (+ − x ÷), but technology today allows developers to eschew traditional notations to allow students to explore math in more visual and creative ways. There is supporting evidence: Researchers have observed Brazilian children street vendors performing complex arithmetic calculations through transactions (“street mathematics”) but struggling when presented with the same problems on a formal written test.

“We can make every mathematical idea as visual as it is numeric,” says Stanford education professor and YouCubed co-founder Jo Boaler. Boaler has studied neurobiological research on how solving math problems stimulates areas of the brain associated with visual processing.

“Everyone uses visual pathways when we work on mathematics and we all need to develop the visual areas of our brains,” she wrote in a recent report.

In the 1980s, tools including Geometer’s Sketchpad offered learners ways to explore math visually through interactive graphs. Today’s tools allow teachers to create their own activities and for students to share their work. Desmos, a browser-based HTML5 graphing calculator, invites them to explore and share art made with math equations. “There’s enormous value in allowing students to create, estimate, visualize and generalize,” says Dan Meyer, chief academic officer at Desmos, “but a lot of math software today just allows them to calculate.”

Educational game developers have also found ways to introduce mathematical concepts without using symbols. ST Math (the two letters stand for spatial-temporal), uses puzzles to introduce Pre-K-12 math concepts without explicit language instruction or symbolic notations. Another popular game, DragonBox, lets students practice algebra without any notations. BrainQuake aims to teach number sense through puzzles involving spinning wheels.

Although games can make math more engaging, students may need support from teachers to apply skills learned from the game to schoolwork and tests. “One of the ways video games can be extremely powerful,” says Keith Devlin, a Stanford professor, co-founder and chief scientist of Brainquake and NPR’s “Math Guy,” “is that when a kid has beat a game, he or she may have greater confidence to master symbolic math. I think a two—step approach—video game and teacher—can be key in helping students who hate math get up to speed.”


Source: EdSurge


Teaching Reading in America

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Dr. Seuss

Like math, literacy has had its own “Reading Wars” (or “Great Debate”) throughout the 20th century. Proponents of a phonics-based approach believed students should learn to decode the meaning of a word by sounding out letters. But in English, not all words sound the way they are spelled, and different words may sound alike. Alternatively, other researchers and educators advocate a “whole language” approach that incorporates reading and writing, along with speaking and listening.

The back-and-forth debate eventually reached policymakers, who were alarmed by the 1983 report, “A Nation at Risk,” that charged that American students were woefully underprepared compared to their international peers. In California, poor results on the 1992 and 1994 National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test—more than half of fourth-grade students were reading below grade level—fueled critiques of the state’s whole-language approach.

In 1997, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development convened a national panel of literacy researchers and educators to evaluate and recommend guidelines. Published in 2000, the report recommended a mix of two approaches, stating that “systematic phonics instruction should be integrated with other reading instruction to create a balanced reading program.” The authors added:

… literacy acquisition is a complex process for which there is no single key to success. Teaching phonemic awareness does not ensure that children will learn to read and write. Many competencies must be acquired for this to happen.

The findings allayed some of the debate over how to teach reading. But the Common Core reading standards raised new questions around what reading materials should be taught, including nonfiction and informational texts that “highlight the growing complexity of the texts students must read to be ready for the demands of college, career, and life.” The standards also aimed to set a higher bar for literacy beyond reading. Students were expected to be able to cite text-specific evidence in argumentative and informational writing.

Yet for all the focus on facts and evidence, the standard writers did not specify what should be read at each grade level. While they offer examples of books appropriate for each grade, states and districts are expected to determine the most appropriate content. In setting high expectations for what students should be able to read, but refraining from offering specific steps to get there, educators wound up left to look for their own resources. This ambiguity has given license to publishers, researchers and entrepreneurs to shape that path.

How ELA Tools Evolved


Source: EdSurge

Tracking Readers

Digital book collections have long promised to expand the availability of fiction and nonfiction books. But now such tools also offer teachers a more convenient way to track reading than reviewing students’ self-recorded logs. Today’s products offer data dashboards that chronicle how many books were read, how long students spent reading and which vocabulary words students looked up. Often digital texts come embedded with questions written by content experts or, in some cases, created by teachers themselves.

Given the capability of tools to capture information about students’ reading habits, it’s “important for teachers to have frameworks and dashboards to make that data actionable,” says Jim O’Neill, chief product officer at Achieve3000. “By having a sense of whether students are comprehending the text, or how much they’ve read, teachers can provide the appropriate follow-up [support].”

Let’s Lexile

The broad scope of available online reading materials makes a traditional challenge even more front and center: How can teachers identify what texts are most appropriate for students? Figuring out the right level of complexity for every student—including subject matter, text complexity, or other factors—is subjective and, at best, an inexact science. Both educators and developers have turned to reading frameworks that attempt to quantify text difficulty by measures such as word length, word count and average sentence length.

“Almost every major edtech literacy company will report on text complexity in some form,” adds O’Neill. A popular framework used by his company and other adaptive literacy products is the Lexile, which measures readers’ comprehension ability and text difficulty on a scale from below 0L (for beginning readers) to over 2000L (advanced) based on two factors: sentence length and the frequency of “rare” words. Many products today will assign students a Lexile score (based on how they perform on assessments after reading a text) and recommend reading content at the appropriate level. Some companies, such asNewsela and LightSail, present the same content rewritten at different Lexile levels so that students can read and discuss the same story.


Despite the popularity of Lexile levels, some researchers such as Elfrieda Hiebert, a literacy educator and chief executive officer ofText Project, preach caution against relying exclusively on Lexile numbers to find grade-appropriate texts. She has pointed out, for instance, that The Grapes of Wrath, a dense book for most high schoolers, has a lower Lexile score (680L) than the early reader book, Where Do Polar Bears Live? (690L). The former has shorter sentences (with plenty of dialogue) while the latter has longer ones.

The Lexile is just one of seven different computer formulas that Common Core standards writers have found to be “reliably and often highly correlated with grade level and student performance-based measures of text difficulty across a variety of text sets and reference measures.” Established companies, including Pearson and Renaissance Learning, have developed alternatives to Lexile. Another effort, the Text Genome Project, which Hiebert is advising, uses machine learning technology to identify and help students learn the 2,500 related word families (such as, help, helpful, helper) that make up the majority of texts they will encounter through high school.

Nod to Nonfiction

The Common Core is not the first effort to emphasize nonfiction and informational texts. In 2009, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) called for a 50-50 split between fiction and nonfiction reading materials for fourth-grade students, and a 30-70 ratio by twelfth grade. Common Core reinforced that message: A 2015 NAEP survey found that the percentage of fourth-grade teachers who used fiction texts “to a great extent” declined from 63 percent to 53 percent between 2011 and 2015, while the nonfiction rose from 36 to 45 percent over the same period.


Source: National Assessment of Educational Progress

Companies have noted this shift and many offer nonfiction content as a selling point. Achieve3000, LightSail Education andNewsela employ both writers who will produce their own nonfiction articles and syndicated stories from news publishers that they rewrite at different Lexile levels. Such content also comes embedded with formative assessments to gauge students’ reading comprehension. Other startups, such as Listenwise, offer audio clips from public radio stations, along with comprehension and discussion questions, to help students build literacy through online listening activities.

Writing to Read

“Writing about a text should enhance comprehension because it provides students with a tool for visibly and permanently recording, connecting, analyzing, personalizing, and manipulating key ideas in text.”

So state the authors of “Writing to Read,” a meta-analysis published in 2010 of 50 years’ worth of studies on the effectiveness of writing practices on students’ reading grades. The need for this skill only grows in the internet era, as students need to be able to comprehend, assess, organize and communicate information from a variety of sources.

According to the Common Core writing standards, students are expected to start writing online by fourth grade, and by seventh grade should be able to “link to and cite sources as well as to interact and collaborate with others.”

Online writing tools—most notably Google Docs, which the company boasts has more than 50 million education users—allow teachers and students to comment and collaborate in the cloud. The industry standard remains MYAccess with patented technology to automatically score papers and provide customized feedback. NoRedInk and Quill offer interactive writing exercises that let students sharpen their technical writing skills and grammar. Other startups, such as Citelighter and scrible scaffold the research and writing process to help students organize their notes and thoughts. Their progress—words written, sources cited, annotations—are captured on a dashboard that teachers can monitor.

Other tools are more ambitious. CiteSmart, Turnitin and WriteLab use natural language processing to provide automatic feedback beyond the typical spelling and grammar checks and attempts to point out errors in logic and clarity. (Our test run with these tools, however, found questionable feedback, suggesting they still need fine-tuning. There are still some core instructional tasks, it turns out, that technology has yet to perfect.)


In Search of the Middle Ground

Through embedded assessments, educators can see evidence of students’ thinking during the learning process and provide near real-time feedback through learning dashboards so they can take action in the moment.

2016 National Education Technology Plan

Students find tests stressful for good reason. Results not only evaluate what they have learned, but can be used to determine whether they graduate or get into college. Such assessments are “summative” in that they aim to evaluate what a student has learned at the conclusion of a class. In 2002 when the U.S. government tied school funding to student outcomes through the No Child Left Behind law, tests became stressful for educators as well.

With so much at stake, testing became a top priority in many classrooms. A 2015 survey of 66 districts by the Council of Great City Schools found that U.S. students on average took eight standardized tests every year—which means by the time they graduated high school, they would have taken roughly 112 such tests. Testing fever was followed by fatigue; nearly two-thirds of parents in a Gallup poll released that year said there was too much emphasis on testing.

But tests need not be so punitive. For decades, education researchers have argued that tests can be used during—not after—the learning process. In 1968, educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom argued that “formative” assessments could diagnose what a student knew, enabling teachers to adjust their instruction or provide remediation. Students could also use these results to better understand and reflect on what they know.

There’s no emotional stress associated with formative assessments. They help teachers engage with students during the learning process.

—Cory Reid, chief executive officer of MasteryConnect

To check for understanding, teachers can use formative assessments in the form of short quizzes delivered at the beginning or end of class, journal writing and group presentations. (Here are 56 examples.)

“There’s no emotional stress associated with formative assessments,” said Cory Reid, chief executive officer ofMasteryConnect. “They help teachers engage with students during the learning process.”

“In moderation, smart strategic tests can help us measure our kids’ progress in schools [and] can help them learn,” President Obama said in a video address.

“Tests should enhance teaching and learning,” Obama continued. In December 2015, he signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, allowing states more flexibility in determining how and what they could use to assess students. By doing so, the government opened the door to let states decide what works best for their schools.

Summative tests still remain, but the industry has shifted its focus to embedding tests to make them an integral part of the teaching and learning process. In addition academic achievement is no longer the primary focus; technologists are attempting to quantify non-cognitive factors, including student behavior and school culture, all of which impacts how students learn.

How Assessment Tools Evolved


Credit: Vixit/Shutterstock

The Many Forms of Formative Tests

In the 1970s, Scantron Corporation offered one of the most popular and commercially successful technologies for doing formative and summative tests: bubble sheets that students would fill out with #2 pencils that could be automatically graded. A couple decades later, “clickers”—devices with buttons that transmit responses to a computer—offered an even quicker way for teachers and students to get feedback on multiple-choice questions.

Today, web-based and mobile apps can deliver formative assessments and results cheaper and more efficiently. Smartphones and web browsers have become the new clicker to deliver instantaneous feedback. In classrooms where not every student has a computer or a phone, some teachers use apps to snap photos of a printed answer sheet and immediately record grades. And as teachers use more online materials, there are also tools that allow them to overlay questions on text, audio or video resources available on the internet.

Student responses from formative assessment tools can be tied to a teacher’s lesson plans or a school’s academic standards. This information can help teachers pinpoint specific areas where students are struggling and provide targeted support.

Faster feedback also means that assessments can be given even as lessons are going on. “If you know what a student knows when they know it, that informs your instruction as a teacher,” says Reid. That data can “enrich your teaching and help change a student’s path or trajectory.”

Beyond Multiple Choice

The Common Core tests, which many students take on computers, introduced “technology-enhanced items” (TEIs). These allow students to drag-and-drop content, reorder their answers and highlight or select a hotspot to answer questions. Such interactive questions, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s 2016 National Education Technology Plan, “allow students to demonstrate more complex thinking and share their understanding of material in a way that was previously difficult to assess using traditional means,” namely through multiple choice exams.


Source: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology, Future Ready Learning: Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education, Washington, D.C., 2016.

A well-designed TEI should let educators “get as much information from how students answer the question in order to learn whether they have grasped the concept or have certain misconceptions,” according to Madhu Narasa, CEO of Edulastic. His company offers a platform that allows educators to create TEIs for formative assessments and helps students prepare for Common Core testing. Another startup, Learnosity, licenses authoring tools to publishers and testing organizations to create question items. (Here are more than 60 different types of TEIs.)

Yet teachers and students need training to use TEIs. And the latest TEIs may not always work on older web browsers and devices. One early version of the Common Core math test developed by Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium featured TEIs that even adults found difficult to use. And, while TEIs offer more interactivity, their effectiveness in measuring student learning remains unproven. A 2015 report from Measured Progress, another developer of Common Core tests, suggested “there is not broad evidence of the validity of inference made by TEIs and the ability of TEIs to provide improved measurement. Without such research, there is no way to ensure that TEIs can effectively inform, guide, and improve the educational process.”

Show Me Your Work

Tests are not the only way for students to demonstrate understanding. Through hands-on projects, students can demonstrate both cognitive and noncognitive skills along with interdisciplinary knowledge. A science fair project, for example, can offer insights into students’ command of science and writing, along with their communication, creativity and collaboration skills.

The internet brought powerful media creation tools—along with cloud-based storage—into classrooms, allowing students to create online. Companies such as FreshGrade offer digital portfolio tools that aim to help students document and showcase their skills and knowledge through projects and multimedia creations in addition to homework and quizzes. Through digital collections of essays, photos, audio clips and videos, students can demonstrate their learning through different mediums.

Games as Test


Credit: SimCity

What can games like SimCity, Plants vs. Zombies and World of Warcraft tell us about problem-solving skills? A growing community of researchers, including Arizona State University professor James Paul Gee, argue that well-designed games can integrate assessment, learning and feedback in a way that engages learners to complete challenges. “Finishing a well-designed and challenging game is the test itself,” he wrote in 2013.

GlassLab, a nonprofit that studies and designs educational games, has developed tools to infer mastery of learning objectives from gameplay data. These tests are sometimes called “stealth assessments,” as the questions are directly embedded into the game. The group has described at length how psychometrics, the science of measuring mental processes, can help game designers “create probability models that connect students’ performance in particular game situations to their skills, knowledge, identities, and values, both at a moment in time and as they change over time.”

A 2014 review of 69 research studies on the effectiveness of games by research group, SRI International, offers supporting evidence that digital game interventions are more effective than non-game interventions in improving student performance. But other studies offer a mixed picture. A study led by Carnegie Mellon University researchers on a popular algebra game, Dragonbox, found that “the learning that happens in the game does not transfer out of the game, at least not to the standard equation solving format.” Similar to the Brazilian “street math” kids (see math profile), these students are capable of solving math problems—just not on a traditional paper exam.

Noncognitive Skills

Educators and researchers also believe that non-cognitive skills—including self-control, perseverance and growth mindset—can deeply influence students’ academic outcomes. In 2016, eight states announced plans to work with the nonprofit CASEL(Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) to create and implement standards around how social and emotional skills can be introduced into classroom instruction.

Today, developers are seeking ways to quantify factors such as student behavior and school climate. Tools such as Kickboard andLiveSchool record, track and measure student behavior. Panorama Education lets educators run surveys to learn how students, families and staff feel about topics such as school safety, family engagement and staff leadership. Tools like these expand the use of assessments beyond simply measuring student performance on specific subjects and cognitive tasks.

SAMR: How Will We Know If Technology Will Make a Difference?

Will shiny gadgets help educators do the same thing—or enable new modes of teaching and learning? Here’s a popular framework to help us understand how technology can change practice.

No matter what features are built into an edtech product, the technology is unlikely to impact learning if it’s misapplied. “Putting technology on top of traditional teaching will not improve traditional teaching,” said Andreas Schleicher, director for the Directorate of Education and Skills at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, in aninterview with EdSurge earlier this year.

A 2015 report by the OECD found “no appreciable improvements in student achievement in reading, mathematics, or science in the countries that had invested heavily in ICT for education.” Noted Schleicher:

“The reality is that technology is very poorly used. Students sit in a class, copy and paste material from Google. This is not going to help them to learn better.”

But there are several corollaries. First, not every traditional teaching practice needs to be reinvented—some are working well. Second, not every technology can “revolutionize” learning. And third, to get powerful results, the kind that drive student learning, technology must be aligned with practice in purposeful ways.

But first, educators need to know which is which.

As a teaching fellow at Harvard University in the late 1980s, Ruben Puentedura started paying attention to how educators used tools in the classroom. Later, as the director of Bennington College’s New Media Center, he further explored how faculty and students integrated technology and instruction to reach the best learning outcomes. His efforts led him to start a consulting firm, Hippasus, that works with schools and districts to adopt technology.

In 2002, he published the SAMR framework to help educators think about how to integrate instructional practice and technology to reach the best outcomes for students. SAMR defines how technology impacts the teaching and learning process in four stages:



Tech acts as a direct tool substitute, with no functional change in instruction



Tech acts as a direct tool substitute, with functional improvement



Tech allows for a significant task design



Tech allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable

The SAMR framework is centered around the premise that technology, when used strategically and appropriately, has the potential to transform learning and improve student outcomes. Puentedura has also applied this framework to existing education research to suggest that greater student outcomes can occur when edtech tools are used at the later stages of the framework (modification and redefinition).

Preparing to use SAMR

To start, Puentedura says teachers must be clear about what outcome they want for their students. “The purpose, the goals of teachers, schools and students, are the key drivers in how technology is used,” he says.

“What is it that you see your students not doing that you’d like them to do? What type of knowledge would you like them to explore that they’re not exploring? What type of opportunities for new visions, new ideas, new developments would you like to pick up on?”

Additionally, it is important for teachers to identify how technology is currently used in the classroom, as a reference point for moving through the stages of SAMR. This requires an understanding of available resources—not just the technology that students can access, but also time and support required to use the tools well.

Changes in the tools themselves matter less than how you’re thinking about the learning objectives.

—Jim Beeler, Chief Learning Officer at Digital Promise*

New technologies are often first used at the substitution level, especially when teachers and students are unfamiliar with the tools. This level of usage has its merits, even if it may not radically change instructional practices. Reading digital textbooks may, in the long run, be cheaper for schools than ordering new print versions every time the content is updated. Having students compose essays using a cloud-based word processor makes it easier for teachers to track and grade assignments.

The SAMR framework is not just about technology in and of itself, but rather what educators and students can use the tech to accomplish. “Changes in the tools themselves matter less than how you’re thinking about the learning objectives,” explains Jim Beeler, Chief Learning Officer at Digital Promise, who has helped schools rollout programs where every student has a digital device (called 1:1 programs). After all, the same tool can be used in different stages. A digital textbook, for example, can used as a substitute for print if all students do is read, highlight and annotate. But if the textbook includes speech synthesis or audio features, the students’ reading experience is augmented through the addition of the auditory mode of learning.

A Primer on SAMR

Here are some guiding questions and a familiar type of assignment as an example—sharing reflections on a reading assignment—to better illustrate the SAMR framework in practice.

Samr ruben

Ruben Puentedura

Are you going to get more impact upon student outcomes from using technology at the R level than at the S level?

I’m using a technology but I don’t know where I am within the SAMR Framework

Answer the following questions to figure out where you are within the framework

SAMR Misconceptions

Although Puentedura’s studies suggest that greater student outcomes can be achieved at the redefinition level, he warns against the notion that every teacher should aspire to use technology to redefine their practice. “Are you going to get more impact upon student outcomes from using technology at the R level than at the S level? Sure,” he says, “but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t many, in fact, probably a large majority of technology uses that work just fine at the S and A level.”

  1. SAMR is just about using technology

    SAMR is designed to analyze the intersection of technology and instructional practices. The framework is designed to focus on the changes that technology enables—not the technology itself. Make no mistake—educators and students are the ones that make learning happen, not the technology.

  2. It is better to be further “up” the framework

    Not every instructional practice needs to be redefined; as Puentedura points out, often “substitution” can be the right form of change. It can be exhausting and inappropriate for teachers and students to constantly teach and learn at the modification and redefinition levels. Educators need to find the right mix of activities that are appropriate for their learning objectives and employ technology in the way that best fits those goals.

  3. Change is always necessary

    Don’t change just for the sake of change. SAMR—or any other framework—may offer a way to describe changes in technology usage. But that does not mean that teachers should continually strive to change their practices. Teachers must have a clear vision of their instructional goals and desired student outcomes before devising ways to implement new tools in a classroom.

Samr ruben

Ruben Puentedura

Can SAMR help schools make smarter purchasing decisions?

Case Studies: From Technology to Practice

Technology can make a difference. Here are a dozen profiles of how educators from across the country have used tools to support instructional needs and transform teaching practices.






A Free Tool to Keep a Pulse on Student Learning


Addressing the Gaps of All Learners


Learning Linear Equations in One Week, Not One Year


Playlists That Put Students in Control



Read All You Want


Ditch the Paper. Let’s Make a Podcast!


90 Second Videos That Inspire Discussion


Taking Reading Assignments To The Next Level



Forms for Formative Assessments


Custom-Built Quizzes For Real-Time Intervention


Formative Assessments Enriched With Data


From Paper and Pencil to Real World Assessment




Technology is often conflated with innovation. Yet tools are just part of the equation. Innovation entails humans changing behavior.

In education, technological improvements—in the form of faster broadband, devices or smarter data analytics—must be commensurate with the desire to refine and transform existing practices. What these changes look like is unsettled, but technology allows teachers and students to explore different paths.

Well-designed tools can help educators realize the educational “best practices” put forth decades ago by researchers like Benjamin Bloom. Data from formative assessments can give teachers better insights into what each learner needs and change strategies. Games and online collaborative projects allow educators teach in ways that researchers believe can better engage students.

The most useful educational tools are also flexible. Teachers are also adapting media and productivity software for purposes beyond what they were designed for.

After all, what a math class needs may not be online adaptive curriculum, but rather creative tools that allow students to engage and express knowledge in new ways.

Changing ingrained habits and codified practices requires patience. Not all lectures, lesson plans, group projects or homework demand to be uprooted. As our case studies above show, some teachers use technology to do the same tasks more efficiently. Others are creating entirely new activities that transform learning from a solo to social experience.

Whether teachers reinforce or redefine instructional practices with technology partly depends on their environment. Do they have the training to implement new tools? How can schools support teachers in not just experimenting with new methods of teaching and learning—but scale these practices across the campus and district? How can these changes make education opportunities more equitable? These questions will help frame the focus of the next chapter. As classrooms change, so do schools.

The Tragedy of Student Loans


One of the big scams going around right now is student loans for individuals attending for-profit universities. It goes something like this: Heavy advertising for pain free, at-your leisure online or on-site degrees—encouraging students to take on a large debt load to pay for their studies—and then frequently little (if any) support for students, inadequate classes, and difficulty transferring credits to other institutions. The dropout rate is typically substantial. Personal student debt is growing at a staggering rate.

Here’s the thing though—students at for-profit institutions represent only 9% of all college students, but receive roughly 25% of all federal Pell Grants and loans, and are responsible for 44% of all student loan defaults.

study by The National Bureau of Economic Research, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, suggested that students who attend for-profit education institutions are more likely to be unemployed, earn less, have higher debt levels, and are more likely to default on their student loans than similar students at non-profit educational institutions. Although for-profits typically serve students who are poorer or more likely to be minorities, these differences do not explain the differences in employment, income, debt levels, and student loan defaults. The Government Accountability Office has also found that graduates of for-profits are less likely to pass licensing exams, and that poor student performance cannot be explained by different student demographics.

For-profits have higher completion rates for one- and two-year associate’s degree programs, but higher dropout rates for four-year bachelor’s degrees. However, studies have suggested that one- and two-year programs typically do not provide much economic benefit to students because the boost to wages is more than offset by increased debt. By contrast, four-year programs provide a large economic benefit.

An investigation by the New York Times suggested that for-profit higher education institutions typically have much higher student loan default rates than non-profits. Two documentaries by Frontline have focused on alleged abuses in for profit higher education.

The following infographic from will give you a good visual of what’s going on with student debt. Call me old-fashioned, but I’ve always thought that the fundamental purpose of an educational institution should be to educate, not to turn a profit.


The Tragedy of Student Loans

What Did 2013 Hold for Educational Technology in Schools

Looking back at the article I was astounded to find that basically none of the information in the first chart was relevant and the proposal that “Apps” would be the prevalent part of the year actually was/is true. 
via Smartblogs/Katharine Haber

To connect with those working on the front lines of education technology, SmartBrief on EdTech editor Katharine Haber asked readers about their thoughts on what 2013 will bring for technology in schools.

According to our results, about one-third of respondents see classroom technology as the most significant issue on the horizon, while a slightly smaller group is concerned about online education, followed by computer-based testing and digital citizenship.

When asked how their schools and districts are using technology to enhance student learning, a majority of respondents reported that some teachers are employing tech tools in the classroom, while a significantly smaller proportion said technology is playing a broader role throughout the curriculum or being integrated through blended-learning programs or “bring your own technology” programs.

Readers reported that online applications and games are the most effective tools for engaging students, while digital textbooks and resources, along with mobile devices, are not far behind.

Interestingly, few respondents see social media as an effective tool. Given the ongoing buzz about Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, this response begs the question of whether many schools simply are not using social media as part of classroom instruction.

There are arguably numerous factors to consider when using social media with students, and many schools and districts might be blocking or otherwise prohibiting use of such websites on campus. However, given their popularity, is it possible there is an untapped resource here? What do you think?

What do you see as the most significant issue in education technology for 2013?

Technology in the classroom


Online education


Computer-based testing


Digital citizenship


Which statement best describes how your school or district is integrating technology into student learning?

Some teachers use tech tools as part of classroom lessons


Technology is integrated throughout the curriculum


Our school/district has a bring-your-own-device policy


Our school/district employs blended learning


Which tech tools most effectively engage students in your classroom, school or district?

Online apps and games


Digital textbooks and resources


Mobile devices


Social media


Katharine Haber is an associate editor for SmartBrief, writing and editing content about a variety of topics in education.

Great Post by David Warlick

via 2¢ Worth

Today’s infographic is simple and to the point. A big part of grade school and even college and onward, is writing papers. Some professions write more papers than others, but it is still an important skill in order to get your point across. This infographic uses venn diagrams to convey the importance of different parts of papers, and to show how they interact with one another. It also shows how much of your paper should include each part.

Of course every paper should begin with an introduction and end with a conclusion. It should also include several point in the middle, that are introduced and concluded in the introduction and conclusion. But how should the middle be laid out? That is up to the author, but it should there is a bit of a formula.

This infographic does a great job of showing that there should be pros and cons. You should always share how your paper may be argued against, and go ahead and prove some of these points wrong. In addition, a good paper should show why the information is important. Why should someone read your paper?

Show this to your students whenever a paper is assigned. Make sure your students are ready to write a good paper, and know what is involved in writing such a paper.



What Makes a Change Agent?


There are some educators out there that make classroom technology integration look easy. For most of us, it’s a daunting task: converting your paper-and-folder, marker-and-poster classroom systems to mobile devices and the cloud. And the ones who dig right in, despite their reservations, to equip their students with the educational technology experiences they need for a 21st century education seem to have an invincible air about them.

So what’s different about these teachers? What key traits do they have in common that make them stand out as leaders and technology whizzes in their communities?

classroom technology

Fresh Perspective

For starters, they are often new to the field, and they’re not necessarily fresh out of school. In many cases, folks are choosing teaching as a second career and bringing their tech skills to the classroom. Education is one of the only fields that hasn’t yet integrated technology fully into its workings, so many people from other industries find ways to apply their business or engineering tech skills to the classroom. People who can bring new ways of thinking into an educational setting are often more comfortable taking the plunge with technology. And yes, some of them are also fresh out of teacher prep programs and are carrying those experiences into their first jobs.

Curiosity Doesn’t Actually Kill Cats

They are naturally curious people. You know the ones—they read a lot, ask a ton of conversational questions, and seem to have endless free time for diverse hobbies. They’re tinkerers, always looking for the best way to keep their calendars or manage their checking account. These people aren’t afraid to try something new. Where many of us would prefer systems that work well and that we can easily control, these change-addicts get bored easily and are always looking to integrate a little spice in all areas of their lives. They gravitate toward technology out of curiosity, and can envision how it might work in their classrooms too.


They “play well with others.” Let’s face it—some of us were more cut out for teamwork than others. It can be hard to come together and work cooperatively, especially with a huge personal workload and limited time. But these instructors know how to come to the table and collaborate. Often technology integration has many moving parts, and requires people with a variety of roles (superintendents, IT folks, educators, parents, etc.) to work together, prioritizing and problem solving. Those who have an affinity for this way of working tend to be the ones pioneering ed tech initiatives.

Ask For Help

They are good at asking for what they need. Many schools have setups that are not technology-friendly. There is still much ground to cover in terms of policy, rules, teaching methods, and more. However, the change agents that tend to take on the challenge of new technology-rich teaching methods are very good at identifying and asking for what they need. These are the teachers that get the green light for unconventional classroom setups, more funding for devices or e-materials, or a meeting with the principal or superintendent.

It takes a special kind of personality to think creatively about instruction and to initiate change in the classroom and beyond. For those who aren’t naturally inclined to shake things up, it can be helpful to work on one or two of these traits. Experiment with keeping a Google calendar for appointments, or create a Pinterest board as a wish list of ideas for your classroom. Sometimes just thinking about the possibilities is a good way to strategize for the future.

Technology integration should be a key priority for all teachers, even if your district hasn’t formally begun such efforts. It is already part of students’ day to day lives outside the classroom—and the more we can weave it into the classroom, the better prepared we’ll all be for the advent of new learning environments.

Digital Learning’s Popularity Is Skyrocketing, But Many Myths Go Undisputed

As digital learning in the classroom gains more support from educators, parents, and students, a national education group has released a toolkit that defines digital and blended learning, offering tips to help promote the benefits of a more digital-centric education.

The Center for Education Reform’s 2014 Digital Learning Toolkit [2] defines blended learning as “an approach that involves a myriad of delivery mechanisms via online tools for students, no matter where they live or attend school.”

The toolkit offers tips on how to debunk myths about online learning, ways to change public discourse, and how to clearly promote and express blended learning’s benefits to community leaders, the media, and policymakers.

According to the toolkit, one key tip involves using data to back up arguments in favor of digital and blended learning, because data showing real results can have a powerful impact. Another is to define objectives instead of simply asking for change—in fact, that’s the basis to all successful technology initiatives in schools: Defining an objective or goal and then determining the best path and tool to achieve desired outcomes.

The toolkit links to additional resources for information on blended and digital learning, and suggests using social media to stay updated on the latest information and to connect with others who are discussing the topic.

Eight digital learning myths

  • We can just say ‘innovation’ and look like we’re doing something. According to an October 2013 poll from the Center for Education Reform, when asked to name a promising new educational innovation, most participants simply answered “technology,” as in the use of computers and the internet. Using the word “innovation” doesn’t ignite any sparks for the average citizen. To really discuss innovation, proponents should talk about real progress and student results.
  • Online learning is a short-term trend. Online learning comes in many different forms, be it an online class, webinars, blended learning programs, or virtual charter schools. According to the Center for Education Reform, “the number of students attending full-time online schools has grown from approximately 200,000 in 2009-2010 to 310,000 in 2012-2013.” Additionally, 48 of the 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, are offering some form of online learning opportunities.
  • Online learning is only for gifted students. Online learning is a great tool for any and all students, according to the toolkit. It lets students work and learn at their own pace, allowing them to spend more time on concepts that are more challenging to them. It also is a great tool for students who don’t have as many schooling options available to them, such as those who live in rural or inner city areas or those with special needs.
  • Online learning is only available to families with computers. Schools that offer blended and digital learning provide students with computers and other tools they may need to participate. They often open media centers during non-school hours.
  • Online learning is cheaper. Though there’s no physical classroom to go to, online learning still requires a great deal of funding. Online learning institutions need computers, technology programs, teachers, and various other employees to keep the programs running, and because online learning is still somewhat controversial, it does not always receive the funding it requires, which can drive up the price of classes.
  • Online learning has no real accountability. Virtual schools are held to state and federal standards, as are the institutions’ teachers. Students participating in online classes are expected to attend, participate, and take tests just like students who sit in a physical classroom.
  • Online learning isn’t getting positive results. According to the Center for Education Reform, the best way to measure the success of digital learning is by measuring growth in academic performance. Though digital learning programs have created their own assessments that do show progress, there are currently no state programs to measure this growth.
  • Online students have no social interaction. Students who take online classes get the same or more individual time with teachers and the other students as they would in a physical classroom. Virtual classrooms also give shy students a platform to participate where they may be uncomfortable to do so in person. Most classes are only part-time, so students take a couple classes online and the rest in a traditional school setting, allowing them to experience the best of both worlds.

20 Twitter Hashtags Every Teacher Should Know About

This is a repost of   on January 31, 2012@edudemic

I think his list is great and can be added to….send them to me and I will create a google document and share it publicly.
 Twitter chats are such a great way to stay connected and informed in your professional circle, and education is no exception. Through education chats, you can find out about new methods for teaching, tech resources, even jobs for teachers. Most chats are held weekly, and offer an opportunity to have a regularly scheduled conversation with like-minded educators.

Check out our collection to find a wealth of Twitter chats that are great for all kinds of educators.


These Twitter chats cover anything and everything in education, and represent a great jumping off point for those just getting started in Twitter education chats.

  1. #edchat – Talk to a variety of educators around the world through #edchat, Tuesdays at noon and 7 p.m. EST.
  2. #lrnchatEvery Thursday night from 8:30-10 p.m. EST, you can connect with other educators and discuss learning.
  3. #edbkchat – On Wednesdays at 4 p.m. EST, you can discuss educational books and topics in learning and pedagogy.
  4. #spnchat – Find out about successful practices in education and education reform through #spnchat Tuesdays at 9 p.m..
  5. #ptchat – Wednesdays at 9 p.m. EST, parents and educators around the world can open the lines of communication on #ptchat.
  6. #urbaned – This Twitter chat for educators discusses topics relevant to urban education and beyond, every first and third Sunday of the month at 9 p.m. EST.
  7. #teachchat – Connect with other teachers and find out what they’re doing in their classrooms on #teachchat Wednesdays at 9 p.m. EST.
  8. #teaching2030 – Discuss big picture education issues, strategies, and reform through the #teaching2030 chat, every third Thursday at 8:30 p.m..
  9. #smedu – Wednesdays at noon and 9 p.m. EST social media professionals, students, educators, and more can discuss using social media in education in this chat.
  10. #ntchat – New teachers can learn more about their profession with ideas, collaboration, and more for getting starting through #ntchat on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. EST.
  11. #educoach – Wednesdays at 10 p.m. EST, you can find instructional coaching for improving education.
  12. #gtchat – Fridays at noon and 7 p.m. EST, gifted and talented educators, administrators, parents, and students can discuss new developments in developing gifted and talented programs around the world.
  13. #spedchat – Follow this weekly discussion on issues for students and teachers in special education Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. EST.

Administration and Behavior

Check out these Twitter chats to get connected and discuss topics concerning school administrators.

  1. #AcAdv – Tuesdays from 8-9 p.m. EST, you can talk to academic advisors and other colleagues about advising.
  2. #SAChat – Discuss student affairs with other professionals in the industry Thursdays from 12-1 p.m. CST and 6-7 p.m. CST.
  3. #isedchatTalk about independent schools Thursdays at 9 p.m. on #isedchat.
  4. #CUAD – At 2 p.m. on Tuesdays, you can discuss college unions and activities with higher education student affairs professionals and educators.
  5. #cpchatConnect with other principals in this always-open chat.

Subject Chats

English teachers, librarians, and other educators in special subjects can check out these chats for great information and resources.

  1. #engchat – At 7 p.m. each Monday, you can come together with other English teachers to discuss improving English instruction.
  2. #DUedchat – Chat with educators Down Under in this chat each Thursday 9 p.m. New Zealand time.

50 Education Startups That Got Funded in 2013

50 Education Startups That Got Funded in 2013

There has been rising support for education startups these days and many funding companies are willing to raise funds for these organizations. Startups in the field of education are found to be promising and investing in them is considered safe and doesn’t involve a lot of risks.There are several education startups that have received funding recently, here’s a list of 50 education startups that got funded in 2013:

  1. Socrative: Develops a smart student response system, raised $750,000 in seed funding from True Ventures, NewSchools Ventures, and a handful of angel investors, including LearnLaunchX co-founders, in August’2013.
  2. Artsly: A video-based social learning platform, raised $175,000 from Europe-based investor Kima Ventures, in July’2013.
  3. Flashnotes: An online student-to-student marketplace for buying and selling class study material, raised $1.5m seed funding from a new investor Nicole Stata of Boston Seed Capital, return investors Ryan Moore of Atlas Venture, Jordan Levy of Softbank Capital, and angels Deborah Quazzo, Jere Doyle and Bob Mason, in July’2013.
  4. ClusterFlunk: A platform that connects university students to other students in their lectures, raised $100K in seed funding in July’2013.
  5. ExecOnline: Provides school partners with everything they need to develop online executive education programs, raised $1.22M in seed funding, in July’2013.
  6. Schoo: A MOOC startup providing live-streamed lectures on the internet, raised 152 million yen (approximately $1.52 million) from Itochu Technology Ventures, Incubate Fund, and Anri, in July’2013.
  7. CollegeFrog: Is a website that enables students and employers to find a career match, raised $296k in seed funding, in June’2013.
  8. Silverback Learning Solutions: An education software provider, raised $2.5 million from a collection of angel investors in June’2013.
  9. Anomo: A mobile location-based social discovery app, raised $398k in Venture Round funding, in June’2013.
  10. Copley Retention Systems: A leading provider of student retention and success systems, received Series A financing led by Mark Cuban and including Tom DiBenedetto, and a prior $691K in seed funding during June-July’13.
  11. A college advisory tool that raised $40K in seed funding in June’2013 and $375K in Convertible Note Funding in July’2013.
  12. Forsyth Technical Community College: Provides students with exceptional technical education and training, college transfer and more, raised $490,568 from the National Science Foundation, in June’2013.
  13. Crowdmark: An online collaborative grading platform, raised $584k (C$600k) in seed funding, in June’13.
  14. Fastr: A developing subscription-based ebook app, raised $50K in seed funding in June’13.
  15. WeStudy.In: A Moscow-based platform that supports Russian students in studying at schools abroad, raised $300k in funding by Mikhail Frolkin, the managing partner of HeadHunter, in June’2013.
  16. Graduateland: Is creating a large recruitment network of international universities, by offering a free plug’n’play career portal for their intranet, received funding, the amount details of which have not yet been announced, in June’2013.
  17. Tabtor: Currently on iPads, is a flagship educational technology platform for all tablet computers from PrazAs Learning Inc., raised $1M from  New Jersey-based SoundBoard Angel Fund, Aarin Capital Partners, Sand Hill Angels, BITS Spark Angels and other individual investors, in June’2013.
  18. JoyTunes: A platform that allows users to learn music through games, raised $1.5m in seed funding led by Genesis Partners, with participation from Founder Collective, Kaedan Capital, and angel investors Dana Messina, Eran Shir, Joe Lonsdale, Zohar Gilon and others, in May’2013.
  19. MarcoPolo Learning: Makes educational digital toys that inspire kids to explore the world around them, received $1M in seed funding, in May’2013.
  20. Atlas Learning: An interactive learning start-up which provides device-independent applications for the education market, raised an amount in Angel funding, in May’2013.
  21. Learnhive: A provider of adaptive K-12 learning solutions, raised $400K in funding from unnamed angel investors from the U.S. and India who span education, Wall Street and retail expertise, in May’2013.
  22. YaKlass: A Russian education service, raised $2 million (1,56 million euro) in funding from Vesna Investment, Data Pro Group, and founder Nikita Halyavin, in May’2013.
  23. An online business learning service, just launched with around $1m in funding from Groupon Russia founders and Elena Masolova, in April’2013.
  24. Seelio: A student portfolio network designed for college students and educators, raised $900K in seed funding in April’2013 and $600K in Venture round funding, in October’2013.
  25. Floqq: A marketplace for online video courses in Spanish and Portuguese, raised $50K in Angel funding in April’2013.
  26. Study2gether: An innovative knowledge management platform for schools, raised €250K ($326K) from accelerator Mola and Extremadura Avante, in April’2013.
  27. Lean Startup Machine: The world’s leading bootcamp on Lean Startup methodology, raised an amount in seed funding in April’2013.
  28. iSTAR: A vocational skills training company that provides unemployed graduates with additional skills training to make them readily employable in the BFSI and ITeS sectors, raised an amount in seed funding in April’2013.
  29. Scoot & Doodle: Creates web and mobile products that facilitate human interaction and connected learning, raised $2.25 million in seed round from unnamed Silicon Valley angels and educational publishing giant Pearson, in March’2013.
  30. Nearpod: An all-in-one solution for the synchronized use of iPads in the classroom, gets $1.5M From NewSchools, Salesforce Exec, in March’2013.
  31. CultureAlley: Enables interactive and adaptive language learning using self-paced audio-visual lessons & personalized adaptive widgets on a cloud-based platform, raised an amount in seed funding from Kae Capital, in March’2013.
  32. Slate Science: An educational technology company offering STEM education products for tablets, raised $1.1m in angel funding from Leon Kamevev, Benny Schnaider, Roni Einav and Dr. Ron Rymon, in March’2013.
  33. Allegory Law: An intuitive knowledge management tool designed to bridge the gap between litigation and technology, raised $550K in seed funding, in March’2013.
  34. An Estuary: Provides social technology platforms and technology-integrated professional development solutions made for educators by educators, has raised $100K in funding from the Maryland Technology Development Corporation in 2013.
  35. Develops a universal trading platform for Internet users to buy and sell educational and informative materials, has received $4MM from Education Matrix, a Hong Kong based fund in 2013.
  36. 2U: Partners with universities to build, administer, and market online degree programs, has received $5.1M in Series D funding from Highland Capital Partners, Redpoint Ventures and Bessemer Venture Partners, in October’ 2013.
  37. K2 Learning: A hybrid (online + offline) education startup that focuses on Commerce education and provides classes for courses like CA, CS, CWA, PUC and B.Com, etc., has raised Rs. 8 crore in Angel funding in 2013 from Radheshyam Agarwal, founder and director of Calcutta Tube India, in his personal capacity.
  38. authorGEN Technologies: Provides e-learning software, services and authoring tools for efficient communication and is a subsidiary of the education major Educomp Solutions Ltd., raised Rs. 22 crore from education-focused private equity firm Kaizen in partnership with German media major Bertelsmann, in January’2013.
  39. Socratic Labs: An educational technology-focused startup accelerator, coworking community, and campus in New York City, raised an amount in seed funding in January’2013.
  40. eDreams Edusoft: Provides student-centric disruptive technology innovations, raised $2 million in its second round of funding, by Inventus Capital Partners in May’2013.
  41. The online education platform owned by Earth Education Valley Pvt. Ltd., raised $500K in seed funding from a group of early-stage institutional and angel investors including French early-stage fund Kima Ventures, Amit and Arihant Patni (from Patni family), computer services firm AKM Systems, Vibhor Mehra (ex-partner at SAIF Partners) and Stanford University alumni, among others, in May’2013.
  42. An online education and training destination for professional certification courses secured $10 million in a Series B round of funding from Helion Venture Partners and existing investor Kalaari Capital, in Setember’2013.
  43. Zane Prep: Built to engage K-8 students around the world in STEM education, raised an amount in angel funding, in February’2013.
  44. Sokikom: Helps K-12 teachers motivate students to learn using games, raised $2 million half of which comes in the form of a grant from the Institute of Education Sciences and the other half comes from former Intel Chairman and CEO Dr. Craig Barrett and Zynga co-founder Steve Schoettler, in February’2013.
  45. SingSpeil: An online music learning platform, raised $30.1k (C$30k) in seed funding in February’2013.
  46. Learnmetrics: Manages educational data to provide educators with powerful metrics and analytics, raised $100K in seed funding, in February’2013.
  47. Graduway: Aims to power all of the world’s alumni networking platforms, has launched today with $1.1 million in seed funding from BTG Pactual, former 888 Holdings CEO Gigi Levy and RSL Venture Partners, in February’2013.
  48. Thinkful: An online school that teaches technical skills, raised $1 million in seed funding from Peter Thiel’s FF Angel, RRE Ventures and Quotidian Ventures and more angel funders, in February’2013.
  49. Tutorspree: Aims to make high-quality, local tutors in any subject accessible to any student, received $800k in Venture round funding, in February’2013.
  50. Veduca: An online video platform that has the purpose of democratize access to top-quality education via video lectures from world-class universities, raised $500k in seed funding in October’2013.

Get Ready For America’s Next ‘Education Crisis’


“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” has become a popular mantra of the ruling class. Of course, these are not the people who usually experience the brunt of a crisis.

But a pervasive narrative in the mainstream media is that Americans are a people beset by near-continuous crisis, whether it’s the fake crisis of a looming “fiscal cliff” or a real crisis like Frankenstorm Sandy that still has many Northeasterners inexplicably living in the dark in unheated homes.

Arguably no sector of American society has been cast with the narrative of crisis as much as public education. And the fever pitch is about to go higher.


Something’s Rotten In The State Of Kentucky

Just prior to the November election, an article in the education trade journal Education Week broke that Kentucky had gotten bad news back from its most recent round of school tests. The results were that the percent of students scoring “proficient” or better in reading and math had dropped by roughly a third or more in both elementary and middle schools.

Disappointing results from a state test is not usually an occasion to stop the presses. But, in this case it was, because these were Very Special Tests.

The tests Kentucky children took were brand-new and aligned to new standards promoted by the federal government called Common Core Standards. Kentucky is the very first state to implement the new standards-based assessments, which will be rolled-out in over 40 other states over the next two school years.

Kentucky school officials, who were already bracing for the bad results, tried putting a happy face on it, calling results “better than we thought they’d be.”

But local media outlets were quick to claim that lower scores were proof positive that Kentucky public schools are “in need of improvement.”

Now imagine the scenario when what happened in Kentucky begins rolling out across the country — as state after state implements the bright, shiny new tests and watches in horror as scores drop off “The Proficiency Cliff.” How tempting it will be for major media outlets across the country to cast this as a “crisis” in education?

In fact, some people are betting good money on that happening.


Business Loves A Crisis

This past summer, about 100 private equity investors gathered at the posh University Club in New York City to hear about big money-making opportunities on the horizon.

As reported in Huffington Post, Rob Lytle of The Parthenon Group, a “strategic advisor of choice for CEOs and business leaders worldwide” according to its website, was there to reveal the ripening profit potentials in the public education arena — a $500+ billion market –due to the roll-out of new assessments aligned to the Common Core.

According to the reporter, Lytle told the audience, if the tests are “as rigorous as advertised, a huge number of schools will suddenly look really bad, their students testing way behind in reading and math. They’ll want help, quick. And private, for-profit vendors selling lesson plans, educational software and student assessments will be right there to provide it.”

Recall that states were strongly urged to adopt the new standards when they applied for the US Department of Education’s Race to the Top grant program and for waivers to the onerous No Child Left Behind mandates. Now 46 states are implementing the standards and at least one form or another of the tests that are aligned to the standards. The intent of the standards and tests is to ensure that students are on a pathway to becoming “career and college ready” (CCR) by the time they graduate high school.

So how is this a business opportunity?

Lytle regaled his investor friends with how the new tests would identify the “performance gaps” in student achievement where results fall far below what’s considered “proficient.” And once the Performance Gaps are unveiled to the world, the resulting pressure will force school officials into hiring outside product and service providers to bring up the scores.

As reported in Education Week, he accompanied his remarks with a Powerpoint (available at the link) with a graph showing which states are more apt to have the Performance Gaps. On his graph were a lot of states that he anticipated would be in “high need” of closing the Gap, including Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

Ed Week’s reporter explained, “Simplifying the picture as Mr. Lytle did gave investors hope that a sector they see as traditionally fickle and recently bearish might not be so bad.”

Interestingly, Kentucky was one of the few “low-need” states where the Performance Gap was not evident. So with a low-need state like Kentucky experiencing a 30 percent drop in test scores, does that mean states with high-need will experience even steeper drops?

Crisis material for sure.


Going From Crisis To Crisis

Education historian Diane Ravitch has long observed that a persistent narrative in the media is that American schools are “in crisis.”

A year ago, writing in The New York Review of Books, Ravitch traced the education crisis narrative back to a century ago, “when urban schools were overcrowded, swamped with students from Eastern and Southern Europe who didn’t speak English.” Again, in the 1950s, crisis broke out when the Soviets launched Sputnik into orbit, and critics blamed our public schools for not cranking out enough scientists.

The late Gerald Bracey noted this as well and coined the term “Sputnick Effect” to describe the perpetual state of crisis that has characterized the media narrative about the nation’s public schools. Bracey wrote:

The schools never recovered from Sputnik. Sputnik wounded their reputation and, as the scab formed, something else always came along to reopen the lesion: In the 1960s, schools were blamed for the urban riots (but were not credited for putting a man on the moon). In the 1970s, they were seen as “grim and joyless”. . . In the 1980s, A Nation at Risk blamed them for allowing the Germans, the South Koreans, and the Japanese to race ahead of us competitively (yet did not credit them for the longest sustained economic expansion in the nation’s history).

Indeed, what will keep politicians and the media from picking at the scab again?


Who Wants A Crisis?

Is an education crisis good for business? As the Ed Week reporter cited above pointed out, “There are market trends that support that theory. The commercial education market grew significantly in the past four years, but no segment grew faster than instruction and services. Companies like the virtual learning providers K12 Inc. and Connections Academy, or the publishers-turned-service-providers Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, fit that bill.”

In fact, the Obama administration originally framed the Common Core standards, and all the trappings that would come along with them, as a great business opportunity.

Writing at the blog site of the Harvard Business Review, Joanne Weiss, the Chief of Staff to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and leader of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program, said

The development of common standards and shared assessments radically alters the market for innovation in curriculum development, professional development, and formative assessments. Previously, these markets operated on a state-by-state basis, and often on a district-by-district basis. But the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.

That “national market” has in fact come to pass. And educator Michael Moore has connected the dots. Writing at the Savannah Morning News, he explained (hat-tip Maureen Dowd)

The testing business is a $2.3 billion business. But testing is not where the real money is made. If you want to pass the test, you’re going to need preparation materials.

If your child brings home a text from Glencoe, Macmillan, SRA, Open Court or The Grow Network, among others, then your child is using a McGraw-Hill text. The test preparation materials business surely dwarfs the testing business.

This is still small beer compared with what’s to come. This week, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Pearson Foundation (a non-profit organization owned by, well, the for-profit version of the Pearson company) announced that the two were working together to create complete online curricula for the new common core standards in math and English language arts for elementary through high school.

This off-the-shelf curricula includes the materials, the teacher preparation, teacher development and, of course, the assessments.

Interestingly, Phil Daro and Sally Hampton from America’s Choice, who helped draft the common core standards, are heading up this development.

Confused? Did I forget to mention that Pearson bought America’s Choice last summer?

There are, of course, other theories about the “what’s behind the Common Core” phenomenon. Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute had a particularly interesting one last week when he spilled the beans on what’s going on among The Very Serious People in Washington, DC. “When I ask how exactly the Common Core is going to change teaching and learning,” he divulged, “I’m mostly told that it’s going to finally shine a harsh light on the quality of suburban schools, shocking those families and voters into action.”

Apparently, this Shock Doctrine for the suburbs will play out so:

First, politicians will actually embrace the Common Core assessments and then will use them to set cut scores that suggest huge numbers of suburban schools are failing. Then, parents and community members who previously liked their schools are going to believe the assessment results rather than their own lying eyes . . . Finally, newly convinced that their schools stink, parents and voters will embrace “reform.”

Whether the coming Education Crisis is a business conspiracy or a Beltway scheme, none of this is to argue that the Common Core and its accompanying tests and instructional materials aren’t without merit. That’s a whole other subject.

But since when did a crisis-driven directive, steered by business interests and bureaucrats who aren’t being exactly transparent about their intentions, ever end up achieving widespread public good?


Good Intentions Gone Awry?

No doubt there are some good intentions driving the new standards and tests.

But some of those intentions seem extraordinarily naïve. In an article from this week’s US News, chief architect of the Common Core David Coleman maintained that the new tests are so much better than the ones we’ve been using that, even if they demoralize teachers and frustrate parents, they will “redeem assessment” in their “hearts and minds.”

So, let’s see how that plays out:

Dear High School Parent,

For years, we’ve been telling you your child is bright and successful in school. But those tests sucked. Now, we’ve got new and better tests, and they have determined that your child is a failure. Enjoy the rest of your day!

Good intentions are not always what matter. In fact, they often blind.

When the last Great Big Education Innovation called No Child Left Behind descending on America’s beleaguered schools, the intention was to address a Crisis as well. That Crisis also had its very own Gap — not the Performance Gap, but the Achievement Gap.

NCLB was supposed to close the Achievement Gap, but it’s now widely understood that the whole enterprise was an utter failure. The best that NCLB proponents can offer is that it “woke the country” to the stark differences between the academic attainment of African American and Hispanic school children and their white and Asian peers.

But years of results from the National Assessment of Education Progress had already revealed those differences, and anyone who needed “awakening” then has doubtless fallen back into slumbers as the country has drifted further and further into a vast sea of segregated schools and education inequality.

So now one crisis-prompted experiment on the nation’s school children is leading to another.

One wonders, when will Americans — after being shocked into concern about an Achievement Gap and cattle-prodded to address a Performance Gap — tire of crisis language and notice that the real problem is that political leaders and “experts” in charge of education policy have a Credibility Gap?

This ‘Smart Trench Coat’ Comes With a 4G Hotspot Built Into It, and a Phone Charger

” This makes me think of my grandkids, again. I look at them a lot these days and wonder what they, now 4 and 5, will be taking to school in a decade—or, more aptly, what they will be wearing to school. My guess is that the coat featured in this Digital Trends article by Jeffrey Van Camp is just the beginning. In ten years we will have very intelligent clothing that does much more than provide connectivity and battery charging. A sleeve will become a screen or a keyboard; or a lapel will become a microphone. No doubt clothing will track movement, like the Kinect does now. And no doubt it will take us into areas that we find ethically gray, like looking at student work as they are doing it and offering advice about what to do next. Of course we will be able to know where are kids are at any time. Sounds great to some, but it sounds like a lot of Big Brother to others. In any event, this trench coat is just the beginning. The future goes on for a very long time.”

via Digital Trends


There’s nothing like a little LTE to warm you up on a cold day. Your phone may already come with a data connection, but now your coat can, too. This is the ‘M’ by Motiif. Labeled as the “first smart trench coat” from the “first fashionable tech company,” it has a built-in phone charger and can act as a Wi-Fi hotspot for any devices you have, all while presumably looking fabulous.The coat is made of “100 percent waterproof nano-infused fabric” to protect its and your electronics and may be just the first of a complete smart wardrobe from Motiif. It comes with three months of 1GB of free 4G, provided by a company called Karma, which runs off of Sprint’s network. It claims this is available in 80 cities in the country, but we don’t know if it works on all of Sprint’s different network technologies. After three months, your coat will require a $14 monthly subscription to keep giving you 1GB of data, which is (sort of) more expensive than Sprint’s typical tablet plans, which start at $15 for 2GB of data. But if you’re going to buy a super smart trench coat, you had best shell out for its wireless connection.Battery life is said to be 6-8 hours, but we also don’t know if one battery powers a charger and the hotspot, or if they are separate. There is a big pocket for the charger and it works with any Micro USB charging device, and the iPhone 4 – 5S. says your phone can charge “wirelessly” but it appears that you do need to connect your phone physically to a charger inside the breast pocket.

We hope that Motiif will create a smart coat rack next, so we can easily charge our smart trench coats.“This isn’t just a coat with charging and Wi-Fi, it’s about the future of clothing … and how clothing will communicate with each other and the end user,” Motiif founder Rafael Balbi told Laptop Mag. “We are building it, because it’s an entry point for a system of wearable technology we are developing that lets the user learn more about themselves and what’s going on in the environment around them.”Right now, Motiif is searching for 300 or so “Alpha Testers” to bug test the new coat for two weeks at a time and give feedback. If the coat doesn’t continuously reboot, lose its connection, or face delays, Balbi says it will arrive in Feb. 2014 for about the price of a standard trench coat, which we guess will be somewhere between $150 – $350. You can sign up for the Alpha program here.While it would be nice if a smart coat would be smart enough to heat itself, that’s probably not in the cards. Next up will be a “high tech furniture company” creating a smart coat rack so we can easily charge our smart trench coats. Then maybe some smart pants to help keep the smart coat charged on the go and smart drawers to power them at night. At this pace, in a few years we’ll be happily brushing our teeth with lithium ion batteries.