100 Best Websites for Writers 2017

The 100 Best Websites for Writers in 2017

What do you picture when you imagine yourself writing?

Are you quietly tapping away on your office desktop computer in the early morning hours? Maybe you’re scribbling new ideas and observations amidst the hustle and bustle of a coffee shop.

It’s likely that you imagined yourself alone. And that’s not surprising, because when it comes down to actually doing the work, you — the writer — are the one who has to put pen to paper.

But here’s the thing about great writing: it takes a village.

They may be your words, but the words you write are a culmination of years of practice, learning from mentors, emulating your favorite authors, workshopping with peers and supporting fellow writers.

 

blogging

1. Be a Freelance Blogger

Sophie Lizard teaches you how to take your freelance blogging skills to pro level. Through her blog posts, free community and jobs board, you’ll increase your blogging income and become an expert in your niche.

2. Beyond Your Blog

Are you working to grow your blog audience? Beyond Your Blog provides practical tips and resources for getting published on other blogs and and in digital publications, so you can tap into new groups of engaged fans.

3. Copyblogger

Take your content marketing, SEO and community building skills to the next level with Copyblogger’s library of free ebooks, blog posts, forums and more. It’s a leading resource for professional blogging from the creators of the Rainmaker Platform for digital marketing.

4. ProBlogger

Founder Darren Rowse and the ProBlogger team bring you the latest news and tips to build a better blog. This site offers extensive resources on how to monetize your blog, as well as a job board constantly updated with new blogging opportunities.

5. See Jane Write

At See Jane Write, founder Javacia Harris Bowser seeks to empower women to be “authors of their own lives and live a life worth writing about.” Consistently recommended by many of our readers, See Jane Write is a great place for bloggers who are looking to grow their platforms and turn their blogs into businesses.

6. Aliventures

Ali Luke provides both practical and motivational advice on writing books, blogging and building a business around your writing. Check out her Writer’s Huddle community and ebooks on blogging.

7. Ann Kroeker

Author and writing coach Ann Kroeker is on a mission to help writers reach their goals by maximizing curiosity, creativity and productivity. Her website is home to numerous blog posts, podcasts and resources for writers.

8. Australian Writers’ Centre

No matter what type of writing you enjoy, the Australian Writers’ Centre has a course for you. Along with a full blog archive, this site offers dozens of online and in-person courses on freelance writing, creativity, novel writing, business writing, blogging and more. Courses start at $97.

9. Bang2Write

If you’re a screenwriter, Bang2Write is for you. This site offers tons of advice on how to develop great stories and pitch your scripts, along with best practices for writing research.

10. Barely Hare Books

You are the hero of your own novel-writing adventure, and Rae Elliott of Barely Hare Books is here to help you defeat the monster keeping you from writing that fandom-worthy story. With blog posts, a podcast and several ebooks, this site has lots to explore.

100 best websites for writers 2017

11. C. S. Lakin’s Live Write Thrive

Author, editor and writing coach C. S. Lakin loves helping writers get their manuscripts ready for publication. At Live Write Thrive, she writes about proper scene structure, character development, editing and crafting a fantastic story.

12. DIY MFA

The folks at DIY MFA believe you can access the benefits of an Master in Fine Arts without having to go the traditional (expensive) route. It all comes down to a simple but powerful combination: writing with focus, reading with purpose and building your community.

13. Elizabeth Spann Craig

Prolific mystery author Elizabeth Spann Craig blogs about all things relevant to a writer’s life, including public speaking, productivity, gaining visibility and connecting with the wider author community. Her weekly roundup of writing articles is a reader favorite.

14. Eva Deverell

A passionate writer and creative writing teacher, Eva Deverell offers tons of resources for readers, writers, poets and people who just love learning. With worksheets, blog posts, writing prompts and ebooks, this site offers practical ways to deepen your craft.

15. Every Writer

At Every Writer, owner and editor Richard Edwards covers everything you can imagine about writing, including writing tools, website building, and how to overcome writer’s block. He even shares tips on starting a literary magazine. Check out his poetry and writing contests, too.

16. Fiction University

Janice Hardy understands there’s no “right” way to write. So instead of giving advice on what writers should do, she explains how to make industry rules work for you. With new articles and guest columns every day, you’ll gain valuable insight into the book-writing and publishing process.

17. How to Write a Book Now

At How to Write a Book Now, author Glen C. Strathy shares tips on everything about the writing and book publishing process, from where to start, to story model analysis, to creating compelling characters. Readers can also submit their questions about writing.

18. Inky Girl

Inky Girl is the place for children’s book writers and illustrators. Debbie Ridpath Ohi shares original comics, interviews with industry experts, and advice on telling unique stories. Her series on writing picture books is a reader favorite.

19. Journalist’s Resource

Run by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center, Journalist’s Resource offers write-ups on the latest scholarly studies, reports and data. This is a great place to find reliable research as well as inspiration for your next freelance article.

20. Knockin’ Books

The editors at Knockin’ Books are self-described “addicted” to reading, so they’ve created this site to help connect readers and authors. Whether you’re a reader looking for your next favorite book, or a writer looking for a beautiful cover design, you’ll find it at Knockin’ Books.

21. Lucy Flint and the Lionhearted Writing Life

After eight years of a love/hate relationship with writing, Lucy Flint went on a mission to explore how writing can be more enjoyable, easy and fulfilling. In her blog posts, she shares tips on how to be more courageous in your writing, stop being stuck and more. Her site is a mini dance party for your writing life.

22. Market Meditations

At Market Meditations, Charles Chu documents the experiments and lessons he’s learned in the pursuit of being more productive, successful and effective at the work he does. This is a great blog to follow if you’re looking to raise your potential at work.

23. Positive Writer

In the pursuit of creating work that matters, all writers get stuck from time to time. Doubts can creep in, and it’s sometimes hard to get back on track. Bryan Hutchinson offers motivating blog posts to help you move beyond writing paralysis and finish the work you set out to create.

24. PsychWriter

At PsychWriter, Tamar Sloan explores the intersection of psychology and writing, specifically as it pertains to character development and reader engagement. This blog covers the art of making your characters and story believable.

25. Re:Fiction

No matter what kind of fiction writer you are, Re:Fiction welcomes you. This site offers resources to help you at all stages, from getting better at writing, to publishing, to marketing and building your platform. It also offers multiple scholarships for professional editing and critiques each month, on manuscripts of up to 5,000 words.

26. The Write Practice

What do all successful writers have in common? Practice. At The Write Practice, Joe Bunting and his team help you develop your writing rhythm and grow into your voice and identity as a writer.

27. The Writing Kylie

Kylie Day’s blog is a great place for those who are in the midst of writing a novel. With tips on outlining and story structure, and a dose of inspirational posts about the writing life, this blog will help you on your path from story idea to complete manuscript.

28. Tweetspeak Poetry

Tweetspeak Poetry is the go-to site for “the best in poetry and poetic things.” Here, readers and writers alike can indulge in beautiful poetry, writing workshops, book clubs and more. This is also a great place to find resources for teaching poetry.

29. Write or Die

Writer Mandy Wallace believes that when it comes to writing, you can’t wait to become inspired or for luck to strike. Just “Show up, shut up, and write,” and sooner or later it will all come together. Wallace’s blog documents the writing lessons she’s learned and offers practical guides for upgrading your own writing.

30. Writerology

The one constant when it comes to writing? It all comes down to the people: you as a writer, your characters and their development, and the audience you seek to connect with. At Writerology, Faye Kirwin combines her expertise in writing and psychology to help you hone your craft, understand people, and write amazing stories.

31. Writers Helping Writers

Authors Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi are dedicated to creating one-of-a-kind resources that writers will actually use. Their books and blog posts focus on helping writers become better storytellers, and their One Stop For Writers library is teeming with tools for planning, researching and writing your book.

32. Writers In The Storm

Just like their characters during perilous times, writers must weather the storm of their profession — and shifting industry tides. Run by a group of authors, the Writers In The Storm blog provides inspiration and tips for writers during all stages of the process.

33. Writer Unboxed

Frustrated their analytical articles about books and movies were rejected, founders Therese Walsh and Kathleen Bolton decided to create Writer Unboxed in 2006 so they could freely publish their observations. It has since grown into a thriving community where writers of all levels can contribute their thoughts on the craft of writing.

34. Write to Done

Write to Done is all about learning to write well. Founder Mary Jaksch brings the age-old advice to keep writing to a whole new level, noting that it’s not practice that makes you a better writer — it’s practice directed in a positive way.

35. Grammar Girl

You may speak English fluently, but the language can still be quite a mystery. Grammar Girl is the go-to guide for all things “grammar, punctuation, usage, and fun developments in the English language.” She has a popular podcast, too.

36. Kathy Steinemann

Kathy Steinemann loves words. On her blog, she shares master lists of adjectives and offers tips for avoiding overused words and being more descriptive and original in your writing.

37. Scribendi

Scribendi is focused on the art of editing and proofreading. Their resources for writers cover everything from grammar, to finding inspiration, to the mechanics of writing.

38. Comps & Calls

On the first of each month, Cathy Bryant posts an extensive list of competitions, contests and calls for submission. She notes whether they’re paid or not, for quick skimming. This site is a great one-stop shop for all recent writing opportunities.

39. Elna Cain

Elna Cain believes you don’t need experience to be a successful freelance writer — you just need a passion for writing. On her blog, she shares tips and strategies to help new freelance writers succeed.

40. Freelancer FAQs

You have questions, they have answers. Team members and guest contributors at Freelancer FAQs address all the things you’ve ever wanted to know about freelance life, including marketing, getting started, recommended resources, money management and more.

41. Freelance to Freedom

You love to write. But in order to be a successful freelancer, you need to work those business muscles. That’s where Freelance to Freedom comes in. Founder Leah Kalamakis offers articles and e-books that teach everything from client management to setting up your business website.

42. Freelance to Win

At Freelance to Win, Danny Margulies wants you to stop compromising and start living a life of freedom — all by building a freelance career. Danny is an expert at landing gigs on Upwork, and his blog shares all the latest tips on how to use this platform for ultimate success.

43. Freelance Writing

It’s been around since 1997 and is still going strong: Freelance Writing has an extensive archive of articles, tutorials, media and resources all geared to helping you build a successful career. Its jobs listings get updated daily, so you’re always in the know about new opportunities.

44. FundsforWriters

Hope Clark believes writing can be a realistic career for all writers. Her weekly newsletter lists the best competitions, grants and other well-paying markets, and her platform has grown to include a blog and a bi-weekly paid newsletter with even more high-paying opportunities per issue.

45. Horkey Handbook

Within six months of starting her freelance writing career, Gina Horkey was earning $4,000 a month. Now, she wants to help others achieve their dreams of making a real living off freelance writing. Check out her free five-day kickstart course.

46. LittleZotz Writing

Lauren Tharp has found a way to write as a freelancer full time and is dedicated to helping other writers do the same. With bi-monthly newsletters, a blog, and a podcast, LittleZotz is a great source of practical tips for your freelance life.

47. Make a Living Writing

At Make a Living Writing, Carol Tice helps writers move up from low-paying markets and earn more from their work. With her blog, e-books and paid community, you’ll find awesome advice, support and resources to grow as a freelance writer.

48. Pen & Pro$per

At Pen & Pro$per, Jennifer Brown Bank shares more than 15 years of professional writing experience to help others reach financial success with their writing. As one The Write Life reader said, “With an outstanding array of diverse topics, tips and tricks of the writing profession, this is a blog well worth bookmarking!”

49. Untamed Writing

“Your life is YOUR life. You should be able to do whatever you want with it.” So says Karen Marston, founder of Untamed Writing, her internet home for helping people build a freelance writing career they love without sacrificing their freedom. You’ll find a full archive of blog posts, resources and courses to develop your writing skills, fearlessly approach clients, and maintain a successful career.

best websites for writers

50. Writers in Charge

With over 600 posts in its archives, Writers in Charge is filled with resources and leads for freelance writers who are looking to be well-compensated for their work. Don’t miss founder Bamidele Onibalusi’s master list of 110 websites that pay writers.

51. Writers Weekly

Around since 1997, Writers Weekly is a tried-and-true resource for freelance writers. It offers regular updates on paying markets, as well as expert interviews and success stories.

52. Writing Revolt

At Writing Revolt, Jorden Roper is leading a revolution to help freelance writers and bloggers make serious money. Her site is filled with actionable articles, courses and resources that will help you become better at writing, pitching and landing great clients.

53. HubSpot

For business, sales and marketing-focused writers, HubSpot is a great place to stay on top of the latest research, insights, and strategies for connecting with your audience and making them fall in love with your brand.

54. Kikolani

Founder Kristi Hines brings you the latest strategies, trends and how-tos in digital marketing. Kikolani is a must-have resource for business and professional bloggers who want to make their brands stand out.

55. MarketingProfs

If you’re looking to grow your expertise in marketing communications, MarketingProfs is the place to go. It offers articles, podcasts, training events and more, so you can learn to use strategic, data-driven marketing.

56. Seth Godin

Seth Godin’s blog might not be specifically about writing, but his daily bits of wisdom on business, marketing and life will help you approach your work in new ways. His posts never fail to inspire an energy to “Go, make something happen.”

57. Shelley Hitz

Shelley Hitz believes everyone has a message, and she’s on a mission to help you reach your target audience and build your author platform. With her blog posts, podcast and Author Audience Academy, you’ll find tons of content on book writing, publishing and marketing.

58. The Creative Penn

Author Joanna Penn has built a best-selling writing career, and she wants to help you do it, too. Her site offers a wealth of resources on self-publishing and platform-building — from her articles and ebooks to her popular podcast library of author interviews.

59. Beautiful Writers Podcast

On the Beautiful Writers Podcast, host Linda Sivertsen features authors and thought leaders about their writing, business and publishing adventures. With a touch of spirituality, these conversations are great listens for those interested in creative contemplation.

60. Create If Writing

We all love writing, but sometimes platform building and promotion don’t feel as natural. That’s where Create If Writing comes in; host Kirsten Oliphant shares tips and tools on how to build an authentic platform for your creative brand.

61. I Should Be Writing

With author interviews and a huge archive, I Should Be Writing chronicles the journey to becoming a professional author. Conversations focus primarily on speculative fiction and traditional publishing.

62. Rocking Self Publishing

Looking to be a published indie author? This podcast is for you. Each week host Simon Whistler interviews some of the top names in self-publishing, so you can create success for yourself.

63. Science Fiction & Fantasy Marketing Podcast

On the Science Fiction & Fantasy Marketing Podcast, the hosts interview successful authors, engage in group discussions and dive deep into specific writing genres and niches. This is a smart listening option for those looking for solid discussion around the science fiction and fantasy markets.

64. Self Publishing Formula

Hosted by a writer who’s just starting out and another who is a best-selling author, the Self Publishing Formula podcast features interviews with some of the biggest names in the self-publishing game. Listen for tips on writing, publishing, marketing and more.

65. Story Geometry

Ben Hess is an award-winning producer, director and screenwriter. After hitting a creative wall, he decided to start Story Geometry, where he interviews esteemed writers on their craft.

66. Story Grid

On the Story Grid podcast, author Shawn Coyne and “struggling” writer Tim Grahl discuss the art and science of writing a story that resonates. There’s a blueprint for great novels — and these co-hosts seek to crack the code.

67. The Dead Robots’ Society

Throughout the nearly 400 episodes in its archive, the many hosts of The Dead Robots’ Society gather to discuss their writing journeys and offer tips on the writing process. They also  occasionally invite guests on the show.

68. The Worried Writer

On The Worried Writer podcast, Sarah Painter investigates how authors overcome anxiety, distractions and worried feelings on their way to publishing success. Listen to this podcast if you’re looking for practical advice on managing self doubt.

69. The Writer Files

On The Writer Files, host Kelton Reid uncovers the secrets of productivity and creativity of some of the most well-known writers. If you find yourself stuck, plagued with writer’s block or just need to get those writing gears turning again, this podcast is for you.

70. Writer 2.0

On Writer 2.0, A. C. Fuller sits down with bestselling authors and publishing experts like literary agents and book marketers. This show offers great content around both traditional and self-publishing, as well as the writing journey.

71. Writing Class Radio

This show brings you inside an actual writing class, where you can hear other people tell their stories, witness breakthroughs, and hear the ins and outs of learning to write well.

72. Writing Excuses

In these weekly 15-minute episodes, writers Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells talk about all things writing. They often have season-long themes — check out season 10 for a masterclass-type season on creating a story.

73. Your Creative Life

On the Your Creative Life podcast, co-hosts Vanessa Carnevale and Kimberley Foster help writers connect to their creativity. With discussions on publishing, platform building and different genres of writing, this is a choice place to find inspiration.

74. Anne R. Allen

Publishing veterans Anne R. Allen and Ruth Harris created this online space to offer wisdom and tips for navigating the increasingly complex (and sometimes predatory) publishing world. Whether you’re an indie author or looking to land a traditional publishing deal, check out their archives and resources.

75. Better Novel Project

Christine Frazier takes a scientific approach to writing a best-selling novel. She deconstructs popular books to pinpoint the common elements they share. These findings are then incorporated into the “master outline” for a better, research-backed novel. Follow along for insights on plot, word counts and character development.

76. Go Teen Writers

Stephanie Morrill knows a love of writing often starts at a young age. That’s why she created Go Teen Writers: to provide encouragement, community and wisdom to aspiring teen writers who want to learn more about how to finish a novel and get it published.

77. Helping Writers Become Authors

Consider K. M. Weiland your writing and publishing mentor. With hundreds of blog posts, instructional ebooks, and an exclusive e-letter, her website is the perfect place to find the answers to all your questions. She also responds to every email she receives (really!) about writing, publishing and marketing fiction.

78. Jane Friedman

Former publisher Jane Friedman explores the intersection of publishing, authorship and the digital age. With more than 15 years in the industry, Friedman knows her stuff — and her blog is a wealth of information on how to embrace “the future of authorship.”

79. Jenny Bravo Books

Author Jenny Bravo offers personal anecdotes and guidance for writers who want to take a leap into the publishing world. From her blog full of tips to her “Blots and Plots Party” Facebook group, to her Busy Writers Starter Kit, Jenny is here to help you realize your dream of writing a book.

80. My Story Doctor

At My Story Doctor, author David Farland offers tips and workshops on how to write your story and get it published. He offers strategic advice on the business of writing, covering topics like how to get great deals and make the most of your publishing opportunities.

81. Nail Your Novel

At Nail Your Novel, bestselling ghostwriter and book doctor Roz Morris shares her best traditional and self-publishing tips as well as musings on the writing process. Be sure to check out her radio show “So You Want to Be a Writer?”

82. Novel Publicity

The team at Novel Publicity believes every story should be told, and have its own platform and loyal fans. With that core belief in mind, it provides guidance on writing, marketing and publishing. Posts cover everything from social media strategy and book design to finances and author blogging.
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83. Self-Publishing School

Chandler Bolt believes everyone has a book inside them. With proven systems and strategies, the Self-Publishing School blog will walk you through writing and publishing your book, even if you don’t even know what you want to write about yet!

84. She’s Novel

It took Kristen Kieffer two and a half years to finish her first draft — then she realized she had made every mistake in the book. She vowed not to let these personal lessons go to waste, so she created She’s Novel, a blog and resource hub that helps writers more-easily navigate the journey of crafting brilliant novels.

85. Standoutbooks

You’ve written your book. Now what? Standoutbooks has tons of articles, templates, tools and resource recommendations for getting your book published and marketed to the max. While you’re there, grab your free Book Marketing Plan and Press Release templates.

86. The Book Designer

At The Book Designer, Joel Friedlander uses his experience in book design, advertising and graphic design to help writers “build better books” and get published. Along with his extensive blog archive, check out his book design templates and Book Launch Toolkit.

87. The Steve Laube Agency

What better way to get book publishing advice than from an agent himself? From resource recommendations to eight years (and counting!) of blog archives, The Steve Laube Agency website is full of advice for writers who are taking their first steps into the world of publishing.

88. Writer’s Digest Editor Blogs

Writer’s Digest is home to many resources, competitions, and communities. Their editor columns are quite popular, and we particularly like The Write Life contributor Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents, featuring all types of information on finding literary agents, sending query letters, building an author platform and marketing your book.

89. Writer’s Relief

For more than 20 years, Writer’s Relief has helped creatives successfully submit their writing to literary journals, book publishers, agents and more. The staff’s blog is full of publishing tips, and they also have a paid-subscriber-only classifieds section listing contests, conferences and residences.

90. Chronicles

Chronicles is a thriving community for science fiction and fantasy writers. Community members gather to discuss favorite books, authors and common themes in science fiction and fantasy writing.

91. Fiction Writing

The Fiction Writing Facebook group is a community of nearly 10,000 writers. Here, you can post your writing for critique or reviews, and veteran members can announce details about upcoming book releases and published pieces.

92. Inkitt

Inkitt is a data-driven book publisher and community where writers can share their work and find an audience for free, even if their novel is not yet finished. Inkitt’s algorithm analyzes reading behaviors to understand whether a novel has a strong potential to become a big success. If readers love your work, Inkitt will offer you a publishing deal.

93. Insecure Writer’s Support Group

Whether you’re just beginning to write or a best-selling pro, the Insecure Writer’s Support Group is here to help you overcome whatever doubts and insecurities might keep you from being your best.

94. Now Novel

The Now Novel program offers a structured, straightforward way to get your book done. With a step-by-step process that takes the guessing out of what to do next, personalized mentorship and community groups for even more support, you’ll be an author in no time.

95. Prose

Prose is a social network platform for writers who want to focus on the work — not the superficiality of social media. This is a great place to publish your work, connect with other authors, and participate in writing challenges.

96. She Writes

Over 27,000 writers of all levels of expertise have joined this buzzing community, founded by author Kamy Wicoff. At She Writes, you can create your own profile, build your network, share your work, get expert advice and feedback and discuss all types of topics in the forum.

97. Talentville

Talentville is the online destination for screenwriters and storytellers. This community focuses on bringing together people across the industry — from novice script writers to top agents and producers — so high-quality work can be easily discovered.

98. The Masters Review

This community is focused on supporting emerging writers. They publish works from writers who don’t have published novels and haven’t been featured on larger platforms yet. Be on the lookout for their annual anthology, which features the 10 best emerging writers in the country.

99. Two Drops of Ink

Two Drops of ink is a literary blog accepting submissions from writers of almost any genre. The editors also post book reviews and blog posts about writing and the publishing industry.

100. Wattpad

At Wattpad, “Stories are made social.” Hailed as the world’s largest community of writers and readers, members are free to post and read original stories and engage in conversation with each other. This is a great platform to build buzz around your writing.

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.

AT&TAT&T
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?

Math

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.

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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.”

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Source: EdSurge

ELA

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

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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.

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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.

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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.)

Assessment

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

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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.

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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

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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:

S

Substitution

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

A

Augmentation

Tech acts as a direct tool substitute, with functional improvement

M

Modification

Tech allows for a significant task design

R

Redefinition

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.

S

A

M

R

Math

A Free Tool to Keep a Pulse on Student Learning

SUBSTITUTION + MATH

Addressing the Gaps of All Learners

AUGMENTATION + MATH

Learning Linear Equations in One Week, Not One Year

MODIFICATION + MATH

Playlists That Put Students in Control

REDEFINITION + MATH

ELA

Read All You Want

SUBSTITUTION + ELA

Ditch the Paper. Let’s Make a Podcast!

AUGMENTATION + ELA

90 Second Videos That Inspire Discussion

MODIFICATION + ELA

Taking Reading Assignments To The Next Level

REDEFINITION + ELA

Assessment

Forms for Formative Assessments

SUBSTITUTION + ASSESSMENT

Custom-Built Quizzes For Real-Time Intervention

AUGMENTATION + ASSESSMENT

Formative Assessments Enriched With Data

MODIFICATION + ASSESSMENT

From Paper and Pencil to Real World Assessment

REDEFINITION + ASSESSMENT

SUBSTITUTION + MATH

Conclusion

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.

Report: Digital Natives ‘Easily Duped’ by Information Online

Many students are having a hard time judging the credibility of online news, according to a new study from Stanford University. Researchers at the Stanford Graduate School of Education assessed middle, high school and college students on the their civic online reasoning skills, or “the ability to judge the credibility of information that floods young people’s smartphones, tablets and computers.”

The Stanford History Education Group recently released a report that analyzes 7,804 responses collected from students across 12 states and varying economic lines, including well-resourced, under-resourced and inner-city schools. To test news literacy, the researchers administered 56 tasks that involved open web searches. They found that when it comes to evaluating information that flows on social media channels like Facebook and Twitter, students “are easily duped” and have trouble discerning advertisements from news articles.

Native advertising, for example, “proved vexing for the majority of students,” according to the report. For one task, 203 middle school students were asked to evaluate the homepage of Slate magazine’s website. More than 80 percent of students believed that an advertisement with the words “sponsored content” was a news story. Several even responded that it was sponsored content, yet identified it as a credible news story.

Many people assume that today’s students – growing up as “digital natives” – are intuitively perceptive online. The Stanford researchers found the opposite to be true and urge teachers to create curricula focused on developing students’ civil reasoning skills. They plan to produce “a series of high-quality web videos to showcase the depth of the problem” that will “demonstrate the link between digital literacy and citizenship,” according to the report.

The report, “Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning,” can be found here.

Facebook, Apple, Google Executives Push STEM at Trump’s Tech Meeting

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, and Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, alongside a dozen other executives of major tech companies, met with Republican president-elect Donald Trump Wednesday to discuss jobs and the economy.

What ever happened after this meeting? Has any of these companies actually changed what they are/were doing?

Image Credit: Quartz.

Trump was relatively quiet about his plans for education while campaigning, but during the sit-down meeting at Trump Tower in New York City, a conversation about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education unfolded.

According to various reports, invitations were also extended to:

  • Jeff Bezoz, Amazon CEO;
  • Safra Katz, Oracle CEO;
  • Alex Karp, Palantir CEO;
  • Elon Musk, Tesla CEO and product architect;
  • Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO;
  • Larry Page, Alphabet CEO and Google co-founder;
  • Eric Schmidt, Alphabet executive chairman and former Google CEO;
  • Chuck Robbins, Cisco CEO; and
  • Ginni Rometty, IBM CEO.

Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal and other companies and a member of Trump’s transition team, was also in attendance and sat next to the president-elect. Notably, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was not at the meeting.

Recode reported that meeting attendees talked about developing fairer trade deals and creating jobs, emphasizing the importance of innovative technologies, like automation and advanced manufacturing. Cook brought up President Obama’s work to advance STEM education in K–12, including national computer science initiatives, stressing STEM’s impact on the U.S. economy. Additionally, Sandberg pushed the importance of STEM education for women and underrepresented minorities in the tech industry.

 

President-Elect Advised to Scale Personalized Learning

KnowledgeWorks, a nonprofit that works with federal, state and district leaders to expand competency-based and personalized learning, has issued four recommendations on how Donald Trump and his  secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, can “scale personalized learning.”

The advice focuses on streamlining the path between K—12 and higher ed for increased college enrollment; removing barriers to innovation within states; adding flexibility to the federal financial aid system; and prioritizing personalized learning initiatives for discretionary grant programs.

The emphasis is placed especially on flexibility, a concept of great importance to DeVos, a strong advocate for the use of school vouchers, which would support parents using federal dollars to send their children to private schools, among other choices. In a speech at last year’s South by Southwest Education Forum, the education reformer called for revolutionizing the “education delivery system” by opening it up and allowing “for choice, innovation and freedom.”

In a five-page “memo,” KnowledgeWorks suggested:

  • Finding ways to promote the “effective transitions” of students between their secondary education and college. One idea would be the creation of a “postsecondary transition innovation fund,” that could be used, for example, to support the transition to competency-based pathways in education and re-engagement of students who have dropped out.
  • Helping states and districts scale their personalized learning systems. The components needed would address many of the stipulations covered in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) — assessment, accountability, school improvement and the education workforce — and also suggests expansion of learning opportunities outside of school and support for research and development tied to personalized learning.
  • Supporting individual pathways toward postsecondary credentials by making federal financial aid more flexible. This would require a move away from basing financial aid on the number of hours a student attends college or the number of credit hours he or she is pursuing — shifting the emphasis to other areas, such as competency education and dual enrollment.
  • Giving a priority score to grants that focus on personalized learning. The characteristics of that include alignment with standards students need to be successful in college, individualized learning experiences and varied pacing of instruction based on student need.

“We look forward to working with the new administration to create a policy platform that makes it easier for learners to access high-quality, customized pathways to college and career success,” wrote Lillian Pace, senior director of national policy, in an article on the organization’s website. “In a time of uncertainty, there is no better strategy than to build on our strengths. By empowering our local innovators, we can turn their energy and dedication into a system that works for all.”

The full memo is available on the KnowledgeWorks website here.

K12 and other Virtual Companies REJECT ACCOUNTABILITY/TRANSPARENCY Proposal

Virtual charter school company K12 Inc. rejected a transparency proposal Thursday that would have required the company’s board of directors to create a new report detailing K12’s lobbying efforts.

The proposal came from a group of shareholders, represented by Arjuna Capital, who said the company spends millions on state lobbying, even as its stock has been dropping and revenues have decreased.

K12 Inc. has spent at least $10.5 million to hire lobbyists in 21 states, according to more than a decade of state lobbying disclosure forms examined by Education Week as part of a recent investigation into the lobbying efforts of for-profit virtual charter school operators.

The shareholders called on the company’s board to prepare an annual report detailing spending on “direct or indirect lobbying or … grassroots lobbying communications.” They also wanted the company to report K12’s membership in, and payments to, any tax-exempt organization that writes and endorses model legislation — such as the American Legislative Exchange Council.

The K12 shareholder effort to push for more transparency was headed by Bertis Downs, the legal counsel for the rock group R.E.M. as well as a traditional public school parent and advocate in Athens, GA.

Downs also sits on the board of the Network for Public Education, the group co-founded by education historian and traditional public schools advocate Diane Ravitch.

K12’s board of directors opposed the proposal. In a proxy statement put out ahead of the annual shareholder’s meeting, the board said the requirements outlined in the proposal are not necessary and could hurt the company.

“The expanded disclosure requested by this proposal could place the company at a competitive disadvantage by revealing strategies and priorities designed to protect the economic future of the company, its stockholders and employees,” the statement said.

K12 has faced major challenges in recent years. Revenues are down by $75 million from last year, according to an Education Week report. Investors sued the company in 2014, claiming it had misled them before its stock prices fell in 2013. A federal judge dismissed the suit last year.

And California Attorney General Kamala Harris launched an investigation into the company for alleged false advertising and unfair business practices. In July, K12 Inc. agreed to pay $8.5 million to settle the state’s claims and provide $160 million in balanced budget credits to the nonprofit schools it manages, including California Virtual Academies.

Despite those setbacks, the company continues to open new schools in states such as Alabama, Maine and North Carolina.

 

by Richard Chang

Could a robot be grading your homework?

Artificial intelligence has become an increasingly big issue for education – not least because many tech companies and publishers are circling around the huge commercial opportunities. Especially with the possibility of the new chief at the USDOE coming on board soon.

One of those companies is Vantage Learning the industry leader in Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Computing Technologies. They were the first company to reach human level accuracy in their scoring engine and have patents on the world’s best artificial intelligent engine (Intellimetric) that automatically scores essays and provides prescriptive feedback to students globally.

To date the engine has scored more than 125,000,000 essays including many large-scale essays such as the GMAT, MCAT, SAT and ACT to name a few.

When thinking about the bigger picture in education though, could students really get their answers from a robot rather than a teacher? They are already receiving prescriptive feedback, and having their papers scored more efficiently than teachers can currently score. This leaves more time for intervention, content acquisition and remediation.

Donald Clark said it was a mistake to think jobs in education would not be automated, and I agree although, if technology can replace the teacher, then it should as that teacher is not doing their job, because teaching is more than technology and scores. It is about passion, choice and shaping our future as a country. You can decide for yourself and read this article. (http://www.edudemic.com/education-technology-pros-cons/)

Dr Tarek Besold, speaking at an educational technology conference in Berlin, said a joke-writing computer showed how robots could be creative as well as carrying out repetitive, factory-floor tasks.

And he highlighted experiments already taking place in using artificial intelligence in teaching.

Digital teacher

This summer, Georgia Tech, a university in Atlanta in the US, deployed a teaching assistant called Jill Watson for one of its postgraduate courses.

Except that Jill Watson was really a robot, which helped students and answered their questions in an online forum, without revealing her cyber-identity.

The only thing that students noticed was that Jill Watson answered questions and provided feedback much more quickly than other teaching assistants.

Dr Besold, from Bremen University, said such robotic teachers were becoming increasingly sophisticated and had advantages over human teachers. I am still wary of this as a model, being a teacher I know the reality of what it takes to be a teacher and a pseudo-parent at times.

They were always ready to respond, they were never bored, tired or distracted.

But such clever computers could also be stupid.

While they could be trained to operate for a particular task or set of questions, they couldn’t easily adapt that knowledge to a different setting.

For example; Peter Murphy, the CEO of Vantage Labs said “a human who was good at chess would be likely to be able to play other games that required a complex thought process; while a chess computer would struggle, unless it had been specifically programmed. This also holds true for the computer that beat the Japanese strategy game “Go” as well”.

Will robotics and automation take more professional jobs?

There are also more subtle questions about online help from a robot. Would you feel the same about positive feedback if it came from a machine rather than a person?

What about the pastoral side of teaching? Could a robot offer empathy as well as factual insights?

And academic instruction is often not about “right” or “wrong” answers, but teaching how to think and investigate. It is about teaching critical thinking and empathy. Can a robot or cognitive computing engine actually perform these tasks of teaching or leading students to critically think and problem solve?

Destroying jobs

Donald Clark, a professor at Derby University and an education technology entrepreneur, said it was a mistake for anyone to think that education would be exempt from the impact of automation.

“Are we really saying that accountants, lawyers and managers can all be replaced by artificial intelligence – but not teachers?”

Can a robot truly appreciate a creative student’s answers?

Clark argued that artificial intelligence would change office jobs and professions in the way that automation had already transformed production lines.

“Artificial intelligence will destroy jobs – so why not use it for a social good such as learning?” he asked.

The acceleration of big data and more powerful computer systems meant that more and more sophisticated tasks could be automated, said Prof Clark.

It is already ebbing around the edges of education.

Online tutors

The name of Georgia Tech’s robot teacher – Jill Watson – is a reference to the underlying Watson computer system, developed by IBM to answer questions in ordinary language.

The Watson system is also being used in an experimental project from education companies. There has been AI used in education by Vantage Learning for the past 15 years and they developed the first automated scoring engine to reach human level accuracy. (http://www.vantagelearning.com)

The use of artificial intelligence is growing in the workplace.

It’s not going to replace a conventional teacher, but it’s an indication of how online courses and revision tutorials could develop, with testing and feedback all wrapped up together.

But there are skeptics who see this as another wave of technology over-promising.

“We’ve been here before – with radio, television, computers, the internet,” said Stavros Yiannouka, chief executive of the Wise project, run by the Qatar Foundation.

“Technology in itself doesn’t revolutionize anything,” he said. Change in education is driven by public policy decisions, he said, not computer software.

There are also questions about whether automation will create a social divide – with stripped down, low cost, semi-automated courses, for those who cannot afford a traditional taught course.

Entrepreneur Nell Watson said that despite describing herself as a “happy clappy evangelist” for artificial intelligence, the role of teacher would not be replicated by a robot.

Cultivating the whole person and helping them to “blossom” was not something that was going to be achieved by an algorithm, she said.

And she doubted whether a computer could appreciate the work of an innovative student who thought outside the conventional questions and answers.

But automation is advancing.

The Bank of England’s governor, Mark Carney, said this month that 15 million jobs in the UK could be automated, including middle-class professions.

Changes in technology would “mercilessly” destroy jobs, he said.

So could it be “Goodbye Mr. Chips” and “Hello Mr. Silicon Chips”?

For more information on Artificial Intelligence, Cognitive Computing or Natural Language Understanding reach out to me, I am always looking to discuss the future of the world we live, play and work in.

Ka’Ching! 2016 US Edtech Funding Totals $1 Billion

This is a repost of an article that appeared on EdSurge

Santa proved a little more parsimonious to U.S. edtech companies, which altogether raised an estimated $1.03 billion across 138 venture deals in 2016. Those tallies dipped from 2015, which saw 198 deals that totalled $1.45 billion. (Or, from a different perspective, U.S. edtech companies raised roughly 57 percent of what Snapchat did in its $1.8 billion Series F round.)

In this annual analysis, EdSurge counts all investments in technology companies whose primary purpose is to improve learning outcomes for all learners, regardless of age. This year startups that serve primarily the K-12 market raised $434 million; those targeting the postsecondary and corporate learning sector raised $593 million.

Since 2010, venture funding dollars for U.S. edtech startups have increased every consecutive year. It’s worth noting that even though 2016 marked the end of this trend, the dollar total still surpasses the years before 2015.

The downturn isn’t specific to the education industry but rather reflects a broader slowdown across all technology sectors, says Tory Patterson, managing partner at Owl Ventures. “There’s a broader shift in venture capital where there’s less exuberance companies that haven’t really nailed the business model,” he tells EdSurge.

Dealflow dips has also been felt in the health, real estate, construction and financial technology sectors. Across the globe, venture deals returned to 2014 levels, according to CB Insights. The market uncertainty has led some high-profile companies to hit pause on bigger plans. SoFi, which offers loans and other student services, pushed back plans for its initial public offering this year. Pluralsight, an online learning company that was also expected to IPO, is also on hold.

Venture-backed startups tend to swing between two spectrums, says Amit Patel, a partner at Owl Ventures. On one end are businesses “that grow aggressively but have no revenue associated. The other are those laser focused on business model and revenue. The mood is swinging towards the latter.”

Commitments to “impact” or “mission” aside, all investors—even in education—want to see returns. Often that means converting users into dollars.

“We’ve noticed VCs becoming more selective about their education investments, asking more questions about revenue growth and the leading indicators of product adoption, implementation timelines and ultimately usage,” says Jason Palmer, a general partner at New Markets Venture Partners. Unlike Instagrams and other “5-year consumer internet hits,” more investors, according to Palmer, now realize “it can take 10 or 15 years to build a sustainable education business.”

Breaking Down the Numbers

As in previous years, companies offering tools in the postsecondary and “other” categories out-raised other products. (“Other” includes a mix of products that help business professionals develop skills, are aimed at parents, or are not used in K-12 or higher-ed institutions.)

Expect this trend to continue, says Palmer, as investors come to “a greater recognition that higher education institutions adopt and implement more rapidly than K-12 [schools].” Tuition dollars may be one reason why they have adopted technologies such as student retention and predictive analytics platform. “Colleges and universities are facing financial pressures to keep students who contribute to their revenues. In K-12, you don’t have the same urgency of students as revenue drivers,” he suspects.

This year saw no mega-rounds for startups in the postsecondary sector—unlike 2015, which saw HotChalk, Udacity, Udemy, Coursera and Civitas Learning account for more than $520 million of funding. (Udemy did lead this pack in 2016 with a $60 million round.)

In fact, the biggest funding round of 2016 for a U.S.-based startup went to Age of Learning, which raised $150 million and accounts for 55 percent of the funding total for K-12 curriculum products. The Glendale, Calif.-based company is the developer of ABCmouse, a collection of online learning activities aimed for young children. First developed for the consumer and parent market, the tool is attempting to make headway into schools and classrooms.

Choosier Angels

Angel and seed level funding rounds, which signal investors’ interest in promising but unproven ideas, saw a small decline as well. The 66 deals at this stage are the lowest since 2011, although they totaled $62.5 million—roughly on par with 2014 levels.

Over the past five years, the average value of seed rounds has been increasing, from around $600K in the early years of this decade to roughly $1 million in 2015 and 2016. Discounting edtech accelerators, which typically invest $20K to $150K in startups, the 2016 seed round average actually surpasses $2 million. (We counted 28 such publicly disclosed seed rounds totaling $60.2 million)

Fewer but bigger seed deals are “a sign of maturation in the industry,” says Shauntel Poulson, a general partner at Reach Capital. Unlike previous years, where upstarts and ideas popped up the market, she believes the market is currently in a “stage of consolidation where leaders and proven ideas are emerging.”

Aspiring entrepreneurs ought to pay heed. What this means is that “the bar for seed rounds is getting higher,” Poulson adds. “Before it was about a promising idea and a great team. Now you need to show more traction and even some revenue.” Over the past few years investors have learned that “it’s best to focus on business model sooner rather than later.”

Palmer believes the days where startups could raise money before making some may be over. Expect to get grilled over “revenue growth, product adoption, implementation timelines and ultimately usage,” he says. To round out the questions, “VCs are also starting to ask about product efficacy.”

Looking Ahead

Unsurprisingly, investors held a cheery outlook for 2017, expecting funding totals to hold steady or even increase. More companies will be able to demonstrate sustainable revenue, predicts Owl Ventures’ Tory Patterson, and in turn woo investors’ appetite. “We think a lot of companies will be able to hit the $10 million revenue milestone.”

Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality could drive further investments as their applications to help improve learning outcomes become clearer. Also expect to see Chinese investors paying closer attention, says Poulson. “There’s a big after-school market [in China] and an opportunity to leverage a lot of the content that’s being developed in the U.S.”

There’s also word on the street that several education-focused venture firms have re-upped their coffers with new funds to support proven, maturing startups. Stay tuned for more details.

Disclosure: Owl Ventures and Reach Capital are investors in EdSurge

The mind of a student today

December 26, 2014 Below is an interesting visual I cam across through a tweet from We Are Teachers. The visual maps out some really intriguing facts about students today. These facts are based on different studies and surveys conducted mainly on US students. I went through this resource and devised this brief synopsis: Minority students attending US schools will make up a majority of all students…

The Best of the Consumer Electronics Show 2016

Panasonic's transparent microLED display at CES 2016.

Above: Panasonic’s transparent microLED display at CES 2016.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi
I’ve returned from the biggest battleground of tech, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
My Intel Basis Peak smartwatch told me that, over four days at CES, I walked 73,376 steps, or 18,344 steps per day. Those steps felt heavier this year because I carried a shoulder bag instead of using a roller bag, per the new security rules at the event. On the plus side, I managed to come back without the nerd flu and without a blister like last year.
I did my best, but that means I still only covered a very small percentage of the 3,000-plus companies spread across 2.4 million square feet of exhibit space at CES. My eyes began to glaze over as I saw the enormous numbers of drones, augmented reality glasses, virtual reality headsets, robots, smart cars, fitness wearables, 3D printers, and smart appliance that were part of the Internet of Things (making everyday objects smart and connected). I have published 63 stories about CES products and events. (I should say, I’ll continue to publish stories from CES over the next couple of weeks). I think this was my 20th CES, though I have lost count.
Inside the bubble of CES, which was attended by an estimated 150,000 people, I didn’t even know the stock market was melting down. CES is the place to look if we want to find the things that are going to save us from economic gloom, although we may have to really look. The global technology industry is expected to generate $950 billion in 2016, down 2 percent from a year ago, with the decline due in no small part to weakness in China. This year, I didn’t see much that was going to save the world economy and overcome the skepticism of natural-born cynics. You could certainly find partisans who will say that virtual reality or the Internet of Things will do that, as both movements have spread well beyond just one or two companies. But it’s a reach to say that these categories have already given us their killer apps.
Sill, I had a lot of fun finding things that I liked, and there was no shortage of these. Without further ado, here’s my favorite technology from CES 2016:
Panasonic Transparent Display
The idea of a transparent display isn’t that new. Big tech companies have been targeting them at retailers for a while. But this week Panasonic showed off a 55-inch television for the living room. The display is embedded in a bookcase, where it can transparently show a kind of trophy case behind the glass. But then it turns to black and shows home portraits. The image swivels to reveal a personalized screen with a weather report or a screen displaying a liquid-like aquarium. And it can even show a television show. The display has micro light-emitting diodes. While the screen is limited, as it isn’t completely transparent, it can display at a resolution of 1080p. This was a glimpse of the future, much like Panasonic’s Magic Mirror from a year ago. And I thought it was a wonderful example of how to make technology blend into the environment of the home.
Eyefluence
Jim Margraff, CEO of Eyefluence, wears an Oculus Rift headset.
Above: Jim Marggraff, CEO of Eyefluence, wears an Oculus Rift headset.
Image Credit: Dean Takahashi
Eyefluence was the shortest demo I did at CES, but it was enough to show me the future of using your eyes to control things. The tiny Eyefluence sensors are attached to the inside of an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset and detect the smallest movements in your eyes. I blinked, turned my head, and moved my eyes around, but Eyefluence could still track when and how I wanted to control something. I could navigate through a menu without using my hands, a keyboard, or a mouse. It was fast. It only takes about a minute to learn how to follow Eyefluence’s instructions, after which you can start controlling things that are before your eyeballs. This could very well supply a major ingredient missing from virtual reality headsets and augmented reality glasses.
Vayyar’s 3D sensing
Israeli startup Vayyar uses 3D imaging with radio waves to see through solid surfaces. It can be used to show a 3D model of a cancerous growth in a woman’s breast. It can be used to detect the heartbeat of a person, such as a sleeping baby, in another room. Or it can be used to find studs or pipes that are hidden in a wall. It can see through materials, objects, and liquids. Vayyar can also detect motion and track multiple people in large areas. It works by shooting a radio wave into a solid object and measuring all of the ways that the wave bounces around as it hits various objects. Vayyar collects the reflections and analyzes them, putting them back together as a 3D image in real time. While it is powerful, the amazing technology doesn’t use a lot of power. It comes from seasoned technologists Raviv Melamed, Miri Ratner, and Naftali Chayat, who were inspired by military technology. Melamed, formerly of Intel, told us that the technology is inexpensive. And yes, if you have the ability to see through things, you’re Superman.
ODG’s ultra-wide wide-angle augmented reality glasses
Dean Takahashi demos ODG's augmented reality glasses.
Above: Dean Takahashi demos ODG’s augmented reality glasses.
Image Credit: Dean Takahashi
The Osterhout Design Group has taken its technology for night-vision goggles and turned it into augmented reality headsets for government and enterprises. The newest R-7 headset is like looking at a 65-inch TV screen that’s right in front of your eyeballs. The company demoed a future-generation technology with ultra wide-angle viewing. The R-7 has a 30-degree field of view, but the future product has a 50-degree field of view with a 22:9 aspect ratio. It’s more like sitting in the best seat in an IMAX theater, said Nima Shams, vice president at ODG. I was able to look at it and see a wide Martian landscape. The glasses are packed with technology, from Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios to gyroscopes and altitude sensors. The R-7 costs $2,750, but there’s no telling how much the wide-angle display will be. At some point in the future, I fully expect that his experience is going to be better than going to an IMAX theater.
Cypress’s energy-harvesting solar beacon
This solar-based Bluetooth energy beacon doesn't need a battery.
Above: This solar-based Bluetooth energy beacon doesn’t need a battery.
Image Credit: Cypress
Beacons are devices that can connect to your smartphone using a local Bluetooth network. Retailers like to use them to send special offers to your smartphone. That technique can target people walking by a specific store and get them to come inside. But Beacons often run out of battery. By combining technology from Spansion (which Cypress Semiconductor has acquired) and Cypress, the product designers can create a Beacon with a solar energy array. Using that technology, the device can generate its own electricity and doesn’t need a battery. You can embed this kind of technology in any device that is part of the Internet of Things (smart and connected everyday objects). You could put a Beacon in a cemetery and use it to send a story about the life of someone buried there. “We want the Internet of Things, but nobody wants to change 20 billion batteries,” said Eran Sandhaus, vice president at Cypress Semiconductor. Hundreds of potential advertisers are looking at it. We’ll definitely need new sources of power, whether kinetic or otherwise. This is how the Internet of Things is going to become practical, with billions of smart, connected objects that operate on the slimmest amount of power.
Netatmo’s Presence smart outdoor security camera
Netatmo has a smart security camera.
Above: Netatmo has a smart security camera.
Image Credit: Netatmo
Presence is a smart outdoor security camera that sends an alert based on an analysis of a scene. If someone is loitering around your house, Netatmo’s Presence will detect that person and send a message to your smartphone. It can detect the movements of your pet, or it can tell you if someone is dropping a delivery at your door. You can train the camera to stay in a particular zone and, using deep learning technology, analyze only certain types of motion. It also comes with a floodlight. Presence doesn’t dump a ton of video on you. You don’t have to take an online storage subscription out. When it identifies significant events, it saves the video so that you can view it, preventing you having to view long, unedited footage. Presence will be available in the third quarter.
LG Rollable Display
LG's rollable display
Above: LG’s rollable display
Image Credit: LG
Rollable and flexible displays seem like either science fiction or a waste of time. But the LG rollable OLED screen is real. We can roll up the screen like a newspaper, and, in fact, that might be a good use of the technology. LG is showing a prototype now that is as thin as paper and has a resolution of 810 x 1200, or almost 1 million pixels. I’m not sure how we’ll end up using it. But I suspect the roller display will find many usages over time. This makes me feel like technology is becoming as disposable and flexible as a poster. You can go somewhere, put up a rollable screen, and then turn your surroundings into a movie theater or living room.
AtmosFlare 3D drawing
3D drawing is pretty cool. Adrian Amjadi of AtmosFlare showed me how to draw physical images in 3D, using the 3D drawing pen. The system uses ultraviolet light to cure a resin. You can pull on it and deform it any way you wish, essentially making something like the jellyfish in the video here. The resin sticks on porous things, but not on metal. The longer you leave the UV light on, the harder it becomes. The $30 system is on sale at Toys ‘R Us. The company says this will “forever change the way you do art.” I don’t know if it’s going to do that, but it did give me a small moment when I thought, “Wow, that’s cool.”
Medium painting and sculpting in Oculus Rift
Oculus VR came up with its “paint app” in September, but I finally got some hands-on time with it at CES. I was amazed at how easy it was to sculpt objects using two virtual hands (via the Oculus Touch hand controls and Oculus Rift headset). Expressing yourself with sculpting tools isn’t easy. But sculpting in the virtual space gave me a feeling of instant gratification. I started with a blank slate. Then I selected a tool for adding clay with one of my hands. I was able to change the way that the clay shot out of the Oculus Touch wand by rotating my hand. Then I was able to smooth out the edges, spray paint it, replicate it, and delete whole sections of it using my hands in the virtual world. It really makes you feel like you are sculpting something that is real. I can imagine it will be very easy to use a 3D printer to print out the 3D creations you build. You could certainly do something like this in a video game, like Media Molecule’s upcoming Dreams game on the PlayStation 4. But in VR, you feel like you are also inside the thing you are creating. You can turn the image to view it from new angles. This is one of those experiences that could make your head explode with creativity if you’re a 3D artist or sculptor.
Parrot Disco
Parrot Disco
Above: Parrot Disco
Image Credit: Parrot
Parrot has created a unique drone that can fly for 45 minutes on a single charge and reach speeds up to 50 miles per hour. The Parrot Disco is the Swiss company’s latest entry into one of tech’s fastest-growing markets. The Disco is a flying wing that has a motor. It can fly itself or follow instructions you give it via an app. The drone can also take off and land by itself, using its own autopilot. If you use the Parrot Skycontroller, you can get a first-person view on a tablet screen of everything the drone is seeing. You don’t need any training to fly the drone, which has a range of two kilometers, and can navigate its way back to you.