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.
Post you’ll like: Money, Money, Money: The Finances of Publishing

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.

Untangling your organization’s decision making

It’s the best and worst of times for decision makers. Swelling stockpiles of data, advanced analytics, and intelligent algorithms are providing organizations with powerful new inputs and methods for making all manner of decisions. Corporate leaders also are much more aware today than they were 20 years ago of the cognitive biases—anchoring, loss aversion, confirmation bias, and many more—that undermine decision making without our knowing it. Some have already created formal processes—checklists, devil’s advocates, competing analytic teams, and the like—to shake up the debate and create healthier decision-making dynamics.

Now for the bad news. In many large global companies, growing organizational complexity, anchored in strong product, functional, and regional axes, has clouded accountabilities. That means leaders are less able to delegate decisions cleanly, and the number of decision makers has risen. The reduced cost of communications brought on by the digital age has compounded matters by bringing more people into the flow via email, Slack, and internal knowledge-sharing platforms, without clarifying decision-making authority. The result is too many meetings and email threads with too little high-quality dialogue as executives ricochet between boredom and disengagement, paralysis, and anxiety (Exhibit 1). All this is a recipe for poor decisions: 72 percent of senior-executive respondents to a McKinsey survey said they thought bad strategic decisions either were about as frequent as good ones or were the prevailing norm in their organization.

Growing organizational complexity and proliferating digital communications are a recipe for poor decisions.

The ultimate solution for many organizations looking to untangle their decision making is to become flatter and more agile, with decision authority and accountability going hand in hand. High-flying technology companies such as Google and Spotify are frequently the poster children for this approach, but it has also been adapted by more traditional ones such as ING (for more, see our recent McKinsey Quarterly interview “ING’s agile transformation”). As we’ve described elsewhere, agile organization models get decision making into the right hands, are faster in reacting to (or anticipating) shifts in the business environment, and often become magnets for top talent, who prefer working at companies with fewer layers of management and greater empowerment.

As we’ve worked with organizations seeking to become more agile, we’ve found that it’s possible to accelerate the improvement of decision making through the simple steps of categorizing the type of decision that’s being made and tailoring your approach accordingly. In our work, we’ve observed four types of decisions (Exhibit 2):

The ABCDs of categorizing decisions.
  • Big-bet decisions. These infrequent and high-risk decisions have the potential to shape the future of the company.
  • Cross-cutting decisions. In these frequent and high-risk decisions, a series of small, interconnected decisions are made by different groups as part of a collaborative, end-to-end decision process.
  • Delegated decisions. These frequent and low-risk decisions are effectively handled by an individual or working team, with limited input from others.
  • Ad hoc decisions. The organization’s infrequent, low-stakes decisions are deliberately ignored in this article, in order to sharpen our focus on the other three areas, where organizational ambiguity is most likely to undermine decision-making effectiveness.

These decision categories often get overlooked, in our experience, because organizational complexity, murky accountabilities, and information overload have conspired to create messy decision-making processes in many companies. In this article, we’ll describe how to vary your decision-making methods according to the circumstances. We’ll also offer some tools that individuals can use to pinpoint problems in the moment and to take corrective action that should improve both the decision in question and, over time, the organization’s decision-making norms.

Before we begin, we should emphasize that even though the examples we describe focus on enterprise-level decisions, the application of this framework will depend on the reader’s perspective and location in the organization. For example, what might be a delegated decision for the enterprise as a whole could be a big-bet decision for an individual business unit. Regardless, any fundamental change in decision-making culture needs to involve the senior leaders in the organization or business unit. The top team will decide what decisions are big bets, where to appoint process leaders for cross-cutting decisions, and to whom to delegate. Senior executives also serve the critical functions of role-modeling a culture of collaboration and of making sure junior leaders take ownership of the delegated decisions.

Big bets

Bet-the-company decisions—from major acquisitions to game-changing capital investments—are inherently the most risky. Efforts to mitigate the impact of cognitive biases on decision making have, rightly, often focused on big bets. And that’s not the only special attention big bets need. In our experience, steps such as these are invaluable for big bets:

  • Appoint an executive sponsor. Each initiative should have a sponsor, who will work with a project lead to frame the important decisions for senior leaders to weigh in on—starting with a clear, one-sentence problem statement.
  • Break things down, and connect them up. Large, complex decisions often have multiple parts; you should explicitly break them down into bite-size chunks, with decision meetings at each stage. Big bets also frequently have interdependencies with other decisions. To avoid unintended consequences, step back to connect the dots.
  • Deploy a standard decision-making approach. The most important way to get big-bet decisions right is to have the right kind of interaction and discussion, including quality debate, competing scenarios, and devil’s advocates. Critical requirements are to create a clear agenda that focuses on debating the solution (instead of endlessly elaborating the problem), to require robust prework, and to assemble the right people, with diverse perspectives.
  • Move faster without losing commitment. Fast-but-good decision making also requires bringing the available facts to the table and committing to the outcome of the decision. Executives have to get comfortable living with imperfect data and being clear about what “good enough” looks like. Then, once a decision is made, they have to be willing to commit to it and take a gamble, even if they were opposed during the debate. Make sure, at the conclusion of every meeting, that it is clear who will communicate the decision and who owns the actions to begin carrying it out.

An example of a company that does much of this really well is a semiconductor company that believes so much in the importance of getting big bets right that it built a whole management system around decision making. The company never has more than one person accountable for decisions, and it has a standard set of facts that need to be brought into any meeting where a decision is to be made (such as a problem statement, recommendation, net present value, risks, and alternatives). If this information isn’t provided, then a discussion is not even entertained. The CEO leads by example, and to date, the company has a very good track record of investment performance and industry-changing moves.

It’s also important to develop tracking and feedback mechanisms to judge the success of decisions and, as needed, to course correct for both the decision and the decision-making process. One technique a regional energy provider uses is to create a one-page self-evaluation tool that allows each member of the team to assess how effectively decisions are being made and how well the team is adhering to its norms. Members of key decision-making bodies complete such evaluations at regular intervals (after every fifth or tenth meeting). Decision makers also agree, before leaving a meeting where a decision has been made, how they will track project success, and they set a follow-up date to review progress against expectations.

Big-bet decisions often are easy to recognize, but not always (Exhibit 3). Sometimes a series of decisions that might appear small in isolation represent a big bet when taken as a whole. A global technology company we know missed several opportunities that it could have seized through big-bet investments, because it was making technology-development decisions independently across each of its product lines, which reduced its ability to recognize far-reaching shifts in the industry. The solution can be as simple as a mechanism for periodically categorizing important decisions that are being made across the organization, looking for patterns, and then deciding whether it’s worthwhile to convene a big-bet-style process with executive sponsorship. None of this is possible, though, if companies aren’t in the habit of isolating major bets and paying them special attention.

A belated heads-up means you are not recognizing big bets.

Cross-cutting decisions

Far more frequent than big-bet decisions are cross-cutting ones—think pricing, sales, and operations planning processes or new-product launches—that demand input from a wide range of constituents. Collaborative efforts such as these are not actually single-point decisions, but instead comprise a series of decisions made over time by different groups as part of an end-to-end process. The challenge is not the decisions themselves but rather the choreography needed to bring multiple parties together to provide the right input, at the right time, without breeding bureaucracy that slows down the process and can diminish the decision quality. This is why the common advice to focus on “who has the decision” (or, “the D”) isn’t the right starting point; you should worry more about where the key points of collaboration and coordination are.

It’s easy to err by having too little or too much choreography. For an example of the former, consider the global pension fund that found itself in a major cash crunch because of uncoordinated decision making and limited transparency across its various business units. A perfect storm erupted when different business units’ decisions simultaneously increased the demand for cash while reducing its supply. In contrast, a specialty-chemicals company experienced the pain of excess choreography when it opened membership on each of its six governance committees to all senior leaders without clarifying the actual decision makers. All participants felt they had a right (and the need) to express an opinion on everything, even where they had little knowledge or expertise. The purpose of the meetings morphed into information sharing and unstructured debate, which stymied productive action (Exhibit 4).

Too many cooks get involved in the absence of processes for cross-cutting decisions.

Whichever end of the spectrum a company is on with cross-cutting decisions, the solution is likely to be similar: defining roles and decision rights along each step of the process. That’s what the specialty-chemicals company did. Similarly, the pension fund identified its CFO as the key decision maker in a host of cash-focused decisions, and then it mapped out the decision rights and steps in each of the contributing processes. For most companies seeking enhanced coordination, priorities include:

  • Map out the decision-making process, and then pressure-test it. Identify decisions that involve a cross-cutting group of leaders, and work with the stakeholders of each to agree on what the main steps in the process entail. Lay out a simple, plain-English playbook for the process to define the calendar, cadence, handoffs, and decisions. Too often, companies find themselves building complex process diagrams that are rarely read or used beyond the team that created them. Keep it simple.
  • Run water through the pipes. Then work through a set of real-life scenarios to pressure-test the system in collaboration with the people who will be running the process. We call this process “running water through the pipes,” because the first several times you do it, you will find where the “leaks” are. Then you can improve the process, train people to work within (and, when necessary, around) it, and confront, when the stakes are relatively low, leadership tensions or stresses in organizational dynamics.
  • Establish governance and decision-making bodies. Limit the number of decision-making bodies, and clarify for each its mandate, standing membership, roles (decision makers or critical “informers”), decision-making protocols, key points of collaboration, and standing agenda. Emphasize to the members that committees are not meetings but decision-making bodies, and they can make decisions outside of their standard meeting times. Encourage them to be flexible about when and where they make decisions, and to focus always on accelerating action.
  • Create shared objectives, metrics, and collaboration targets. These will help the persons involved feel responsible not just for their individual contributions in the process, but also for the process’s overall effectiveness. Team members should be encouraged to regularly seek improvements in the underlying process that is giving rise to their decisions.

Getting effective at cross-cutting decision making can be a great way to tackle other organizational problems, such as siloed working (Exhibit 5). Take, for example, a global finance company with a matrix of operations across markets and regions that struggled with cross-business-unit decision making. Product launches often cannibalized the products of other market groups. When the revenue shifts associated with one such decision caught the attention of senior management, company leaders formalized a new council for senior executives to come together and make several types of cross-cutting decisions, which yielded significant benefits.

When you are locked in silos, you are unlikely to collaborate effectively on cross-cutting decisions.

Delegated decisions

Delegated decisions are far narrower in scope than big-bet decisions or cross-cutting ones. They are frequent and relatively routine elements of day-to-day management, typically in areas such as hiring, marketing, and purchasing. The value at stake for delegated decisions is in the multiplier effect they can have because of the frequency of their occurrence across the organization. Placing the responsibility for these decisions in the hands of those closest to the work typically delivers faster, better, and more efficiently executed decisions, while also enhancing engagement and accountability at all levels of the organization.

In today’s world, there is the added complexity that many decisions (or parts of them) can be “delegated” to smart algorithms enabled by artificial intelligence. Identifying the parts of your decisions that can be entrusted to intelligent machines will speed up decisions and create greater consistency and transparency, but it requires setting clear thresholds for when those systems should escalate to a person, as well as being clear with people about how to leverage the tools effectively.

It’s essential to establish clarity around roles and responsibilities in order to craft a smooth-running system of delegated decision making (Exhibit 6). A renewable-energy company we know took this task seriously when undergoing a major reorganization that streamlined its senior management and drove decisions further down in the organization. The company developed a 30-minute “role card” conversation for each manager to have with his or her direct reports. As part of this conversation, managers explicitly laid out the decision rights and accountability metrics for each direct report. This approach allowed the company’s leaders to decentralize their decision making while also ensuring that accountability and transparency were in place. Such role clarity enables easier navigation, speeds up decision making, and makes it more customer focused. Companies may find it useful to take some of the following steps to reorganize decision-making power and establish transparency in their organization:

Drawn-out and complicated processes often mean more delegating is needed.
  • Delegate more decisions. To start delegating decisions today, make a list of the top 20 regularly occurring decisions. Take the first decision and ask three questions: (1) Is this a reversible decision? (2) Does one of my direct reports have the capability to make this decision? (3) Can I hold that person accountable for making the decision? If the answer to these questions is yes, then delegate the decision. Continue down your list of decisions until you are only making decisions for which there is one shot to get it right and you alone possess the capabilities or accountability. The role-modeling of senior leaders is invaluable, but they may be reluctant. Reassure them (and yourself) by creating transparency through good performance dashboards, scorecards, and key performance indicators (KPIs), and by linking metrics back to individual performance reviews.
  • Avoid overlap of decision rights. Doubling up decision responsibility across management levels or dimensions of the reporting matrix only leads to confusion and stalemates. Employees perform better when they have explicit authority and receive the necessary training to tackle problems on their own. Although it may feel awkward, leaders should be explicit with their teams about when decisions are being fully delegated and when the leaders want input but need to maintain final decision rights.
  • Establish a clear escalation path. Set thresholds for decisions that require approval (for example, spending above a certain amount), and lay out a specific protocol for the rare occasion when a decision must be kicked up the ladder. This helps mitigate risk and keeps things moving briskly.
  • Don’t let people abdicate. One of the key challenges in delegating decisions is actually getting people to take ownership of the decisions. People will often succumb to escalating decisions to avoid personal risk; leaders need to play a strong role in encouraging personal ownership, even (and especially) when a bad call is made.

This last point deserves elaboration: although greater efficiency comes with delegated decision making, companies can never completely eliminate mistakes, and it’s inevitable that a decision here or there will end badly. What executives must avoid in this situation is succumbing to the temptation to yank back control (Exhibit 7). One CEO at a Fortune 100 company learned this lesson the hard way. For many years, her company had worked under a decentralized decision-making framework where business-unit leaders could sign off on many large and small deals, including M&A. Financial underperformance and the looming risk of going out of business during a severe market downturn led the CEO to pull back control and centralize virtually all decision making. The result was better cost control at the expense of swift decision making. After several big M&A deals came and went because the organization was too slow to act, the CEO decided she had to decentralize decisions again. This time, she reinforced the decentralized system with greater leadership accountability and transparency.

Top-heavy processes often mean more delegating is needed.

Instead of pulling back decision power after a slipup, hold people accountable for the decision, and coach them to avoid repeating the misstep. Similarly, in all but the rarest of cases, leaders should resist weighing in on a decision kicked up to them during a logjam. From the start, senior leaders should collectively agree on escalation protocols and stick with them to create consistency throughout the organization. This means, when necessary, that leaders must vigilantly reinforce the structure by sending decisions back with clear guidance on where the leader expects the decision to be made and by whom. If signs of congestion or dysfunction appear, leaders should reexamine the decision-making structure to make sure alignment, processes, and accountability are optimally arranged.


None of this is rocket science. Indeed, the first decision-making step Peter Drucker advanced in “The effective decision,” a 1967 Harvard Business Review article, was “classifying the problem.” Yet we’re struck, again and again, by how few large organizations have simple systems in place to make sure decisions are categorized so that they can be made by the right people in the right way at the right time. Interestingly, Drucker’s classification system focused on how generic or exceptional the problem was, as opposed to questions about the decision’s magnitude, potential for delegation, or cross-cutting nature. That’s not because Drucker was blind to these issues; in other writing, he strongly advocated decentralizing and delegating decision making to the degree possible. We’d argue, though, that today’s organizational complexity and rapid-fire digital communications have created considerably more ambiguity about decision-making authority than was prevalent 50 years ago. Organizations haven’t kept up. That’s why the path to better decision making need not be long and complicated. It’s simply a matter of untangling the crossed web of accountability, one decision at a time.

By Aaron De Smet, Gerald Lackey, and Leigh M. Weiss

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.

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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

AT&T

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.

AT&T

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

AT&T

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.

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.

 

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.

The Tragedy of Student Loans

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Tragedy of Student Loans

What Did 2013 Hold for Educational Technology in Schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Technology in the classroom

33.88%

Online education

25.62%

Computer-based testing

21.49%

Digital citizenship

19.01%

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

Some teachers use tech tools as part of classroom lessons

63.78%

Technology is integrated throughout the curriculum

19.69%

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

8.66%

Our school/district employs blended learning

7.87%

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

Online apps and games

40%

Digital textbooks and resources

28.89%

Mobile devices

27.78%

Social media

3.33%

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

Great Post by David Warlick

via 2¢ Worth

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

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

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

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

 

write-your-paper-right

http://visual.ly/write-your-paper-right

How to Support Teachers for 21st Century Learning

via eClassroom News

Experts weigh in on how administrators can support teachers in implementing collaboration and creativity

Implementing broad concepts like critical thinking and communication may seem like natural next steps to educators, but unless teachers receive support from school policy and infrastructure, providing students with a true 21st century education may not be so easy.

This was a key topic of discussion during a recent Connected Educator Month webinar, hosted by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) and EdLeader21—a national network of school and district leaders focused on integrating the 4Cs into education.

The 4Cs–communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity–are part of P21’s mission to help educators teach students 21st century skills. Webinar panelists said this task can’t be accomplished without support from school administrators in the way of space design, instructional practices, and school policy.

Dana Strother, chief academic officer at Douglas County School District in Colorado, said her district “looked at Bloom’s Taxonomy and vetted our state’s standards through the taxonomy” during an evaluation of instructional practice.

“Areas that were lacking we improved through what we call ‘World Class Outcomes,’ and instructional design that allows for the 4Cs. We also provided CIA curriculum and instruction alignment and wove authentic learning experiences into the curriculum for support,” she said.

The district also made it a priority to provide supporting infrastructure through district policy on risk-opportunities.

“It’s important to let teachers know, in various ways, but also through policy, that we support risk-taking opportunities, or new strategies, projects, or professional development opportunities that may be new or unique,” she said.

For example, Douglas County lets teachers experience inquiry-based professional development opportunities in order for teachers to learn through the same practices they’re expected to teach students.

“We’re asking teachers to incorporate new kinds of teaching that include the 4Cs, so why should teachers in turn be taught in a different manner? Sometimes by thinking outside of the box and going against traditional methods, especially from an administrator standpoint, the results are better,” Strother said.

Randy Fielding, chairman and founding partner of educational facilities planning and architectural design firm Fielding Nair International, said he believes school design also factors heavily into incorporating the 4Cs into a student’s daily life.

Fielding’s design firm tries to incorporate 20 “learning modalities” into school design, which include concepts, such as Independent Study, Peer Tutoring, Team Collaboration, and One-on-One Learning, to support the 4Cs of instruction.

“To have a truly 21st-century school, you have to inspire organic collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and communication, and focusing on design can help.”

“To have a truly 21st-century school, you have to inspire organic collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and communication, and focusing on design can help. For example, you could have a ‘watering hole’ space off hallways where students could casually converse; you could have a ‘cave space’ where students could reflect for independent thinking; and you could have a ‘campfire space’ where everyone gathers to collaborate,” Fielding said.

Panelists emphasized that it’s also important for administrators and teachers to understand that instruction focused on the 4Cs doesn’t just work for certain kinds of subjects, students, or teachers.

“The 4Cs work for every kind of student and teacher in classrooms across the country,” said Donna Harris-Aikens, director of Education Policy and Practice at the National Education Association (NEA). “It’s less a series of requirements and more just authentic learning. For example, a math class could use its English and design skills to help draft a proposal to help senior citizens in their community make their homes more accessible. For this kind of project, you need the 4Cs in STEM, English, and community service.”

Fielding said it’s important that school and district leaders support teachers in working together to develop collaborative projects for their students.

One of the schools his firm works with has a student-run lunch program through which students negotiate with local farmers. They serve the week’s menu selections on carts around the school so students can taste-test their creations. Students in the program generate quarterly reports on profit and loss, and send those reports off to the school board.

“Students get credit for working in this program, which essentially teaches them collaboration skills, analytical skills, and even creative skills, thanks to cooking,” he said.

However, panelists said that there are still barriers for teachers who want to pursue the 4Cs, including getting first-world experience on how to actually teach broad concepts like creativity.

“That’s why we introduced the Creative Innovator Network in our district, which allows teachers to collaborate with not only their peers on different projects, but also local businesses to brainstorm ideas on how students can better serve the community,” said Strother. “We also bring students into the teacher professional development sessions to hear their voice and how they enjoy learning, so that teachers can adapt their instruction.”

“The biggest barrier for teachers is time,” said Harris-Aikens. “Finding time to make everything work effectively and collaborate is hard, especially because planning, or collaborating, time needs to be on a consistent and continual basis. Students also need a large amount of time to work on these projects, and to have time flexibility in case they make mistakes, as well. Administrators need to make sure teachers and students can have that time in their day.”

For more on this topic, watch the full webinar.