Driving Innovation: Tech Enablers

In 2018 the Consortium for Schools Networked (CoSN) transformed the K-12 Horizon Report into The CoSN K-12 Driving Innovation Series with three reports. The reports are based on the work of over 100 educators around the globe who look at emerging technologies through three lenses: Hurdles, Accelerators, and Tech Enablers. As the co-chair of the CoSN Emerging Technologies Committee, I was selected to be part of the process. The Advisory Group engaged in several months of discourse about the major themes driving, hindering, and enabling teaching and learning innovation at schools. After each phase, final thoughts from advisory board members were distilled in surveys discerning the top five topics to feature in each publication.

Currently I’m working with the CoSN Emerging Technologies Committee to expand the work of the Advisory Group around Tech Enhancers, focusing on Analytics and Adaptive Technologies.

According to the Driving Innovation report:

Tech Enablers are tools that support smooth leaps over the hurdles and expansive changes in K-12 education. The top five enablers , which were ranked in order of closest proximity to mainstream adoption are:

To understand how Analytics and Adaptive Technologies have evolved I interviewed two key experts: Steve Ritter, the Chief Scientist and one of the founders of Carnegie Learning, and John Pane, a Senior Scientist and one of the leading educational researchers with the RAND Corporation. Both Steve and John have years of experience and have witnessed the changes in how Analytics and Adaptive Technologies have created new opportunities for a better understanding about learning and how to personalize that learning.

According to Steve Ritter, the role of analytics is changing in K-12 education with availability of Big Data. For Carnegie Learning data plays several key roles:

  • Evidence of student learning based on existing assessments;
  • Improve existing products to better identify learning issues;
  • Provide teachers with real-time information about student learning.

Carnegie Learning has partnered with the Miami-Dade School District in Florida and other schools to develop “LiveLab,” a real-time analytics dashboard that provides data to educators based on student progress within MATHia™ software. The dashboard identifies which students most need help so that teacher can make best use of their time.  It also helps teachers better understand why students need help. According to Carnegie Learning’s website, “LiveLab highlights each student’s progress through math concepts in real-time so teachers can guide, intervene and coach effectively. Indicators and alerts help teachers assist struggling students and celebrate students for hitting key milestones in Carnegie Learning’s MATHia software.” Teachers from Hopewell School District, outside of Pittsburgh, PA, have been testing out LiveLab. Ray Smith, one of the teachers, describes the experience as game-changing. According to Ray, “Using the analytic tool provides all the student information at your finger tips.”

John Pane has examined a variety of adaptive software tools. The results are not always positive. For instance one study of the Cognitive Tutor Algebra from Carnegie Learning in 150 schools in over 50 school districts showed a significant improvement, but mainly in the second year. In a separate study of Cognitive Tutor Geometry in a single school district there was negative effect on learning. According to John you need to look deeper. The Carnegie Learning programs are not intended as 100% computer based. The software is intended to supplement small and whole group instruction. These studies measured the entire package of software, classroom implementation, training and the ability for the teacher to change their practice to work in concert with the adaptive software. According to John there is a conflict between policy and practice. The software pinpoints the need for many learners to work on prerequisite skills, but the teachers are often under pressure to “cover” the content and are uncomfortable letting the students move at their own pace. As a result they may have students use the software less, or override the software to push them into more advanced content before they have mastered the basics.

John also discerned a potential risk with the use of Adaptive Technology. If educators are not careful, they can end up tracking students and have lower expectations for student performance. He also highlighted some other challenges around privacy and security. However, even with these concerns, John remained optimistic and believed that adaptive technologies and analytical tools when used appropriately and with teacher training and buy in can provide greater opportunities for student mastery of knowledge, skills, and dispositions.

As we increase the use of enhanced technologies that provide analytics and adaptions, educators need to be cognizant of both the opportunities and the possible negative consequences. We need to be mindful of privacy and security issues, for instance. In addition, it’s very difficult to gauge the success of some technologies when we’re using measures that only look at content growth. In order to truly “Drive Innovation” we need to not only understand the Hurdles, discern the Accelerators for growth, and identify the enabling tools, we must also think what are we really trying to achieve. Is it enough for students to demonstrate proficiency on standards-based assessments? Or do we want to provide our learners with the tools for life-long success so they can continuously learn, relearn, and even unlearn in order to become creative problem-solvers, communicators, and collaborators in a global society?




What Happened at #TRETC2018?

Each year the Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference (TRETC) shares the best in the learning realm for K-20. This year’s event occurred on November 6 at Baldwin HS, just outside the city of Pittsburgh, PA. Mike Moe, an edupreneur from Silicon Valley kicked off the event by looking at the Future of Work and the challenge for K-20 education. According to a Tweet from @Kinber:

Michael Moe @michaelmoe Co-Founder of ASU + GSV Summit @asugsvsummit this morning’s opening keynote on Reigniting the American Dream at #TRETC2018 #TRETC18 @pghtech.

Following Mike’s on point keynote, over 500 participants headed to workshops. TRETC has honored regional and state award winning educators for the past five years. This year featured presenters included: Matt Dancho talking on “Teaching in the Creative Zone;” Rachel Gatz looking at “Building Gender and Racial Equality in Tech;” Melissa Ungar using Scratch and Hummingbird Technology for 3D Storytelling; and Joe Welch, “Promoting Student Voice.”

Discover some of the presentations, including Justin Aglio’s presentation on “AI in K-12”  thanks to SIBME.

Here are some of the comments from Twitter about the sessions:

Gregg Russak exclaimed, “Really fascinating and informative presentation on Teaching and Learning in AI at TRETC 2018 .”

RJ Baxter shared, “Cyber Civility: It’s more than just Cyberbullying.”

Dr. Stanley Whiteman reported, “Great job today ⁦@MsUtley86⁩. We had a #PackedRoom at #TRETC2018 for #VR #GoogleExpeditions”

Melissa Butler related, “Shared ideas today at #TRETC2018 around engaging students in reflection about knowing/not-knowing as part of learning.”

Kevin Conner added, “@nhsdwelch sharing How I See It: Promoting Student Voice with Storytelling at TRETC 2018.”

In addition to presentations in the morning there were three workshops. Kelsey Derringer from Birdbrain Technologies worked with a packed house of over 50 adults and kids from Baldwin to create a Tiny Town using the new Micro:Bit Hummingbird. Mike Moe interacted with a team of student entrepreneurs from the Fort Cherry High School. Finally, Jody Koklades and Lisa Anselmo took people on an Edtech Smackdown.

During the lunch period TRETC participants interacted with exhibitors on the main level, People also headed downstairs to an Atrium to visit Student Showcases, discover emerging ideas in Poster Sessions, and engage in conversation with Innovative Projects and Companies.

The conference wrapped up with a reflective opportunity in the TRETC Cafe led by Dr. Jordan Lippman. Participants looked at the issue of digital equity and identified key questions that came out of the day’s activities, especially on how to prepare all students for the Future of Work.



Artificial Intelligence and Learning

With the growth of tools like the Amazon Echo, IBM’s Watson, or Apple’s Siri there’s been a renewed interest in artificial intelligence and learning.  In this blog article I’ll showcase just a few directions that are part of the contemporary landscape: adapted learning; personalized learning; chatbots and online learning; and new ways to access personal information.

Adapted Learning

According to Wikipedia, adaptive learning dates back to the 1970s. The idea was to create software that could emulate the human ability to adapt to individual learner’s needs creating a more effective learning experience. Adaptive learning usually has four components or “models:”

  • Expert model – The model with the information which is to be taught
  • Student model – The model which tracks and learns about the student
  • Instructional model – The model which actually conveys the information
  • Instructional environment – The user interface for interacting with the system

Much of the initial research came from work at Stanford University and Carnegie Mellon University. Today products like ALEKS, Knewton, and MATHia demonstrate the power of adaptive learning. It’s interesting to see that most of the work has been done in the area of mathematical learning. While there have been attempts to move beyond mathematics, adaptive learning works best in a very predefined world.

Personalizing Learning

There are many approaches to personalizing learning, but based on my experiences working with teachers, it’s next to impossible to do without digital technology. There have been some recent attempts by Alt Schools and Summit Learning to develop software to make the task easier for the learner and the facilitator. Key to both of these approaches is the use of a variety of data that pinpoints where the learner is on some continuum of skills, the learner’s goals, and resources to help the learner master a set of skills, competencies, or objectives.

Chatbots and Online Tools

The first chatter boxes were based on keywords. Today AI plays a new role opening up more sophisticated ways to engage a user in an online conversation. According to Wikipedia, “Today, chatbots are part of virtual assistants such as Google Assistant, and are accessed via many organizations’ apps, websites, and on instant messaging platforms such as Facebook Messenger.” Today, chatbots are often used as part of homework tutorial programs like Nerdy Bot. Chatbots also play a role in grading essays. Hewlett Packard sponsored a competition in 2012 and the winner had 0.81 correlation with human graders.

At Georgia Tech, students were charmed by the teaching assistant, Jill Watson. What they didn’t realize was the fact that their online teaching assistant was actually a chatbot based on IBM’s Watson technology. The Coppell Independent School District (ISD) in Texas is the first school district to use the IBM Watson app to provide deeper levels of personal interactions and learning experiences for its students.

New Tools to Access Information

The Amazon Dot is a new tool for education that uses the technology behind Alexa, Amazon’s tool for the consumer market. Here are some ways Dr. Bruce Ellis suggests to take advantage of Alexa in the classroom:

  • Use Alexa in your classroom to support literacy by having students ask her how to spell a specific word, suggest a synonym, or provide a definition.
  • Social studies students can skip an internet search by asking Alexa simple geography and civics questions.
  • Math students can use Alexa to check their work when they’ve finished an assignment, and science students will find Alexa is great at converting units of measurements.

Arizona State University is one of the first educational institutions to test out the Amazon Dot as a learning tool. Starting the fall of 2017 1,600 engineering students are using the Amazon Dot. The university intends to evaluate the Amazon Dot as a tool that “combines sensing, connectivity and data analytics to inform decision making, optimize operations and energy efficiency, and create a highly personalized campus experience for every student, professor, staff member and alumnus.”