What’s Working During COVID

While many people have been concerned about the lack of learning during the COVID period, there have been a number of successful strategies and approaches.  Through a dialog with regional educators, my contributions to the work for the Consortium of Schools Networked (CoSN), and listening to personal stories from 2020 HundrED Virtual Innovation Summit, I’ve compiled a list of successes. In this posting, I’ll share some of the ideas I’ve discovered. We’ll look at how at one school in Pennsylvania has students working together in teams and collaborating even with remote learning and social distancing. We’ll hear from an online trainer how the pandemic has opened new learning doors for active learning for students, parents, and educators. We’ll hear from one edtech company that has made robotics a remote hands-on experience for all learners. We’ll discover a school district in California that has found ways to continue to expand the expertise for their professional learning community. Finally, we’ll discover how an African non-profit has had to be pivot to continue to deliver its entrepreneurial program for learners.


Collaboration and Working as a Team

Melissa Unger, the K-2 STEAM Teacher for the South Fayette School District, has been an educational leader for the past decade. The pandemic forced her to rethink how she designs learning experiences, especially to promote collaboration and team-building. According to Melissa, “Being in a Hybrid setting and social distancing has caused us to rethink what it means for students to work together and collaborate. One of the best tools I have used for this is FlipGrid–students are able to share their work, thoughts, or ideas via short videos, and others can comment. In each homeroom, students have only met half of their classmates in person this year, so FlipGrid has allowed for a greater sense of community building and information sharing. I have watched students use others’ videos as a way to add on to their own ideas and form connections. 


“I also think that now more than ever open-ended projects and STEAM tasks are really important for our students. These projects and tasks address an uncertainty that students need to understand – an uncertainty about the virus, school closures, and just what’s going to happen each day. With open-ended projects, I think students start to see that having all the information is not always necessary before moving forward. This new learning situation builds confidence and resilience during this time of uncertainty.”


Active Learning

Active learning is always an important goal. In order to achieve learning engagement it’s critical to think about instruction design. According to Kelesy Derringer, the Co-founder of CodeJoy LLC, ” The job of an educator is not to simply transmit information, but to design educational experiences. Even in online learning, this is still the job, though our delivery method has radically changed. In our classes at CodeJoy, we continue to ask, “What are the students DOING?” We offer opportunities to do more than listen – students can code and control robots, build their own catapults at home with craft supplies, engage in the Engineering Design Process together, talk to a live puppet, ask a florist to cut a rose in half to see what it looks like, strap a phone camera to a horse and go for a ride, or have a dance party with children all over the world! Engagement looks different online, but it should still be the cornerstone around which educators design their learning experiences.”

Lock downs and social distancing requirements have created serious challenges to hands-on robotics education, but also inspired creative solutions, such as 1:1 robotics and remote robots. According to Tom Lauwers, the CEO and Founder of Birdbrain Technologies, “With 1:1 robotics, all students have a robotics kit at home, and use remote collaboration tools like the newly released micro:bit classroom along with teacher-led video instruction to learn coding and robotics. Remote Robots is a new technology that we’ve developed to allow kids to code a robot in a beginner-friendly environment that is not located in the same location as them. We quickly created five 24/7 live-streamed robots in April that anyone can code, and have also created a tutorial for educators to set up their own remote robots. Together, 1:1 robotics and remote robots provide educators with a toolbox to continue physical computing and robotics education in these pandemic times.”

Creating a Professional Community

CoSN for the past three years has assembled a global team of advisors to look at Innovation in Education. I’ve been part of the CoSN Driving K-12 Innovation advisory team. This year in addition to the normal Hurdles, Accelerators, and Tech Enablers, we began to look at examples of innovation due to the COVID situation. Phillip Neufield, the Executive Officer for the Fresno Unified School District in California shared his insights with the CoSN community. According to Phillip, “Over the past five years, our district has moved to more experiential, actionable professional learning where teachers experiencing their learning as we intend teacher practices to land as learning experiences for their students (albeit with adult learning wisdom applied).”


“So in spring we delivered over 100 webinars to prepare teachers for the shift to distance learning with over 1,700 educators participating, some up to 3-5 times in different webinars.  Educators could access recorded sessions.  And we offered competency-based on-demand web training resources with over 10,000 unique visits.”


“We repeated this approach in summer to prepare educators for fall.
We found educators were bringing these new teaching practices back to their grade-level or department-level professional learning communities (teaching practices included the know-why, know-how, and tech mediated activities).”

Creative Pivoting

The problems learners, parents, and educators face in the United States due to the pandemic are truly global. During the Virtual HundrED Innovation 2020 Summit I listened to an African educator, Frank Omana, outline how his non-profit, EDUCATE!, pivoted.

Educate! tackles youth unemployment by partnering with youth, schools, and governments to design and deliver education solutions that equip young people in Africa with the skills to attain further education, overcome gender inequities, start businesses, get jobs, and drive development in their communities. With the appearance of COVID this skill-based model for entrepreneurial studies had to find a distance learning option

Frank and his team created “The Experience on Air.” They began to broadcast on national radio and available via text messaging. They kept the core components – practical experience with mentorships, skills, and assessments. Remarkably the pivot opened new doors for the African learners using the distance learning model.

In each of the cases I’ve outlined new doors opened, while old gateways were no longer available. In today’s world, that’s the lesson we all need to understand. We need to be nimble and pivot so we can maintain our educational goals like Birdbrain, CodeJoy, Frenso, or the South Fayette School District. The real test is how well are we meeting the needs of our learning community.

Tech Enablers 2020

For the past two years I’ve worked on the advisory board for the Consortium of School Networking (CoSN) report on Driving K-12 Innovation. I also serve as the co-chair of the Emerging Technologies Committee for CoSN. In both roles I’m looking at how educational technology can impact the delivery of curriculum and instruction. The Driving K-12 Innovation project starts by identifying the obstacles for learning in K-12. Then the advisers from around the world examine the accelerators, the ideas, programs, and projects that increase the speed for solving a problem in a classroom. Finally the international team highlights the educational solutions, the tech-enablers, that address the Hurdles and at the same time tap into the Accelerators. 

This past week CoSN released its latest Driving Innovation report on Tech Enablers. The report explores the top five technology tools improving education this year by enabling innovation and facilitating adaptation during crises like the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the international advisory board of edtech experts, the most important Tech Enablers for schools to leverage in 2020 in order to surmount Hurdles and embrace Accelerators advancing the digital transformation are: Digital Collaboration Platforms; Tools for Privacy & Safety Online; Analytics & Adaptive Technologies; Cloud Infrastructure; and Mobile Devices.

“In today’s COVID-19 world, the importance of effective virtual learning environments has significantly increased. CoSN’s Tech Enablers report will help school systems determine the technology advancements that are critical for teaching and learning in 2020,” said Keith Krueger, CEO of CoSN. “The two-part Driving K-12 Innovation series provides educators with a holistic view of the current edtech landscape and allows them to lead technological change in their districts and beyond.”

According to the CoSN site: The report delves into two Tech Enablers that are particularly salient given the COVID-19 pandemic-fueled transition to virtual learning and provides related anecdotes from school leaders across the country:

  • Digital Collaboration Platforms: Digital collaboration platforms can enable a broader range of learning opportunities on both the global and local level, help students develop digital and career-relevant skills, and support professional development and learning communities. To leverage this Tech Enabler, educators and school systems must prioritize safety and privacy, develop stakeholder competency, and address issues of equity and access.
  • Tools for Privacy & Safety Online: Tools for privacy & safety online, such as privacy settings in apps, administrative/parental controls, filters and education/support resources, can help school systems, educators and students protect themselves in digital spaces. To effectively leverage this Tech Enabler, educators should utilize communities and resources, craft relevant policies and processes, and build stakeholder understanding and capability.

CoSN issued the 2020 Hurdles + Accelerators report in March and will also be releasing a Toolkit to help its members navigate the interconnected Hurdles-Accelerators-Tech Enablers ecosystem. Last year I developed a workshop with Susan Bearden from CoSN to share the Toolkit at the ISTE Conference. It looks like this year that won’t happen. However, the toolkit is just another excellent reason for all educational technology leaders to consider joining CoSN

You can learn more about the Driving K-12 Innovation initiative at cosn.org/k12innovation.

Horizon Report for K-12 Becomes Driving Innovation

I just returned from the annual CoSN Conference in Washington D.C. At the conference CoSN announced a new initiative – Driving K-12 Innovation. In the world of Educational Technology leaders the annual K-12 CoSN Horizon Report has become a staple for planning and conversation. At the end of November the New Media Consortium announced that it had to declare bankruptcy. The Horizon Report not only for  K-12, but for Higher Ed and all other versions was in jeopardy. EDUCAUSE, the partner for the higher education version, decided to purchase the assets for the Horizon Report. Behind the scenes a team of CoSN Board Members, staff, and volunteers with the CoSN Emerging Technologies committee met to map out a possible strategy for a new direction for K-12.

I had a special insight into what worked and what did not work with the existing report. I was on the Board of Advisors for the 2017 CoSN K-12 report. I was happy to see the new format that now includes three reports that will come out at different times during the year. In addition, the new initiative will feature a slight change in the configuration. The new direction will attempt to take the best of the past with some needed adjustments. According to CoSN here’s the focus:

  • Hurdles.  Obstacles that make participants slow down, evaluate, practice and then make the leap to better support teaching and learning
  • Accelerators.  Megatrends that drive change – sometimes suddenly other time so gradually the implications aren’t readily apparent.
  • Tech Enablers.  Tools that support smoother leaps over the hurdles and expansive changes in global K-12 education.

Stay tuned and if you’re interested and have expertise in the world of emerging technologies, please consider volunteering.