Schools Creating Own Edtech Tools

[In this Edsurge article the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) in Philadelphia is used an example of how a school can design a better solution for its needs. In this case SLA needed a management system for its project-based learning program that worked on a competency-based model.]

Mary Jo Madda
Aug 13, 2015


Across the country, schools want students to focus more on learning concrete skills than abstract concepts. This approach often goes by the name of “competency-based learning,” which emphasizes skill proficiency over grades. (That C+ in Algebra, for instance, doesn’t say much about a student’s grasp of math.)

Educators believe competency-based instruction works best when students have the freedom to drive their own learning. But tracking their progress in a flexible learning environment, where every kid may be on a different learning path, is extremely challenging. Traditional learning management tools and grade books are not set up to support these structures.

One school in Philadelphia decided to build its own software to support its student-driven, competency-based pedagogy. Fed up with existing learning platforms, administrators at Science Leadership Academy (SLA) developed Slate, an open-source platform that can be customized depending on what a school needs. The tool is now used in U School, the Philadelphia School, Matchbook Learning schools, and more—and it’s a testament to how homegrown tools can sometimes serve schools better than existing options in the market.

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Making Learning “Gameful”

[Here’s an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education that reviews a new product developed by a professor at the University of Michigan, Barry Fishman, with one of his graduate students. GradeCraft is much more than a tool for gamification. It is a learning management system that provides choices or alternative paths for learning without penalizing students for trying different activities or strategies.]

May 15, 2015 by
Photo by Norton Gusky CC 4.0

Photo by Norton Gusky CC 4.0

What if the classroom were more like a video game?

Barry J. Fishman, a professor of information and education at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, would like to help you find out. Mr. Fishman has borrowed elements of gaming to develop GradeCraft, a learning-management system that lets instructors organize their courses in a “gameful” way.

The system lets students choose their own path through a course, selecting the assignments that interest and challenge them. At its heart is a tool, called the “grade predictor,” that helps to “manage some of the chaos” of such a personalized system. The grade predictor also helps students figure out what they need to do to reach the classroom goals they set for themselves.

GradeCraft also aims to give students the ability to fail without detrimental consequences. There are many assignments to choose from, so any students who do poorly on one can find plenty of other tasks to redeem themselves. Instructors, meanwhile, can allow students to revise their work. Mr. Fishman’s assessment system treats unsuccessful assignments not as failures but as learning experiences that pull students closer to mastery.

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Next Generation LMS

[For a number of years users of LMS software have struggled with the limitations of most packages. Educause with a grant from the Gates Foundation has outlined what should be the five key elements for any next generation system.]

New EDUCAUSE report explored the gaps between current LMS functionality and what’s needed for the next-gen digital learning environment.

LMS-digital-learningAccording to over 70 education IT specialists, current LMS functionality is great for administrative tasks, but doesn’t provide support for the new learning approaches in today’s schools.

The next generation digital learning environment (NGDLE), says a newEDUCAUSE report, will need a “Lego” approach, where components are built that allow individuals and institutions the opportunity to construct learning environments tailored to their requirement and goals.

“What is clear is that the LMS has been highly successful in enabling the administration of learning, but less so in enabling the learning itself,” wrote the report’s authors. “The challenge is to build on the value of an LMS as an administrative tool by retaining what works, but not be bound to an outgoing model of teaching and learning. [This] NGDLE is what should come after the LMS era.”

And according to the report’s authors, there are five core components of the post-LMS, as well as new architectures to consider.

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