Tag Archives: blended learning

Innovation, Technology, and Rural Schools

According to Washington elites, rural schools’ greatest challenge is finding and keeping teachers. Ask the inside-the-beltway crowd for a solution, and, considering all the buzz over blended learning and innovation, they’ll probably shout, “technology!”

One small problem: Rural superintendent don’t consider teacher recruitment and retention among their biggest challenges…and mixing rural schooling and technology is more complicated than you might think.


Thank goodness for “Technology and Rural Education,” by Bryan C. Hassel and Stephanie Dean of Public Impact, the latest paper from Bellwether’s rural-education project, ROCI.


Image from Northfield Community Primary and Elementary School

The report begins as you might expect, arguing that technology holds great promise for rural schooling. “It can give students access to great teachers…enable them to tap into resources they would never find in a school’s media center…help them personalize their learning…open doors to forge networks with other students across the world.”

But unlike many tech-focused reports, it also recognizes the special characteristics of rural schools, especially as they relate to educators.
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SXSWedu and Ed Tech’s Coming of Age

Austin Graffiti

I’m back in San Francisco after three days at the annual Ed tech Mecca SXSWedu in Austin, Texas. Edsurge, Edudemic, and my Bellwether colleague Carolyn Chuong have good recaps on the scene and a few specific panels, so I’m going to hit on a few points unlikely to surface anywhere else.

[Update 3/16/2015: You can now watch an assortment of keynotes and sessions here.)

The Scene
When you’re at SXSWedu, it feels like the entire $550B US education sector is looking to disrupt itself, in actuality, it’s a tribe of like-minded professionals affecting a small fraction of students scattered across the country. Soon, however, many of the innovative ideas that emerge from Austin will become commonplace as prices drop, minds open, and policies are retooled. The value of SXSWedu is that this tribe of forward thinkers can come together to speak its native language, tackle critical issues like student data privacy, and exchange ideas in an environment free from the gravity of the traditional school models.

I expected a lot more technologists peddling their new apps, but the people I met represented the entire technology ecosystem – investors, entrepreneurs, content providers, district and charter leaders, principals, etc. I didn’t meet any teachers, a population SXSWedu has made serious efforts to include.

Lastly, I was surprised that the conference was organized just like every other conference I’ve been to – rooms upon rooms of panel discussions with lots of networking in the hallways. I thought that an event for people focused on flipped, blended, and adaptive models of instruction would be the first to boycott stale, didactic panels.

Pumping the Breaks
The mentality that I’ve witnessed in the ed tech community since the bubble started growing in the late 2000s has been an unbridled enthusiasm for anything new and the assumption that it’s better than whatever currently exists. But I didn’t experience a lot of that at SXSWedu.  In fact, I was party to a lot of conversations where there was a high degree of skepticism around anything new. My hunch is that this is a function of ed tech maturing. After a couple of years putting ideas through the thresher of the complex reality of the education sector, folks no longer settle for hype and insist on proof points.

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Forbes on Why Investing $6.2 Trillion in Public Education is a Good Idea

I have a love hate relationship with economics as a discipline. On the love side, to my very core, I am an analyst, and I love the structure and the neatness of it. It gives the illusion of clear answers on complex questions and canonizes words like efficiency and incentives. Benefits outweigh cost? Good. Other way around? Bad.

On the hate side, it’s a cold calculus, and it can be difficult to inject values other than those that can be measured numerically into the analysis and have that taken seriously, particularly by economists of the armchair variety (of which I am one, full disclaimer).

So I’m always excited when economic analysis lines up with social welfare—as it does with a vengeance in this Forbes piece on investing in education. Forbes identifies 5 strategies for moving the U.S. up the ladder in global competitiveness in education. Don’t get excited yet—these are not new strategies:
1. Improve teacher effectiveness
2. Universal pre-k
3. Common Core standards
4. School leadership
5. Blended learning

They defined some specific policies in each of those areas, gathered up a group of A-list researchers (some real economists among them, famous ones), and set out to figure out if it was worth it. And as it turns out, it is. Really worth it. They calculated a $225 trillion return on a $6.2 trillion investment over time. So, here are their strategies in a nutshell. Continue reading

Conflicting Policy Trends Shape Personalized Learning’s Future

Schools eager to develop blended learning models are starting to see new funding opportunities within their states—but their efforts may be stymied by harsh privacy laws.

Last  month, the Evergreen Education Group published its 11th annual Keeping Pace report profiling digital learning trends and policies across all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Although the 178-page report discusses a broad range of state policies related to digital learning, two policy developments emerge as particularly salient—yet potentially conflicting—to the future of personalized learning:

1. States are distributing funding in creative ways to encourage the growth of personalized learning.

Foundations have historically played a large role in funding blended learning initiatives, but states are beginning to launch their own competitive innovation funds. In Maryland, the governor created the Digital Learning Innovation Fund, which provides grants of up to $1 million to districts that will leverage digital learning to improve student outcomes. In the 2013-14 school year, grantees included Baltimore Public Schools, Frederick County Public Schools, and the SEED School of Maryland.

In Ohio, the state recently launched the $6 million eTextbook Pilot Program, which provides funding to schools or consortia to purchase blended instructional or professional development tools. Applicants received priority if they indicated how they would choose content most relevant to the state’s 21st century workforce needs.

2. The number of states enacting data privacy laws skyrocketed in 2014.

As more schools begin to adopt personalized learning models, however, parents and privacy advocates have raised concerns about how secure students’ data is and whether commercial providers might use this data for non-instructional purposes. According to the Keeping Pace report, 20 states had passed new data privacy laws as of August of this year. For instance, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal signed HB 1076 into law, which has strict language limiting how providers can use student data. The newly passed legislation will restrict the ability of Louisiana schools to use adaptive software programs, which create more effective learning environments by analyzing student data on learning outcomes and patterns.

It’s not likely that data privacy in the K-12 education realm will be resolved anytime soon. Recent controversy over ClassDojo—the increasingly popular software used by teachers to track student behavior—suggests that student data privacy will continue to be a contentious topic moving into 2015.

States are taking a step in the right direction by providing financial support to districts that want to implement personalized learning to improve education outcomes. But funding is not enough. New state privacy policies, while often developed in response to legitimate concerns, may restrict schools from adopting new technologies that depend on the use of comprehensive student data. At Bellwether, we’ll be keeping an eye on both of these trends—and how they shape the progress of personalized learning in the near future.