Tag Archives: Ed Tech

Behind the Scenes on Our New Education-Themed Web Game

Last week, we released Rigged, a choose-your-own-adventure-style game designed to represent the experiences of youth trying to navigate school while experiencing challenges like homelessness, foster care placement, or incarceration. The game is a glimpse into the impossible tradeoffs these students face regularly.

We collaborated with the folks at Filament Games, including the project’s sole engineer, Terra Lauterbach, to create this one-of-a-kind game. Terra has been a game engineer at Filament Games since early 2017, and for Rigged, she engineered the unique card-based mechanics and supported with the game’s user experience and sound design. I chatted with Terra to share more about the process of creating the game.

The interview below has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

What were the objectives in creating Rigged?
Rigged was envisioned as an interactive way to help players develop increased understanding and empathy towards underserved youth who have spent time in juvenile detention, are on parole, or may simply be struggling to navigate the system. Bellwether wanted players to be able to relate to the characters in the story, putting users in the shoes of underserved individuals in order to promote inclusivity and a greater shared perspective.

How did you approach designing a game around these topics?
We always intended for Rigged to be an open-ended experience. Our team wanted to give players a menu of choices and require them to balance the consequences of their decisions. Bellwether chose five in-game domains for the player to balance: money, relationships, health and wellness, academics, and responsibilities — all things that one must manage in day-to-day life. Each binary choice that the player faces has a non-binary effect on those domains, positively affecting some domains while negatively affecting others depending on what path the player chooses to follow. Having Bellwether’s subject matter experts easily available at all times (they created the actual content) was extremely useful throughout development. Continue reading

Are Bad Online Charter Schools the Canary in the Coal Mine?

Online charter schools are getting a lot of bad press recently. While their critics cheer the bad news, we might consider whether this actually signals broader problems within public education. The persistent failures of these schools aren’t just failures in accountability — they could point to larger ills in the education ecosystem.

Here are just three state-level online charter school stories from the past few weeks:

  • Canari_jaune_lipochrome_intensifK12 Inc.*, which manages a network of online schools enrolling 13,000 students in California, will pay $8.5 million to the state and forgo $160 million to settle claims it misrepresented student achievement, financial records, and more. Organizational finances and governance are also under scrutiny.
  • In Aurora, Colorado, the local school board attempted to end the district’s relationship with HOPE Online Learning Centers due to persistently low achievement, but the district was overruled by the state because “we have to give these parents options,” and “now’s not the right time” for accountability.
  • Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), which enrolls 15,000 Ohio students and ranks among the worst performing schools in the state, lost a recent attempt in court to stop a state audit of their actual online attendance last year. The audit will check if student learning hours match up to what ECOT billed the state.

Add these stories to the results of a recent CREDO study, which found overwhelmingly negative learning effects in online charters the opposite of positive learning trends in charters overall. Even charter advocates know something has gone very wrong in the world of online charters: a “National Call to Action” from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, and 50CAN called out “well-documented, disturbingly low performance by too many full-time virtual public charter schools.”

Almost everyone agrees that authorizers and regulators should do a better job holding virtual schools accountable for results and protecting taxpayer funds from fraud and mismanagement. But when schools of choice with bad learning outcomes continue to grow, they are a canary in the coal mine, alerting us that things have gone awry in the school system as a whole: Continue reading

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.

Continue reading