Tag Archives: personalized learning

Education Technology Could Change the Game for Incarcerated Youth, But Students in Custody Don’t Have Access

This week, the education technology community is gathering in San Diego, CA for the 2016 ASU GSV Summit, a conference that the New York Times calls a “must-attend event.” There’s one group of students who will get very little airtime during these three days — and who generally get little airtime at all: young people attending school in locked correctional facilities.

EdTechEducators, innovators, and investors tout the power of technology to personalize learning, provide access to real-world experience, engage students, and accelerate skill development — four things that incarcerated students need most and get least. Most schools in secure facilities have no internet access of any kind, and some of them do not allow students to use computers at all.* For anyone who’s seen the power of good technology used well, the contrast in these settings is heartbreaking.

There are good reasons to be cautious about deploying technology resources in secure facilities. The concerns holding up technology integration are real and serious, but they’re not trump cards.

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What Does the NCLB Rewrite Mean for Personalized Learning?

On Monday federal lawmakers released the final text of the bill to replace No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which expired in 2007. While this week’s buzz on the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has revolved around state accountability (or lack thereof), it’s also worth looking at how the billNCLB—over 1,000 pages long—affects other aspects of schooling. Education technology, in particular, has undergone dramatic changes since the last reauthorization, but federal and state education policies haven’t kept up and have even created barriers to tech-based innovations.

Will the long-awaited rewrite of NCLB create an opportunity for personalized learning? Yes, but only for states willing to take charge. Here are four takeaways:

  1. A proposed edtech program that was hailed by personalized learning champions didn’t make the cut.

Previously, the Senate version of the bill established the I-TECH program (in the House bill, it was called the Schools of the Future Act) to create dedicated federal funding for edtech, with an emphasis on professional development for educators. In October nearly 20 senators and representatives voiced strong support for keeping this standalone edtech program in the final bill.

Personalized learning advocates will be disappointed that I-TECH didn’t make it into the final bill. Continue reading

Edu-Date Lab: Standards-Based Accountability and Personalized Learning

One of my guilty pleasures is Washington Post Magazine‘s Date Lab, which pares potential matches from a pool of applicants and sends them on dinner dates around Washington, D.C. I thought it might be fun to try something similar for education–not matching up actual people, mind you (sorry single AOTH readers!). Instead, we’re matching up education policies that have the potential for a high level of compatibility, but need to overcome underlying tensions and values differences in order to achieve that potential. (Sounds a lot like dating, right?)  Also, no one gets a free dinner. So let’s meet today’s lucky couple.

Standards-based accountability was born in the wake of 1983’s Nation at Risk report, and has been the dominant framework for U.S. education policy for the past quarter-century. It’s helped drive improvement in student learning outcomes, but one if its key features–testing–has taken some hits in public opinion and political support over the last few years, and is at the core of the current debate over ESEA reauthorization. Standards-based accountability enjoys common grade-level standards, assessments, using assessments to rate school performance, and intervening in low-performing schools.

Personalized learning is newer to education reform, but has received increasing attention in recent years. A growing number of schools and districts use technology in new ways to provide more customized student learning experiences, but many personalized learning models are still nascent, and the approach has yet to reach widespread national scale. Personalized learning enjoys individual learner profiles, customized personal learning paths, progression based on mastery of competencies rather than seat-time, and flexible learning environments.

Do these two crazy kids have a chance together? On the plus side, they share a common goal: Enabling all kids to reach college and career readiness. On the downside, they have slightly different underlying values and assumptions about how best to improve public education.

If these two can get over their differences, they could be a match made in heaven: Standards-based accountability systems can produce evidence to evaluate the effectiveness of personalized learning , and stimulate school and district demand for the best personalized learning approaches. Personalized learning, in turn, can help accelerate student learning to enable all children to reach college and career ready standards.

But if they can’t successfully negotiate the underlying tensions, standards-based accountability and personalized learning could be in for some serious conflict.

Want to know how it all ends up? Too bad! That’s going to depend on the choices that policymakers, state and district leaders, and personalized learning innovators make over the next few years. A new Bellwether report, however, offers them guidance to ensure that this relationship thrives, rather than falters. Check it out here.

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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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.