Would you sell your tablet?

Through e-mail, I received an article about a North American school that was selling their iPads to buy Google Chromebooks. The principal argument for this is that Chromebooks, compared to iPads, are easier to use and manage, and allow for more collaboration between students.

I think this is extreme.

In fact, Chromebooks are easier to manage, more user-friendly, and allow for better classroom collaboration. However, using only web applications is a devastating limitation, without a doubt. And also, one should not be afraid of tablets just because of keyboard issues; ASUS is soon to invade the market with tablets that include built-in keyboards.

Chromebooks remind me a lot of the proposal from Sun Microsystems to run Java in all platforms. Imagine that in all types of hardware, you could only use JAVA! Something like: you can choose any color you want, as long as it is black.

The world needs and wants to have multiplatform options for both hardware and software. If you only want Chrome, Google will turn into the Microsoft of today. Digital Marketing on Google AdWords for many market segments, such as a plumbing business for instant, is almost infeasible, because the value of a click is somewhere around $30. The OS and Google apps are free, but when you need to pay for publicity, you will feel the heavy hand of Google. Please, understand that I am not against Google. In truth, I have much appreciation for the company, and I am a big fan of Sergey Brin and Larry Page, because I have some of the same training as they have. Some companies have difficulty to afford the high costs to advertise on Google, and I sincerely hope they resolve this problem.

It is difficult to achieve equilibrium, because in the IT industry, it is easy to create monopolies. On one hand, companies are creating useful technologies, and on the other, preventing innovation by commercial domain at the same time.

The ideal situation would be to have three or four players with some degree of compatibility. This reminds me of the dilemma of the prisoners of John Nash, known also Nash Equilibrium. It represents a situation in that, in a game involving two or more players, no player has a means to win by changing their unilateral strategy. The mathematical model of Nash shows that it is not a matter of being nice and collaborative with your opponent, but rather a matter of increasing earnings.

If you think about it, Chrome is compatible with many different types of hardware. It is not healthy for a company to supply 100% of market needs, and every time this happens, it is not good for the consumer.

Does it make sense to deter students from using mobile phones and tablets for educational activities? I think that BYOD (“Bring Your Own Device”) is more plausible. It would be too dictatorial to demand students only to use Chromebooks. If a student has an iPad or Android, should I stop them from using their device?

Another thing that is behind these attempts by school officials to standardize the hardware is that they still think of education as a centralized management model, something similar to date processing centers.

I will keep iPads, Androids, Chrome Books and notebooks, and even better, I will allow my students to use everything they have at their disposal, because in the end, what matters most is education.

The Rise of Adaptive Learning


Photo by Carol E. Davis (cropped), license


High bets have been placed that adaptive learning will revolutionize education within the next 10 years.


The “boots-on-the-ground” educators are accustomed to hearing bold proclamations that technology will soon raise the age-old education methods from their foundations.


But adaptive learning has not quite gained the public’s eye like tablets in the classroom or Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS). Many educators likely still are unaware that this rapidly growing industry exists.


In brief, adaptive learning systems are computer-based and use data-driven algorithms to decide what a student is ready to learn based on the system’s knowledge of what the student already knows. With this knowledge, the system builds individualized learning paths that continuously update based on performance.


So, should we believe the hype? Will these systems revolutionize?


Why Should We Be Interested?


Well, one huge reason is because the companies that published nearly every text book in the last century placed heavy bets that adaptive learning will drastically redesign the educational landscape.


“The Big Three” education publishers (Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) have all partnered with or acquired adaptive learning start-ups to create the adaptive applications that supplement their textbooks.


Billions of dollars have been spent thus far on adaptive learning, and the trend is not just limited to “The Big Three” publishers – as many other publishers have reached deep into their pockets to invest in adaptive learning.


Some Big Industry Players


Likely the heaviest hitter in the sphere of adaptive learning is the New York City-based start-up Knewton. But since Knewton is oft-covered by edtech blogs and magazines for their algorithm-related prowess, it seems more reasonable to discuss a few of the other big names in the industry. Like Smart Sparrow.


Australian start-up Smart Sparrow has a completely different view on adaptive learning; focusing on what they call “learning by doing”; an approach that focuses primarily on browser-based simulations.


“Sometimes I worry that we are raising a generation of kids who must think that there are four possible solutions to every problem in life, and that one of them must be right, and if you don’t know which one, your best chances are to guess ‘C,´” said Dr. Dror Ben-Naim, Smart Sparrow CEO and founder, in an op-ed for The Australian Financial Review. “Online learning can, and should, be much richer, interactive and adaptive.”


Rather than simply text-based lessons and tests, Smart Sparrow builds detailed and adaptive simulations that allow students to test their knowledge in life-life conditions.


Teachers can produce their own interactive simulations, or work with Smart Sparrow programmers to build their envisioned model. Examples include simulations that allow engineering students to build bridges; medical students to perform surgeries on patients; and chemistry students to work in the lab. While working through simulations, students can receive immediate and detailed feedback, and performance is automatically sent back to the teachers.


Smart Sparrow focuses heavily on STEM disciplines.


“(M)ost current online experiences, even those that are massively open (MOOCs), are not doing much more than reusing old ways in a new digital medium – a phenomenon that the software pundits call ´shovelware,´” continued Dr. Ben-Naim. “The first wave of mindless educational ´shovelware´ – is giving way to a smarter future. That is, a future in which networks of educators can collaborate to create and share, rich, interactive and adaptive courseware, and in which students’ skills and knowledge will be available in their lifelong learning profiles.”


While recently receiving funding that allowed the company to expand into the United States, Smart Sparrow relocated its headquarters from Sydney to San Francisco.


While Smart Sparrow tends to focus on high school and above, many other adaptive learning systems exist for elementary-aged students – in the area of mathematics especially.


Almost all elementary-focused platforms claim one of their key features is that learning with their product is “just like a game.” DreamBox Learning is the app that does this best.


DreamBox Learning was built by Seattle-based start-up DreamBox; a company founded in 2006 by Microsoft executive Ben Slivka. DreamBox received most of its funding from NetFlix CEO Reed Hastings, who later bought the company in 2011. Like other adaptive learning apps, DreamBox Learning focuses on algorithm-based adaptive learning paths that determine what a student is ready to learn based on what a student already knows.


“DreamBox Learning’s adaptive technology is fueling the blended learning movement in classrooms nationwide to help millions of students thrive in mathematics,” said Hastings, ina press release from December after announcing he was investing an additional $15 million in the company.


When creating an account, students must first choose from 32 different avatars to assign themselves with. And while commanding this avatar, they are assigned various video game-like missions; not too much different than saving the princess in Super Mario Bros.


But to advance on the path of mission completion, students must complete math exercises that are placed along the way.


“It’s an environment where learners are constantly evaluated – not by mundane assessments or tests, but by becoming fully engaged in an engaging game-like learning experience,” said Greg Long, Senior Vice President of Product Development at DreamBox, during an interview with EdTechDigest. “After every mouse click, the adaptive engine adjusts to continually individualize the learner’s pathway… We achieve a deep understanding of whether each learner truly understands the concept and if she doesn’t, and we provide gentle remediation right then and there.”


DreamBox Learning initially focused on the K-5 market, but recently expanded to middle school math. The platform has won a laundry list of awards in the education industry for its innovation.


“DreamBox individualizes each student’s learning experience, somewhat akin to the way NetFlix or Amazon personalizes consumer’s shopping experiences,” said Long.


From 2014 and Beyond


Okay, so a ton of cash has been pumped into the adaptive learning industry; providing fuel to some really interesting ideas. Ideas that could change the face of the multi-billion dollar education publishing industry.


And there are a plethora of independent studies that suggest adaptive learning, while still in its infancy, is extremely beneficial to the learning process; especially in the STEM areas.


But why is a topic that has so much potential still largely unknown to the general public?


There are still many hurdles learning adaptive needs to overcome, and this likely plays a role in its current position. Probably the most cumbersome of these hurdles is overcoming the unwillingness of faculty to buy into adaptive learning.


“Imagine the best teacher empowered with unlimited data, permanent memory, and infinite patience,” said Long from DreamBox. “If a teacher could sit beside each student, each day, and help them truly understand the concepts and strategies of early mathematics, the child would be able to work continuously and directly in her optimal learning zone: not too easy, not too hard. Our (system) has achieved this.”


With statements such as this, it is not difficult to see why teachers might feel defensive; it appears that adaptive learning systems will take their jobs. Though when asked, most of these adaptive learning industry leaders would say the opposite; that their platform is meant to be “blended” into the classroom environment as a supplement.


This is partially true – but without a doubt, adaptive learning inherently requires less teacher interaction – which likely equates to less teaching jobs.


Also, there are big concerns involving big data, as a seemingly-growing number of parents worry about giving away so much of their child’s personal information.


Despite these concerns, as schools in America continue to face budget constraints and challenges meeting Common Core Curriculum standards, the schools most willing to take risks and experiment with new technology likely will reap the benefits of adaptive learning. Don’t be surprised if the rest soon follow path.


Yes, believe the hype…

Augmented Reality in the Classroom

As if using iPads within the classroom was not futuristic enough, schools throughout the United States have begun introducing augmented realities into their learning environment.

For those unfamiliar with the term augmented reality, it probably invokes a mental image of students gearing up with large virtual reality goggles to learn an algebra lesson. But this scene would reflect virtual reality.

Augmented reality is something a little different… though still almost as cool.

Augmented Reality Defined

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines augmented reality as “[A]n enhanced version of reality created by the use of technology to overlay digital information on an image of something being viewed through a device (as a smartphone camera).”

Think Google Glass; a device that does not change reality, but rather adds some functions to improve the existing reality.

Virtual reality, on the other hand, is more than just an addition or an enhancement, but rather the complete creation of a seemingly artificial world. Think Oculus Rift.

In the form of software applications for mobile devices, augmented reality has quickly gained a presence in learning environments. A few of the most highly-regarded augmented reality apps are listed below:

Aurasma App

The Aurasma app is likely the most popular augmented reality-involved app, available for free in the iTunes App and Google Play stores. The app’s iTunes description states, “Aurasma is an augmented reality app that’s changing the way millions of people see and interact with the world.”

Though these are lofty proclamations, the app has won several industry awards for its innovation.

Using Aurasma, teachers tag physical objects, locations, or images with interactive digital content, like videos or animations. For example, school hallways typically include posters about education-related topics. Using Aurasma, a teacher can create an instructional or lesson-oriented video about a topic and digitally attach it to a poster in the hallway.

When a student uses their mobile device to focus on the poster, the video will appear. To the student, it will appear that the video is seemingly jumping out of the poster.

A good example of its usage is here.

AR Flashcards

AR Flashcards has a self-descriptive title; it uses augmented reality in the form of flashcards to teach basic educational topics to young students.

With AR Flashcards, users enter the site, download and print a free set of flashcards. Sets include topics such as the alphabet, geography, US presidents, basic math, colors, and shapes.

When the user views the flashcards with their mobile device, a 3D-image related to the topic of the flashcard will then seemingly pop-out from the flashcard.

Here is a good video that shows the app in-action. The app is free and available in the iTunes App and Google Play stores.

The app was the winner of the 2013 EduBlog Award for Best Mobile App.

Google Sky Map

Install Google Sky Map, hold your phone upward toward the sky on a clear night, and Google will instantly inform the location of each viewable planet, star, and constellation.

The app reveals the location of more than one thousand stars and all planets in our solar system, and includes options for zoom and layering. Distances between objects and Earth can also be calculated.

Though limited in-terms of the subject areas it can benefit, it is a groundbreaking for any astrology teacher or student.

It is free but only available in the Google Play Store. However, there are some copycat apps available in the iTunes Store; I am just not sure how well they match up to Google’s version.

Google Glass… The Future of Augmented Reality in Classroom?

In terms of augmented reality, the apps mentioned above are small fries compared to the enhancements Google Glass will bring to the classroom in the near future. Many professionals in the education and edtech industries are discussing how Google Glass can enhance learning; despite the fact the software will not be widely available for at least 2-3 more years.

Google Glass will make it possible for lectures to be live-streamed for students unable to attend class. Note-taking will be able to occur automatically (no writing needed) with transcription from audio performed by Google. Professors will no longer need to use chalkboards or overhead projectors, as digital presentations can be viewed within Google Glass during the lectures. These possibilities all involve augmented reality and are just some of the initial ideas spinning around edtech circles.

Google Glass-initiated advancements to the field of linguistics is also a hot topic, as Google Glass is capable of producing real-time, text-based language translations of conversations. Thus, when someone is speaking in a foreign language, their words can be converted into subtitles and appear within Google Glass. This would all but destroy existing language barriers.

I have heard many times that, “in 30 years, everyone in the world will speak (insert either Mandarin or English here).” But these developments will likely change this scenario from unlikely to unreasonable.

But while this may make it easier to learn languages, in the long run, it might also inhibit the motivation to learn.

As Google Glass has not even been released yet for wide consumption, augmented reality in the classroom is still in its infancy. But expect to hear more about this topic in the upcoming years, as augmented reality will likely find its way out of the techie lexicon and into the classrooms of your district.

The Future of MOOCs


A short time ago everyone in the education world was so whimsically optimistic concerning the future of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). The New York Times even named 2012 “The Year of the MOOC,” and their columnist Thomas Friedman wrote, “Nothing has more potential to lift more people out of poverty – by providing them an affordable education to get a job or improve in the job they have.”


In 2012 and 2013, the larger MOOC platforms like Coursera, Udacity, and edX were all following their respective business plans to provide free, quality courses; sponsored by some of the most respected universities.


But much of this enthusiasm quickly crumbled when the results surfaced in late 2013.


Reality Bites


Practically every course in the history of MOOC experienced ridiculously enormous dropout rates. One study concerning MOOC dropouts showed an average of seven percent of participants actually stayed until the end of a course (a 93 percent dropout rate).


Another study reported less than half the people who signed up for a course even watched one lesson, and only four percent stayed until course completion.


“We have a lousy product”


In 2011, one of the most respected scientists in the world, German-born Stanford professor Sebastian Thrun, had the idea to post his course at Stanford CS221: Introduction to Artificial Intelligence on the internet. All lectures and assignments were posted online, and anyone from anywhere could gain access to the same information that Stanford students were paying large sums of money for.


For non-Stanford students, exam requirements and deadlines still applied, and an official certificate of completion (non-accredited) was provided at the end of the course.


More than 160,000 people from around the world enrolled in the course; a huge success. Thrun took this idea and created Udacity.


He quickly became the unofficial godfather and spokesman for the MOOC movement, stating that only 10 universities will exist by the year 2016, and Udacity will be one of them.


But in less than two years, Thrun changed course completely.


“I’d aspired to give people a profound education – to teach them something substantial… but the data was at odds with this idea,” said Thrun, during a recent interview with Fast Company magazine. “We were on the front pages of newspapers and magazines, and at the same time, I was realizing, we don’t educate people as others wished, or as I wished. We have a lousy product.”


While it is surprising to hear this directly from an acting CEO who once had such optimism, these sentiments seem to be commonplace as the industry faces reality and is being forced to evolve.


So now what?


To their credit, the top three MOOC platforms took little time to decide on different strategies or at least change leadership. Whether these changes were due to investor pressure or thirst for innovation depends on interpretation and the circumstances of each company.


Let’s take a look at all three.




Thrun recently made the bold and unexpected decision to change Udacity’s focus to corporate training rather than education for the greater good.


But since Udacity is a for-profit business, this might just be its quickest way to gain a few bucks to continue on. Trading their world-changing idealism for a purely revenue-seeking path is probably Thrun’s only option.


If Thron and Udacity continue with this method, they will likely fall out of the ranks of the top innovative MOOC platforms. But with Thron in the throne, the future for Udacity is unpredictable.




edX receives their funding from Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology as part of a partnership. Because of this, edX is the only one of the top platforms that is non-profit, meaning they feel no pressure from venture capitalist investors looking for returns. Therefore, edX has a little more wiggle room to experiment with innovative ideas.


One recent idea involves SPOCs (small private online classes), which are edX-provided video lessons that integrate with the course material of actual, traditional college courses. Students watch videos lessons on their own time to learn material, and during class, professors are available to answer questions to help students come to a deeper understanding. SPOCs are currently being used in several universities.


This is similar to the flipped learning method gaining popularity in the American education system.


In a recent interview with Indiana newspaper Journal and Courier, edX’s CEO and founder Anant Agarwal commented on this by stating, “On campus, we are seeing increasing use of the edX platform and related MOOC materials… to create blended forms of learning,”


“Early results on outcomes are extremely encouraging,” continued Agarwal, who also serves as a professor of engineering and computer science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “As a nonprofit, edX is in this for the long haul… We are committed to improving the state of learning on-campus and online, without worrying about short-term profits or excitement.”




Coursera, like Udacity, is a for-profit platform that may also be facing some revenue-related challenges.


According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, Coursera received more than $85 million of venture capital. The company earned its first million only last fall. It is hard to believe Coursera’s partners are not looking for a big payday soon.


However, the company’s revenue comes only from the small portion of its seven million users who pay $30 to $90 for a certificate after passing an exam at the end of a course.


In a move that may be related to these revenue struggles, Coursera recently hired a new CEO, former Yale President Richard Levin.


Levin is an economics guy, receiving his doctorate in economics from Yale in 1974. During his 20-year stint at Yale, endowment increased from $3.2 billion per year to more than $20 billion. He has been included in several US Government Congressional advisory bodies concerning the topics of patents and technology policy. Levin also serves as a trustee to the Hewlett Foundation and a director of American Express.


Put simply, if there is a revenue problem at Coursera, Levin was likely sent in to fix it. And he not only has the track record to do so, but he also is an expert in the field of higher education management.


While the new direction of Coursera is yet unknown, some suggest Coursera will eventually push for course accreditation, allowing them to charge higher prices and receive more profits. Currently, no Coursera courses are accredited by institutions of higher learning.


With a thin revenue stream and a CEO like Levin, big changes are likely coming soon.


“It’s the economy, stupid” – Bill Clinton


In my opinion, without any form of accreditation, the skills that can be learned through a MOOC provide the same value as a library card. Both can be useful, but both will not appear on any resumes.


Until the labor market gives value to education learned through a MOOC course, participation and user satisfaction will not rise. People often do not learn for fun, they learn for economic reasons… to get a better job. And research reflects this, as a study showed 80 percent of American MOOC students already had a college degree. This already-educated customer base has little motivation to perform well or consistently in the class, which explains the statistics that show underperformance. The reason MOOCs are not successful is because they have not tapped the incredibly large segment of those without a degree looking for a higher education;  and the way to do this is through creating value or accreditation.


“To all those who declared our experiment a failure, you have to understand how innovation works,” wrote Thrun in his Udacity blog. “Few ideas work on the first try. Iteration is key to innovation.”


I agree with Thrun; too much was expected from MOOCs in too little time. But I think to continue to stay relevant; MOOC platforms should somehow ensure their courses have value in the job market. Once this is done, they will be closer to meeting their initial idealistic pursuits. And in my opinion, this will occur; it is just a matter of time.

EdTech Battle: Chromebook vs iPad



Implementing 1:1 learning programs typically do not come without controversy, as procurement involves millions of dollars in the hope that technology will benefit education.


Districts typically choose between two different devices– Chromebook laptops and Apple iPads.


This article will compare the two devices in the areas of price, performance, and app availability – and examine which is the better choice for districts.




If not the most important factor, price is certainly at least high on the list of considerations.


Concerning iPads, there are four types available on the market – but the only versions I can logically envision a district purchasing are the iPad 2 or iPad Mini.


The iPad Air and iPad Mini w/retina do have certain advantages but are too expensive.


At the time of this article, the iPad 2 costs $399, and the iPad Mini costs $299.


Since Chromebooks are produced by various companies, there are a variety of differently priced models. But prices start at $199 with the Acer C720-2848 Chromebook. In general, schools should not spend more than $250 per Chromebook.


The primary reason Chromebooks are economically priced is that they save their data in the Google Cloud system; instead of onto a hard drive.


So with regards to price, Chromebook wins the battle – but not by a long shot in-terms of cost per device. But considering that districts need to buy thousands of devices to fully integrate a 1:1 program – a $50 or $100 price difference per purchase can add up fast.


Advantage – Chromebook




I will only compare the performance of Chromebooks and iPads in their regard to educational benefits.


Between January and November 2012, only 0.2 percent of laptop/tablet sales were for Chromebooks. But just one year later, between January and November 2013, Chromebooks took in a 9.6 percent market share – a drastic boost in sales. They also recorded a 20 percent market share of computer purchases for k-12 schools in 2013.


Their recent success in the education sector is simple to explain. For an affordable price, they give students exactly what they need – access to an internet browser, education-related apps, and all of Google’s services like Gmail, Drive, calendar, blogger, and a laundry list of others. Even though many (but not all) of these services can be accessed with an iPad, they function much better with the Chromebook.


Unlike iPads, Chromebooks actually come with physical keyboards, which greatly simplifies common functions such as word processing and presentation creation. Typing even moderate amounts of text on iPad’s touchscreen becomes arduous.


Using an internet browser is also a faster and more user-friendly process with the Chromebook.


These reasons make the Chromebook a good option for purposes related to researching, writing reports, and taking class notes. But while Chromebooks have the advantage in these areas, iPads are preferable for creative pursuits.


With the iPad, ease of mobility allows for better use of the camera (which has two sides) – allowing students or teachers to effortlessly capture school work. Video production (via iMovie) and musical production (via Garage Band, Notion) are also possible with an iPad.


In addition, drawing and designing on an iPad becomes a simple task through the use of a stylus. Using Chromebook’s track pad for these purposes is not an equivalent.


Working with interactive whiteboards on the iPad, such as AniMoby, also is a huge benefit.


Advantage – Chromebook (by small margin)




Great education apps for iPads have existed almost since the device hit the market. And still today, iPad’s Apple iOS operating system is almost always the first (and sometimes only) platform that edtech companies focus on.


Tech website Lifehacker.com featured a recent article with a user-generated list of the best education apps available. Approximately 30 apps are included on the list; nearly all are available for iPads, but only one is featured in the Google Chrome Web Store. Simply said, iPads rule the edtech app market.


I can use my company as an example of this phenomenon. I made sure to release our application AniMoby Interactive Whiteboard to the iTunes App Store for iPads before moving onto the Android tablet platform.


But this may change soon; more schools are using Google Chromebooks, thus its app ecosystem is growing. But for the time being, the apps available for iPads are better in both quality and quanity.


Advantage – iPad




Chromebooks tend to be more useful for students in middle and high school; the time when writing reports and researching take a high importance. For children in the elementary grades, the abundance of apps in the iTunes App Store makes iPads the better choice.


But if districts need to choose one for district-wide implementation, I would recommend Chromebook – and the pricing is the overall dealbreaker here.


For example, the Los Angeles Unified School District ended up paying $768 per iPad for its nearly 700,000 students. However, Perris Union High School District in neighboring Riverside County only paid $344 per Chromebook. To be noted, these devices included pre-installed math and English curriculum, which drove up original prices previously shown in this article.


By choosing Chromebooks over iPads, the Los Angeles Unified School District could have saved nearly $300 million.


Some may argue that iPads are a better tool to assist education. Though I disagree, even if this were to be true, I cannot see how the benefits would be worth such a price differential.


Final result – Chromebook

Is EdTech Booming or Busting?

Ask two teachers about edtech and be prepared to get two very different answers. The most common responses would go something like this:


“Edtech is revolutionizing education and in a few years, students will learn at previously unimaginable speeds.”




“Most edtech software has no scientific data showing it improves learning processes, and for all we know, many products probably impede education.”


But contrarian viewpoints on edtech not only reside among educators; it seems edtech industry insiders have a wide variety of sentiments toward the way things currently are, as shown in two articles I read this week.


The Busted State of EdTech


For CNN Money, tech writer Erin Griffith wrote an article in late February entitled, “Is there an ed-tech investment bubble?”


Griffith writes, “The explosion of ed-tech startups in the last five years has led many to speculate we’re approaching peak ed-tech. Meanwhile industry observers aren’t terribly excited about the latest ed-tech innovations.”


Her article describes the current state of the industry as filled with too many useless apps and an arduous monetization system involving schools that make apps a nearly impossible sell.


“(Schools’) procurement processes are inflexible and complicated, involving contracts, RFPS, lawyers, review cycles, approvals, and compliances,” Griffith writes. “Schools make complicated customers because they’re not financially motivated – their goal is to educate students, not make money.”


This is an inconvenient reality for investors who in-total put more than $600 million into edtech startups in 2012, and suggests the era of investor bullishness has ended in the industry.


The article is far from the only place gloomy edtech viewpoints can be found; as many educators feel the current situation has led to a rush toward tech integration that came too quickly and without any direction, and that the education system is spending millions to push technology into the classroom just for technology sake.


A good example of this comes from the Los Angeles Unified School District, which gained international headlines by providing each of its nearly 700,000 students with an iPad, at a cost of a half billion dollars.


However, headlines have recently turned negative for the project – as funding disagreements within the district, security breaches by student hackers, and stolen iPads have brought challenges to implementation efforts. These results have disrupted plans of other districts that previously had similar intentions with tablets.


The Booming Industry View


Just a week after Griffith’s article in CNN Money, Sari Factor, CEO of edtech startup Edgeunity, wrote an article for Forbes filled with industry optimism entitled “Ed Tech Is Poised to Go Mainstream.


She writes in-response to edtech skeptics, “Educators are increasingly breaking through that resistance to create a learning experience using technology to engage today’s learners and improve outcomes…”


She mentioned a study by the think-tank Clayton Christensen Institute that predicts 50 percent of high school classes will be online by 2019.


“For some, this may sound worrisome, but resistance to education technology will begin to break down as people see how eagerly today’s digital natives embrace learning online,” Factor writes.


It is no surprise that Factor has this optimistic viewpoint, as her company, which provides research-based video course curriculum, is used in more than 7,000 schools in the United States.


My thoughts


So edtech is “poised to go mainstream,” even though those in the industry “aren’t terrible excited about the latest ed-tech innovations?” The very different viewpoints contained in these articles seem counterintuitive, but actually, I agree on both.


Edtech will definitely not go by the wayside just because of app oversaturation and integration hiccups like the one in Los Angeles. It is an industry currently undergoing a period of transformation, where only the companies producing the most useful software will survive. This should come as no surprise; it is Business 101. And while there are some duds that exist out there; there exists a good number of products that are, in-fact, making a difference inside classrooms.


And on the education-side, schools will learn from the mistakes of pioneers like Los Angeles Unified School District to more wisely integrate technology into their schools.

But any teachers who are resistant to technology efforts should start looking for a new job. While the journey to full tech integration may be on a rocky road that is not always fast, the final destination will surely be met.

Fernando Guest Blogs on Popular EdTech Site

I recently wrote a guest post on popular edtech blog TheEdTechRoundup.com (include hyperlink) about integrating technology into classrooms that don’t have access to fancy gadgets like iPads and Android tablets. The truth is that the majority of schools in even first-world countries cannot afford tablets for their students… but this does not mean tech cannot be integrated. Check out my advice for the teachers who like tablets, but still have the urge to integrate tech.



Should K-12 Core Curriculum Include Code?


A growing number of people in the United States are voicing their beliefs that computer programming should be made mandatory in k-12 core curriculum. There are several examples of this already in-action.

Not surprisingly, Silicon Valley public schools in the Los Altos District have created mandatory computer programming courses for all sixth graders, more than 500 in-total.

In Chicago Public Schools, computer programming was recently placed as a part of the core curriculum; an advancement from its previous position as an elective. The district will provide mandatory programming courses beginning in kindergarten.

“The fact is that in the U.K. and in China, computer science and computer coding is now fundamental to elementary school education, and we’re playing catch-up to that effort,” said Rham Emanuel, Mayor of Chicago, concerning the changes.

Mayor Emanuel’s statement might be a tad exaggerative (I’m not sure about education levels in U.K. and China), but his strong sentiment toward early education in the area of coding is one that is shared by fellow-Chicagoan President Barack Obama.

“Learning these skills isn’t just important for your future, it’s important for our country’s future,” he said, as part of a speech to American students. “If we want America to stay on the cutting edge, we need young Americans like you to master the tools and technology that will change the way we do just about everything.”

Current Situation in the United States

The examples of progressive school districts above are far from the norm in the United States, as 9 out of 10 k-12 schools do not even provide optional computer science courses. According to recent statistics from Code.org, only 2.4 percent of American college graduates have a degree in computer science.

The lack of attention toward computer science in the American public school system combined with the ever-growing technology sector has created a job market thirsty for computer programmers.

According to CNN.com, only graduates of chemical engineering and computer engineering earn more than computer scientists, with an average starting salary around $70,000 in the United States. Many recent college graduates in the area of computer science make much more than this if they can land a job in a company like Google or Facebook.

Over the next few years, 150,000 new jobs for computer programmers will be added annually to the American job market. It is estimated only 30 percent of these new jobs will actually be filled, according to Code.org. The U.S. is scrambling to find solutions to this problem.

The Academic Solution

Obviously, one of the primary solutions to meet the demands of the job market is to encourage more students to learn code and study computer science. However, I think it is too radical of an idea to make computer programming classes mandatory for students from kindergarten onto high school graduation, as some suggest and several schools are working toward.

In an era when schools are facing financial difficulties and cutting music studies, language learning, and  gym class, it seems we are at the wrong time to add a new mandatory subject to curriculums for such a lasting amount of time.

Plus, computer programming is not simple to learn. To get people to the level to create programs or applications, for example, takes thousands of hours of practice and probably some natural talent as well. Just take AniMoby Interactive Whiteboard for example; the app that is designed for teachers to use voice and a variety of design tools to make lessons for their students, who can watch anytime/anywhere from any computer or device with internet connection. Coding for apps such as AniMoby, DuoLingo, or WhatsApp, takes the amount of skill that often cannot just be simply taught and learned by the student through hard work. It takes a certain degree of talent.

Those who are unable or unwilling to grasp the concepts should not be forced to continue learning the material from the age of five until 18. Perhaps they could be participating in a subject area where they have more natural ability to succeed, such as shop, foreign language, choir, art, etc.

No matter the demands of the job market, coding is still obviously not as important as fundamental life skills like reading, writing, and basic arithmetic. Thus, it should not be treated as such, and schools should not give it equal time by making it part of the core curriculum. Ensuring students are literate needs to have more of a priority than their computer literacy. We may be in the computer age, but a person is obviously much more limited in the work force if they cannot read, rather than if they cannot code.

However, I think it is a wise idea to include one mandatory computer programming course to introduce the topic and see which students gain interest or have talent in the subject area. This should be done at an early age.

After this mandatory course, students should have the option to continue taking more advanced classes. Since 9 out of 10 U.S. schools do not even offer a computer programming course, this would be a huge jump in the right direction.

I think that there is a middle-ground between making computer programming a part of mandatory core curriculum and not having it at all (where the U.S. is now). I think it would be best to introduce coding to all, and motivate the talented and interested to pursue further studies. But I think it is unwise and probably disruptive to go too quick from almost nothing at all (current state) to everything (mandatory core curriculum).

Is flipped learning really the future?

For at least the past two years now, flipped learning has been one of the hottest topics in education. Proponents seem to be in a constant effort to persuade teachers that flipping classes is more effective than traditional means and is destined to become the new norm in the near future. But is flipped learning really the future or has it already reached its pinnacle,  and due to be replaced by the next hot education trend?

For those who are still unaware of the flipped learning trend, I’ll provide a short breakdown of the topic.

What is flipped learning?

With flipped learning, instead of traditional homework, students use time outside of class to watch videos explaining course material. And during class time, students work in groups to solve problems and answer questions, and basically accomplish the tasks that were formerly used as homework.

It is called “flipping” because the normal learning method is flipped – traditional class lessons are watched at home, and traditional homework activities are performed during class time.

Often, flipped learning works hand-in-hand with technology integration in the classroom and includes a variety of edtech tools – such as AniMoby Interactive Whiteboard for iPads, iPhones, and Android tablets. Using AniMoby, teachers can record voice while simultaneously using design tools (paint, draw, highlight, insert photos, etc.) on the touch screen to make class lessons. These lessons can be viewed by students anytime/anywhere from any computer or device with internet access. An example of a flipped lesson using AniMoby can be found here.

Suggested Benefits of Flipped Learning

The main benefits of flipped learning come from the fact that class time changes from a spectator sport-type atmosphere into one where students gain knowledge through learning interactively, in an environment where teachers are readily available to steer them in the right direction.

In the typical classroom environment, if a student has a lack of understanding about the material, they can often mask this by remaining silent and non-participative. With flipped learning, teachers have more time for one-on-one interaction and levels of understanding become more apparent. Students can also work with other students to reach high levels of understanding.

According to many teachers who use the flipped method, these benefits result in improved understanding of classroom material and overall better test scores.

And if a student cannot process the material after their first view of a lesson at home, they can watch the video again to come to a better understanding – a definite advantage over standard class lessons in a live setting.

This is the argument for the flipped method.

The Research

According to a survey completed by the advocacy group entitled Flipped Learning Network that featured 453 teachers using flipped learning in their classrooms, 80 percent said the new methods improved student attitudes and 63 percent reported improved grades. Eighty-eight percent reported improved job satisfaction, and 99 percent claimed they would use it the following year. This survey can be found here.

Clintondale High School in Clinton, Mich., was academically struggling and decided to take a chance in 2011 with the progressive idea of flipped learning. The school implemented the method in nearly all classes.

The failure rates fell substantially in all subjects, according to the school. In the subject area of English, failure rates went from 52 percent to 19 percent. In math, failure rates dropped from 44 percent to 13 percent. Science went from 41 percent to 19 percent, and social studies dropped from 28 percent to 9 percent. This information can be seen as part of an editorial by Clintondale High School Principal Greg Green featured on CNN.com.

These are the facts and figures that flipped-learning supporters often attest to. But still, their argument is without significant, large-scale research backing their method. For this reason, it is difficult for schools (especially well-functioning ones) to abandon current practices to test out flipped learning.

Currently, more formal research is underway. With funding from a $200,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, four professors in California started a three-year study in October 2013 about whether flipped learning lives up to its hype. Though the research study is still in its initial phases, the professors do not have good news to report.

During a pilot program, each of the four professors taught the same courses to two separate classes – using the flipped method for one class, and traditional methods for the other. A variety of aspects were studied, including students’ attitudes toward each method, test results, and final passing rates. In nearly all areas, there was little difference.

One of the professors, Nancy Lap, told USA Today in an article about flipped learning, “I would say that the fact is that there is no statistical difference… People are really gung ho about the (flipped) classroom, but there’s no real results.”

The professors involved in the study also remarked that they had to spend many hours recording and editing content for videos.

All things considered, these results also derive from a small sample size.

Flipped future?

Overall, it is safe to say that while the flipped method sometimes appears promising, it is yet unproven.

This should mean that until large studies show effectiveness, the rise of flipped learning should be partially subdued and restricted to academically-struggling schools looking to try new solutions to serious problems.

I looked for statistics that would show the amount of schools and teachers using flipped methods, but my searches were unsuccessful. But if I had to guess, I would say still less than five percent of classes are currently using the flipped method.

If new research comes out supporting flipped learning, the method will garner more attention and numbers will increase. Research is the variable, and the possible bridge connecting flipped learning to the future of education. So all in all, the jury is still out.

BYOD: The good, bad, and ugly of new EdTech approach

Technology integration in the classroom seems to be the focus of nearly every pedagogy-related conversation these days. School districts (both public and private) throughout the United States have implemented 1:1 tablet programs, providing students with their own device.

However, for each district that is implementing 1:1 programs, there are probably 50 that just do not have the proper funding to buy devices for thousands of students. This puts a large portion of students at a disadvantage.

This is where BYOD (abbreviation for “Bring Your Own Device”) comes into play.

The BYOD method allows students to bring their own devices (tablet, smart phone, laptop, etc.) into the classroom to use for technology integration purposes. Many schools have already implemented BYOD, and the policy seems to be spreading rapidly.

This article examines the case for and against implementing BYOD policy.

The Good

Like stated above, the majority of districts are not in the financial situation to spend millions on expensive tablets like iPads. It is nearly unimaginable (but true) that the Los Angeles Public School District is spending a total of $1 billion (at a cost of $768 per iPad) to implement a 1:1 system. I am not sure how the city of Los Angeles can afford this, but I am certain, this cannot be a reality for the vast majority of districts in America until the cost of tablets (or similar devices) decreases substantially. This may take some time.

Implementing BYOD is a solution that still allows for tech integration without draining the coffers of districts. This is easily the biggest benefit of BYOD and is the reason for its existence.

If a 1:1 initiative is not realistic for a district, instead of shunting edTech altogether (as some districts continue to do), BYOD allows schools to give access to the same tech integration strategies (class flipping for example) that wealthier districts are experimenting with.

It would seem a challenge would arise relating to the fact that there are a variety of different devices and platforms that students already may own and be accustomed to. For instance, some people have Android phones, and some people have iPhones. Fortunately, many of the most popular education-related applications today work cross-platform, cross-device. While using these apps, it is entirely possible to create/view/share content despite differences in devices.

AniMoby is an interactive whiteboard application that serves as a great example. I have already mentioned on previous posts that AniMoby is my favorite of the interactive whiteboards on the market because it is friendly with PDFs, has a large library of education-related clipart, and more design features than its competitors. But AniMoby is also cross-platform, cross-device, and is compatible with iPads, iPhones, and Android tablets – which makes it perfect for BYOD.

Springpad is another example of a very useful application that is available on Android tablets, iPhones, iPads – and iPods as well. The app allows users to save content from all types of devices into one account on one application. This helps with saving ideas, photos, tasks, future assignments – whatever content the user needs to save. It can serve as a great organizational tool for both the student and the teacher.

The Bad

Implementing BYOD is a lot more than just telling students they need to bring in a device and going from there. BYOD actually requires a considerable amount of planning for new infrastructure. And developing this infrastructure isn’t always cheap.

The vast majority of schools have wireless infrastructure, but not many schools have enough bandwidth to deal with thousands of devices downloading videos at the same time. Making this possible obviously requires extra funding.

A separate wireless infrastructure, specifically for the students, also needs to be created to guard student data and information.

Many teachers believe students will be in a continuous state of distraction if allowed to use devices inside the classroom. To combat this, authentication procedures need to be built to track internet usage, prevent access to inappropriate sites, and restrict social media such as Facebook or Twitter.

Technology departments will also needed to determine which applications will be used within the classroom for instructional purposes. Teachers then need to be formally trained to use these apps (and probably the devices as well). For some of the less technologically-inclined teachers, this might not be a small task.

While the issues above may seem more like challenges rather than the “bad” elements of BYOD (like the title states), they show that BYOD is not a simple solution.

The Ugly

While it is great that BYOD allows for technology integration while cutting the deepest of financial strains off districts (which is the initial purchase of devices), the money to buy the equipment still has to come from somewhere, right? This is the major concern with BYOD. Some families do not have the sufficient income to dish out probably an average of $500 for a sufficient and compatible device.

In wealthy or middle-income districts, this problem could be solved by possibly providing some sort of subsidy to families in-need. But in lower-income districts, practically every household will need some kind of assistance to afford a device, and providing this assistance may be nearly as expensive as implementing a 1:1 program.

Typically, lower-income districts cannot afford 1:1 or BYOD. So it seems, BYOD is a technology integration solution for the middle-class. It works for the districts with insufficient funds for 1:1, but in areas where parents can still afford devices for their children. Those living in impoverished areas continue having low-quality education offerings.

In Conclusion

Inequality in-terms of technology existed before the concept of BYOD. Wealthier public school districts and private schools have likely had better technology within the classroom for decades. While it seems like this problem will unfortunately continue, if a district feels that a comfortable majority of its students are from families that can afford a device, it seems like a good decision to go ahead and implement BYOD rather than maintain distance from technology integration.

Implementation of BYOD certainly has its challenges for the districts that choose to do so. However, if the end result is more technology integration within the classroom, it can have a positive impact on the American education system and future workforce as a whole.