Seven Trends Impacting Edu-Jobs

Katie McNerney thinks about the future of education and the talent that will be required to unlock its potential. The CEO of EdFuel hangs out at 1776, a D.C. startup accelerator, with founder Kathleen deLaski, also the president of the deLaski Family Foundation. They’re working on a national market assessment called Map The Gap due out the first of the year. I talked to them last week about trends impacting talent development in education and some of the competencies that will grow in importance.
Seven Trends. As we explore in a new free e-book Navigating the Digital Shift, a confluence of forces has created the best opportunity we’ve ever had to dramatically boost achievement and completion rates. Seven of the trends reshaping edu-jobs include:
1. The shift to digital is changing everyone’s job from the classroom to the boardroom with a particular need for provisioning cloud-based services and supporting access devices.
2. The gradual shift from education as a place to learning as a service is resulting in an unbundling of offerings. In secondary and postsecondary education, there is growing access to part-time online learning, called self-blend, a la carte or course choice (see Louisiana Students Gain Online Options). The postsecondary landscape is rapidly changing with MOOCs, stackable certificates, bundled degrees, and competency-based employment certificates.
3. The growing number of formal and informal learning options is introducing more consumerizationfrom pre-school to grad school–a trend introducing demands for better customer service, brand awareness and improved outreach.
4. As we outlined in Improving Conditions and Careers, next-gen delivery models incorporatedifferentiated staffing–specialists teaching in multi-level teams with new extended reach strategies and leadership roles.
5. Distributed workforce strategies connect specialists to learners with special needs and allow some teachers to work remotely.
6. Students in blended learning environments produce thousands of data points every day. Making the most of the big data opportunity will require building smart learner profiles, applying predictive analytics, and new educational models (see Data Backpacks: Portable Records & Learner Profiles ).
7. Blended Learning Demands Big Open Spaces and some of us think It’s Time to Separate Facilities From Operations leading to new roles in facilities design, provisioning and management.
10 In-Demand Competencies. These seven trends are (or soon will be) increasing demand for a new set of competencies:
1. Authors like Doug Lemov and groups like APQC stress the importance of consistently high levelexecution–and that requires instructional leadership and process management.
2. Leveraging the personal digital learning opportunity requires what IDEO calls design thinking and what Clay Christensen calls disruptive innovation.
3. Somebody needs to manage all of this change; project management skills are more important than ever. For example, project managers will need to help balance consistent execution (#1) and disruptive innovation (#2).
4. Edupreneurs like Summit CEO Diane Tavenner apply lean startup and iterative development strategies to building new tools and schools.
5. Ben Fenton, New Leaders, noted an emerging skill for principals is “the ability to envision and implement new ways of organizing staff and especially extending the reach and success of the most effective staff.”
6. It is more important than ever to use student data to lead a school conversation about good instructional choices.
7. Expanding need for brand advancement and customer acquisition places a higher priority onmarketing skills.
8. As states and districts create multi-provider environments focused on outcomes, performance contracting and smart procurement strategies are becoming more important.
9. People that choose education as a profession often have a different psychological profile than people that choose a business pathway; bridging these differences can require a competent translator. Building support across diverse communities requires an unusually high degree of cultural competence.
A growing number of talent recruitment and development groups are pretty good at mapping competencies for edu-jobs. Jason Weeby said ” Education Pioneers currently maps to nearly all of these competencies, and updates their competency map annually based on robust feedback from their partner education organizations.”
Jason also noted the importance of leadership development and a tenth competency–the ability to build, maintain, and use a professional network. He also noted the need for competence in functional areas of finance, technology, operations, human capital, and data management.
As New Leaders and Education Pioneers have determined, the seven trends discussed above suggest it’s time to update job descriptions for EdLeaders and learning professionals.

#iNACOL13: The Happiest Place on Earth

iNACOL wrapped their tenth annual Blended and Online Learning Symposium this week in Orlando. With over 200 sessions this year, the 2,500 attendees were able to keep busy and have meaningful learning experiences. Our team enjoyed some interactive sessions and workshops that allowed the thoughtful leaders in the room to share best practices, discuss challenges and make new connections. But it is important to keep pushing the envelope and make sure our events reflect the environments we want students to experience. Its time to kill the lecture format sessions, boring PowerPoints presentations and have people actually interacting in conversations and authentic learning experiences.

Students take charge. One of the group favorite panels was an inspiring student panel moderated by Susan Patrick. A handful of students represented a range of online and blended learning opportunities around the country shared honest thoughts and feedback on their learning experiences. “We have more choice in our learning,” said one student about blended options now offered in Detroit EAA schools. We appreciated hearing the students talk about taking control of their learning. “I don’t have to wait on the teacher or the other students to learn. I just keeping moving up and I know how,” said one student. “It’s a place where you can be who you are,” said a student of the EAA. The students advice for their peers included communicate with teachers, stay on pace, don’t be afraid to ask for help and attend group sessions.

Several of the students attributed their public speaking skills to online leadership and speech classes. The students all seemed to appreciate the immediate feedback they receive from their teachers, which often comes in many forms (online, text, email and calls). When asked for one word to explain their online and blended learning experience the panel replied; outstanding, wonderful, challenging, enjoyment, fun, successful.

Time to get deeper. The next wave of learning in online and blended environments will also need to include deeper learning skills development. An interactive session on deeper learning principles engaged the learners in a conversation with Hewlett’s Marc Chun and our own Tom Vander Ark. The session started with an exploration of the most powerful learning experiences of the participants and moved through big questions around authentic experiences and schools getting it right. We picked up on common themes including; learning experiences that prize ownership, autonomy, authenticity, relevance & agency supported by good teachers that invite students to ask big questions, encourage learner independence and connect meaningfully with students and their interests. (See Leading for Deeper Learning: 10 Proven Strategies.)

Busting online learning myths. Blended and online learning is growing rapidly and its important to also highlight the challenges and myths the sector faces. As mentioned in the DLN Smart Series Online Learning paper, addressing these myths will be critical for the success of good online programs. The panelists for the myths session included John Bailey of Digital Learning Now!, Susan Patrick from iNACOL, Jason Bransford, of Idaho Distance Education Academy and our own Carri Schneider.  The group discussed how policy can create space for innovation or it can restrict it. Unfortunately, many policy makers are not fluent with the world of education technology. But more than 700 bills involving digital learning were considered in 2012, more than 152 signed into law. The panel discussed the need to effectively communicate about online learning options and even the challenges the sector has faced.

The panel had a great discussion around teaching in an online and blended environment as well. Teachers need to be very comfortable addressing student needs- give them as many “tools” as possible. Teachers should have the ability to identify learning gaps and propose strategies and interventions that can help raise achievement. We need to make sure high quality professional development is provided and there isn’t much available for online teachers right now.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetGetting social. One of the true beauties of learning online is the fact that the world is no longer limited by the physical space. Not only using, but mastering social media is an essential skill for succeeding as a learner in our world today because it’s connecting with other people that truly breaks down the walls that used to limit the classroom. The Getting Smart team integrates the use of many social media tools daily and were happy to have a chance to engage in a thoughtful, positive conversation around how social media can be used in all aspects of the education space. Kicking off with Tom’s post 25 #SocialMedia Tips for #Edleaders, the hour turned into a crowd sourcing, connective experience full of great tips for all- hopefully strengthening everyone’s confidence around engaging and telling their story through these powerful tools.

Breaking through. Wednesday morning at #iNACOL13 closed with a Keynote from Rick Hess of AEI and Bror Saxberg of Kaplan, who released a new book this week, Breakthrough Leadership in the Digital Age: Using Learning Science to Reboot Schooling. Both Hess and Saxberg stated, as we also suggest in Blended Learning Implementation Guide 2.0, schools and districts should start with clear goals. Technology works best when its not layered on top of schools as we know it, but enable new environments that empower learners and leverages teacher talent. As the authors suggested, technology is not the solution but a tool to help teachers do their work better. Hess and Saxberg reiterated the important theme that seemed to be the underlying current of the entire three days- goals come first and devices, that flow from those goals, come last in the implementation process.

Doing the work. With just a few more hours of breakouts and workshops, it was definitely not yet time to rest. In the workshop, Bringing Blended Learning to Life, education stakeholders from every field used the last two hours to take on the challenge of putting all the new things they learned over the past few days and actually work in a team to create a new blended school model. In just that small amount of time, 4 teams designed three new flex high schools and a new student centered, smartly staffed elementary school–all bravely thinking outside the box and encouraging each other to problem solve and overcome obstacles that have blocked innovation in the past. The two hours we spent together flew by so fast, we can’t wait to try it again in the spring at SXSWedu at Cook up a Batch of Blended Learning!

This year’s iNACOL conference brought to life the true meaning of online and blended learning- it has to be a give and take and the more you contribute, the more knowledge you take away. As always our team is blown away by the passion and dedication of education leaders around the country and feel privileged to cover and participate in these amazing events. We were humbled by how much was given and the amount of knowledge we received.

#CE13: 20 Teacher Treats

Green Schools

The climate crisis is the most complex challenge mankind has ever faced. It will require collaboration, shared truth and innovation at a scale that has yet to be realized. We’re covering what edleaders and educators can do about it. 

Invention Opportunity

An exploration of new agreements, new practices, new tools and new opportunities with support from the Walton Family Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 

Difference Making

Focusing on how making a difference has emerged as one of the most powerful learning experiences and how in this current moment it’s never been easier, or more important, to make a difference.


New learning models, tools, and strategies have made it easier to open small, nimble schooling models. We unpack the benefits and the challenges of these intriguing new models.

Data Science Education

In order to combat the most pressing challenges of today, young people need a deep understanding of complexity, data literacy and scale.

Power of Place

A comprehensive and compelling case for making communities the locus of learning for students of all ages.

What If?

This series asks weekly What If? questions to reimagine what learning and education could be. 

Schools Worth Visiting

The result of our hundreds of yearly school visits where we get the opportunity to see high-quality teaching and learning in action. We share stories that highlight best practices, lessons learned and next-gen teaching practice.

View more series…

NSTA 2013 Resource Roundup

The best thing about the National Science Teachers Association annual conference – other than listening to great speakers and meeting peers – is all the free resources that are handed out by the bagful. While I can’t share the rock samples, educational picture books, and bird observation kits I picked up, I can share some of the online resources I found in almost every session and every booth.
Holiday Lectures on Science ( In their own words, “The Holiday Lectures on Science series brings current research into the science classroom, helping to bridge the gap between textbook curriculum and exciting new research developments. Each autumn, leading scientists come to HHMI headquarters, where they speak to an audience of high school students from around the greater Washington, D.C., region.” Check out their website to register for upcoming lectures (recent discoveries regarding the genetic causes of diseases). You can also check out recordings of 2012’s Holiday Lectures. You can also stream from the web or order free recordings of the lectures – and many other great free resources, like posters – from their resource website,
The National Earth Science Teachers Association ( and Windows to the Universe ( Windows to the Universe provides copious resources to help teach earth sciences, including web seminars, classroom activities, games,  Members of NESTA have access to The Earth Scientist, a quarterly journal that includes both current research and articles on earth science education and activities. Anyone can access the activities and multimedia resources on NESTA’s resource page. You can also check out Earth Science Literacy resources at
Middle School Chemistry ( Created by the American Chemical Society, Middle School Chemistry presents “big ideas about the very small” in free 5-E lesson plans and standards-based and safety-reviewed inquiry-based activities. Their site also features animations that can supplement the activities and explain basic chemistry concepts. They also offer online and in-person professional development for teachers. In September (2014), the ACS will roll out the American Association of Chemistry Teachers, which will provide resources and networking opportunities for K-12 chemistry and ohysical science teachers (you can sign up to receive updates at
Ocean Literacy ( and the National Marine Educators Association ( Ocean Literacy promotes “essential principals and fundamental concepts of ocean sciences for learners of all ages” while the NMEA “brings together those interested in the study and enjoyment of both fresh and salt water and provides a focus for marine and aquatic studies all over the world.” The NMEA provides a network of peers in regional chapters. For teaching resources, check out Ocean Literacy’s spreadsheet of existing resources (from organizations like Sea Grant and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) that promote ocean literacy.
Ocean Explorers ( offers a wealth of resources, from ocean science news to lesson plans, all from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which also has its own education resources page ( A few additional resources specific to the Pacific Northwest available here (curriculum) and here (activities for kids).
Bird Sleuth (, a program from Cornell University’s Ornithology Lab, provides resources to help teachers engage students in the scientific process by observing birds. On their website you can find information and resources from bird feeding kits to lesson plans and activities.
And the NSTA itself offers a range of resources, including professional development, publications like The Science Teacher, and a list of free resources for teachers.

In Search of Sticky Notes for Digital Readers

Hooking students on reading and keeping them engaged is the name of the game in the Language Arts racket these days. With Minecraft and Instagram competing for their attention, we still want to lure our students into a rich and rewarding life of engaging with books.
One of the teaching tools for this purpose, as I learned from the Reading and Writing Project’s Summer Institutes, out of Columbia’s Teacher’s College, is the tried and true sticky note.  With this somewhat antique technology, we learned to teach students to engage with a text, share their ideas, and write in more depth.
I’ll admit that I was skeptical at first, but I’ll be darned if it doesn’t work. My students are “envisioning” their reading in more detail and starting to infer more connections. They are referring to evidence on the page for our discussions of A Wrinkle in Time. A review of their sticky note responses allows me to nudge them toward closer reading and interpretation as they examine a single paragraph from Number the Stars.
This sticking point remains: What do we do about the students who are eager to use their Kindles, Nooks, and iPads for their independent reading? What are they supposed to do with their pads of florescent Post-its, attach them to the screen?
Back to Basics
I discovered that most of my students knew about and embraced the dictionary at their fingertips with their digital readers, but few knew how to take notes with the same ease. The next problem – how could they share their notes with me (or their peers) in a way that would allow us to respond and ask questions to deepen their understanding? I was pleased to discover that most digital readers allow readers to print or share their notes these days.
This style of digital note-taking reminded me of the digital sticky notes on Diigo, which allow readers to share, annotate, and engage in conversations about internet resources. While I look forward to making good use of Diigo in Education as we start to read and evaluate non-fiction resources – Diigo’s strength, I believe – I have to admit that these garden-variety sticky notes hold little appeal for today’s middle-schoolers.
5 New and Improved Web Tools
Luckily some digital readers with web access allow users easy access to these tools outside their book applications.
Lino retains the sticky note look for die-hards. Students can easily pop notes onto a corkboard background and arrange them to look for patterns in their reading and observations. They can share individual stickies or copy them to new boards. A nice feature from a teaching perspective is the “highlight new” button for locating new additions of sticky notes to the board space.
Padlet, formerly Wallwisher, offers a gallery of ideas to inspire sticky-note using educators: from a timeline for The Odyssey to vocabulary quizzes (I’m thinking this is a great way to gather images for visualizing new words or gathering evidence about characters). Padlet automatically generates embed code for blogs and a QR code for each “wall” of sticky notes. The easy drag and drop features expand the sticky note concept to include images, videos, and, if you like, a robot background.
For those not quite ready to let go of physical sticky notes, take a look at Evernote Post-Its. Students can color-code their notes – blue for comprehension questions, say, and yellow for comments that connect their reading to their own lives – then take pictures of them. Poof! The notes are automatically cataloged in an Evernote account. Teachers already adept at using Evernote with their students might merge student comments on pre-selected topics to generate discussion and writing.
A couple of apps solely designed for the iPad or iPhone may appeal to some readers: Sticky Notes adds the bells and whistles of calendars and reminders to the post-it note concept. I can see how this might be useful for recording reading data about pages read and time spent reading. Paper 53 allows users to create stunning sketches along with their notes, something worth exploring for artistic types. The compilation of notes into Moleskine-style book suggests some elegant extensions for interacting with texts as readers who want to bring their thoughts into a new creative dimension.
Just Saying…
Now if only we could partner some of these tools with the digital publishers and embed them in the books themselves…

Relax. It is You . . . And Them

By: Jason Ellingson
When Collins-Maxwell began a 1:1 iPad initiative for all students in grades 6-12 in the fall of 2012, one of the largest concerns among teachers, parents, and board members was the management of the device. Teachers were worried that students would be off-task in class, refusing to do the assigned work. Parents felt that students would bring the devices home and fill it full of games, songs, and inappropriate pictures. Board members felt that teachers would not know how to manage the new technology in classes AND that parents would be frustrated that tax payer dollars were spent on devices so kids could listen to Pandora while playing Angry Birds.
Yes, it all happened. Everything we feared would come true did to some degree. We had students that got off task in class and missed the assignments or the lecture or the project. We had students download music in the hallways between classes so they could listen to it in the next period. We had students at home not doing the work they didn’t due in class because they were playing games, or on Facebook, or tweeting, or listening. Yes, it all happened.
But not for every student. And not for every teacher.
We had our students who followed the rules to the letter. They never downloaded anything that was not teacher approved. They never got on the iPad in class unless there was a reason explained by the teacher. And they certainly did not use the iPad at home inappropriately. It was only used for schoolwork, and then charged for the next day.
And we had teachers that had no problems with students off task. Here is the success of the management of iPads. We had teachers treat the iPad like any other tool in the classroom. For the past few years, we have allowed cell phones in school for student use. Many students have used them to take photos of problems on the board, use calculator functions, or text answers to an online poll. The teachers who have used cell phones in this manner in the class were the same ones who had little problems with the iPads. They realized the iPads were tools to help students learn, so they worked to see the iPads as supports for learning. Now, those teachers did not feel the need to use the iPads every day, just to use them. They used the iPads only when it suited the learning. When the iPads were not in use, they were turned off and put under the desks or set aside in the classroom. Those teachers who saw the iPads as possible improvements to learning also knew when they would be impediments to learning, so they created clear rules for engagement in using the iPads.
Other teachers who were not as comfortable with iPads struggled to see how to use them in their classrooms. Therefore, they used them for artificial purposes thinking the administration was wanting the iPads to be used a lot in classes. The truth was the administration never gave a clear expectation for how often the iPad was to be used in a class. We wanted it to be a natural extension of support for learning. For some teachers, that was a good idea. For others, they felt like they were not using it enough and that would be a disappointment to the administration. When those teachers tried to integrate the iPad into a learning activity that did not suit it, problems occurred. Or if the teachers tried to ignore how to use the iPads in class, then the students had them out and engaged in off-task behaviors. Interestingly, by not addressing the iPad as a tool that may or may not support learning in specific instances, the teachers inadvertently allowed the iPad to become a bigger obstacle to learning in every instance.
From the various viewpoints of the teachers implementing iPads in their classrooms, the administration began to notice a unique paradigm: there were some that were truly trying the managethe iPad while others were trying to lead learning with the iPad. It became clear to the administration that those teachers who used the iPads to lead – or support – learning were more successful in using the iPads. Those that tried to manage the devices seemed to have more struggles with students. The administration also noticed that learning task began to change. Many teachers found that using iPads to do the same type of work before their introduction caused more problems an off-task behavior. When teachers changed the learning target or asked students for their input in how to use the iPads, there was greater student engagement, higher quality learning, and greater teacher satisfaction.
In all, we also worked to tighten our security of the iPads to limit downloads, added some consequences to how use the devices, and supported parents to better understand how to use the iPads at home. But our greatest discovery in managing iPads was learning to not manage them, and instead lead learning – where appropriate – with them. Now, teachers and students are making better decisions about how iPads support student learning. Our philosophy to technology – and not the iPads themselves – are helping are students be better prepared for the 21st century of learning, earning, and living!
Jason Ellingson is the Superintendent at Collins-Maxwell in Ames, Iowa.

iAnnotate 3.0 on Sale in the App Store

3 for 3 on this sale.

If you’ve not noticed, iAnnotate V3.0 is on sale for 3 dollars ($2.99) in the iTunes app store until Oct. 30.  This app is a great tool for teachers to grade written work, and it’s also a great annotation tool for students to mark-up up texts, assignments, notes, and presentations.

This is one of my favorite apps. If you’re an annotator, you likely feel the same way, and we want to turn our students into annotators. Annotators are people who get nervous and antsy when they’re reading any kind of text, and they don’t have a pen in their hands to mark it up with.  Annotators don’t just consume, they devour:

For annotators, the pulp product is not sacred. The knowledge is. And the best way to possess that knowledge is to interact with it. The digital era made annotators nervous, though, because they weren’t sure how they were going to mark up digital texts. Luckily, apps like iAnnotate have assuaged our fears.

More on V3

iAnnotate 3.0 comes with new features. From Branchfire, the iAnnotate developers:

The new functionality enabled by iOS 7 includes exciting enhancements for iAnnotate, such as text-to-speech support. Selectable text can now be read out-loud by the iPad’s native speech system. In addition, iAnnotate 3.0 incorporates iOS 7’s AirDrop file sharing capabilities, allowing users to instantly share their work with nearby devices.

Driven by customer demand, the app now also enables users to copy and paste their annotations, even from one document to another.


Why annotate? Annotating gives readers a deeper understanding of content. Readers who actively engage the text remember the content longer than the casual reader does. It lets the reader get personal with the text by asking questions, clarifying and arguing points, and praising the content creator’s ideas. For educators, this is certainly the goal of what we want students to do with our content–not not just read it, but devour it, and ultimately possess the knowledge and not just remember it for a test.

Check out this 3.0 demo:

iAnnotate 3.0 from Branchfire on Vimeo.

iAnnotate lets you annotate PDF, Word, PowerPoint, and image files. Students can share their work with instructors through Dropbox, Google Drive, Skydrive, email, and so on. Conversely, teachers can share documents with students. It’s one thing to share an assignment with students, but imagine sharing a presentation with them that they can annotate as your present it in class.

If you’ve created lessons in PowerPoint, Word, or PDF, you can still present those to class, but send the students the actual documents. Let them take their notes right on top of your content.

iAnnotate has a full customizable annotation toolbox that includes a pen, highlighter, typewriter, and stamp. Users can draw,  underline, strikeout, add photos,  and add voice recordings to documents.

iAnnotate has a powerful toolbox. These are my favorite tools:

Users can drag and drop the exact tools that they need to create custom toolbars.. Switch between toolbars with a swipe, or open the Toolbar Drawer to edit your toolbars.

This is a great classroom feature. Teachers can have students forward text summaries of a document’s annotations in the body of an email. Summaries include the type of each annotation, relevant page numbers, and marked-up text.

Why is drawing so important? Using your visual, motor, and cerebral processes together help create new neural pathways in your brain that stick. Drawing comes  naturally to the genius thinkers in their note-taking process. (See Divinci’s notes here.)  If your ready to take your note-taking or presentation skills to the next level, visual note-taking will put you over the top.

Let students add images to your documents. Let them connect the content with an image that makes sense to them.

Voice Recording
My favorite feature! Check out how this teacher uses the voice recording feature when giving feedback to students.

This would certainly be a new, meaningful form of feedback for students. Notes to students in the margins is one thing, but voice notes are really on another level.

Additionally, imagine if students were doing the same to your documents. Students could add notes and respond to your questions by voice or text. That’s being actively engaged with your content.

You can also create new PDFs right in the app. You can then send that to your students for them to mark up, answer questions, etc.  With technology like this, it will impact the way that you create documents and PowerPoints. Now you would leave margins for students to take notes on or include slides in a PowerPoint specifically for students to add their notes, thoughts, questions, etc.

I recently asked the Branchfire team how iAnnoate has impacted the classroom. Here was there response:

iAnnotate is a tool to help teachers and students work more productively, dynamically, and flexibly. A gap currently exists between what digital capabilities educators wish would develop in the classroom and what they’re actually using—often because the available tools fall short of expectations. As reported in Edutopia, a recent national survey of teachers and administrators by Harris Interactive for Common Sense Media reveals that 86% of teachers believe using apps, computer games, websites, digital planning tools and digital curricula in the classroom is “important” or “absolutely essential.” Combine this trend with the increasing ubiquity of iPads in classrooms: as of late February, Apple had sold over 4.5 million iPads directly to US-based educational institutions. Many of those sales have been recent, as the IDC reported in May of this year that tablet shipments to the US education sector skyrocketed 103% since 2012. As teachers and students increase tablet usage, they will seek apps that bridge the productivity gap.

As a result of these trends, there’s a tremendous opportunity for iAnnotate to help power the next generation of classroom learning. For many teachers and students, it already has. We received a recent email from a grad student that, “The idea of going paperless and using the iPad mini came to me in a class when I actually saw someone annotating on their iPad using iAnnotate. I decided right then and there that I was going to buy an iPad and start using the app (best decision I have made).” When students at Stanford and Boston University use the app, it cuts down on wasted paper and increases student productivity, allowing them to find relevant class notes or review readings without photocopying. Both grade school teachers and college professors find iAnnotate a crucial tool in the “paperless classroom,” helping them move toward a more agile, technologically robust learning environment.

I Have Put More Effort Into This Than Any School Essay

By: Josh Birdwell

This post first appeared on Medium.

Recovering from a dysfunctional education system
Recently, I have found it difficult to pay attention in lectures. My schooling is so frustrating. My brain does not want to take in the information from a class, but it will take in when I learn at my own pace. Senior year of high school at Francis Tuttle Technology Center, I took a class without the shackles of a normal course. Without limitations like tedious homework and exams, I excelled! I took that semester and ran with a newly found passion. By the end of the semester, our group had done online meetings with engineers, had phone calls with CEOs, and learned more material than in any other class. This led to my desire become an auto-didact. My life took a 180-degree turn. In the world of self-education, I could pause the lesson, rewind, and manipulate the teaching styles. I should have never gone into a university setting, because it would never the same.
I have no control over the way my physics professor teaches. What if I am bad at his exams? I wish I could muster a passion for Physics 2. I really do. I am opened-minded but I have a filter on for topics I do not need to learn. To be honest, I don’t retain everything; my mind can only focus on so much information. I couldn’t tell you half of the information on my speech final. My personal learning had begun to be geared only toward the next exam. I began asking myself, “Why am I learning this? So I can put a checkmark on a degree sheet?”
I would much rather leave the lecture hall and pursue other subjects. Take design, for example. Learning about design has been on my mind quite a bit. Do we have a design thinking course at my university? No. Did that stop me? No. I have read articles, watched videos, and explored the unhindered world of the web. Now the internet gives a way for websites like Coursera ,an online virtual classroom, to provide the chance to take courses from other universities.
With self-directed learning, you step away from attaining a “grade” for the sake of a GPA. Instead, you take a step toward acquiring practical skills. Say you want to learn business without going to school for an MBA. In this case, you may want apply to programs like Enstitute.

I wholeheartedly believe in the power of projects. Through projects, you can display what you are learning in a tangible form. There are no rules, no rubrics,and no limitations — only freedom. Freedom is a word floating in my head right now. When you have the freedom to learn something, it is more intimate.


Degree Sheet — Grocery List
I feel as though a degree sheet is a lousy grocery list. I am simply checking off a class and forgetting the content. I go through the aisles, put various classes in my shopping cart, check out, and then the cashier will hand me my receipt titled, “Degree”.
I want to read Tribes by Seth Godin this week and next week focus on learning JavaScript. After that, I want to learn about marketing. I am working for a start-up right now that I wish I could be giving more time. However, I have to learn something that is irrelevant to the real world in class.
When did I lose my love for the classroom? When did I lose my interest in exploring beyond the requirements? When did I lose faith in my school?
Why am I up at 5am writing about this when class is in 4 hours? Why am I reviewing this when I have an exam in 9 hours 26 minutes? Why have I put forth more effort than any essay ever assigned. I have never had so many people peer review my work. It is because I’m in love with what owning my learning has done for me. I want it to do the same for you. I have realized that I can gain value from a limitless world for free. There is no $16,000 to fork up. Is there something wrong for wanting to dive deeper and to control my learning?
This past year and a half, I have been able to travel to San Francisco for a Hackademic by UnCollege, go to a conference at Google, go to Kairos Society’s global summit in NYC at the NY Stock Exchange, and soon go to HackTX. All of these events were outside the spectrum of school. These doors were opened because of opportunities unrelated to what I was doing in college.


With self-directing learning, you hold the steering wheel. Being the driver allows you to control speed, time, and most importantly, the destination. An essay over a book you read no longer feels like a duty but an opportunity to express what you read. I just read Poke the Box by Seth Godin. I did not have to take a quiz, pull key concepts, or get graded based on the teacher’s interpretation. I did get to discuss freely on a view I decide, read it at a pace I enjoyed, and write an essay on a topic I choose.
I’m in an educational prison that has been defined by generations before me. The past was vastly different than today’s fast-paced, tech-driven world. We no longer need an industrial age school system. I want to be different. I want the power of choice. I want to have ownership of the education that I am paying for. How does this relate to you? I challenge you to follow that voice in your head and take a SkillShare or Udemy course. These are just two examples of resources for learning. Chase after what you desire to learn and not just what you are required to learn. Not sure where to start? Think about what your passions are. Start there. Give yourself permission to learn, explore, and play. Go and make a mess in the world!


If you get nothing else out of this post, please watch this talk:

Designers + Geeks: Find Your Must from Designers + Geeks on Vimeo.
This is why I hate school but love education. (Thanks Suli Breaks)
PS: School might be the place for you and all power to you! You do you. I only ask that you desire to learn wherever you are.
PPS: I wanted to thank Madison Harry (my girlfriend), Nikhil Goyal, Jonathan Van, and Simon Burns for helping edit this post.

#iNACOL13 Day One: Get Blended

Change is Palpable, Choice is Essential at #iNACOL13. Susan Patrick, President of iNACOL, kicked off this year’s newly named Blended and Online Learning Symposium by acknowledging the history of the organization as they celebrate their 10 year anniversary. Just 10 short years ago, iNACOL was 17 people sitting around a table, determined to further the potential technology holds to change learning for all students.

Numbers Are Up. This week, with over 2,500 attendees- all educators and education stakeholders passionate about the potential digital learning, iNACOL looks very different. When looking for blended school models, the numbers have grown from a handful to hundreds all over the country. Ten years ago it felt difficult to find examples of progress and innovation, now the room can be filled with representatives from multiple successful schools, all achieving great things for students in unique ways.

Key Ideas. The work is just beginning. Yesterday’s opening session featured Rich Crandall, Director, Wyoming Department of Education, Jim Shelton, Acting Deputy Secretary, US Department of Education and Georgia Rep. Alisha Morgan, all voiced their tremendous concern for shrinking the technology gap that too obviously exists in our country today. A call to action through iNACOL for more research on what works for kids, what works best on terms of practice, how practice ties to policy and funding. Crandall spoke of the challenges he faces in his state but was happy for a list of goals.

A lively lunch session moderated by Russ Altenburg of The Broad Foundation featured two education leaders, Alex Hernandez of Charter School Growth Fund and William Covington of Detroit EAA summed up what blended learning advocates need to be paying attention to right now as we continue to push forward. Dr Covington encouraged focus to held steady on the policy work being done and needs to be written and passed in order to open up the doors for progress. Hernandez recognized that it is terrifying to admit that we could have radically different schools but, although it may be terrifying, it is the great opportunity for this generation. Alex gave voice to these words but it’s truly what brings everyone together here in Florida- This is hard, hard work. But we will succeed.

The Word of the Day is Change. It’s pretty powerful when you gather together 2,500 people who are working for change. This is not the typical education conference/ professional development event to build skills that fortify traditional teaching practice. This is not the conference to learn how to use some new Google Apps to use in the classroom. This conference is for those who are seeking to make school better for all students, but not worried about staying with in the status quo.

“School is what school was… but we know it’s going to change,” according to Chris Haskell, Clinical Asst. Professor at Boise State in his session Inside the Game Based Classroom. In the classroom Chris has worked on developing looks very different than what is normally associated with school. No homework, no due dates, gives students choice, give them time to play and change the way learning is tracked, but, in reality, you can not change just a few of these with aspects and have success. Games or digital quests is an effective way teachers can completely restructure how school works for students.

Improving Conditions. Student life is not the only thing transforming within this shift to digital learning. The career of the teacher is also evolving. During the keynote Susan Patrick stated that “the role of a teacher is changing, we now see teachers as coach, designer, conductor and engineer.” In order to support teachers in these new roles, the preparation and professional development is looking different. In the session Improving Teaching Condition and Careers (based on the White Paper) networks like Rocketship and Summit, and Public Impact shared a little of the  “secret sauce” for empowering teachers and extend their reach to more students. The schools that are attracting the greatest talent are creating pathways for teachers to succeed and advance while supporting each other. The consistent resource everyone mentioned was

Funding the Shift. When it comes to funding- there is not one answer. Blended learning is a team sport, it’s not just putting computers into classroom. Building support is essential. It can’t happen overnight and needs to be phased in over a few years according to the panelists in yesterday’s session. The trend that is bubbling to the top here at iNACOL is to hold off on choosing the device- that should be close to the last step. Initial focus needs to be on the school/student goals, not the devices. E-rate is being reformed to be simpler and easier for districts to apply. The FCC needs to hear blended learning stories- even the frustrations points. There is an opportunity for E-rate to fund what schools need in order to provide access for students, but they can’t do that unless they realize the need is out there.

With Change, Comes Choice. Blended learning is clearly the theme of this year’s #iNACOL13. In order to be truly blended, there must be student choice involved, whether that’s how you learn, what you learn or when and where you learn it, students have to have some say.  As the week continues, the Getting Smart team is excited to dig even deeper into all these points.

Bringing quality and effective online and blended learning to ALL students is not an easy task. It’s hard, hard work. But everyone here at iNACOL are combining their great energy and are brave enough to take on this work.  Susan Patrick set the tone with a quote for MLK, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice” and after 10 great years, it’s obvious iNACOL is on that trajectory.
Tom is a director of iNACOL.

Measuring Mindset in Math 180

“It’s not just grit and perseverance, students need to know some things–I call it confidence plus competence,” said David Dockterman, “We can’t slide back into the self-esteem era.”
To learn more about academic mindset and how to measure it, I called Dockterman, Scholastic’s chief architect of learning sciences and an adjunct lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
“We are measuring mindset directly as well as observing underlying behaviors that indicate attention and perseverance,” said Dockterman.
He’s working with Carol Dweck, author of Mindset, and Mindset Works, the company she started with Lisa Blackwell. They developed a growth mindset curriculum and assessment that is incorporated into MATH 180, Scholastic’s new blended secondary math intervention. A simple 8 question mindset scan can be used to track changes over time. (This Ed Week article includes a growth mindset quiz.)
Students initially tend to rank growth mindset higher but their scores often dip and then begin to climb as they learn more about their brains and the importance of effort.
“Academic mindset isn’t an on/off switch,” said Dockterman, “students need to define success and see a path to success.”  That path isn’t always a straight line. Like physical exercise, there are often rapid gains and plateaus. Dockterman added, “We’re looking for mechanisms to create improvement by equating effortful with fruitful.
“Self reports can be loose indicators. We look to obverse behaviors in a guided practice space,” said Dockterman.  Like failure in the popular mobile game Angry Birds, sometimes kids don’t achieve their goal, but they return and eventually achieve their goal.  “We want to understand where kids fail, where they come back and fix, and why,” he added.
When measuring mindset, it’s important to track mistakes and to differentiate between errors. “Mistakes at the frontier–when you’re learning something new–are natural, that’s how you know you’re learning,” explained Dockterman, “But that’s different than mistakes students shouldn’t make when a skill should be routine; the second type of error suggests a lack of attentiveness.” He suggested that it may be possible to encourage focus and build sustained accuracy by recognizing streaks.
Scholastic built mindset thinking and Common Core alignment into MATH 180 from the ground up. MATH 180 incorporates adaptive software, which allows students the opportunity to learn and master key concepts at their own pace.
In addition to direct measures and behavioral observations, I asked David about what could be learned from keystroke data. He said they are looking at number of attempts and time between keystrokes, but “the best information comes from constructed learning spaces where the keystrokes have meaning, and we can identify patterns over time.
“Our focus remains on building an environment where data is useful to students, making their learning and growth transparent,”  said Dockterman.