3 Texting Tips to Nudge Incoming HigherEd Students to Success

By Brian Kathman

As higher education staff, you ask a lot from prospective and current students before they even arrive on campus. From completing college applications to registering for classes to applying for financial aid, students have an entire maze to navigate before their first day of class. But what do students need from YOU in order to get these tasks correctly finished in time? And why is it important to “nudge” students in the right direction?

According to research published by Dr. Benjamin L. Castleman and Dr. Lindsay C. Page, 10 to 40 percent of college-intending students fail to matriculate in the fall following high school. Their research shows that this is especially prevalent in low-income families. Factors that contribute to this phenomenon include absence of school support, confusion over paperwork, lack of parental guidance, and the very human tendency to procrastinate.

The good news is, there’s a simple strategy that can help address all of these issue- direct, personalized text messaging. The same research from Castleman and Page shows that personalized text intervention from education staff helps to significantly increase student awareness and comprehension of pre-matriculation tasks. So, what are the best ways to communicate with students via text to get the job done? We’ve pulled together our top tips.

Keep it Short and Simple

The reason texting students about important upcoming tasks and deadlines is so effective is that it breaks down complex information into bite-sized reminders. This means you need to be strategic about the information you’re sending via text – there are certain things students want to hear from you in order to truly benefit from your communication. To ensure you meet student expectations when it comes to the texts they receive from you, follow texting best practices when planning out your strategy. Take time to send the right message, and be sure to include only pertinent information. Students want a quick recap of the specific information they need. And be sure not to go overboard with abbreviations – students don’t need you to be “hip” with the lingo you use. Finally, most students reply to your texts within 90 seconds, so don’t leave your students hanging when you get a response.

Build an Effective Strategy

Once you’ve identified the right kind of content to send students via text, the next step is strategy. You’ll be reaching students directly on their phones, so you’ll want to build a text campaign that is purposeful and efficient. The first place to start is to identify the desired outcome you want to achieve by texting students. Do students need extra help when it comes to enrollment-related tasks? Have you noticed a pattern of incomplete FAFSA applications? Do students tend to have a lot of questions around housing options? Identify these student pain points and how you plan to negate each with text reminders. Next, set deadlines related to these goals – when do students need to know the important information you’re sending their way? Once your text reminders are out the door, set aside time to respond in a timely manner to make sure students are getting prompt answers to any follow-up questions they may have.

Get a Response

Anytime you send out a text – whether personal or professional – there’s the dreaded wait time. If you don’t hear back, thoughts run through your head like, “Did I say too much?” “Did I say the wrong thing?” The same concerns may come to mind when you text students. The best way to battle these fears is to personalize your texts before you send. Students don’t want to feel like they’ve been part of a mass text blast, and they’ll know if they have. If your messages read like a canned or plug-and-go text, it’ll be obvious that you didn’t take time to personalize. Students are much more likely to respond if you send them an individualized message. Text reminders work because they reach students directly – but don’t take for granted the importance of personalization.

The best way to reach students with information and support is no longer necessarily through email – it is often directly through their phones via text. With the right text content, strategy and personalization tactics in place, you’ll be able to nudge students in the right direction.

For more, see:

Brian Kathman is CEO of Signal Vine. Connect with him on Twitter: @briankathman. 


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Smart Review | Coding in a Snap

By Sean Russell

By now you’re probably well aware of the advantages of including computer science (CS) skills in instruction. With CS, students develop valuable logical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Though this can seem like a challenging prospect, as a fifth-grade math and science teacher, I’ve witnessed the power of CS integration firsthand. A few years ago, the Hour of Code weeklong lessons introduced my students to coding and program design. Using resources from sites like Code.org, Tynker.com, Scratch and Google CS First allowed my students to create and learn like never before.

However, for me there were two big problems: It was difficult to apply these skills to the curriculum in authentic ways, and the coding was very sedentary.

When I learned about the free app CodeSnaps from Curriculum Pathways I decided to try it for my students. It consists of coding blocks printed out on cardstock paper and “snapped” together to form a program, which is then scanned with an iPad® using the CodeSnaps app. The app sends that program to a Sphero – a baseball-size, super-tough robotic ball – which then carries out the program’s directions.

My students could use their coding skills to manipulate an object in the real world, as well as drag and drop code tiles directly on the iPad. The “programmers” were moving more than their fingers now, exercising communication skills and collaboration was happening in a natural way.

By early fall of 2016, my classroom was consistently buzzing with these activities. With a single iPad, one Sphero and some imagination, math and science lessons became engaging and fun. The students programmed Sphero to plot points on a giant coordinate grid made from a shower curtain, and to roll through a floor-sized digestive system to illustrate the path food takes in our bodies.

They engineered ways to give Sphero more traction in order to navigate different landforms on the school playground. We engineered a portable “playing field” for Sphero from pool noodles and rope, and the students created obstacle courses and bowling lanes.

All of these activities and projects necessitated measuring and converting units of measure, force and motion. They also required cooperation. Other teachers in my school wanted in on the action, so we needed ways to infuse language arts and social studies with CodeSnaps goodness.

After brainstorming with some English language arts teachers at my school, it became apparent that the logical steps involved programming Sphero with CodeSnaps look a lot like a flowchart-style graphic organizer often used to help students plan a piece of writing. Simply loaning out my CodeSnaps “kit” and letting a few other classes play with it did wonders for the writing process when my fellow teachers helped their students see the connections between programming and crafting a story.

A social studies teacher and I worked together to give her students another way to show off their knowledge about early trade routes. With the help of a huge, unused map of the world, the students programmed Sphero to roll along a specific trade route on the map laid on the floor. The students instructed Sphero to pause at certain points so they could deliver important bits of information. The social studies teacher liked it so much that she adopted it as an assessment method for that unit.

While no one app does it all, I really like CodeSnaps for its wide range of potential applications when I feel like getting creative. It’s a very flexible delivery platform for instruction of any kind. The cost outlay is low, and the payoff is high. In my classes, test scores rose, growth increased and engagement was consistent–and while it’s hard to attribute this to just one tool, I do believe Sphero and CodeSnaps were valuable additions to my curriculum and class culture.

Almost every observer we had in the classroom this past school year commented that the learning looked a lot like playful discovery. It absolutely was and we were having a ball!

Sean Russell is the Environmental Connections Content Integration Specialist at Millbrook Environmental Connections Magnet Elementary School in Raleigh, NC. Follow Sean on Twitter: 

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True Leadership Starts with Empathy

Our team is wrapping an incredible week at INBOUND (#INBOUND17) in Boston, where we had the chance to expand our network, participate in professional learning and of course eat great food. As you might imagine from a conference that featured Former First Lady Michelle Obama and Brené Brown, leadership was a key topic addressed. Our biggest takeaway from the week was great leadership starts with a focus on empathy.

As many of us know, there is a clear difference between management and leadership. While there is clearly a need for management functions such as budgeting, planning and structure, leadership must come first.

That’s because leadership is about so much more than just managing people: it’s about growing people. And we all have leadership opportunities, whether or not we manage a team of people. We have leadership in ourselves, our relationships, our work and our teams. Leaders lead by example and put relationships first.

There are many definitions of what makes a great leader. A few traits we think a great leader must possess include:

  • Vision
  • Adaptability
  • Energy
  • Authenticity
  • Vulernability
  • Empathy

Perhaps most importantly, leadership requires that last bullet – empathy. We often talk about social-emotional learning and the importance of teaching students empathy, but it seems we’ve come to a place where we’ve forgotten that as adults and as leaders we need it as well. Why?

Team members aren’t engaged, there’s high turnover, many of our organizations are now global and more and more work is being done in teams. We need to be vulnerable and aware of another person’s feelings, experiences and understanding.

Here’s five ways to become a better leader, and practice empathy for others:

1) Know Yourself. Where are you as a leader? Where can you improve? From Meyers Briggs to Strengthsfinder 2.0, find one and get to know yourself! Perhaps one of the most crucial parts of knowing yourself, is practicing mindfulness and self reflection. Where can you contribute best? When do you get triggered? How do you maintain balance?

2) Control Yourself. Manage your energy (mental, physical, emotional and spiritual). You will get what you put out in the world. Not energized for your meeting? Your team will notice. Adopt a growth mindset and find joy in learning. When you’re dealing with any situation (positive or negative) make sure you’re adjusting the lens you’re using:

  • Long Lens: How will you view this situation in 6 months? Is it worth a reaction, or is there a different way to respond?
  • Wide Lens: Regardless of the outcome, how can you learn and grow?
  • Reverse Lens: What would the other person (or people) in this situation say, and in what ways might they be right?

3) Be Vulnerable. Brené Brown has made a career on talking about vulnerability. In fact, Brené’s TEDTalk on Vulnerability is one of the most viewed in the world (over 33m). We’ve left this important topic out of leadership and relationships for far too long. It takes courage to be vulnerable but the rewards, as Brené states, are innovation, creativity and change. Perhaps most simply, real vulnerability is showing up and being genuinely seen.

4) Understand Others. You cannot possibly practice empathy if you don’t get to know your team. Find out what makes them tick, what their history is and what experiences may play into how they react, work and engage. Then listen. Practice listening for understanding, not response.

5) Do Something for Others. Create a safe and trusting environment, then assess and understand where your team is today and where they want to be. Facilitate change through inquiry, then support in providing what is needed for a successful outcome.

Imagine what the world could be like if we led with empathy. We would pause and think about a situation from another perspective before reacting. We would create trusting relationships that allow people around us to grow. Our students would see leaders leading by example at every level. How are you going to practice empathy today?

For more, see:


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Learn to Earn: The Entrepreneurship Education Landscape

By Tom Vander Ark and Erik Day

Entrepreneurship education for adults is gaining momentum–it is one of the big emerging trends in adult education. It has also taken some interesting shapes due to its unique audience and the rigorous (when well-designed) requirements that result from its unique position at the intersection of opportunity identification and problem solving, design and creativity, finance and team leadership.

Startup activity, since a dip in the years following 2008 crash, has come back with a vengeance. How is the market for entrepreneurship education responding? We surveyed leading entrepreneurship programs–below is a summary of our findings starting with the least formal to full degree programs.

Coworking spaces like WeWork provide some learning and networking opportunities. At the Capital Factory in Austin, entrepreneurs get advice from mentors and introductions to investors.

Incubators. Offering more resources that co-working space, incubators are are often run by nonprofits focused on a sector (e.g., 4.0 Schools in education) or a city (e.g. 1871 in Chicago).

Accelerators. With accelerators, companies are selected based on potential; they are resident for a defined period of time and typically participate as a cohort; they receive some funding, some advice and a desk in return for an equity stake (usually between 5-10%). Y Combinator in San Francisco, which acquired Imagine K-12, is the big daddy in the space, having sponsored almost 1500 startups since 2005. Tech accelerators like 1776 in DC support some EdTech startups.

Bootcamps are, generally, 4-7 day intensive in-person gatherings that take participants through rigorous workshops, lessons, keynotes and mentorship. They are sometimes spread out over multiple weekends in order to target existing businesses (see UCLA, Spark Ann Arbor and Stanford), while some take place as a sprint (see Babson and MIT).

Target audiences run the gamut for these programs. Stanford’s bootcamp option caters primarily to current senior-level executives, while Babson’s program is aimed at both current executives and aspiring entrepreneurs. MIT seeks “early stage entrepreneurs, serial entrepreneurs, Individuals in transition, doctors, graduate student researchers, innovation managers, family business owners and product managers.”

General Assembly is a code school that also teaches design and startup management on campuses around the world and online.

University Certification Programs are often exclusively or primarily gained through a series of online courses. Stanford offers an all-online option, while Harvard and UCLA Extension have mixed options available at a slightly higher price point. They differ from MOOCs not just in terms of length (certifications can last anywhere from a few months to three years in duration), but also in one-on-one feedback from instructors, certificate reputation, significantly higher (in the range of 10-100x) price point and often–though not always–overall quality of curriculum.

Ed-Biz Degrees. There are two notable masters degree programs that combine business and education: Stanford’s joint MBA/MA in Education and Penn’s Graduate School of Education Program, which includes an impressive capstone project.

What They Teach–and What’s Missing

Most bootcamps advertise skill development in categories including “idea generation and development,” “communicating, financing and marketing new ideas,” “a greater understanding of the best and most current research on innovation and entrepreneurship,” “deeper insights into the people you are serving – a powerful tool for innovation,” and the ability to “identify, define and characterize problems.”

Most programs presume a basic understanding of accounting and finance (time value of money, return on investment). Most programs include the basics of team leadership and human resource management, product development and marketing. Most programs appear light on design thinking.

Many of the programs looked theoretical and lacking practical application. Entrepreneurs with an active idea are probably better off in an incubator learning on the job than shuffling through a degree program.

Other than General Assembly, which is a course-based bootcamp, none of the programs were modular offering multiple entry points allowing entrepreneurs to get what they need and keep moving. None of the certificate programs recognized prior knowledge.

From our review, it appears that education and entrepreneurship would benefit a competency map, a set of microcredentials that would recognize prior knowledge, and a variety of ways to learn that support specific needs.

For more, see:


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The Future of Skills: Employment in 2030

The Future of Skills, a new report from Pearson, looks optimistically at the employment landscape in the U.S. and U.K. (be sure to also check out the microsite for this report, which is well-done and a step above earlier reports).

Pearson worked with researchers from Nesta and machine learning expert Michael Osborne of the Oxford Martin School to identify seven megatrends that will all have significant influence over the jobs of the future:

Pearson’s conclusion is that we can all stop agonizing about machines taking our jobs. Our research suggests a less optimistic (or at least more divisive) view of the employment landscape

Methodology & Conclusions

Pearson convened thought leaders to predict how megatrends will affect the future demand for different types of jobs and the skills needed for that work, and surfaced the ways that these trends might interact. For example, an aging society could lead to increased healthcare spending, and it’s possible that technology could deliver productivity advances that would alleviate these spending pressures.

Machine learning was applied to the expert classifications to predict which jobs would be on the rise, which would be in decline and the skills needed. They converted these insights into actionable recommendations for education and training systems—both from a policy and a practice perspective.

Pearson predicts that the future will be about leveraging both human and machine capabilities and share six research conclusions:

  1. Only one in five workers are in occupations that will shrink. This figure is much lower than recent studies of automation have suggested.
  2. Only one in ten workers are in occupations that are likely to grow.
  3. Seven in ten workers are in jobs with where there is greater uncertainty about the future but we can do a great deal to help people prepare for the future.
  4. 21st-century skills will be in demand, but a more nuanced understanding of which skills will be in greatest demand is required.
  5. Our research definitively shows that both knowledge and skills will be required for the future economy.
  6. Occupations and their skill requirements are not set in stone. Occupations can be re-designed to pair unique human skills with the productivity gains from technology to boost demand for jobs.

Pearson also tracked occupation groups, of which there are 97 in the US and 90 in the UK, and ranked the top 10 likely to be in demand in each country.

What Skills Will Be In Demand?

The top ten skills, abilities and knowledge areas associated with rising occupations confirm the overall importance of social and emotional learning, critical thinking and learning to learn.

Educators will need to define aspects of social and emotional learning and how to support development, and develop pedagogies and systems to accelerate skill development and retool teacher preparation.

Education systems should plan for dynamic change including adaptive learning pathways marked by badges and credentials

Employers will need to balance investments in technology and human resources to maximize productivity and continue to look beyond traditional degrees to demonstrated competence

Individuals should develop their creativity and originality, fluency with ideas and active lifelong learning.

A More Challenging View

While we are tech optimists, our research suggests that this report understates the coming displacement. That may be because the report looks only 13 years out and because it is challenging to predict how and when augmentation and automation will change and then eliminate jobs by sector and geography.

Here’s some real-time data. This week I viewed a demo of a marketing startup. The co-founder, a data scientist, showed me how his software could analyze, segment and target potential customer groups and automatically launch online marketing campaigns. He said, “While we talk about this publicly as augmenting roles, we just eliminated three jobs—a data manager, a market research analyst and a marketing manager.” He added, “There are 1,000 other startups here in Silicon Valley automating every process possible in every sector.”

It is even harder to predict job creation than job destruction, but it seems clear that there will be net dislocation in most geographies–perhaps not in the next five years, but certainly in the next 15 years.

As much as we’d like to believe that we could learn our way out of this challenge, the combination dislocation and income inequality (out of work and pissed off) and more frequent catastrophes (from the collision of globalization, urbanization, automation and climate change) will strain social systems beyond current capacity, requiring stronger safety nets and some form of a universal basic income (see the Planet Money episode).

The expert tagging missed two key skills that are important today and vital tomorrow. Entrepreneurship ranks high on the list of required skills. With the coming level of change, we’re all entrepreneurs (whether inside or outside organizations). The report also understates the project-based nature of work. Design thinking and project management will be the most important career skills in most fields.

Despite a more dire view of displacement, we also have a more optimistic view of the impact opportunity than presented in the report. The methodology wasn’t designed to review impact opportunities, but they can’t be overlooked in painting the 2030 landscape. Artificial intelligence (AI) will help solve major diseases, make clean energy more plentiful and affordable, ease backbreaking work and create incredible wealth.

But it is clear that income inequality will grow rapidly as returns on labor shift to returns to capital—the makers, owners and financiers of the robots (and other enabling technologies) will win and win big. This inequality and pressing ethical concerns (genome editing, privacy and security) will outstrip civic infrastructure in developing countries and the U.S. and Europe (Scandinavia appear better positioned).

Pearson’s report appears mostly right on implications but understates the challenges to come. What we can all agree on is the need for community conversations and updated graduate profiles. It’s time for smart cities to build learning ecosystems from early learning to job training. It’s time to build civic capacity for waves of tough legal, ethical and moral dilemmas for the paradox to come

For more, see the #AskAboutAI series including:


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Utilizing Technology to Build Global Learning and SEL

Global learning and social and emotional learning (SEL) are two increasingly important concepts in education–and rightly so. With global learning, educators develop teaching strategies to ensure students have the knowledge and skills to investigate the world, weigh perspectives, communicate ideas and take action. Educators also integrate SEL competencies into a variety of content areas to help students “apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” Individually both of these concepts are terrific, but coupled together they make for a powerful and deeply meaningful learning experience for students.

Earlier this year when we discussed SEL and global competencies we shared that these concepts blend together nicely because with SEL we first understand who we are, the emotions we have, and how to manage them. Once we are able to grasp these concepts and manage them, we can move into how we interact with others. That’s where the beauty of global learning comes in.

Students must apply SEL skills to many of global learning concepts, such as recognizing one’s own perspectives and the perspectives of others, communicating ideas and taking action. In line with this idea, Brandon Wiley, Ed.D. (@Bwileyone) of Buck Institute for Education has said, “Students generally want to make a difference in the world, locally, globally or both. High quality projects can capitalize on students’ passions and innate curiosity about why things are the way they are, especially things they perceive as unjust.” So the question is not if this is possible, but how it is possible? What are tools and opportunities that allow students to have these important experiences?

One way to blend global learning and SEL is through Project-Based Learning (PBL). Our Project-Based Learning Q&A blog post offers guidance on how to get started with PBL in a meaningful way. Another way to get started is through technology tools. This school year, there is a new tool from Empatico, an initiative of the KIND Foundation. Empatico is a free technology tool which helps elementary school teachers connect to classrooms around the world to collaborate on learning activities, each of which authentically interweaves global learning and SEL strategies.

SEL Benefits from Global Connections

Curiosity and kindness. These are two themes Empatico wants to spark in students. How do curiosity and kindness map to global learning and SEL? Curiosity encourages students to investigate the world by learning beyond what is familiar. Empatico connects students with their peers from around the world and allows them to work together on learning activities.

By provoking exploration of similarities and differences with others, Empatico builds understanding and impacts the way students navigate their classrooms, community, and world. The curiosity sparked by these connections also enables students to develop their social awareness as they begin to learn about the students in their partner classroom. Through this learning students may begin to understand and develop, new perspectives. Kindness is also a facet of both global learning and SEL. To communicate effectively with diverse audiences, some basic level of kindness must be present. By interacting with classrooms around the world, students will have a chance to deepen their communication skills and work on being kind to one another. Something as simple as learning how to take turns while speaking on a video platform can be seen as a kindness. Kindness is also foundational to building and maintaining positive, healthy, and rewarding relationships.

I am sure you are thinking, “this all sounds great but, what are the activities and how will students actually develop global competence and SEL skills?” Empatico’s activities have been created in partnership with Educurious, and they are high-quality, standards-based content, so your students can deepen their learning with one another. All of the activities on Empatico follow a three step progression to deepen learning:

  1. Activate: An entry activity that helps students connect their prior knowledge of the topic to what they’ll learn. The activity starts with the knowledge students currently have and provides context before new knowledge is presented.
  2. Interact: A live video interaction where students meet their partner classroom and discover new ideas and perspectives about the topic. Partner school interactions deepen learning as students apply knowledge to different contexts and practice perspective-taking and communication skills.
  3. Reflect: A Reflection Circle is an activity that strengthens learning and helps students understand their perspectives and those of others. Reflection Circles help students make sense of their developing ideas, build community, and encourage honest dialogue for students to navigate challenging issues and questions.

Check out the four activities called Spark activities on the site (Empatico plans to add more as the school year progresses).

Image Courtesy of Empatico.org

Creating a Globally Connected Classroom

In our Smart Planet series, we stressed that in order “to deliver quality education for all worldwide, we need exponential growth in collaboration among educators, students, parents and communities.” This growth happens through global partnerships, networks, and connections. Empatico is a great tool to bring together like-minded global educators in pursuit of profound learning experiences for students. The site itself is also easy to use. Empatico digitizes the manual process of finding like-minded teachers and it simplifies the scheduling logistics. The site also has its own technology integration built into it which is simple and easy to use even if it’s your first time bringing live video into your classroom. And best of all it’s all free.

If you and your students get started with Empatico, we encourage you to join us in the #SmartPlanet conversation.

Focus on Ages 7-11

As an educator, I am sure you would agree with research that shows having early positive experiences with diverse types of people can strongly influence how children develop perceptions of others in the future. Empatico’s activities incorporate insights from child development research in order to create meaningful experiences and positive perceptions among children around the world. In addition to the research Empatico has pointed to, SEL research, as noted by CASEL, has also shown us that “the five sets of SEL competencies are important from very early in life but are especially relevant as children begin to spend time with adults outside the home and to socialize with peers”. While plans to expand to additional age groups are being considered by Empatico, the decision to first focus on young ages is a smart one and is backed by research.

How Do I Sign Up?

To participate in Empatico teachers and students need to be conversational in English, and must have access to at least one computer device with a camera. Visit empatico.org to sign up for access. Once you sign up you will complete four easy steps, and then you will be on your way to connecting to a partner classroom.

Image Courtesy of Empatico.org

If you are an educator looking to bring the world to your classroom, like testing new products, and want to blend global learning and SEL strategies as a part of your instruction, Empatico’s new online tool is one great place to start.

For more, see:


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Building Competencies for Future Careers

We often discuss the need for K-12 education to focus on preparing students for both college and careers, and the idea continues to gain wide acceptance among educators and policymakers. Consistent with this growth, the Hewlett Foundation developed its Deeper Learning initiative to “support setting new standards for equity and excellence in U.S. public education.”

Deeper learning focuses on the six key competencies students need to reflect the “higher-order skills and academic knowledge that are the surest path to postsecondary education and that students will need to succeed in 21st-century work and civic life”:

In order to determine the extent to which deeper learning competencies apply to the workplace, the Center on Education Policy (CEP) conducted an analysis using occupations drawn from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) database, a free online database that contains hundreds of occupational definitions to help students, job seekers, businesses and workforce development professionals to understand today’s world of work in the U.S.

CEP’s analysis of the six deeper learning competencies along with a sample of occupations from O*NET is reported in Building Competencies for Careers: Linking O*NET’s Occupational Elements with Deeper Learning Competencies. The report ultimately finds that students will be better prepared for fast-growing jobs if they develop academic mindsets, learn how to communicate effectively, and take an analytical approach to solving problems. Here are some of the report’s key findings:

  • All 301 occupations analyzed by CEP require some types of deeper learning competencies.
  • The deeper learning competencies are more important for occupations designated as Bright Outlook by O*NET than those designated as non-Bright Outlook (O*NET identifies Bright Outlook occupations as those that are expected to grow rapidly in the next several years, will have large numbers of openings or are new and emerging).
  • The deeper learning competencies are more important for occupations that require more education, experience and training.
  • The development of academic mindsets (wherein students develop attitudes and beliefs that lead to perseverance and productive academic behaviors) was the most important deeper learning competency based on this analysis across all job types.
  • Other readiness skills emphasized by deeper learning (i.e., learn how to learn, communicate effectively, think critically and solve complex problems, work collaboratively) were also important for many jobs.
  • Mastery of core academic content (students develop and draw from a baseline understanding of academic disciplines and are able to transfer knowledge) was the least important deeper learning competency based on the analysis.

The 301 occupations in the sample required a range of specific knowledge, skills, abilities and work styles (KSAWs). All of them required at least one deeper learning competency, and the following table shows the occupations with the highest and lowest percentage needed of all KSAWs:

In addition, the following table shows the percentage of the sample occupations for which particular KSAWs were important (two work styles–attention to detail and dependability–were identified as important for all occupations in the sample as well):

CEP also looked at the links between important KSAWs and deeper learning competencies across the five O*NET Job Zones. Each zone identifies the level of education, experience and training necessary to perform a given occupation, with Zone 1 requiring the least and Zone 5 the most. As shown in the following table, all deeper learning competencies have links to important KSAWs in every Job Zone, and the deeper learning competency develop academic mindsets is ranked the highest across all as well:

CEP’s analysis offers some interesting insights into how occupational experts view the range of KSAWs and work styles needed for a large sample of common occupations. The analysis also conveys a strong message of how, in addition to being academically prepared, today’s students need opportunities to develop important skills and competencies.

There is definitely a need to rethink how schools can best prepare and assess students so they are ready to successfully meet the challenges of a constantly changing global economy.

For more, see:


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Students Earn Digital Badges for Project Management Skills

By Emily Liebtag and Tom Vander Ark

Advocates of project management usually point to student engagement, authentic “real world” challenges, and the ability to develop deeper learning outcomes–all true. The added benefit of project-based learning is the ability to manage projects–probably the most important career skill for a project-based world.

Time management, planning, finding a critical path, team management, and monitoring are all important parts of an effectively managed project. These steps, amongst others, can be overlooked when focus on a pretty product or ideal outcome reigns supreme.

PMIEF looks to ensure that project management skills get their time in the sun, and therefore created a Project Management Fundamentals Digital Badge for Students. Targeted to students aged 12-19, students who have developed these skills as a part of work in school on a project or part of an extracurricular activity can submit for free (for the time being) to earn their digital badge.

“The PMIEF Project Management Fundamentals digital badge is designed for students.., who have learned these valuable skills through an out of school program, such as scouting or a competition team, or as part of another course to show that their learning meets a standard backed by PMIEF. Students can share their badges on LinkedIn profiles, digital portfolios, on resumes, and in many other ways, and the person with whom the badge is shared can easily verify who issued the badge and criteria for earning it.”

Digital badges have gained popularity the last several years, especially in teacher professional development, but there has been less traction in growth of badging for students. This is understandable, as privacy, platform overload and assessment of badge evidence all can be challenges.

What’s Next In Project Management Certification?

Right tool? Project management is a great tool, but not always the right one. Projects are initiated when we think we know the solution; they usually have specific objectives, a budget (or set of resources), a timeline and public products,. If we don’t know the solution (i.e. an adaptive problem), then design thinking is called for–starting with efforts to understand the problem and the customer group, and iterative testing of possible solutions. The first thing project managers should know is when, and when not, to use the toolset.

Certification? We can give prospective airline pilots a quiz, but they should only be certified after they’ve demonstrated the ability to fly–a lot and in stressful circumstances. We should certify project managers as a result of demonstrated ability to manage projects. Artifacts and references can be useful forms of evidence (see post on Degreed skill certification).

Black belt? A sequence of microcredentials could be developed based, like colored belts in karate, for increasing complexity of projects–longer durations, more work streams, expanded resources and more team members. Scaffolding and leveling intensity of projects could serve as a solution for those educators just embarking on PBL with students versus those who have been facilitating project based work for some time.

For more, see:



Learning Today. Solving for Tomorrow.

This post was originally published on the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s blog.

Tom Vander Ark isn’t afraid of bold ideas—like how to reimagine education for a reality transformed by technology. That opportunity—cradled in the cusp of learning and work—challenges the status quo and our notion of the future of education for all students.

During Vander Ark’s recent visit to the Foundation, community members and associates recognized the necessary balance of solving for today’s challenges while preparing for the promise of tomorrow. And we grappled with many questions.

How do we address the urgency to solve for a rapidly approaching future? To prepare the 3.5 million students who, this year, will receive diplomas that are no longer a predictor of adequate preparation for college or careers? Or to prepare Generation A for jobs that don’t yet exist today?

Tom Vander Ark collaboration
Tom Vander Ark, CEO of Getting Smart, discusses the implications of Artificial Intelligence in education, economics and ethics with (from left to right) Mary Esselman, president and CEO of Operation Breakthrough, Laura Gilchrist, educator and co-founder of KCedu, and Deidre Anderson, executive director of United Inner City Services.

“I want schools that are alive with the sense of possibility,” Vander Ark says. That means evolving beyond the traditional path of scholarship that has largely been the standard for high school graduation for a century.

In a recent blog that elevates two Kansas City-area schools using Expeditionary Learning, Vander Ark and co-author Corey Scholes, director of education for the Kauffman Foundation, examine project-based learning programs designed to cultivate skills for an evolving world.

“A good challenge has the potential to change young people’s belief in themselves and their understanding of the world. An extended challenge uniquely builds self-management and growth mindset. A team project builds social awareness and collaboration. A well-developed project builds communication, critical thinking and problem-solving skills,” says Vander Ark.

It may be these valuable skills that can take students beyond status quo to truly prepare all students for the endless possibilities of life and learning after high school.

For more, see:


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Accelerating Disruption in Schools

By Marie Bjerede and Michael Gielniak, Ph.D

Schools have traditionally been asked to do many “jobs” for their customers, including:

  • Provide child care before, during and after school while parents work.
  • Inculcate knowledge and skills required for college (and ensure they can get into good colleges).
  • Feed children that don’t get a decent breakfast at home.
  • Help students deal with emotional and psychological issues.
  • Help students with a broad assortment of disabilities prepare to participate in society.
  • Address major gaps in learning and bring them up to grade level.
  • Address the learning and language needs of students who may speak one of dozens of foreign languages and help them assimilate into American society.
  • Prepare children for citizenship.
  • Prepare students for factory-like jobs.

Today’s schools continue to be asked to prepare students for jobs, but the jobs have changed. Current jobs and the jobs of the future require creative and critical thinking. As pedagogy shifts from information consumption to the development of 21st-century skills, the concept of student agency is gaining importance.

Student agency is a job that is not being fulfilled at all in most educational institutions. There are some that make agency their highest focus, but in so doing they do not always fulfill some of the other jobs of schooling–such as academic preparedness–well enough that they are considered a mainstream alternative to public schools.

Disrupting schooling is different than disruption in the classical sense. Generally, disruption means creating a lower-quality offering than the incumbent, but one that fulfills a job that is not being done by the incumbent or anyone else. A canonical example is the transistor radio that was lower fidelity than the high-end equipment of the time but enabled young people to take their music with them anywhere they went. Schooling can’t follow this model because an offering that doesn’t meet all the requirements of the incumbent won’t be acceptable to our society.

Instead, it follows a hybrid model of disruption. This requires an innovation to both fulfill existing requirements as well as or better than current offerings while also doing a new job that isn’t being fulfilled by the existing schooling system (in other words, competing with non-consumption.)

Blended learning has the potential to be such an innovation. Blended learning can support all the traditional requirements while fostering student agency in two ways:

  1. Using adaptive software allows students to work at their own level and pace, through their own path, any place, any time.
  2. Using the tools and access of technology to enhance and scale agentic (fostering agency) pedagogies such as Inquiry, Project-Based Learning, Design-Based Learning and more.

However, in addition to the restrictions of a hybrid model of disruption, there are additional obstacles in the schooling system to the transformational adoption of these practices.

Using adaptive software is the easier of the two practices. It can be incorporated into the more basic station rotation model of blended learning, and with high-quality products such as ALEKS and ST Math, teachers quickly see feedback that the approach is working with students and begin to trust that they can work at their own pace.

This skill-building, when practiced to automaticity, also provides a foundation for unleashing creativity. However, to reach the full potential of adaptive software, the very structures of school that separate students into grades and measure seat time rather than mastery must be overcome and this is significantly more problematic and beyond the scope of this discussion.

The more challenging use of blended learning comes when implementing agentic pedagogies, such as when students use technology to research questions in an Inquiry model or use tools to collect data and do an analysis for project-based learning. These pedagogies require a shift in mindset on the part of the teacher and a giving up of control that is extremely difficult.

What tends to happen instead is that the teacher will fulfill the form of agentic pedagogies while missing the substance. They end up quashing student agency rather than fostering it, even while they genuinely believe they are engaging in agentic practices.

As an example, consider a teacher doing project-based learning with her fifth graders to design a play area for the kindergartners.  Now, suppose that the kids come up with the idea of a pool–most teachers will steer them away from that and other crazy ideas, and may even go so far as to suggest lists of equipment to include–all in a sincere effort to help the students. Teachers don’t see how limiting the project under the umbrella of helping actually steals the opportunity for authentic learning from the students. An agentic teacher would simply put the onus back on the students by asking, “Is there room and budget for a pool?”

One way to overcome this dilution of innovative ideas is to get teachers to focus on student agency, rather than on the tools that are used to achieve it.  In our practice, it has been incredibly difficult for teachers and administrators to make a wholesale shift. Instead we encourage districts to create a formal improvement process that allows teachers to grow into agentic teaching in small, incremental steps that are more easily digestible for teachers.

Here’s how it works. The district sets goals for:

  • Academic Achievement
  • Workforce Skills (such as the 4 C’s)
  • Student Agency
  • School leaders seek out information on best practices in fostering these skills, particularly student agency, and shares them
  • The district provides professional development on agentic teaching such as PBL and Inquiry
  • Teachers meet in PLC’s or other groups weekly
  • In the meeting, the teachers commit to trying something in their classroom that might improve performance a little against one of the goals
  • The teacher tries the innovation in the classroom and analyzes the results
  • The teacher shares the results with peers in the weekly meeting
  • The teacher refines the innovation and tries again, or moves on to a new innovation
  • Administrators recognize those teachers that are taking well-considered risks and bringing new learnings back to their peers

This process gradually allows teachers to see results of agentic teaching without taking too big a risk at one time.  It gives them an ongoing feedback cycle that is non-threatening, so that they can give up a little control at a time and have students take ownership of their learning in a way that makes that control unnecessary. Over time, small incremental changes add up to compound-interest-like results.

We understand that district systems often impede these type of practices. Therefore, we see the Formal Improvement Process as a mechanism that can eliminate one of the barriers to blended learning in its more transformational form and will accelerate the disruption of the traditional classroom.

For more, see:

Marie Bjerede is founder of e-mergents. Follow her on Twitter: 

Dr. Michael Gielniak is executive director of the Center For Creative Learning and Teaching. Follow him on Twitter: 


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