EdSAFE AI Alliance

By: Jim Larimore

AI-powered education platforms are proliferating but there’s a lot of confusion and hype in the market. In order to instill public confidence in AI’s education potential, the industry needs to adopt common benchmarks and standards.

To meet that need, Riiid and Dxtera, a nonprofit membership organization that builds open technology solutions to lower barriers in education delivery, have formed a cross-sector alliance of companies and associations to launch an AI in Education benchmark initiative.

The initiative, launched in early August, is focused on establishing benchmarks and standards in four critical categories – Safety (security, privacy), Accountability (defining stakeholder responsibilities), Fairness (equity, ethics, and lack of bias), and Efficacy (quantified improved learning outcomes). In a word, SAFE educational AI.

Jim Larimore, Riiid’s chief officer for equity in learning, is helping the formation of the alliance.

Dxtera, a nonprofit membership organization that builds open technology solutions that lower barriers in education delivery, stepped forward as a trusted nonprofit player who manages the day-to-day work of the Alliance. They will be the fiscal agent and the contracting agent to hire staff and experts. Riiid is financing the foundation of the Alliance, which intends to become self-supporting through membership dues.

In the month since the alliance has been around, it has grown from 20 members to 80, representing a dozen countries. Organizations involved in the initiative include Getting Smart, Carnegie Learning, ETS, GSV Ventures and Digital Promise.

The alliance has established a leadership council and a governance model and is rolling out working groups.

“We need people from all levels of the industry, from educational delivery agents, from users and from governments to be involved,” said Dale Allen.

The alliance has also aligned itself with UNESCO and its Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, whose goal is to connect everyone in the world to the Internet.

Meanwhile, the alliance is completing membership agreements that outline the roles and responsibilities of members.

There is already widespread activity on developing AI standards, some of which is relevant to AI for education.

Jim Larimore

Allen expects the working groups to start on general topics and then to form subgroups that will drill down on technical aspects of AI in education.

The alliance expects to eventually hire paid experts to develop standards that could be tested and certified. Standards would then be considered by the Leadership Council and, ultimately, a steering committee for approval.

The alliance won’t be working in a vacuum, nor developing standards from scratch. There is already widespread activity on developing AI standards, some of which is relevant to AI for education.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a professional association, has established an Adaptive Instructional Systems working group within its Standards Association to explore the need for standards governing AI tutoring systems and other related learning technologies.

“We’ve already reached out to them,” said Allen, adding that the alliance can build on the work already done.

IBM, meanwhile, has an open-source suite of products called Factsheets 360 that is designed to ensure AI models are transparent, explainable, robust, privacy-preserving and fair. Allen said the alliance may reach out to them, too.

Underwriters Laboratory, the private certification company, is a member of the alliance and has independently developed a kind of rubric that they use for inspecting algorithms. UL, as it is known today, has participated in the safety analysis of many new technologies since it was founded in 1894.

Nearly every American product that uses electricity has the UL logo on it, which means that it has undergone rigorous testing to meet various standards.

The alliance intends to do something similar for AI education tools and platforms, eventually implementing a voluntary review process for such products that would give consumers confidence in the way that nutritional labels do on packaged food products today.

The alliance hopes that school districts and other organizations governing the purchase and use of such tools would then prohibit AI products for education that didn’t have alliance certification.

“Today, the users – the parents, the students, the instructors – have no sense of whether a tool is safe, and they’re afraid of most AI enabled tools,” said Allen.

The alliance also hopes to develop equitable, fair, unbiased and anonymized data sets to build AI tools, as well as develop random controlled trials and other means to objectively measure the efficacy of AI digital learning programs.

Stringent testing may also help determine whether products meet existing data privacy laws, such as General Data Protection Regulation guidelines in the European Union and data privacy laws in California.

The alliance could also play a role in improving existing technologies, such as proctoring tools that use webcams and facial recognition to monitor students and discourage cheating.

Students with ADHD, for example, have been wrongfully flagged by these anti-cheating programs that monitor for behaviors deemed suspicious. This is largely due to a lack of AI-model training data that accounts for symptoms of ADHD such as fidgeting and an inability to maintain focus.

Some universities have dropped the use of proctoring programs altogether after students with darker skin tones reported not being recognized by the software, a recurring limitation with AI facial recognition since its early development.

The AI ed-tech industry can tackle shortcomings like these by building larger, more representative data sets.

But the alliance isn’t focused on the US market alone. It is engaged with people in Israel, Russia, and the EU EdTech Consortium, which represents all the EU countries, and Education Alliance Finland, among others. The German Alliance for Education brings to the table representatives from about 100 groups ranging from education ministries and companies to universities and schools.

Allen cautions that the process won’t be quick. The alliance hopes to have working groups and a roadmap ready by the end of this year. Thereafter, it will give quarterly updates for the education community and the public about what is measurable already and what is coming, with some standards announced in 2022.

Jim Larimore is the Chief Officer for Equity in Learning at Riiid, where he leads strategy, programs and partnerships to leverage Riiid’s strengths in Artificial Intelligence (AI) to close gaps in educational opportunity, achievement and student success.


How EdTech Tools Can Make Math More Accessible and More Personal for All Students

By: Louis Shanafelt

When you think about math, you probably think of writing equations and answers with a paper and pencil. That’s because math has been stuck in the analog world, especially in the classroom. While other subjects, like writing, have long moved into the digital world, math has mostly stayed untouched by tech.

Over the last 20 years, I’ve seen how education technology can change the classroom.

When I was a teacher, I saw how much time it saved teachers on tasks as simple as grading assignments. As the tools improved, I saw how it gave students freedom in how they were able to show their knowledge.

But it wasn’t until the pandemic that I truly saw teachers using digital math tools on a larger scale. Teachers have now realized the true benefits of using them, some for the first time. I have seen how EdTech tools have made a positive impact on thousands of teachers and students.

Using EdTech Tools to Personalize Learning in Mathematics

Math has remained untouched by tech for several reasons. Math symbols are complex, teachers have large inventories of worksheets, and students need to “show their work”. It has been difficult, if not impossible, to create a digital equivalent. Until now.

Digital math tools are leveling up and changing the game for both in-person and virtual learning. A teacher’s job is to make sure all students reach their learning goals. By giving students the flexibility to choose how they learn, they now have the opportunity to show their knowledge and improve learning outcomes.

If you’re thinking of incorporating a personalized learning strategy into your math curriculum, digital tools are a great place to start. There are many EdTech tools that can help with this learning approach.

When it comes to choosing the right tool, look for one that has been designed with Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles in mind. These principles improve and optimize teaching and learning for everyone. They also reduce barriers and maximize learning opportunities.

By choosing a UDL tool, you’ll make sure that your EdTech supports a wide range of learning styles and preferences. Through these tools, students can engage with math content in the way that best suits their unique needs. This can be through written work, visualizations, audio, collaboration, and more.

It wasn’t until the pandemic that I truly saw teachers using digital math tools on a larger scale. Teachers have now realized the true benefits of using them, some for the first time. I have seen how EdTech tools have made a positive impact on thousands of teachers and students.

Louis Shanafelt

Using these types of digital tools, students can show their knowledge in their own way, at their own pace. Similar to how every student learns differently, they may also show their understanding differently. Tools that support UDL allow students to be creative while still reaching their learning outcomes.

Personalization in math can also help to create a more accessible learning environment. For example, some tools allow students to hear math problems read aloud. These tools make it easier and more engaging for those with learning or visual hardships. It can also help students who learn best by hearing. Whichever method a student chooses to use, they should still come to the same result as their peers.

Tools like EquatIO can create different types of math spaces for different types of learners. Teachers can use tools like this to take away any pressure from receiving a different assignment than their peers. This is just one example, but there are many other digital tools that make deploying specialized assignments easier for teachers.  

EquatIO Logo

EdTech Tools are the Future of Mathematics in the Classroom

Technology has slowly integrated more and more into the classroom. I have seen the impact it can have on student learning. It can enhance the entire classroom experience for all users. I encourage you to search for a math tool that can support all of your students and their individualized learning approaches.

Digital tools, whether it be for math, reading, or writing, can help teachers rethink the classroom and allow students to express themselves with confidence. We are just scratching the surface.

Louis Shanafelt is a Product Manager at texthelp.


EdTech As Augmentation: Building A Strong Partnership Framework Between Schools and EdTech Entrepreneurs

By: LEANLAB Education Editorial Team

Why is there a significant mismatch between supply and demand within the education sector?

School district buying processes are slow, confusing and often detached from the lived experiences of the classroom. And while investment in educational research and development lags behind other sectors,  venture investment also  favors growth stage companies and non-classroom facing tools. All this adds up to an education technology sector that for far too long  has been supply-driven rather than focused on real-time school needs.

After the pandemic illuminated the necessity of EdTech, an opportunity also emerged to up-end these  dynamics to ensure edtech tools are making a difference in the lives of students and teachers.  The best edtech entrepreneurs understand this and are operating as true partners alongside schools, through every step of the product development journey. They embrace the imperative to innovate when it comes to catalyzing and delivering solutions arm-in-arm with school partners.

They’re co-designing solutions with school partners.

They’re running pilot programs in real classrooms to improve the usability of their product.

They’re conducting ongoing research to measure user engagement and the linkages between product usage and outcomes.

In short, they’re embracing the idea that edtech should augment the good work schools are doing. They understand that to produce outsized results for school communities, they need to develop products in partnership with school communities.

What might stronger partnerships between schools and edtech look like in practice?

Edtech entrepreneurs can seize this moment by helping school partners navigate these rough seas through a more intentional approach to testing and implementing edtech solutions.  

You (usually) wouldn’t turn up on a first date without knowing a few key details about a potential partner. So why would edtech entrepreneurs just jump into new school communities without first ascertaining whether the “fit” is right?

Importantly, edtech developers need to listen to the insights and expertise of teachers, parents, and students when they’re developing their products in order to ensure that new solutions are truly driven by the problems that schools are facing every day. The good news is that there are systematic processes edtech developers can follow to center education community voices early in product development, which can pay dividends in the long term.

Be intentional about fit

You (usually) wouldn’t turn up on a first date without knowing a few key details about a potential partner. So why would edtech entrepreneurs just jump into new school communities without first ascertaining whether the “fit” is right?

Edtech entrepreneurs shouldn’t enter into a school partnership until they’ve confirmed that their product has the potential to enhance, or solve a problem for, that school environment.  To do so, entrepreneurs should stay close to school communities, and earnestly listen to how schools describe their pain points. They should be honest with themselves to assess if their product can meet the schools needs before moving into a partnership. Once a “fit” is established, entrepreneurs should collaborate with school partners and those who will be implementing the solution to create a shared vision of success–what does a successful pilot or test look like? How do both parties benefit?

Focus on how students and teachers use your product first

The great thing about usability studies–studies that measure a product’s ease of use–is that it’s a two-way street.

Edtech entrepreneurs get to improve their product’s core functionality while school partners get to introduce potentially beneficial products to their educators and learners.

It’s the clearest baseline consideration in the world of edtech research and development: Does this product, at minimum, work for the intended audience?

Sitting with this question and iterating on it is important before moving forward with further testing. It’s important at this stage to find out how teachers and students interact with the product, if it’s easy to use, and if it aligns with their expectations.

If you get usability testing right, you have the opportunity to boost user satisfaction, uncover hidden problem areas, and validate your edtech product.

Dig into how teachers implement your product

At this stage of the partnership, it’s all about sustaining and retaining. The goal is to boost and sustain user engagement while bringing in users and retaining them. That’s the essence of implementing any high-quality edtech solution.

When it comes to implementation, it’s important to understand exactly how teachers are using an edtech tool inside the classroom, what sorts of barriers are preventing teachers or administrators from fully implementing a solution, and what ways edtech companies can better support the implementation process.

This is perhaps the most important part of product development, because in order to understand the impact of your edtech tool, it has to be used with fidelity throughout a school.

Implementation and usability are important for principals as well. In a recent study by RAND, three-quarters of school leaders said that they prioritized “standards alignment” and “usability” when assessing materials because “these two dimensions could facilitate teachers’ implementation of materials and reduce teacher burden by limiting their need to supplement […] and modify […] their main instructional materials.”

The right implementation process can help you optimize onboarding processes, boost user retention, and refine your value proposition.

Importantly, partnering with schools and focusing on implementation helps to identify the conditions that yield success and paints a picture of what sustainable use of the product looks like.

Build a case for the impact of your tool

Once usability and implementation are satisfied you can begin to connect product usage to outcomes with correlational research.

From smart matching processes and usability testing to intentional implementation and correlational research, it is very possible for edtech entrepreneurs and schools to partner together thoughtfully and with an eye towards impact over time.

Assuming you’ve covered the questions in the implementation phase, you’ll want to address important questions beginning to address the impact of your tool:

What is the relationship between use of the product and teacher/student outcomes?

What explains the relationship between product use and teacher/student outcomes?

What explains teacher and/or student engagement with the solution?

Collective evidence at this stage of the partnership is key, as you’ll need it to demonstrate the promise of impact. You’ll do this by correlating product usage to intended outcomes.

How strong edtech partnerships with school communities can deliver big impact

From smart matching processes and usability testing to intentional implementation and correlational research, it is very possible for edtech entrepreneurs and schools to partner together thoughtfully and with an eye towards impact over time.

The intention aspect requires employing a lens of augmentation, one that is demand-driven and builds out of genuine community needs.

The rest is just proven research methods carried out alongside community buy-in. Modern edtech entrepreneurs should take note.

LEANLAB Education is a Kansas City-based nonprofit whose mission is to launch transformational education innovations that have a national impact. Their method is pairing under-resourced school communities with high potential education technologies to measure their impact in authentic classroom environments.


12 Digital Tools for Innovative Educators

Ever since schools first closed in March of 2020, educators and students have been exploring new methods and tools to keep the learning going and to find ways to engage students in learning. We took risks by bringing new ideas into our classrooms and learned to be flexible in our instruction, perhaps initially because we had to, while we experienced the challenges of the unknown. However, since we had that push, educators hopefully have become more confident in stepping out of their comfort zones to embrace new or different teaching methods and technologies. As we experienced ongoing transitions during this past school year and perhaps even in this new year, we are better prepared to adapt and grow our skills together.

Beyond new methods and tools, educators also become more aware of the importance of focusing on social-emotional learning (SEL) and the benefits for students and ourselves. To best prepare students for the future, they need to develop these five competencies of SEL: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship building, and decision making. In our classrooms,  we can help students build SEL skills through a variety of activities and using tools to facilitate meaningful and authentic interactions and learning. In my own experience last year, I sought to promote more for SEL and also to seek ways to engage students more in my lessons, especially when not connected in the same classroom space. Having taught fully virtual for nine weeks and then hybrid for the remainder of the year, connecting students with learning and finding ways to engage them more in the lessons was a challenge at first. Those challenges last year pushed me to reconsider the types of learning opportunities that I was creating for students and led me to seek more student feedback along the way.

When designing lessons, I consider options for:

  • Using a quick entrance or exit ticket
  • Providing a hook to spark curiosity
  • Understanding student needs and interests
  • Creating student driven learning experiences
  • Providing real-time interactions and promote faster feedback
  • Fostering the development of essential SEL skills
  • Boosting and maintaining student engagement

Since the beginning of this school year I have explored a few new tools and methods and also have been asking my students for their feedback about the choices that I am making. It is important for students to understand why we are choosing a certain method or tool and to also know that their opinion is valued. We need their feedback just as they need ours. Based on student responses and my own reflections, here are some ideas that will lead to more interactive lessons and boost student engagement in learning. We do not always need to rely on technology as there is a lot of hands-on learning and methods like choice boards, genius hour, and PBL that are great choices.

Entrance and exit slips, hooks and check-ins

On some days, I like to either start or end the lesson with a quick activity or check-in. Whether I make a quick Nearpod lesson with a virtual field trip and some activities, or some of their SEL check-ins or use a simple tool like Google Forms, I am able to gather responses quickly from students and can provide feedback or determine the next steps in the lesson. Some recent tools that we have explored are Ziplet, which can include two questions, one for a text response and another that can be a rating scale or an emoji.  I learned recently about using Desmos, which is known as a math tool but can be used for a variety of check-ins and beginning of the class activities for students. Even using a Google form, I have included a short video prompt with follow-up questions for students to answer, which makes gathering data really easy.  Buncee has great templates available for doing quick check-ins or entrance tickets too!

Student engagement was something that I did not fully understand until a few years ago after I spent time gathering feedback from students and making some changes in my classroom.

Rachelle Dené Poth

Another tool that I’d recommend is using Quizizz which offers thousands of games and lessons that can have slides followed by different question types. Students can participate in a live game or lesson or complete it as student-paced, which works well for all learning environments.

Collaborative and Interactive Learning

Student engagement was something that I did not fully understand until a few years ago after I spent time gathering feedback from students and making some changes in my classroom. Breaking up the rows of desks and using stations to bring in a variety of hands-on or digital tools, made a big difference. Students told me how much more they felt they were learning and connected to classmates because of the collaborative learning that was happening.

To keep students more engaged during a lesson, add some activities that promote student discussion or tools that foster creativity and collaboration in learning.  Some no-tech options are to have students work together to create a concept map or share ideas or ask questions by writing on post-it notes and then displaying them in the classroom. Have students work together in small groups or participate in a gallery walk, which works whether in-person or virtually. For virtual collaborations, take advantage of breakout rooms or collaborative whiteboard spaces like Google Jamboard, Padlet, Whiteboard chat that enables collaboration and interactivity for all students whether in or out of the classroom.  Have students create a collaborative book on a relevant topic using Book Creator and give them the chance to engage more in learning while also building SEL and digital citizenship skills.

We can also have students interact by using some lessons that we can include multimedia options and other collaborative spaces. I always recommend Formative which has many choices for including content, audio, and video and a lot of response types for students to share what they are learning. With tools like Nearpod that have the Collaborate Board or the Time to Climb game, students can interact in the virtual space completely or interact with one another in the classroom, while participating in these activities. What I love about options like these are that we can connect students whether in-person or remote and use one tool for sharing presentation slides, images, audio or video, and a variety of activities for quick assessments.

Promoting Discussions and Building Confidence

As I think about closing each lesson, there are times that I want students to process what they have learned throughout the day and then share in a way that meets their comfort level which helps them to build confidence. There are many digital options, including some of the tools already mentioned, but I also like to use some tools that promote discussions either between students or create a space for student-to-teacher communication. One newer choice is Spaces EDU, where teachers and students can share ideas, exchange information, and leverage audio, images, text, and other media options. My students used it to explain their genius hour experiences and provide feedback to classmates. We also use tools like Flipgrid or Synth, which extend the learning beyond the class period. Both of these tools have enabled me to connect my students with classrooms in Argentina and Spain and promote the development of not only self-awareness and relationship building but also social awareness.

Another favorite for a few years has been GoSoapBox which can be used for those entrance or exit tickets, a short open-ended response, and even polls. It offers students a space to write their responses and contribute to the class discussion beyond the end of the class period.

As we are finishing the first quarter of our school year, I think it is the perfect time to try some new ideas. We can reflect on how our year has gone so far and set new goals for what we can do better and how we can provide more for our students.


The New Fundamentals: Tools to Optimize Remote and Blended Learning and How Educators Can Use Them This Year

By: Giancarlo Brotto

Despite starting the school year face to face, schools across the country have been forced to resume remote instruction as infection rates among children reach the highest they’ve been since the pandemic began. And even in many schools that remain fully open, there are high rates of students who are learning from home because of illness, quarantine or concerns from their families about their risk of infection.

As schools again find themselves incorporating remote and blended learning options into the school day, the education community has work to do to improve the quality of the experience for teachers and learners alike. An international survey conducted last year found that compared to other countries, teachers in the U.S. and Japan report that remote teaching was less effective than in-person instruction. That information comes as district leaders anticipate continuing to offer remote and blended learning opportunities once the pandemic subsides: 10% of K-12 leaders will continue offering these models post-pandemic, and 20% will consider offering a fully remote learning environment, according to one study.

That begs the question: if these models are here to stay, what can teachers and support staff do to optimize remote and blended learning this school year — and every year after?

With remote and blended learning continuing to be part of our short-term — and possibly long-term — strategies for instruction, we need to support teachers as they let edtech work in service of the instruction, and not the other way around.

Giancarlo Brotto

To begin, they can focus less on the bells and whistles of edtech tools. These resources have now been part of instruction for portions of three school years, which should make them less of a spectacle and more of a routine part of the instructional day. Given that reality, teachers should feel supported to return to the fundamental strategies of what makes learning work for students, then design tasks and incorporate digital tools to deliver them. Here are a few tangible ways that educators can use edtech tools in the classroom immediately:

  • For example, we know that learners use their prior knowledge and experiences to discern new information, so the question becomes how to leverage edtech to best make that happen. Educators can use SMART’s Lumio software or other journaling and graphic organizing tools to direct students to the graphic organizer, where they reflect on previous knowledge of a subject before they begin learning new concepts.
  • Learners also have varying degrees of attentiveness, but can all benefit when presented with new information in manageable chunks. Teachers are tasked with designing learning experiences and presenting materials in such a way that they’re not overloaded. Holding the attention of learners in non-interactive activities may pose a challenge — watching videos longer than 8 minutes long, for example. Teachers can use edtech tools such as the animated educational site BrainPop to break down material into smaller segments and incorporate interactive tasks that require students to activate their minds.
  • Edtech is transforming literacy instruction, as well. Normally, to get a full picture of a child’s fluency, a teacher must observe the child reading aloud, a time-consuming process for an educator with 20 to 25 developing readers in their class. But software that uses automated speech recognition systems, like the kind created by the Irish voice technology company SoapBox Labs, can be a huge timesaver for teachers and give them deeper insights into students’ reading progress. The student reads to a computer, which not only can assess their pronunciation and comprehension, but can screen for speech and reading disorders. “Voice technology is the next frontier in assessments, because it allows for more frequent testing — and more immediate interventions,” said Dr. Patricia Scanlan, SoapBox’s founder and executive chair.    

Teachers also can use blended technologies to make learning more visible. Educators can use tools such as Lumio to watch their kids complete activities or play “games” in real-time through shared workspaces. Teachers can assess their students’ progress, then provide feedback and individualized instruction based on their needs. That’s especially helpful when teachers are introducing a new idea or skill and are seeking confirmation that their students are “getting it.”    

Even before the pandemic exponentially expanded the use of edtech in K-12 classrooms, these innovative new tools were having a tremendous impact on how students learn. With remote and blended learning continuing to be part of our short-term — and possibly long-term — strategies for instruction, we need to support teachers as they let edtech work in service of the instruction, and not the other way around.

Giancarlo Brotto is a global education advisor for SMART and co-founder of Catalyst, a global community for education change agents.


Project Unicorn Releases New K12 Data Interoperability Report: What it Means for Classroom Educators

By: Erin Mote

Data interoperability, defined as the seamless, secure, and controlled exchange of data between applications, isn’t something educators think about on a day-to-day basis as they manage a classroom, interact with students, and exchange emails with parents. The technical underpinnings that make interoperability work are often invisible to the user. Like electricity, plumbing, or the highways we drive, it’s not particularly “sexy.” Even though most educators can recite chapter and verse the challenges caused by the lack of data interoperability, including the endless nights creating spreadsheets or the entry of grades into three different systems, they may not recognize interoperability as the solution. It’s kind of like broadband internet access: you don’t know what you’ve been missing until you have it, but once you’ve had it, it’s hard to live without.

Interoperability can make it easier for educators to view information from multiple source systems—such as student grades, standardized test scores, attendance, discipline/behavior history, and IEP information—in a single dashboard. Interoperability creates efficiencies and reduces complexities and costs while also allowing users to toggle from an individual student record to a whole class. This way, they can view individual data points as part of a larger context and identify trends or patterns that help them better support students. The alternative to a single visualization might be logging into five different systems, downloading data into spreadsheets, and manually manipulating the data to view it in one place. Interoperability empowers educators to look at the whole student picture, not just a tiny piece of it.        

Interoperability creates efficiencies and reduces complexities and cost while also allowing users to toggle from an individual student record to a whole class.

Erin Mote

Despite the many benefits of data interoperability, until now there has been no way to holistically understand the state of data interoperability in K12 and identify ways to build school system implementation capacity. To help evaluate how districts are leveraging interoperable data systems, Project Unicorn has released their State of the Sector report – the first of its kind analysis of K12 school system capabilities and infrastructure for leveraging education data. Based on results from the School System Data Survey (SSDS), launched in spring 2021, the report features data from over 100 Local Education Agencies (LEAs) and regional Education Service Agencies. The report represents an unprecedented collaboration with a coalition of 16 education organizations working to address the challenge of data interoperability in K12 education.

Key report takeaways for educators:

  • Many district leaders are not familiar with interoperability standards and/or how they might be used in their school system.
  • Larger and more urban districts tended to score higher on the survey overall than smaller and more rural ones.
  • School systems that have established procurement practices around technology tools are more mature in their use of interoperability standards and protecting student data privacy.

Classroom teachers should be spending their time leveraging data insights to benefit students instead of manually rostering classes into web-based tools, manipulating data in spreadsheets, and entering assessment results in multiple locations. Data interoperability has the potential to transform the daily life of educators, saving them time and effort and supporting the use of meaningful, data-informed instruction. Educators can play a powerful role in advocating for data interoperability within their districts.  Check out Getting Smart and Project Unicorn’s Teacher Toolkit to get engaged.  With the insights derived from the State of the Sector Report, the Project Unicorn coalition hopes to help make this transformation a reality.

More about data interoperability on Getting Smart can be found here in this smart bundle.

Erin Mote is the Executive Director of InnovateEDU and co-founder of Brooklyn Laboratory Charter Schools (LAB). She leads InnovateEDU and its major projects including the development of Cortex, work on data interoperability, an urban education Fellowship to diversify the teacher pipeline, and supports for LAB’s growth.


Microsoft: TakeLessons and TEALS

Microsoft is now offering some additional educational opportunities and experiences for educators and students. Recently, Microsoft announced its acquisition of TakeLessons, is a platform that offers students the opportunity to connect with individual tutors in a variety of interest areas. TakeLessons started in 2006 as a way for people to connect with local tutors to take in-person lessons and then it made the transition to being an online lessons provider. By acquiring TakeLessons, Microsoft will increase its already large presence in the online learning space for education.

With TakeLessons, students have access to highly-rated instructors from around the world that provide personalized lessons that meet each student’s particular interest, learning style, and pace. The benefit of a platform like TakeLessons was felt during the 2020-21 year of virtual teaching as educators and families sought more ways to connect students with real-world learning that focused on a variety of areas and skillsets.

The lessons are available to students regardless of location as they can be done in the student’s home, or depending on geographical areas, at a teacher’s location, or fully online. There are thousands of possibilities for connecting with learning experiences from around the world. Recent statistics show that there are two million people a month currently using the lessons available through TakeLessons. TakeLessons offers over 300 subjects, and nearly 6,500 teachers are involved in providing these lessons to students. More than 3 million lessons have been given around the world through TakeLessons.

TakeLessons offers instruction in a wide variety of areas, including music lessons (where it originally got its start), academic subjects and test prep, computer skills, crafts and hobbies, languages, and more. It has been around since 2006 and started as a platform to connect people with local tutors for in-person lessons, before progressing into online lessons which led to increased use in many areas. Lessons can be booked and some are available fully online or in-person. Lesson lengths are either 30-, 45- or 60-minutes.

To get started, you simply go to the TakeLessons site and you can choose a teacher face on state, or trending lessons available online, or group classes. Once you select teachers, you can see the classes offered, their particular skills and educational experience, the location whether online or available in a local area, customer reviews, and the cost for any associated lessons that they provide. Each instructor has profile information available so that you can learn more about them, then you simply choose the lesson. Because there are so many instructors included, lessons are available anytime from anywhere. Teachers can also sign up to be one of the instructors for TakeLessons.

Match, meet, master: Finding a teacher is easy by simply searching for what you want to learn, and it can locate a nearby teacher for you nearby and even make suggestions about possible topics to explore. It asks whether you want to take lessons online, at home, or in the teacher’s studio and which specific skills you are interested in developing. To try it out, I did a search for learning to play guitar, with country music, and not focused on a particular song. The search provided me with a list of 200 online teachers to choose from. I could read their profiles, see the cost of lessons, and other relevant information to help me to best make my decision in terms of what I was looking for.

Promoting computer science

Microsoft has recently expanded its TEALS program, Technology Education and Literacy in Schools program, which was founded in 2009.  TEALS is a “Philanthropies program that helps high schools develop and grow inclusive and sustainable computer science programs.” The new expansion will make the program available to schools in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and will also expand its reach to 18 more cities in the United States. Because of the growing need for skills in computer science, Microsoft is looking to increase access for Latino, Black, and African American high school students who are located in metro and rural communities. TEALS is currently available in 31 states.

According to information shared by Microsoft in the press release, there are currently 400,000 open computing jobs available in the United States and it is expected that this need will grow at twice the rate of all other jobs. Equity is also an issue as only 47% of U.S. high schools currently offer computer science. There is a definite interest as 90% of parents want their kids to learn computer science according to information shared through Code.org. One problem is having access to trained teachers and courses, which is how the TEALS expansion will assist as it also focuses on increasing access for diverse students. To resolve this lack of training, the TEALS program assists teachers in building their skills by setting up a collaboration with a tech industry volunteer, to work with high school teachers to team-teach computer science. The volunteers work with teachers as they learn to teach computer science on their own and provide access to resources to build the programs in their schools.

Because of the growing need for skills in computer science, Microsoft is looking to increase access for Latino, Black and African American high school students who are located in metro and rural communities.

Rachelle Dené Poth

With the new expansion in the program that will add 6,160 more students, there will be 17,000 students that will benefit from TEALS this year alone. Since the TEALS program started in 2009, more than 93,000 students have been impacted. During last year’s transitions between virtual and hybrid learning, the program opened up many opportunities for students and educators to stay connected and learn in new ways. During the 2021-22 school year, TEALS will continue to offer virtual classroom options that connect students with volunteers through the use of video conferencing tools and other methods to promote interaction. There are more than 1,300 volunteers available remotely that will help to teach students during this school year.

The program was highly beneficial especially for rural communities that found it more difficult to access opportunities such as those that can now be provided through TEALS. It promotes more social awareness as students can learn about areas beyond their community and connect with more authentic, real-world learning. It is also the first time that there will be Spanish translations available for the current English language curriculum. Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh is one of the curriculum providers that will be assisting with the translations.

Both of these programs provided through and amplified by Microsoft will help to connect students and educators with learning opportunities that truly can happen anywhere and anytime. Where barriers once existed due to a lack of resources or trained teachers, students now have access to learning that meets their interests and needs and connects them globally with educators around the world.  Educators now have additional support to grow their own practice and to bring more opportunities in for their students.


7 Tools for Promoting Communication and Collaboration

Now that most educators and students are back in the classroom, it is a great opportunity to focus on building relationships and to create more authentic, meaningful and engaging learning experiences for our students. It is also important that we find ways to promote communication and collaboration between students while in our classroom, between us and our students, and to have options available that are not limited by time and space.

There are a lot of great tools and activities available to get started with that don’t take much time at all. Especially at the start of a new school year when trying to get into a daily routine, planning our lessons, determining how to effectively assess students, and building relationships and essential SEL skills, it helps to have access to a few ideas to start with.

Probably more so this year than in prior years, I started by focusing on relationships and promoting communication and collaboration in our classroom. It was great to be back in person, especially since I had some students that I had not seen since March of 2020 and others, who I never met in person during the entire past school year. Because we had not all been together in quite some time and had less opportunities to talk and interact in the same space, I wanted to take extra time to get to know my students and for them to get to know one another. Having quick conversations and doing activities with students in person makes a difference and helps us to quickly assess students’ well-being and learning.

I had some great ideas for the start of the year to get to know my students and to get them talking. I decided to play some different games, ask them random questions, use some would you rather type questions, and also created a Google form to gather input from my students about their learning goals and concerns for the school year and our class. A few students asked if they could write responses on paper or record a video response instead of talking in class. Not everybody is a fan of icebreakers and some may not feel comfortable speaking in front of class, especially when you’re sharing information about yourself, but we have a lot of options that we can choose from that provide support and comfort and of course help us to reach our goals of building our classroom community. Not just at the start of the year but throughout the year.

We just need different tools and methods that we can use that promote communication and collaboration in our classroom. Using some of these options, it can help us to communicate with our students when we provide feedback or when we check in with them for example. By using tools which offer a variety of options ranging from written communication, to audio and video, we put the choices in the hands of the students to decide how to communicate their ideas while also creating a space for collaboration.

Some questions that I often ask myself include:

  • How can we better understand student needs?
  • What methods or tools promote more interactive and collaborative experiences?
  • Which tools promote real-time interactions and feedback?
  • Which tools facilitate communication and encourage students to respond?

By using tools which offer a variety of options ranging from written communication, to audio and video, we put the choices in the hands of the students to decide how to communicate their ideas while also creating a space for collaboration.

Rachelle Dené Poth

Here are seven options to explore:

Google Jamboard is a great choice for boosting collaboration and facilitating communication within and outside of class. It is free to use, easy to get started with, and can be used for all grade levels and content areas. Create a Jamboard and ask students to respond with an image or text and use it to promote communication in the classroom. Create separate boards to have small groups work together.

GoSoapBox can be used to create a discussion, poll, or quiz. Students are more comfortable posting responses in this space and engaging in a discussion through writing, as they build confidence in speaking with and in front of peers. It is free to use and does not require logins or any downloads to get started.

Mote is a versatile tool to use for providing authentic and timely feedback to students, and promoting communication and collaboration in and out of the classroom. There are many ways to use Mote for students and teachers. Voice comments can be recorded and added to Google Slides, Google Documents, Gmail, websites and more. It also offers transcription in more than 20 languages.

Padlet has made some updates to its robust features, offering more ways to curate content, communicate and collaborate within one digital bulletin board space. Use Padlet to create a quick scavenger hunt, to have students post introductions, or to collaborate globally with classrooms, for a few examples. Student groups can even use Padlet as a space to collaborate on a project and include audio or video, embed links or add images or documents, for all group members to access and respond to in one place.

Skilled Space is an audio platform that enables live audio-only conversations that can help to create and foster a sense of belonging in the classroom. Skilled space helps to promote active listening skills and conversations between students which leads to relationship building as well as social awareness.

Spaces EDU offers a variety of ways for students and teachers to communicate and collaborate in the digital space. Spaces can be used for a digital portfolio or as a way to communicate throughout the learning journey. You can share information through text, images, audio and video and it is easy for members of a class or a group to work together.

Yoteach! added some newer features that make it another versatile space for collaboration. Teachers can create a room with a password set for students for login. Participants can send a message in text, add in a poll, create or participate in a collaborative spaceboard, or upload a picture to share.

Each of these tools or strategies offer ways to promote communication and collaboration while fostering a sense of community for students and for ourselves. We can stay better connected and be able to understand our students and their are and provide support when it is needed.


Why Collaborate for Online Learning? Because it Just (Net)Works

When COVID forced the world into online learning, we saw educators working tirelessly to learn, implement, iterate and design new digital solutions on the fly.

It’s almost impossible to believe we are now in the third school year affected by the pandemic. While we are all hopeful it is the last, there are many lessons learned and new opportunities created by educators and leaders who used the challenges of school closures to reimagine how and where learning is delivered to students.

While online learning is not a novel idea, in the last two years it has become more widely utilized than ever before. According to a RAND study and supported anecdotally by many local media stories, more than a thousand districts are starting or significantly expanding online or hybrid programs this school year. It’s likely that most of them are doing so in response to a demand from parents and students who value the flexibility of remote learning and want to continue learning in a new, innovative approach.

At Getting Smart we are advocates for choice and believe a strong, effective online learning option should be available to all learners through their neighborhood school. But we know that this work cannot be done alone.

Edleaders are in need of support and other leaders to share best practices and garner expert advice. Enter the Digital Learning Collaborative (DLC), an initiative that seeks to support districts and schools as they increase options for students and improve outcomes.

While online learning is not a novel idea, in the last two years it has become more widely utilized than ever before.

Jessica Slusser

Who is the Digital Learning Collaborative?

Started by the Evergreen Education Group, DLC is a membership group made up of educators, providers, supporters and thought leaders who are all committed to improving education for schools and students. All stakeholders in education are invited to join, whether you’re an educator, school board member, reporter, researcher or policymaker.

Given the dramatic shift for many districts, DLC is heavily focused on  meeting the needs of those starting an online or hybrid program. The collaborative ecompasses many different schools and instructional practices, including but not limited to state virtual schools, online schools, hybrid and mainstream schools.

Getting Smart strongly believes in the power of Networks, so we’re excited to have partnered with DLC to help share this opportunity with teachers and leaders in our own community!

The DLC is offering new membership options for districts this year. Membership benefits include ongoing members-only webinars that dig deeper into these topics, with opportunities for discussion among participants, as well as online discussions, “office hours” with experienced practitioners, and extensive practical guides and resources.

DLC webinars, office hours, happy hours, and other events are organized and presented by practitioners, researchers, and others who have many years of experience in the online, blended, and hybrid learning field.

Their new membership option provides for up to five people from your school or district to take advantage of the resources and learning opportunities. A portion of the annual fee to join is also given as credit to attend DLC’s main event, the Digital Learning Annual Conference (read about the most recent conference in our blog recap).

Start Learning Now.

To help support districts, DLC is offering a free webinar series every Monday through November 1st, 2021 that is open to anyone interested in learning from leaders in the field. These webinars will spend 20-30 minutes exploring keys to success in running an online or hybrid school. This includes setting clear and measurable goals, hiring and training teachers, selecting content and technology and engaging families. Following the discussion there will be time for attendees to bring your questions, share your stories and start moving forward in the right direction.

So if you’re thinking about starting an online or hybrid option, or maybe you already have but are running into obstacles, it’s time to join a webinar and learn more about implementing a successful online program. Click here to start learning and networking.

If membership isn’t right at this time, DLC is offering our readers a 10% discount on registration for the Digital Learning Annual Conference! To register, click here and use code DLACSmart22 to save!


Empower Online Learners: Top 10 Pro Tips for Project Design and Delivery

As we start a new school year, many of us have been thrust back into a digital space. And while it’s not ideal, it’s what we’ve got.

The question for us as we return shouldn’t be: ‘How many days until things ‘return’ to normal?’ But instead: ‘How do we best engage and empower our remote learners?’

Hybrid Learning IS the new normal. Many courageous educators have already experienced great success. And they are using meaningful, student-centered project-based experiences as their favorite weapon of choice. After working with 100+ teachers to design and develop these projects in a digital space, here are my top 10 tips for you in running yours:

Pro Tip #1: Stop Delivering Whole-Class Lessons Online: Make synchronous time for group presentations and check-ins

Simply put, we can’t engage an entire class the way we can F2F. Students have limited attention spans when staring at a screen. It’s far more effective to re-configure our online schedule to allow for ACTIVE learning experiences. We can conduct short group check-ins. Run feedback sessions for project work. Or do what Sara Lev did to gather ideas for her ‘Space Podcast’ project; follow students on tours of their home learning spaces to discover her class’ shared interests.

Pro Tip #2: Use Collaborative Tools for Group Work

Many teachers avoid group projects online because they feel they are too hard to manage. And while it is certainly more challenging, with the right project management tool, things are a lot easier. Alison Yang of KIS International used a digital Trello board for groups to post project work, divide tasks, track progress, and offer other group’s feedback on their CoVid-19 support projects. There was even a space for her to pose provocative questions to help propel each group forward. If you are a more advanced PBL teacher, you can turn over project management completely to students through Spinndle, an incredible project management system from Jacqueline Robillard and her team.

Pro Tip #3: Use Simple Digital Tools for Co-Creation

Keeping things as simple as possible for creation in the digital space will help ensure better results from students. Use platforms and tools students are already familiar with. If you are a G Suite school, keep things consolidated in that platform. If Microsoft- use Teams, and their suite of Apps. You can create BEAUTIFUL co-created products using simple tools. Alexa Lepp, a 5th-grade teacher used a simple Google Slidedeck to help students co-construct a class digital cookbook of recipes and family stories; Rob Livingston Shaw used SoundTrap to help students co-create soundtracks online for socially distanced spaces in his ‘Music for Spaces’ project.

Pro Tip #4: Co-Create Learning Experiences/Projects with other Teachers

Let’s face it, online teaching and learning can be pretty lonely and overwhelming. Sharing a project-based experience with another teacher helps things feel more connected and manageable. Make generating project ideas simple by using a collaborative padlet for co-creation. Here is a sample padlet of project ideas around CoVid-19 generated by groups of teachers according to subject. Feel free to add an idea of your own!

Pro Tip #5: Provide Hyperlinked Digital Study Guides/ Design Briefs

Many educators wrongfully assume that projects are not planned and that students magically become self-directed from the minute it is introduced. Projects require the same milestones and scaffolds as any other learning experience. Help lower the anxiety of your online learners by providing digital, hyperlinked study guides. Include the major project challenge, essential inquiry question, major deliverables, and a rough overview of due dates. Here is a sample study guide for an intergenerational playground project run by Alfie Chung of The Polytechnic University of Hong Kong.

Tip #6: Use ONE central online LMS

Imagine receiving 10+ emails daily from 10+ teachers, all with their own sets of expectations and requirements for the day. It’s no wonder several students don’t show up for online class meetings! Make things easier on students by using one LMS. A central LMS for all handouts, messages, updates, workflow, etc. in tandem with your digital study guides will ensure students don’t feel overwhelmed and stay caught up.

Pro Tip #7: Exhibit Work Regularly and Dynamically!

Several teachers begrudge the quality of work they are receiving from their remote learners. And while this may be due to online fatigue, a lot of it has to do with the fact that they simply don’t care. Make remote project work more meaningful by providing students a real, authentic audience to exhibit their work publicly to. You can do what McCall Elementary did in their ‘Black History Month’ project exhibitions, and set up Google Breakout Rooms for classroom presentations, or do what Mount Vernon High School did in their Performing Arts Project Showcase, and create a dynamic Virtual Museum!

Tip #8: Hold Optional ‘Project Co-Working’ Online Sessions

In the same way, several businesses prefer to work in dynamic, shared office space, many of our remote learners will elevate their engagement when working regularly alongside classmates. Hold opt-in project work sessions for students to work on their projects and share their work. Put on some light music in a mixed playlist that students co-curate, and hold fun ‘brain breaks’ for physical activities.

Pro Tip #9: Zoom in Project Experts

Imagine how exciting it would be for students if, during your space exploration project, they had the chance to chat with real NASA astronauts. Or in their class novel project, they got to Facetime with J.K. Rowling! That’s what Sarah Youngren, a 6th-grade Humanities Teacher plans to do to better engage and empower her students in developing their short stories. You can use experts for inspiration on student ideas, and/or use them as mentors to help critique and offer feedback on student work.

Pro Tip #10: Do the Project First!

Have you completed the projects you are asking students to do first? Doing projects first will allow you to predict the same pitfalls, frustrations, triumphs, and tribulations your students will undergo in project completion. It will also add an extra layer of credibility and trust between you and your class. For example, if you are asking students to publish their stories, try publishing something yourself first. If you are strapped for time, complete your own project alongside your students. Model the metacognitive process you go through when coming up with ideas, setting due dates, considering revisions, etc.

Where to Go from Here?

Which tip did you most resonate with? Got any tips of your own? Let me know and I will be sure to add them! And if you are looking for a simple step-by-step guide to designing, implementing, and assessing your PBL experience in the remote space, here is a simple course I created to help you get started. You can also get insights from fellow innovative practitioners in our ‘Transform Thru True PBL’ Facebook Community.

For more, see:


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