The Future of Work: Assessing Skills Essential for Success

By Doris Zahner, Ph.D

Our ever-growing technological world is rapidly changing the nature of work and the skills required to be successful. Workforce success is becoming less dependent on having content knowledge and more dependent on essential career readiness skills including critical thinking, problem solving and effective written communication.  

Almost a third of the world’s workforce — more than a billion jobs — is likely to be transformed by technology in the coming decade, according to estimates by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an internationally focused nonprofit that works “to build better policies for better lives.” 

“While it will be imperative for people to increasingly work with technology going forward, it’s a misconception that everyone will need to develop high-tech or scientific skills,” Saadia Zahidi, managing director at the World Economic Forum, wrote in reaction to OECD’s data.

A U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics news release published in August 2021 reported that people born in the years 1957 to 1964 held an average of 12.4 jobs from age 18 to age 54. In order to successfully traverse their careers, today’s students will need transferrable, essential skills to optimize success as they will likely have as many, if not more jobs as previous generations.  

Employers agree that these essential career readiness skills are crucial for success. According to employer research by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, while the top-ranked outcomes vary from year-to-year, critical thinking and analysis, problem solving, teamwork, and communication through writing and speaking have consistently been ranked by employers as the most important skills over time.

As assessment leaders for almost 20 years, the Council for Aid to Education (CAE)’s mission is to ensure students are as well prepared as they can be for higher education and the workforce. Unfortunately our research shows many students are not proficient in the skills employers demand most.

From a 2021 CAE Report

To empower and equip this generation of students, we should use this moment to rethink what skills we’re assessing as well as how and when we measure them.

What should we assess?

Students need a strong combination of content knowledge and essential skills to do well academically and to be prepared for success in the jobs of tomorrow.

CAE’s performance-based Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+) for higher education and College and Career Readiness Assessment (CCRA+) for secondary education, which have been used by over 800,000 students worldwide, provide accurate, reliable insights into students’ critical thinking, problem solving, and written communication abilities so that educators can plan instruction, programs, and supports to help their students’ develop these essential skills. Employers have long sought these competences and recognized their importance.

Current measures of academic success, such as a transcript, focus on content knowledge. There is often little or no information provided on critical thinking and communication. However, these skills are so fundamental to students’ success during their education and after graduation, it is important to explicitly teach them. Just like with domain knowledge, these essential skills should be regularly assessed in order to provide educators with data to guide whole class instruction, provide targeted  resources to small groups and individual students, and develop institution and district-wide programming.

How should we assess?

The best assessment is one that is most authentic to what a student might encounter in the real world.

Unlike multiple-choice tests, our assessments present students with real-world situations to which they must come up with a solution. Through these performance tasks, students demonstrate their ability to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize data and information and, ultimately, develop and effectively communicate their solution to a problem.

According to our research, students are more engaged and put forth more effort on a performance task than on conventional multiple-choice tests. With that increased student engagement and effort, educators can gain insights into their knowledge, skills and abilities, and more accurately assess their readiness.

When should we assess?

Essential skills are typically not explicitly measured nor included in students’ K-12 or post-secondary curriculum. We believe it is vital to assess student’s critical thinking skills as early as possible – starting with the sixth grade – and certainly when they begin high school and college.

By identifying strengths, as well as understanding opportunities for improvement, educators can better target development. Along with appropriate developmental support, students can further improve their skills through coursework and resources outside the classroom (e.g., internships), maximizing career readiness upon graduation.

As an example, we are currently working with a higher education institution that is incorporating essential skills instruction into its fall curriculum for business majors. Entering students are assessed during their first few weeks of classes to set a baseline. These students are then given instruction on how to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills through a performance task model.  

Exiting students at this institution are given instruction early in the semester so they can apply these skills throughout their coursework. They are then assessed before they graduate. Students that demonstrate proficiency are awarded a micro-credential – since these skills are not typically included on a transcript. Credentialing provides an objective standard of these real-world skills that students can share with future educational institutions and prospective employers.

Conclusion

The nature of the work is changing, both in the short and long-term, and educators play a critical role in students’ future success. Content knowledge mastery paired with strong essential career readiness skills is the winning formula for success in secondary school and higher education. It provides students with a solid foundation to pursue, and be successful with, their next steps after graduation.

Assessment is the first step in improvement. Let’s ensure students are as well prepared as they can be for whatever future path they take.

Doris Zahner, Ph.D. is the chief academic officer at Council for Aid to Education, Inc. (CAE), a nonprofit developer of performance-based and custom assessments that authentically measure students’ essential college and career readiness skills. She oversees all research studies pertaining to CAE’s performance-based assessments and provides scientific oversight of scoring, equating, and reporting. Dr. Zahner holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology and an MS in applied statistics from Teachers College, Columbia University. For more information, visit www.cae.org.


How Simulations Can Decrease Faculty Workload and Increase Employers’ Confidence

By: Don Fraser

At Education Design Lab, we believe in the importance of intentionally training learners in 21st-century skills. We help colleges and universities design programs, micro-credentials and micro-pathways tied to employers’ needs and that can stack to a full degree. We rely on micro-credentialing to make that learning visible to educators and employers, but micro-credentialing is still in its infancy and has a tough nut yet to crack for institutions to scale them.

In recent years, and fueled by the pandemic, higher education has been coming around to the idea that they need to begin offering more discrete credentials and the process of unpacking a degree, boiling it down to component parts, and offering digital badges for those parts as they’re mastered. This allows students to earn value along the way, rather than at the completion of a course or a degree. This approach is particularly useful in validating a student’s mastery of 21st-century skills, which tend not to be taught in a class of their own, but implicitly within course and majors.

The problem in the world of micro-credentialing is that assessment when done correctly, is a complicated process. Professors are already doing a lot of assessments, or they’re bringing in a teaching assistant because they need additional capacity to handle the grading of assessments. In many cases, that additional assessing and grading could be a non-starter for institutions interested in offering rigorous micro-credentials.

To solve that challenge, we partnered with Hope College and Muzzy Lane, a company that provides a platform and other support to help educators create simulations for students to practice and assess skills, to pilot the use of simulations for assessing critical thinking skills. Here’s how it worked.

Why Simulations?

From our years of research, one thing we’ve learned from employers is that performance-based assessments are the most effective way to evaluate and display competency in 21st-century skills, so we worked with employers and developed a set of assessments they’d find useful. We offer micro-credentials in eight of these skills:

  • Initiative
  • Creative Problem-Solving
  • Collaboration
  • Intercultural Fluency
  • Resilience
  • Oral Communication
  • Empathy
  • Critical Thinking

Those assessments were good, but not great, mainly because they were time-intensive to administer and to grade.

A friend had introduced me to Muzzy Lane and the learning and assessment simulations they helped educators build, and we began to think that simulations might solve that challenge for us. So we began creating scenarios that someone might encounter in the workplace based on the earlier assessment we’d created. We chose to start with critical thinking because, according to our work, it is the most in-demand among higher education institutions and employers regardless of industry.

One of the benefits of simulations is that they allow for teachers who are not experts in the content being assessed to assess students. We often hear from faculty, “I teach history. I’m not an expert in critical thinking as a skill. How do I teach that?” With simulations, if you put the learning in front of students, the assessment will draw on their skills and automatically assess them. The teacher doesn’t need to know what to look for in answers or what level of mastery the student must demonstrate to pass. That’s all handled on the back end.

Simulations also provide another level of engagement. As a lifelong educator, I know that we learn best by applying the skills that we’re learning. Reading and listening to lectures is important, but it’s not a direct application of skills relevant to the real world. A simulation will ask students to do exactly that: to put the knowledge they are learning to use in a way that they haven’t done in the classroom, an internship, or likely anywhere else at all.

Reading and listening to lectures is important, but it’s not a direct application of skills relevant to the real world.

Don Fraser

Creating the Simulation

Creating the simulation turned out to be a pretty intensive process, but we learned a lot from the experience.

Generally, faculty who are using the Muzzy Lane platform author their own simulations, tailored specifically to their class and content. In our case, we were looking to create a more universally applicable simulation that would fit into any class with minimal tweaking. We also had our rubric from the previous assessment, which had been battle-tested and proven, and which we did not want to change.

We used our assessment rubrics to match the four sub-competencies we’ve identified within critical thinking. Since we wanted a simulation that cut all the way across critical thinking, we needed the simulation to include all four sub-competencies. After advice and software expertise from the Muzzy team, we were able to create a scenario that would provide a dynamic setting and experience to measure all four competencies. In the end, we had not just an interactive simulation, but only a single assessment where we’d previously had four.

Piloting the Simulation

We chose to partner with Hope College because they were one of the institutions that helped us design the critical-thinking framework, assessments, and rubric. We asked students who had already completed the original assessments to go through the simulation.  To our delight, we received a lot of great feedback from the students. They said the simulation was more engaging and more fun than traditional assessments–UX matters to us, so this was music to our ears. But what we were really interested in was the response from educators. While the rubric was the same as the previous assessment, the scenario in the simulation was different, so we were very interested in hearing whether they thought it assessed the skill as well and to what extent it improved their experience as a facilitator.

The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and they described it as a game-changer that freed them up to do other things besides grading multiple assessments. Since this initial test, other institutions and organizations have tested the critical thinking simulation and have provided us with similar feedback. One 21st century skill down and seven more to go! The Lab is well on its way to ushering in the next, improved phase of its 21st-century skill micro-credentialing.

Don Fraser is the chief program officer at Education Design Lab. Prior to his work at the Lab, Don founded CollegeSnapps, a Washington, D.C. based education technology startup company. He also served as the director of education for the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), where he created educational opportunities for high school counselors and college admission professionals. Don began his work as a school counselor and brings his roots in psychology and history of transforming student perspectives and needs into action to the Lab’s design thinking-driven process. Don received his B.A. in Psychology from Boston College and his Master’s of Education in School Psychology from the University of Massachusetts. He can be reached at [email protected].


EdD Programs: The Untapped Entrepreneurial Talent Pool

By: Vanessa Monterosa, Ed.D.

I firmly believe there is an entrepreneurial aspect to EdD programs and graduate school learning where we are tinkering with ideas and contemplating how to bring them to life. How do we tap into that? Where might education doctoral programs and entrepreneurial spaces intersect? I understand that not all educators want to be entrepreneurs, but I am thinking about those who have never considered the entrepreneurial space and how it might spark a new way to approach education. Moreover, as the education entrepreneurial space continues to grow, we definitely want seasoned practitioners informing the design too.

When I was in graduate school writing my dissertation, I may be the first one to say that I had a lot of fun writing it. But if you were to look up my dissertation, just remember a good dissertation is a done dissertation. Don’t expect a perfectly authored piece of work. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the process of synthesizing theory and practice. I remember having so many ideas about how I would implement my findings. At the end of the day, I was an EdD student still working within a large bureaucratic system where creative solutions could only go so far.

This is what has been swirling about in my head since I attended the recent ASU+GSV Summit, which is the first time I’ve ever participated, where I sat in on several interesting sessions and connected with so many brilliant CEOs, founders, and investors.

A theme I heard across the sessions I attended focused on where to find leaders of color to invest in. This sparked a week-long flurry of thoughts and ideas based on what I heard that kept me up all week:

“There still remains a need for leaders of color in the education entrepreneurial space.”

There is a wealth of talent across schools of education, especially California State Universities, which are institutions that predominately prepare leaders of color. In fact, CSU Northridge, CSU Fullerton, CSULA, and CSULB (my alma mater woo!) are among the top 15 institutions to grant graduate degrees to Latina/o students. This past summer, I served as a writing coach and dissertation consultant to a great cohort of EdD students who are currently developing amazing dissertation ideas that all centered students / teachers / communities of color. So, if you are looking for solutions for our must underserved and underestimated communities, connect with your local public university that runs an EdD program.

“Older adults (40+) remain an untapped talent pool.”

This particular idea struck me. As an education leader who is closer to 40 than I last remember, I know I have a wealth of career experience, training, and wisdom I’ve learned through the years. I have some ideas on how we might innovate systems for teaching and learning. I also know I am not the only one. In my personal graduate school journey and through my dissertation consulting efforts, I’ve come across so many education leaders who have phenomenal ideas, approaches, and insight. But I guarantee they remain unaware of organizations who would love to support and seed their innovation. Do you know where you can find older potential entrepreneurs who have extensive career experience and worthwhile research-driven ideas? Look no further than at education doctoral programs aimed at working adults that offer evening and weekend learning opportunities. The flexibility of these programs create opportunities for students (read: seasoned educators) to engage in praxis that can critically inform entrepreneurial efforts to address teaching and learning gaps.

“Research-practice-partnerships have so much entrepreneurial potential.”

In my previous role at L.A. Unified, one of the many hats I wore was as our RPP lead, managing and facilitating our RPP efforts with local universities to ensure a mutually beneficial exchange and engagement of knowledge, practices, and ideas. Having worked in academia before becoming a practitioner, I know what it’s like to want to do research in a classroom or district when the drive is to publish, publish, publish. As academics, we rarely take a moment to ask what our research participants might need or how they might benefit from our rigorous research. This isn’t done out of malice; it’s just there are other drivers at play in academia. However, RPPs are an explicit effort to mitigate these very situations. There is a rich opportunity among RPPs for an entrepreneurial element, but there is definitely a need to more concretely codify this kind of solution in what it means to run, lead, and establish a successful RPP. For rich insights into how an RPP can be designed for success, I believe our EdD students would have a great deal to share since their work always center practice.

 “Education entrepreneurs have the attention of the country, the private sector, and so many groups looking to fund innovation.”

As schools are reopening, I agree that all eyes are on our education system and how they’ll fare after all we’ve been through. As I mentioned earlier, I witnessed so much ingenuity, especially in the darkest, loneliest hours of the shutdown. The educators who still managed to inspire and empower our learners definitely have entrepreneurial insights to share. However, do the educators who lived and led through COVID see themselves, especially leaders of color? I have witnessed firsthand the creativity and innovation of our teachers as they found ways to make caring, learning, and teaching happen for their students, but how can their ingenuity translate to informing solutions when the education and entrepreneurship sectors intersect very little?

Pedro Noguera and Susanna Loeb shared that schools of education definitely need to be a part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, and I agree!

Are there organizations already making this happen? If not, I want to make that happen.

For more, see:


Dr. Vanessa Monterosa is a seasoned edtech scholar-practitioner and leadership consultant. Dr. Monterosa helps K12 leaders, doctoral candidates, and early career scholars refine and shape their ideas for clarity, impact, and accessibility. Additionally, she designed a nationally recognized digital citizenship program from policy to practice that reached over 14,000 educators across Los Angeles Unified — the nation’s second largest school district. To learn more about her passion to cultivate innovative education leaders, follow her on Linkedin and Twitter.

This post was originally published on Linkedin.

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Dreamscape Learn Pod Unveiled at ASU+GSV Summit

At the ASU+GSV Summit, a leading digital learning summit held in San Diego, California, virtual reality (VR) enthusiasts had an opportunity to experience Dreamscape Learn pod, a first-of-its-kind, full-body tracking, immersive VR experience. Created in partnership with Steven Spielberg, Dreamscape Immersive and Arizona State University (ASU) unveiled the pod for the first time during the event.

ASU President Michael M. Crow and Dreamscape Immersive founder/president and former DreamWorks Pictures studio head Walter Parkes, worked together to create Dreamscape Learn. President Crow and Parkes together merged the ideas of creating Hollywood storytelling with the innovation from ASU. ASU has been a leader in innovation and cutting-edge technology and has been ranked number one in innovation for the sixth year by the US News and World Report.

I had the chance to speak with Lisa Flesher, Chief of Realm 4 Project Acceleration at Arizona State University, about Dreamscape Learn. Flesher shared the new pod, the first of its kind, has been in testing at ASU. Dreamscape Immersive also has storefronts in the United States and an international location in Dubai. To experience Dreamscape, you sign up, similar to how you would for a movie, to go through an immersive virtual reality experience. The Dreamscape Learn pods have taken what Dreamscape was doing and weaved it into the educational space.

To prepare, Dreamscape did testing with over 90 students who engaged in day-long sessions over a period of four weeks. After this testing period, they found that there was an 18% increase, the equivalent of two letter grades of improvement compared with students who did not experience the pilot.

The ASU and Dreamscape teams are confident that these immersive experiences will amplify the learning potential for students, in particular, because there are no distractions while being immersed within the VR space. Flesher mentioned distractions such as receiving messages on a phone or an Apple Watch. You cannot look at those while in the experience, so it promotes the continued engagement in the learning.

Beyond immersive learning, Dreamscape Learn also provides experiential learning opportunities for students. There are currently several experiences available focused on the biology curriculum. Three modules each have three acts of 10 minutes in duration. Students will work through nine virtual reality experiences in a semester. During the experience, students will be transported to the Dreamscape Learn XR “Alien Zoo,” a digital world that has been created.

Alien Zoo transports the user to a wildlife sanctuary where they can study endangered life-forms in the universe. While in the pod, students experience moving floors while surrounded by a very visually engaging and realistic environment where they can explore and engage in a more immersive learning experience. When the act is completed, students then work on lab activities in a traditional classroom style and can more meaningfully complete activities and engage in conversations, based on what they experienced through virtual reality. While in the pod, students are able to explore on their own, conduct investigations, and attach meaning to what they are learning in a more personalized way.

Images provided by ASU Dreamscape Immersive

Through their immersive experience, students move from being passive learners and consumers to becoming explorer-scientists as they work to collect digital specimens, treat infectious diseases, and solve problems that connect with key concepts taught and required as part of introductory biology college courses.

The immersive experience helps students to connect to real-world applications. One example is when students are exploring the environment and can look more closely at a sick creature, assess it, look at the data, analyze the information, then work collaboratively with other students. Students will process and retain what they learn in a more meaningful way because of the level of engagement made possible through the use of VR learning pods. These opportunities are especially helpful when traveling is limited or similar experiences are not easily accessible. Being able to provide all students with the opportunity to explore on their own and collaborate with peers as part of the experience is of greater benefit.

Planning ahead

ASU Prep is a K-12 charter school that has been doing a crosswalk with Dreamscape to see if this can work as a high school class. Biology 100 is a dual enrollment course available for high school students to enroll in and receive college credit. Providing this new way to learn and be immersed helps students to more closely connect with the content by interacting within the virtual space.

Students need to build skills such as scientific reasoning, critical thinking, taking risks and experiencing failures, problem-solving and iterating to continue to build their skills. The level of engagement provides a new dynamic for the retention of content material. Flesher stated that “you remember more because you were there and you experienced it.” She also added that with the learning pod, “You can’t see anything other than what you are experiencing which then pushes you to be fully present in learning and leads to cognitive gain.”

Virtual reality already provides the “wow,” which means we need to add activities that will enhance the learning experience for students. These enhanced experiences come in the form of face-to-face time and interactions, being able to foster communication and collaboration with students who are retaining more of what they’re learning because they are fully immersed in the learning experience. Check out the overview from ASU President Michael Crow here. ASU’s mission is focused on inclusivity and being able to provide these opportunities to more students. Dreamscape Learn is anticipated to be made available for students this year with plans to expand to other subjects in 2022 and beyond.

For more, see:


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Top 5 Benefits of Coding for Kids

By: Priyanka Reddy

Ever thought about the benefits of coding for kids apart from the fact that it is one of the most essential 21st-century skills?

Coding enables children to become independent citizens in a world where technology is ubiquitous. Learning to code helps students better understand one aspect of the digital world in which we live and, in some ways, become better prepared for it. The objective behind learning to code is no longer restricted to becoming a skilled coder and meeting the job market’s needs. It enables children to progress in all aspects of life.

The benefits of coding can be surprisingly wide-ranging. When it comes to preparing your kids for the future from an early age, coding opens the door to plenty of opportunities to acquire life skills and explore career opportunities.

In this blog, we will discuss the top five benefits of coding for kids. So let’s get started.

Coding nurtures creativity

Coding for kids is a fundamentally creative process, starting with nothing and finishing with something.

Just like painting or cooking, coding encourages a child to benefit from the satisfaction through the process. In the real world, creative acts are often limited by the materials we have at our disposal—like ingredients when we cook or the canvas when we paint. But with coding, where the virtual world is infinite, the only restriction is the child’s imagination. Creativity lays the foundation for innovation, ingenuity, and leadership because it represents the ability to connect existing ideas with new solutions, approaches, and concepts.

Creative thinking begins with a questioning mindset. And, through coding, we enable our curious and imaginative kids to be the creative thinkers of the next generation. It can be taught by encouraging kids to experiment, explore their ideas, question their assumptions, make mistakes and learn from them.

Coding makes math more fun and engaging

Over the years, the belief has been that kids interested in coding should develop strong math skills. However, it turns out the reverse may also be true: coding can help children build math skills and make learning math more engaging and fun. Math and coding are deeply related. Teaching kids how to code involves applying math concepts. Your kids will acquire these mathematical skills and abilities without even noticing them and while having fun.

When your kids participate in any coding competition, they apply principles that belong to mathematics and develop strong mathematical thinking that will help them in many areas of their academic and personal life.

Coding develops problem-solving skills

The ability to code gives a new perspective to problem-solving. From beginners to professionals, anyone will tell you that writing codes can get quite challenging. Through coding, children learn to quickly fix and try again in different ways when something doesn’t work out. Coding also equips kids with the ability to stick with a problem and work on finding a solution. This problem-solving technique is transferable to a lot of other fields.

For example, scientists solve problems by forming hypotheses and testing these hypotheses one by one. A coder tweaks parts of his code one component at a time to try which one solves the problem.

Coding enables computational thinking

Computational thinking is a structured and proven method designed to identify problems regardless of age or computer literacy level. It helps develop critical thinking and focuses on helping students develop and employ strategies for understanding and solving problems. It’s “cross-disciplinary” in nature, and it makes sense to start teaching it in elementary or even preschool. All the subjects are naturally blended for the students within the same environment.

More than anything, computational thinking is an unbelievably valuable thinking tool—perhaps the thinking tool of the 21st-century. By learning to code, kids develop the method of computational thinking.

Coding promotes learning by doing

Children learn best through doing and exploring. Learning by doing refers to a theory of education expounded by American philosopher John Dewey. It’s a hands-on approach to learning where students interact with their environment to adapt and learn. ​​Learning by doing is the idea that we learn more when we actually “do” the activity. For example, imagine a kid is learning to play a game. With the learning by doing approach, the kid would understand the app they are using to play the game. Later, they begin to discover more about the movement of objects, points they can earn, and so on. It involves active engagement, not a passive practice.

Active engagement facilitates kids with deep learning and encourages mistakes, notice wrong movements, and how to learn from those.

Time to introduce your kids to coding!

To get your child interested, show them what coding allows them to make. Coding will enable them to do anything, starting from creating games and apps, designing animations, and much more. And, of course, it’s fun! Even if your child wants to do something outside of computer science when they grow up, their coding skills will prove helpful across fields—coding teaches problem-solving, organization, math, storytelling, designing, and more.

Most importantly, the ability to code transforms kids from passive consumers into innovative creators, with eyes that see every piece of technology as more than just a toy but as a problem to solve and an opportunity to create.

The benefits of coding come in handy for different aspects of life and allow kids to express themselves.

For more, see:


Priyanka Reddy is a Technical Content Writer at Codingal. Follow her on LinkedIn: Priyanka Reddy.

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The importance of a Stellar Ambassador Team when Introducing New Tech

By: Whitney Green

I am an assistant principal at a mega elementary school in Chattanooga, TN. Our district has roughly 79 schools with a variety of demographics, including low-income rural and urban students, as well as upper-middle-class suburban students. Our district recently went through a change in administration and we now have an amazing superintendent who is focused, personable, and determined to be the highest-achieving school district in the state of Tennessee. And let me just say, we did it! Then came the pandemic.

As a former college athlete, Michael Jordan has always played a vital role in how I have viewed leadership and success. Michael Jordan understood that his failures made him successful. He also never looked back and always looked for the next play, next shot, next move. This resonated with me when we had to quarantine in March and our virtual learning experience was a failure, as students were not accessing or receiving the same level of rigor as they were when we were in school in a face-to-face setting.

The year before, I led the piloting of EL Education for 3rd-5th grades in our school, and we were seeing significant progress in English Language Arts (ELA) proficiency. Our administrative team recognized we needed students to be able to access the rigorous EL Education curriculum to continue this progress throughout the pandemic. But how would we do that for kids learning virtually? Since I led the EL Education pilot the year prior, I felt the pressure to continue this momentum with such an amazing curriculum.

I like to use the saying that our school is leading, not trailing, and fortunately, because of this, the district approached me about piloting a digital form of the EL Education curriculum available on the Kiddom platform going into the 2020-2021 school year.

Implementing anything new is something most leaders dread, as any change can bring about some resistance. To create buy-in with your teachers, you need to start off small. I developed a “think tank” by asking one teacher per team to participate. They loved Kiddom! It provided the EL Education curriculum at their fingertips, without worrying about all of the books. Also, Kiddom truly cared and wanted to meet the needs of our school, and was happy to hear all of our feedback in order to enhance the experience.

We then gradually rolled it out to the rest of our building. This “think tank group” became my ambassadors for our school. As the new year started, the ambassadors modeled how easy Kiddom was to use for both teachers and students as both interfaces are organized and simple to navigate. They were also a helpful resource when teachers had questions.

As we move beyond the pandemic, looking back, it’s incredible to see all of the things that Kiddom improved for us. Our teachers can now:

  • assign EL assignments that students can complete through the platform,
  • provide real-time feedback with each assignment, and have more accountability as students have avatars that are lit up when they were accessing the platform,
  • differentiate with assignments to meet the needs of students such as using the available K-2 read-aloud videos, adding in scaffolds, etc.,
  • post any announcements or links to other platforms within Kiddom, and
  •  live chat with the teacher/student portfolios, as all assignments are saved and housed within their account (a great resource when having conferences with families).

These are just a few highlights that made a huge difference for our virtual experience moving forward with ELA. Our teachers and students were able to pivot and provide a rigorous ELA curriculum that never stopped due to any of the circumstances that hindered us previously.

All teachers know that all about the numbers in the end and how students perform on state assessments. I have evidence to back that up as well! Our district provides three standards-based benchmarks throughout the year that are closely aligned with our end of the year state assessment. After completing two of these benchmarks, our school is leading the way on virtual learning, and our scores prove it. 

Out of all schools, including both middle and high, we have made the most growth in ELA in our district based on our second benchmark. We have stood out from the rest, as many schools have struggled to continue, particularly with their virtual learning, along with so many across the country. A local news station has noticed our success and is doing a feature story on how we have accomplished so much, regarding our data, and specifically our success with virtual learning.

We are just an average school that made a commitment to ensuring we would continue our EL Education curriculum. The EL curriculum brought about change in our school that was imperative, as we were not previously meeting the needs of our students based on their understanding and abilities within the ELA standards.

As we move beyond the pandemic, we are determined to look forward and focus on what we can control for our students, and that is providing every student with the opportunity to access this curriculum. If you are an educator who is at a loss for how to continue the curriculum, regardless of your circumstances moving forward, Kiddom is a great option. We’re happy to say that we have not looked back since and are proud to have only moved forward.

For more, see:


Whitney Green is the Assistant Principal at an elementary school in Chattanooga, TN. She has experience as a teacher in both 1st and 4th grade, having taught all subjects and also familiar with departmentalized teaching. She has her coaching certification and completed her Ed.S. in Instructional Leadership.

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Dr. Trish Scanlon on How Voice Technologies Should Work For Kids

On this episode of the Getting Smart Podcast Tom sits down with Dr. Trish Scanlon, CEO and founder of Soapbox Labs.

Dr. Scanlon is one of the foremost leaders on voice technologies, especially with regards to children’s voices. She has over 20 years of experience working in speech recognition technology, including at Bell Labs and IBM. In 2018 Dr. Scanlon was named one of Forbes “Top 50 Women in Tech” globally. In 2020, she was ranked 6th of 17 global “Visionaries in Voice” by industry leading publication Voicebot.ai.

Let’s listen in as Tom and Dr. Scanlon discuss the possibilities of voice technologies, why Dublin is a hotbed for innovation, why children pose a unique challenge in the field and how tech can be keeping ethics and wellbeing at the center.

Dr. Trish Scanlon always wanted to be an inventor. She went to study electrical engineering to make this dream a reality and along the way discovered the promise of natural language processing and voice technologies. This, coupled with observing her children, helped her to see a massive opportunity in the field of voice technologies — children’s voices. Kids have a vastly different behavior, vocal anatomy and language. They also are “voice native” being the first to be raised among voice assistants. Often times they will talk to things, expecting them to work.

To meet this opportunity, Dr. Scanlon launched Soapbox Labs, a research and development lab that creates voice technologies for kids and licenses the tech to other edtech companies. She says that some of the key applications of voice technologies are toys, speech therapies, formative feedback to both child and parent, dyslexia screening and vocabulary.“If built correctly, AI has the potential to build objective assessment. It has to be done thoughtfully, not just rushing things into the classroom,” she said.

On the subject of accents, she discussed the need for massive data collection because “We can’t penalize for accents, it’s also equally important that we don’t drop the bar.” To assess their own anti-bias performance, Soapbox Labs has been working with Florida Center for Reading Research on their Reach Every Reader Project. When assessed for bias, they detected no bias in the Soapbox technology.

She also spoke at length regarding ethics, privacy and transparency, citing the latter as the primary obstacle. In the meantime, she says that all teachers and students should be aware of the positives and negatives of

To keep learning she recommends that you “love what you do and do what you love.”

Key Takeaways:

[:08] About today’s episode.
[:54] Tom welcomes Dr. Scanlon to the podcast.
[1:12] How did Dr. Scanlon become interested in voice technology?
[2:32] Was Dr. Scanlon able to find advisors 20 years ago in voice technology?
[3:50] Which machine learning tools are most useful in speech recognition?
[5:24] When did Dr. Scanlon recognize that speech recognition was particularly challenging for children?
[8:20] The origin story of Dr. Scanlon’s company, SoapBox Labs.
[10:35] Dr. Scanlon explains the service that SoapBox Labs offers its clients.
[12:37] About the Turnaround for Children Toolbox.
[13:17] The current and planned applications for voice recognition, speech therapy, and voice tech in learning and development in the classroom.
[15:53] How they manage varying accents in speech technology.
[19:06] Discussing the challenges around the biases in voice recognition technology.
[21:45] Other categories of assisted tech that Dr. Scanlon is excited about with regards to how they can better serve and create more access for learners with differences.
[23:53] Is the next generation growing up as voice technology natives? How should we be managing or navigating this next generation of youth growing up as voice natives?
[27:04] What Dr. Scanlon thinks students and teachers should know about machine learning today, as well as how and where we should be introducing this topic in school.
[28:53] Why is Dublin a hot spot for ed-tech startups? Why have they become a world leader in technology?
[31:13] How does Dr. Scanlon continue her learning?
[32:26] Tom thanks Dr. Scanlon for joining the podcast.

Mentioned in This Episode:


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Student Voice: My Goal Is to Change the Face of the Healthcare Profession

By: Kaci Anderson

This is a daunting time to join the healthcare industry. A raging pandemic, budget cuts, and limited access to resources such as PPE have made working as a medical care professional exceedingly difficult. However, when the first signs of the pandemic surfaced in March, I was inspired to learn I had been offered a summer internship at PCCI, a leading nonprofit, data science, artificial intelligence, and innovation organization, affiliated with Parkland Health & Hospital System in Dallas.

As part of my training, I joined a team of medical professionals tracking and analyzing COVID-19 cases in our region to advise the Dallas County health system in monitoring trends and establishing guidelines. It was an experience that solidified my decision to pursue a career as a nurse practitioner.

I’ve wanted to become a nurse practitioner since I was in middle school, when I visited my local clinic for a broken ankle. The nurse practitioner reviewed the X-ray with me and walked me through a plan for how to care for my ankle, what the healing process would be, and when I could expect to feel better.

When I returned to the clinic six weeks later, I was treated by the same nurse practitioner. I’ll never forget his excitement when he showed me my follow-up X-ray indicating my bones had healed. Seeing how the plan he made for my recovery had worked made a lasting impression on me. I knew then that this was what I wanted to do: come up with treatment plans to help people and witness them get better.

Today, I still intend to pursue nursing to help people, but I no longer want to stop there. My new goal is to start my own practice, so I can begin to reshape what the healthcare industry looks like. At a time when health care workers are rapidly becoming our most in-demand professionals, I regard my internship as a critical opportunity, one many students—particularly students of color like me—don’t receive.

High school career preparation programs, such as the one I am enrolled in with NAF, are already expanding and diversifying our future workforce by equipping students to start careers in industries like healthcare that are sorely in need of gender and racial diversity. Today, there are 86 NAF Academies of Health Sciences in America, and NAF has prepared nearly 40,000 healthcare professionals. In the 2019-2020 school year, more than 70% of NAF students were people of color, and more than two-thirds—67%—came from under-invested in areas. Students like me have interned with prestigious research institutes, doctors’ offices, medical clinics, and hospitals, and have learned about nursing and counseling services in local universities.

My internship was also valuable in teaching me how we can transform the industry to better meet our needs. Currently, the healthcare industry is extremely lacking in diversity, even though it serves diverse populations. As of 2018, more than 77% of advanced nurse practitioners were white, according to U.S. census data. Less than 7% were Black. This does not come close to reflecting our demographics. Here in Dallas, for example, most residents—71%—are people of color.

As a young Black woman, this disconnect affects me directly. Black and Latinx communities are much more likely to get sick with COVID-19 than the rest of the population. Sadly, they are also far more likely to receive lower-quality healthcare and have higher mortality rates than white populations.

As clinics across the U.S. administer the coronavirus vaccine, people of color are more likely not to have access to this treatment while COVID-19 cases in their locations continue to rise.

The healthcare system must change how it operates by building a talent pipeline to meet growing health concerns and ensuring medical professionals represent the demographics of those in need. This can start as soon as students enter high school by advocating for school districts to obtain resources to provide opportunities for students of all backgrounds to see themselves as future members of this critical industry.

High school career preparation programs like mine have helped open doors for young people all across the nation—something too many students get a late start on.

My generation faces one of the most daunting job markets in history. Last April, the unemployment rate among Black workers was nearly 17% compared to a white unemployment rate of 14%. The unemployment rate among Latinx workers was nearly 19%. What’s more, high school students preparing to graduate this year are less likely to attend college than ever before and face limited job prospects.

While this reality feels bleak, I am optimistic about my future because I was given the chance to explore career options and learn a variety of skills at any early age. Having the NAF advantage will prime me to achieve my dreams later in life while giving back to my community.

The moment I learned I had gotten the internship at PCCI was meaningful not just because it’s a step toward achieving my own ambitions, but because it signaled to me that NOW is my time to make a lasting impact. My education connected me with a career path where I can help close the opportunity gap by creating jobs for people of color and new graduates. When I start my own nursing clinic, I will be changing the image people have when they think of medical professionals while helping to better our world.

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Kaci Anderson is a high school senior at The Innovation Design Entrepreneurship Academy (IDEA HS) in Dallas. 

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It’s Time to Learn AI, And It Just Got Easier Than Ever

It is nearly impossible to avoid AI these days. In conversation, it is described as a tool of the future, a tool of power, a tool of opportunity. Well, regardless of the view towards AI, it is something that is better to understand than ignore and it is something that, with understanding, will create and support countless jobs of the future. Fortunately, knowledge about AI — and the ability to design alongside it — is becoming increasingly accessible.

Tech giants around the world are acting swiftly to bring AI to the edge, and NVIDIA has a head start on many of them. The company started out focusing primarily on gaming, specifically in designing and manufacturing graphics processing units (GPUs). Since 2014, however, NVIDIA technology has expanded into sectors such as data centers, professional visualization, healthcare, and autonomous machines.

As AI proliferates, a new generation of students and developers will play a critical role in teaching and training autonomous machines and robots how to behave in the real world. NVIDIA is now taking its AI thought leadership further through the release of the NVIDIA Jetson Nano 2GB Developer Kit which offers “unprecedented, affordable access to state-of-the-art computer solutions for learning autonomy,” says Emilio Frazzoli professor of Dynamic Systems and Control at ETH Zurich.

With this cue card-sized AI embedded devkit, learners of all ages and backgrounds will have access to a powerful machine learning experience that makes creating autonomous robots easier than ever. Get inspired by community projects or follow along to fun step-by-step tutorials, such as this how-to for building a mini DIY autonomous racecar called Jetbot.

With the mutual goal of teaching a wide audience of students about robotics and AI, NVIDIA has partnered with the Duckietown project, which started as an MIT class in 2016 and has since evolved into an open-source platform for robotics and AI education, research and outreach. Duckietown offers hands-on learning activities in which students put AI and robotics components together to address modern autonomy challenges for self-driving cars. Solutions are implemented in the Duckietown robotics ecosystem, where the interplay among theory, algorithms and deployment on real robots is witnessed firsthand in a model urban environment.

Frazzoli added, “The Duckietown educational platform provides a hands-on, scaled-down, accessible version of real-world autonomous systems.”

To encourage educators to adopt STEM projects, NVIDIA has set up a free Jetson AI Course and Certifications program. Teachers can become certified as a Jetson AI Specialist or Jetson AI Ambassador by completing the Jetson AI Fundamentals course and publishing an open-source Jetson project as part of the assessment.

And, for educators to custom-build their AI courses, NVIDIA also offers freely available curriculum and open-source platforms.

The Jetson Nano 2GB Developer Kit has already begun to garner acclaim across the world:

Drew Farris, director of Analytics and AI Research at Booz Allen Hamilton, said: “At Booz Allen, we seek to empower people to change the world. We’re using NVIDIA Jetson to train new technical resources as AI becomes critical for enterprises and personnel leveraging AI to solve the most difficult global challenges.”

Jack Silberman, Ph.D., Lecturer, UC San Diego, Jacobs School of Engineering, Contextual Robotics Institute, said: “NVIDIA’s Jetson AI Certification materials thoroughly cover the fundamentals with the added advantage of hands-on project-based learning. I believe these benefits provide a great foundation for students to prepare for university robotics courses and compete in robotics competitions.”

Christine Nguyen, STEM curriculum director at Boys & Girls Club of Western Pennsylvania, said: “We know how important it is to provide all students with opportunities to impact the future of technology. We’re excited to utilize the NVIDIA Jetson AI Specialist certification materials with our students as they work toward becoming leaders in the fields of AI and robotics.”

“While today’s students and engineers are programming computers, in the near future they’ll be interacting with, and imparting AI to, robots,” said Deepu Talla, vice president and general manager of Edge Computing at NVIDIA. “The new Jetson Nano is the ultimate starter AI computer that allows hands-on learning and experimentation at an incredibly affordable price.”

Understanding the inner workings of AI is an essential skill of the present and will extend long into the future as well.

To learn more visit NVIDIA’s website.

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This post is sponsored by NVIDIA. If you’d like to learn more about our policies and practices regarding sponsored content, please email Mason Pashia.

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It Just Got Really Complicated: It’s Time to Turbocharge Difference Making

Over half a year on, it is more evident than ever that we’re all in this together. Crazy climate swings impact all of us; a virus can take down the global economy in weeks. These complex times require a new sense of mutuality and, for our youth, serve as an invitation to difference making.

Through writing about some of these essential new skills and competencies I’ve come to a few key takeaways, which I discussed at length with Joe DosSantos in the latest episode of Data Brilliant.

1. Empower difference making: In these complex and confusing times, difference making is the new superpower. It’s the agency and awareness to take action when and where needed. It’s the entrepreneurial mindset to spot opportunity and the design thinking to deliver creative solutions for a community.

School should be an opportunity to learn about the world and learn about yourself – a chance to figure out what you are good at, what you care about, and where you want to begin contributing.

2. Teach computational thinking: Instead of our preoccupation with hand calculation, we should invite young people to address increasingly large and complex problems. We should encourage them to explore the data behind the problem, to model it, and to draw inferences from it. No one working on a real problem in the last 20 years has used long division or factored a polynomial, but we still torture young people with meaningless calculation.

It’s time to invite youth into community connected projects and encourage them to find, collect and analyze data about problems important to them.

3. Promote critical consumption: In the first election cycle at risk from deep fakes and synthetic content, it’s critical that we teach data literacy and critical consumption. It’s time to demand AI transparency.

We are at a zeitgeist moment where we can create our AI to take into account historical errors, rather than creating them with the assumption that things should remain as they’ve been. Without intentionality and discernment, misinformation will continue to follow us and have increasing influence over our day-to-day lives.

4. Measure what matters: For the last 30 years, we’ve tracked grade-level reading and math skills, but schools and workplaces need to identify important competencies like critical thinking, problem-solving and collaboration. As it’s these skills that will be important in their future careers and allow them to flex and adapt to different sectors, jobs and situations. We’re beginning to see a number of school districts move in this direction.

This is a collaborative future. Community has never been more important, and, in many ways, the size of our community continues to grow. We are entering a future where we must work together towards common goals and solve problems for the betterment of the human and environmental community.

As Joe and I talked about, to do this, everyone needs to be able to see the data behind every problem and opportunity out there. But this is more than coding skills and technical expertise; it’s about the ability to have an understanding of the problem that’s in front of you. Whose problem is it? How acute is it? And how do I start to make a material impact on that with data? Our effectiveness is as dependent on our ability to really understand the situation and be able to ask the right questions, of the data and of each other – and this is a lesson we all need to learn to make a difference in the world today.