ISTE LIVE 21 Virtual Conference Recap

For the past six years, I have looked forward to attending the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference each June. Each year, this 5-day event brings in educators from countries from around the world. Last year, due to the pandemic, the conference was initially postponed until November in the hopes that it could still be held in-person, however, the ISTE Team had to make the difficult decision to switch it to fully virtual and hold ISTE Live in November.

Many hoped that this year’s event would be held in San Antonio, but it again had to shift to a fully virtual event. Last November, I was impressed with the experience during the five days and thankful to be able to access all session recordings for six months. It was $150 to attend, even for presenters however, virtual events create an opportunity for educators who may not have the chance due to travel restrictions.

ISTE used their custom-built virtual platform again this year, with increased functionality and ease of use. As a presenter and attendee, I found the platform easy to use and there were many ways to connect with other educators, chat, participate in the sessions and access the many resources available.

Highlights of ISTE Live

It was great to see so many educators connecting throughout the event. According to the recent “ISTE at a glance” there were more than 12,500 attendees from 88 countries, and 2,287 presenters interacting in the ISTE Live event. Attendees spent more than 3 million minutes in live sessions. There were 39 different topic areas available and over 20 featured voices this year at ISTE. What I appreciated this year was the 14 sample schedules created for educators to follow that focused on topics of interest, making it easier to design a more personalized experience.

Via ISTE 21 Homepage

A few of the mainstage highlights

The conference kicked off with an opening and inspiring keynote address from Dr. Miguel Cardona, the Secretary of Education followed by Cornelius Minor who spoke of the importance of building learning communities to celebrate student voice and student agency. On Sunday Dr. Priscilla Chan, the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Chan Zuckerberg Initiative spoke about equity and the importance of educating the whole child. Also on Sunday, Noelle Silver spoke about artificial intelligence and the impact on education.

The Platform

The updated platform really was robust and made it easy to locate sessions, participate in the games, chat with other attendees, explore digital tools and technologies in the Solutions Hub and track the sessions you attended. Presenters could upload materials before their sessions and take advantage of the many features included in the platform such as polls, the interactive chat with moderators and attendees and more. It definitely felt like a more interactive experience this year.

Being able to access the session recordings, connect with others on a global scale, set your own schedule and gather new ideas and resources was all possible within the interactive conference platform.

The Choices

There were a variety of options available for the format of sessions. Each year the sessions fall into four different types of categories. The Explore & Create category offered creation labs, playgrounds and activities for educators to explore new ideas and tools. The Listen & Learn category included the mainstage sessions, hundreds of panel discussions and snapshots which were 30 minute sessions. Participate and Share included formats such as discussion forums, poster sessions, and interactive lectures, all of which are designed for attendees to be able to interact with the presenters and other attendees. The fourth session’s focus was Engage and Connect, which provided opportunities for networking and building social connections. The platform really promoted building new connections through the chat function and gamification included in the event.

You could easily navigate to your dashboard to view upcoming sessions, meetings requested, access the chat, add favorite sessions and other digital resources in your digital tote. Attendees also received a daily email sent as well as pop-up announcements in the platform. “Favoriting” a session made it easy to find it in the program and it also then showed up in your dashboard, as well as sessions attended and suggestions for “sessions you might like.”

Attendees were able to choose their team and also could form squads. Based on the descriptions, I decided to choose the Fox team, which came in second overall! It was a lot of fun to complete the challenges, search for the easter eggs on the site and participate in some of the daily challenges like making a drawing, a sketchnote or other artifact to show how you’d redesign school or your classroom based on what you learned this year. Each day had a new challenge to explore. You can check them out on Twitter using the #ISTELIVE hashtag.


A few sessions were held in Mozilla Hubs, a virtual reality space during the conference. I presented my “Immerse Students in AR/VR and AI” session in Hubs with my good friend Jaime Donally, author of Learning Transported and The Immersive Classroom. Attendees could enter the room in Hubs and be represented by an avatar, talk with those in the room or join in the session through the ISTE platform. Jaime had fun drawing on me but it really was a unique way to present and to think about different ways we can provide instruction for our students and connect with other educators.

Screenshot of our session recording and how it looked in Mozilla Hubs

It was a great learning experience and it has been nice being able to go back and catch some of the recordings for the sessions that I was not able to attend. It’s also great to be able to go back through my own sessions to engage with the attendees and respond to some of their questions. Looking forward to the next conference and hope to see everyone there in person in New Orleans, LA next June for ISTE 22!

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One Stone Students Serve Up the Glass Half Full

Following the trend of many events over the past year, One Stone hosted their annual fundraiser One Half Event virtually and saw great success. This student-designed, planned, and facilitated event was just as entertaining and engaging as the event when it was in person.

As a student-driven and led school, it only makes sense that One Stone students planned and executed the event. There really is no better way to showcase what the school is about than by having students run the largest fundraiser of the year to help One Stone continue making it possible for students to get a high-quality education at no cost to their families. The event was just another way to highlight the students’ educational journeys, showcasing their challenges and success through the process which allows for attendees to fully experience and understand the passion these students have for their education.

The students put a lot of thought into how to make the One Half Event just as engaging and exciting to attend as the past in-person events. The students decided to utilize the Vimeo platform to engage attendees virtually for the event. Students made registering easy by creating a Google form to gather RSVPs and even included what technology would be needed depending on the possible ways attendees planned on joining the event.

To increase engagement with the virtual attendees, there was even an option to purchase a curated event box that could either be shipped or picked up in a COVID safe way for local attendees. The box included everything from One Half Event stickers, branded glasses that say ‘glass half full’, popcorn and cookies, and a variety of miscellaneous One Stone branded items.

One Stone students created a special watch party kit to send to all their sponsors to show their gratitude and appreciation for their support. The sponsor boxes included party supplies, branded pint glasses, large bags of popcorn, and a variety of other small trinkets for the sponsors to use to celebrate the event. Many students hosted the watch party groups virtually for a deeper connection to the pre-event and event experience for all participants. Meghan Fall (a member of the One Stone Board of Directors and Project Good liaison) hosted a watch party that consisted of guests from national organizations, multiple countries (U.A.E and Canada), and many different states across the U.S. noted that the experience was unlike anything [she] has ever done. “I was used to talking in front of people, but this brought it to a whole new level as we were communicating with people who were in their own homes across the globe,” said Meghan.

“I gained so much insight into the art of using my knowledge and voice to make an impact…I didn’t have the building, or other people, or things I could use to distract people if things were not going well. It was just me and my story, nothing else. I left the pre-event watch party feeling more confident in myself all thanks to the opportunity to host.” The event was instrumental for the event attendees and students like Meghan who tirelessly work to create an exciting virtual experience.

The One Stone students did an outstanding job in creating an engaging virtual environment for the event, resulting in them raising more money for the eight Studios + Labs that One Stone now hosts for young people than they have in years past. Due to the success of hosting the event virtually, the students plan on keeping a virtual aspect to the event in the future by utilizing live streaming, even once it is safe to host the event in person again. They realized that the virtual aspect of the event allowed for more people to attend and engage with the event, which means that more people and communities were able to learn about the unique educational journey that One Stone students get to experience to prepare them for their future.

To learn more about the One Stone student journeys watch the video linked here or visit the One Stone site and the Be The Good gallery for more student testimonials.

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Show What You Know: A Parent’s Guide to the Global Shift to Competency

We inherited a system of education that has six big problems: it doesn’t focus on important skills, it’s boring, it doesn’t work for most learners, it’s inequitable, it doesn’t measure well, and it doesn’t communicate well.

These problems are most prevalent and vexing in high school—which should be a launchpad for life but is tedious torture for most teens.

We’re excited about all the global initiatives making progress on these problems. A few in the United States include the Kauffman-sponsored Real World Learning initiative in Kansas City,  schools supported by XQ and NGLC, and the new Whittle School & Studios. The solutions emerging from these initiatives are summarized below.

Portrait of success. The old goal was to accumulate enough required credits to graduate. Students would work through disconnected classes, which concluded with tests that valued content memorization. Now, leading schools work with their community to develop a shared vision of what they want for graduates, sometimes called a portrait of a graduate, that describes the skills required for contribution and citizenship in the Innovation Economy. They often include communication, collaboration, and creativity, and the building blocks of success including being self-directed and resilient. These skills can be developed across a wide range of projects not learned in isolation.

Real work, real feedback. When school is a series of worksheets—disconnected small chunks of easily corrected tasks, it can be boring, irrelevant and unproductive. The solution is real work and accurate and timely feedback. Building priority skills requires extended challenges—big, integrated projects—at least periodically. Some challenges will aim at priority outcomes, while others are more directed by student interest.

In new guidelines for competency-based learning, the Aurora Institute adds that “Students are empowered daily to make important decisions about their learning experiences, how they will create and apply knowledge, and how they will demonstrate their learning.”

Progress when ready. Lockstep learning doesn’t work for most children. Grouping students by age and pushing them through the same content leaves some learners lost while others are bored. Allowing learners to progress as they demonstrate mastery of important skills and concepts means they are always challenged appropriately and it avoids big gaps in preparation. (Video tutor and Khan Academy founder Sal Khan argues that passing students on without mastery is like a house built on a bad foundation, as it prevents students from moving into and applying advanced concepts.)

Equitable outcomes. Traditional systems lead to inequitable results—they may even exacerbate rather than close opportunity gaps. Smart schools and systems have a culture of inclusion and add time and support for students to help them catch up and keep up.

Better measures. Letter grades are often a weak indicator of what students know and can do. They are idiosyncratic by classroom, generally inflated (especially at college preparatory schools), and include a mixture of effort, achievement and a lot of random extra credit for attending and complying. Because grades are usually averaged over a semester or year, they disadvantage learners that come in behind but work hard to catch up. (Listen to this great Harvard podcast on all the problems with traditional grading).

Teachers in leading schools provide feedback against objective standards that are recognized by the community as reflecting quality work. Like a thoughtful work environment, good schools are a ‘no surprise’ zone; students know what is expected, and they know their work will be assessed. In fact, they can assess their own progress accurately.

Better communication. A traditional transcript lists courses passed and grades earned—not a very good indication of what graduates know and can actually do. It’s a weak certification of the learning that really matters to colleges and employers. Leading schools are extending or even replacing traditional transcripts with more robust descriptions of learner capabilities. More than 300 of the country’s best schools are working together in the Mastery Transcript Consortium to build a system that better enables young people to share their story of growth, contribution and capability. Transcripts are increasingly augmented by portfolios—a digital archive of personal bests.

Leading schools worldwide are addressing the six big problems by creating more interesting and authentic extended learning experiences, providing better and broader feedback on the skills that matter, providing extra time and support to students who need it, and equipping learners to better describe their capabilities. These changes are sometimes referred to as competency-based, mastery-based, or performance-based learning—terms that are used synonymously.

The principles described above are incorporated in new guidelines for competency education published by Aurora Institute, the leading advocate for the shift to more student-centered and competency-based learning.

Even the most innovative schools in the world are still working on solutions to these six problems. Tools and policies to develop these new practices are still in development. So, be patient and look for ways to be part of the solution. Help your school develop and phase in practices that benefit students and help them better describe who they are, and where they are headed.

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This post includes mentions of a Getting Smart partner. For a full list of partners, affiliate organizations and all other disclosures, please see our Partner page.

This blog was originally published on Forbes.

Getting Smart on Mastery Learning

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Over the past few months, we’ve worked with MasteryTrack to learn about best practices for mastery learning, which can be simply defined as systems that enable students to move forward at their own pace as they master content. As a culmination of our mastery learning series, we have compiled a Smart Bundle that documents the necessary steps to making these mastery systems measurable, effective and scalable.

Throughout the bundle, President of MasteryTrack, Scott Ellis, and Getting Smart team member, Rebecca Midles, spend time unpacking methods of assessment and performance and discuss what focusing on the “right data” looks like. They also explore the importance of data in the implementation of mastery learning, the need for flexible and robust dashboards, how to best identify and set measurable learning objectives and much more.

Getting Smart on Mastery Learning is centered around the 5 Key Elements of Mastery Learning:

The 5 Key Elements of Mastery Learning
Learning Objectives

  • Specific, clear, demonstrable objectives to clearly describe what we want students to know and be able to do.

Mastery Thresholds

  • Clear descriptions of what mastery means and how to determine if a student is ready to move to the next learning objective.

Students Demonstrate Mastery

  • Clear processes for students to demonstrate mastery.
  • Processes are scalable and provide equitable access to all students.

Teachers Assess Mastery

  • Clear processes for teachers to assess mastery.
  • Processes must be viable and scalable to support teachers to assess mastery for every student and every learning objective.
  • Protocols to support multiple attempts by students to demonstrate mastery depending on their level of readiness and the variety of assessments available.

Data Organization

  • A system to organize and display learning data that is efficient in time and easily available to students, teachers, parents, and school leaders.
  • Mastery-based student data shows progress and reflects a student’s learning journey.

We hope this is a valuable resource for schools, districts, and organizations as they work together to reimagine the role of assessment and technology in the future of learning.

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To learn more about how MasteryTrack is implementing and directing mastery learning, check out the individual pieces from this Smart Bundle:

This Smart Bundle is based on a Getting Smart and MasteryTrack series on mastery learning.

Examples of Mastery Thresholds to Enable Mastery Learning in Multiple Subjects

By: Scott Ellis

Over the last few years, we have worked with educators and networks to develop learning objectives and mastery thresholds in a wide range of subjects. In this process, we have found that different types of mastery thresholds make sense for different types of objectives. Some of these examples may be helpful in continuing to define thresholds for other subjects and objectives.

For any objective or topic area, it is important to begin by determining what type of demonstration would be appropriate for a student to show that she has mastered a learning objective—should the student solve problems, complete a project, do a presentation. This will help us determine what the associated specific demonstration of mastery should be (remembering that the mastery threshold will be the same).

Below are some examples of how we have collaborated with particular schools and networks to create mastery thresholds associated with specific learning objectives in multiple content areas:

  • Spanish interpersonal oral
  • Elementary math
  • Mandarin Chinese reading
  • Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)

Spanish Interpersonal Oral

Over the course of several months, we worked with a leading language educator to develop mastery-based learning objectives for Spanish Interpersonal Oral. Because of the nature of the subject matter and the complexity of the objectives, they have been designed so that the mastery threshold is incorporated into the wording of the objective. Simple objectives like “answer three highly familiar, open questions about daily life with single, complete sentences” and more complex objectives like “answer two open, original questions that call for the description of familiar people with enough detail to visualize familiar people with organized and connected sentences (i.e., using and, but, however)” enable an educator to determine if the student is able to meet the specific learning objectives.

Some advanced objectives also have a frequency or repetition component—for example:  “When speaking, greater than 90 percent of the time, choose the correct forms of articles and adjectives according to gender, singular, and plural.” This approach has worked very well in Spanish and been replicated in French and Arabic, and we are considering other subjects with complex topics where the mastery threshold may be implicitly included in the learning objective itself.

Elementary Math Example

For most elementary math learning objectives, solving problems accurately and relatively fluently is a reasonable way for students to demonstrate that they have mastered the objectives. For objectives like “multiply a one-digit number by a two-digit number” or “round three-digit numbers to the nearest hundred” or “identify the equivalent equation,” we would know that a student has mastered the objective if they can accurately solve the appropriate type of problem. There might be another learning objective that has students apply this learning in context by solving word problems of a particular level of complexity.

The mastery thresholds in MasteryTrack for objectives like these are 9 questions out of 10 within a generous time limit. The threshold is not 10 out of 10 because making a mistake does not mean a student has not mastered an objective. However, if the student makes too many mistakes they probably should keep working on the objective. Similarly, the purpose of the time limit is not to force the student to work quickly; the time allowed is ample and students who have a good understanding of the concept should be able to complete the problems. But if the student takes a very long time to complete the questions they should probably keep working on the objective even if they get the answers right.

As a reminder, these are only thresholds for demonstrating mastery—not daily assignments, activities for practice, formative assessments, etc. A teacher using the mastery thresholds above may still facilitate students’ learning of math through a wide variety of approaches, curricula, project-based learning, or other methods.

Mandarin Chinese Reading

A common option for students to demonstrate mastery of reading in Mandarin Chinese is for a student to read a passage of a certain level of complexity and correctly answer questions about the passage. The questions are multiple choice and based on learning objectives for that level of text. The incorrect answers in the assessment are intentionally designed to force the student to make specific distinctions that demonstrate their understanding of the passage and the relevant concepts. There are objectives for language and vocabulary and also for reading comprehension, with a separate passage for each. A passage has eight to 20 questions depending on the number of learning objectives for that reading level, and a student must master 90 percent of the objectives in order to master the level.

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)

In our work to define mastery thresholds for SEL, we have found that there are two broad types of objectives that require different approaches to mastery thresholds. Many objectives require a student to show that they know something or can identify something. For example, for objectives like “Recognize and accurately name feelings” or “Explain situations in which one needs to seek help from an adult” a student could demonstrate mastery by writing something or telling an answer to the teacher. So mastery thresholds for these kinds of objectives would be a student doing this correctly a number of times (for example, recognize and accurately name 4 feelings, describe 3 situations in which one needs to seek help from an adult and why).

However, some SEL objectives require students to exhibit a behavior. One example is “treat others’ belongings with respect.” The mastery threshold for this kind of behavioral objective has three parts:

  1. The student needs to be able to describe what it means to treat others’ belongings with respect, to show that they know what it means and what they are supposed to do (this is similar to demonstration of mastery for the other SEL objectives);
  2. The student needs to be able to treat others’ belongings with respect once, to show they are capable of doing it;
  3. The student needs to treat others’ belongings with respect consistently and repeatedly.

This approach is similar to other work we have done to develop mastery-based dashboards for teacher professional learning, since many of those learning objectives also have a behavioral component. The learner needs to show that they know what they are supposed to do, but also that they are capable of doing it and can do it consistently.

As is evident from these examples, the structures and types of thresholds emerging from each of our collaborations vary widely. In all cases the process is focused on student mastery of defined objectives, but the approach to learning does not need to be the same. Learning objectives and mastery thresholds are the starting point for mastery learning and the skeleton that organizes the content for learning and assessment.

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This blog is part five of a series on mastery learning, sponsored by MasteryTrack. If you’d like to learn more about our policies and practices regarding sponsored content, please email Jessica Slusser. For other posts in the series see:

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Scott Ellis is the Founder and CEO of MasteryTrack. You can find him on Twitter @MasteryTrack.

Demonstrating and Assessing Mastery, and Managing Mastery Learning Data

By: Scott Ellis

As I described in my previous blog, the starting point for mastery learning is the learning objectives and mastery thresholds; what do we want students to know and be able to do, and what does success look like? Once these two elements have been defined we are ready to address the remaining key elements required to bring mastery learning to life in the classroom:  how students demonstrate that they have mastered the learning objectives, how teachers assess those student demonstrations of mastery, and how the data about the mastery learning progress of the students is organized and displayed.

How Students Demonstrate Mastery Knowledge and Skills

With learning objectives that are specific, clear and demonstrable and with mastery thresholds that are clearly defined, determining approaches for students to demonstrate mastery is a relatively straightforward two-step process. First, we must determine the type (or types) of demonstration(s) a student will use for a particular learning objective or subject area. For example, in the case of many elementary math objectives, solving problems accurately and relatively fluently is a common approach. For an English Language Arts objective like identify the theme of a story’ a teacher may have a student write a response or perhaps present her learning. In the case of some objectives in Social and Emotional Learning, like treat others’ belongings with respect, the student will need to consistently exhibit a particular behavior.

Once the type of mastery demonstration has been determined, the next step is to define specifically how it will work for the particular learning objective, what exactly will the student do? If they are solving problems, what kinds of problems and in what format? If they are doing a presentation, what kind of presentation, in what context, how long, etc.? There can be multiple approaches for students to demonstrate mastery as long as each of them is equally valid and sufficient for demonstrating mastery.

It may be helpful to walk through a couple of examples of this thought process. If a student says, I know how to multiply, how might we think about how the student would demonstrate mastery? First, we would need to clarify the learning objective since the student’s statement could mean a variety of different things. A more precise objective would be I can multiply two one-digit numbers. This is specific, clear, and demonstrable. How would we know if the student has mastered this objective? We need a mastery threshold.

Sometimes the nature of both how the student demonstrates mastery and how the teacher assesses mastery are inherent in the definition of the mastery threshold, and the first step in defining the mastery threshold is to determine the appropriate type of mastery demonstration. In this multiplication example, a reasonable way for a student to demonstrate that she can multiply two one-digit numbers is for her to solve problems accurately and reasonably fluently. So the threshold might be nine problems correct out of 10 within three minutes. With this clear learning objective and mastery threshold, the approach for the student to demonstrate mastery is straightforward, she is presented with 10 problems of one-digit multiplication and she tries to solve them. In Spanish Interpersonal Oral we might use a similar process to come up with a learning objective such as answer three highly familiar, open questions about daily life with single, complete sentences, and for the mastery demonstration, the teacher would ask the student appropriate questions and evaluate the responses.

The other key success factor for students demonstrating mastery is that the approach (or approaches) must be scalable; every student must be able to effectively attempt to demonstrate mastery for every learning objective. And since in a mastery-based system students may need multiple attempts to succeed, the approaches must enable this as well.

How Teachers Assess and Analyze Mastery Learning Student Data

Once it is clear how students will attempt to demonstrate mastery, the approach for teachers to assess whether these attempts have been successful must be just as clear. The approach to be used is directly related to the method used by the student. There are a few key considerations:

1. Feasibility. The teacher must be able to effectively determine whether the student has demonstrated mastery. This may seem self-evident, but it is still very important to be sure that the teacher is able to evaluate the student’s work and decide either that the student has demonstrated mastery of the learning objective and is ready to move on, or that the student did not do so and needs to keep working on the same objective, perhaps with a different approach for learning. If the teacher cannot provide an accurate determination, this usually means that the learning objective or the mastery threshold is not sufficiently clear, and so the remedy is to work on these other elements to enable effective assessment of mastery by the teacher.

2. Inter-rater reliability. Different teachers must give relatively comparable assessments of mastery. This issue is not unique to mastery learning, but it is an important element of the process. Teachers should have a common understanding of the learning objectives and the mastery thresholds as well as how they will assess the student demonstrations of mastery. This will help to ensure that the mastery determinations made by different teachers are consistent. Inter-rater reliability is also honed within teacher learning communities when teachers can use specific, clear data about student performance on objectives to align, share, and grow.

3. Scalability. The process must work for every student, every learning objective, and every teacher. This is particularly important in content areas where students may demonstrate mastery of more discrete learning objectives (rather than just taking a big comprehensive test as they would in the existing system). The workload for the teacher must be managed so the task of assessing mastery does not become overly burdensome and therefore detract from the learning process.

4. Workload from repeated attempts. Since students may need multiple attempts to successfully demonstrate mastery, teachers need time to assess multiple attempts. This will add to the teacher’s workload, and so the process must be designed to be manageable even when some students need multiple attempts.

5. Automatic grading. This capability could improve the overall process in several ways. First, it saves teachers significant time. This is extremely valuable since teacher time is so scarce and precious. It also forces clarity about the mastery threshold–without a very precise threshold it is not possible to design a productive automated assessment. It eliminates any questions about teacher judgment when determining whether students have demonstrated mastery. And finally, it resolves any concerns about inter-rater reliability. However, many content areas and learning objectives cannot be assessed automatically, and even the most effective implementations of automatic grading are most productive when combined with teacher judgment. Educators need to diagnose assessment outcomes and may even override the results when necessary based on the educator’s knowledge of the individual student and her learning needs.

All student names and data are illustrative only.

How To Organize and Display the Mastery Learning Data

The last essential element is a system to effectively organize and display the data about mastery-based student learning progress. This can take many forms and be provided by a variety of software or online systems. The key is for students and teachers (and also principals and parents) to instantly be able to see where students are in their learning. Dashboards and similar formats serve this purpose well. The main challenge in creating a good dashboard is to show the right kind of data at the right level of detail, and much of this is based on the learning objectives and mastery thresholds. The system must also be scalable at a minimal cost.

With a mastery dashboard (example above) in place along with the other four key elements, mastery learning can thrive in the classroom and scale broadly.

For more, see:

This blog is part four of a series on mastery learning, sponsored by MasteryTrack. If you’d like to learn more about our policies and practices regarding sponsored content, please email Jessica Slusser. For other posts in the series see:

Stay in-the-know with all things innovations in learning by signing up to receive our weekly Smart Update.

Scott Ellis is the Founder and CEO of MasteryTrack. You can find him on Twitter @MasteryTrack.

Teachers Flip Over Flipgrid

Flipgrid (@Flipgrid) enables learners to respond to prompts with short videos—most are about a minute, but they can be a long as five minutes. The video platform has become a favorite of teachers from kindergarten to college.

Launched by University of Minnesota professor Charlie Miller in 2014, it quickly caught on among educators. Today, about one in three U.S. teachers uses Flipgrid.

The platform has hundreds of use cases, including reflections, quick explanations, compare and contrast, peer review, project update, office hours, and goal setting. Check out the #Flipgrid Twitter channel and you’ll spot a hundred more.

“Because of our different time zones and asynchronous class schedules, Flipgrid presented the perfect solution for creating a space for my students to interact with students in Argentina and Spain,” said ISTE awarded teacher and Getting Smart columnist Rachelle Dene Poth (below).

Screen Shot 2017-10-28 at 9.45.12 PM.png

“We used Flipgrid for introductions, to ask questions, to show what our schools looked like and more,” added Poth. “It was a much more authentic way to learn about different cultures and to be able to connect easily. While students can learn about other cultures and places using a variety of media formats, being able to see the students we had been collaborating with and ask questions directly took their learning to a whole new level.”

New Flipgrid Features

Microsoft acquired the Minneapolis startup last June and made it free for schools. Flipgrid integrates with many Microsoft products, including Teams for chatting with other people and OneNote for taking notes.

Last week at ISTE, America’s biggest ed tech conference, Eran Megiddo, Microsoft’s VP of Education said, “For the 2018-2019 school year, we added more than 700,000 new educators (that equates to a new sign-up every 45 seconds), 530 million videos were shared (that’s 1.5 million per day) and 24 billion seconds of video were shared—equal to 2.1 years of video shared every day.”

Megiddo also highlighted new Flipgrid features:

  • More accessible: Videos are transcribed and Microsoft’s Immersive Reader makes them responsive.
  • Enhanced storytelling: Students can stitch together segments into one simple video.
  • Embedded videos: Short videos in platforms including Teams, OneNote, Remind and Wakelet.
  • FlipgridAR: Teachers and students can create and print FlipgridAR stickers for any response to place; they can take advantage of millions of Flipgrid QR codes.
  • Great content: access content from, HackingSTEM, Find Your Grind, Wonderopolis, and more. Search educator-created content audience, subject, and goal.

Poth spotted Flipgrid at another conference two years ago. “Since that time, Flipgrid continues to add more features to its already amazing platform. Just when you think it can’t get any better, they manage to roll out even more features that set it apart from the other tools and platforms out there.”

For more see:

This post was originally published on Forbes.

The Case For Competency-Based Education

“In the past, education was about teaching people something. Now it is about making sure that individuals develop a reliable compass and the navigation skills to find their own way through an increasingly uncertain, volatile and ambiguous world.” That’s the conclusion of a new OECD book.

In Schooling Redesigned, the OECD makes the case for transformed schools that feature tasks and projects that challenge young people in authentic ways to build design, collaboration, and communication skills that prepare young people for navigating new and complex situations.

The most promising but challenging part of the transformation will be from marking time to demonstrating mastery. For hundreds of years, schools have been organized around age cohorts and lockstep progress based on a compulsory school year and credit hours. The problem is this system doesn’t work for most learners–some students are bored and frustrated and others don’t get what they need and are pushed through the system with big academic gaps that prevent success at higher levels.

A new report outlines some of the reasons our system has been so resilient to change, starting with the fact that it’s hard to measure learning. Local, state, and federal policies that guide student progress, graduation, and college admissions are often based on seat time. And there are a couple hundred years of tradition to overcome.

Show What You Know: The State of Competency-Based Education, written by Getting Smart and published by the XQ Institute, lays out four reasons for change.

1. Quality preparation. Much of the corporate training world has shifted from participation to demonstrated skills in order to improve job readiness. Blended and personalized approaches are more popular with employees and more cost-effective for employers.

As useful as his video tutorials have been, Sal Khan’s big contribution to education may prove to be his advocacy for competency-based learning. His now famous house built on a bad foundation analogy makes the case that passing students on who have only mastered 70 or 80 percent of the material leaves fatal gaps in understanding that are never likely to be closed and leave learners unable to make creative know-how of the skill set. He argues that students should master skills at a high level before moving on to enable skill transference.

2. Learning science. As Harvard’s Todd Rose notes, there is no average; each of us has a “jagged profile.” He and others argue that we should address the individual needs of learners.

“The research on how students learn examines how important it is to meet a student within their zone of proximal development, allow for productive struggle and design progressions effectively  where learning hinges on successful prior learning,” according to iNACOL.

3. Equity. If gap-closing equity is a stated goal, then structures, schedules, and supports can be aimed at struggling learners that need more time and assistance to accelerate their learning (more resources would need to be directed, for example, to schools and teachers serving disadvantaged students). With a focus on equity, CompetencyWorks (a project of iNACOL) suggests that competency-based learning interrupts inequitable practices and promotes high outcomes for all learners. In her keynote speech at the 2019 iNACOL conference, XQ’s Russlynn Ali said that “high schools are the next frontier in the fight for educational equity.”

4. Agency. More than a decade of research suggests that mindset matters in postsecondary and career success. The extent to which a student owns their own learning, often called agency, is key and is represented in new outcome frameworks such as XQ Learner Goals and MyWays from NGLC. Mary Ryerse of Getting Smart reflects, “When students themselves have a sense of who they are, where they are headed and what it will take to get there — both in terms of daily habits and long-term plans — there is a unique sense of purpose and ownership.”

What’s Next?

To disrupt the inertia that has made change so difficult, and to fundamentally rethink what graduates ought to know and be able to do, innovation is required in five dimensions:

  • More innovative learning models and networks, particularly for high schools (XQ, NewSchools, and NGLC grantees are a good start);
  • Competency-based learning platforms, gradebooks, badge and portfolio systems;
  • Quality guidance systems that ensure equity and access;
  • Mastery-based transcripts that allow students to more fully share their capabilities with postsecondary institutions and employers;
  • State policy that advances a relevant graduate profile, makes room for innovation pilots, and articulates a quality outcome framework (see the CompetencyWorks report Fit for Purpose).

The global shift to competency is underway. It will better enable us to meet students where they are, ensure that they get what they need, and help them tell their unique story. Everyone involved in education has opportunities to help make the transition faster, better and more equitably.

For more see:

This post was originally published on Forbes.

The Case for Competency as a New Equity Agenda

By: Tom Vander Ark and Mary Ryerse

We believe that every student deserves a great high school education – one that engages, challenges and inspires them, equips them to succeed in a rapidly changing world, and prepares them to thrive in the jobs of the future. We believe that all students should progress based on mastery and be provided the supports they need to succeed.

However, for more than 125 years, most of the world has relied on time-based proxies of learning. Students move through the system by grade level, some mastering important knowledge, and skills, many moving on with big skills gaps that limit their future potential. Simple to organize and manage, this system has also served to perpetuate and mask social and academic inequalities.

The standards-based reforms of the last 25 years are a very important start. In the best cases, they include high expectations for all students, clear guidelines for what all students need to learn, measurements that highlight underserved students, and extra support for struggling students. Yet they have also been hampered by the bones of a system designed–in structure, staffing, and funding–to move students along in batches rather than as individual, lifelong learners.

What if the system — and schools themselves — were designed with a commitment to equity at the forefront and were set up to help all students achieve at high levels and progress as they demonstrate mastery? What if schools used time differently — to give students schedules and tailored learning that enable them to fill gaps and also accelerate their learning, so that pacing becomes a force for innovation rather than a mechanism for stratifying students? What if students could advance at different rates in different subjects and still spend time with their age cohorts?

Yesterday, XQ released a new report by Getting Smart, Show What You Know: A Landscape Analysis of Competency-Based Education, that investigates the current state of competency-based education in our nation and examines potential opportunities to stimulate innovation, momentum, and impact. XQ’s intention is to help bolster the conversation on how we can transition to a competency system with equity at the center.

Our scan of the CBE landscape revealed five key areas where important changes are happening: model schools and networks, learning tools, students supports, teacher development, and policy.

Global Shift to Demonstrated Mastery

The world of work has already abandoned whole group, time-based training because it is expensive and ineffective. Most career learning is now just-in-time, self-paced, and a combination of mentorship, instruction, and online resources.

In more dynamic job clusters, traditional pedigrees on their own are becoming less important than they were to earlier generations. Job candidates and workers are being asked to demonstrate competence. It’s not only that grades in traditional courses are less meaningful, it’s also because formal education is highly uneven, and degrees don’t necessarily signify mastery of needed knowledge and skills.

The global shift in talent development includes two key components

  • Show what you know: demonstrated knowledge and skills, because the skills that matter most to employers are the key to job success.
  • Move on when ready: time is flexible, it’s the learning that’s important and there are multiple pathways.

This shift to anywhere, just-in-time, success-focused learning is being driven by a rapidly changing employment and civic landscape. Most jobs are or will soon be augmented by smart tools. There is less hierarchy and more work in teams, but also more freelancing and unstable employment. Everyone is experiencing high change and high diversity. Successful contributors to this changing landscape bring foundational knowledge and fundamental literacies to the table; they must also be original thinkers, generous collaborators, and self-directed, lifelong learners.

The K-12 Shift to Competency with Equity at the Center    

Given how quickly talent development is changing and how it’s beginning to change postsecondary learning around the edges (e.g., military, career and technical education, online learning and alternative HigherEd), it seems likely that the shift will come to K-12 education.

We’ve been talking about the shift from time to learning for a long time, and there are signs of movement everywhere. Given the complexity and the gravity of the current system, the shift to competency education is likely to take a generation. The new opportunity for sector leaders and philanthropies is to make the shift happen better and more equitably.

Competency-based education (also called mastery-, performance-, or proficiency-based learning) holds the potential to improve career and life readiness for more young people.

Show What You Know: A Landscape Analysis of Competency-Based Education begins by outlining six reasons the current system has proven resilient:

  • It is difficult to be specific about and prioritize what students should learn.
  • The transition from the old system is technically challenging for teachers and schools.
  • Instructional resources and digital tools (learning platforms, gradebooks) available to teachers were designed for the old system and don’t support their efforts to personalize learning.
  • Despite the widespread use of adaptive and curriculum-embedded assessments, a lack of interoperability makes it difficult to combine data from multiple sources to improve learning and make mastery judgments.
  • Colleges and parents are familiar with the old system of courses, credits, and grade point averages. While many colleges are beginning to look at better measures of capabilities, there is not a widely adopted competency-based approach to college admissions.
  • Current federal and state accountability systems reinforce grade-level grouping and testing.

The report provides an overview of the competency-based landscape and of potential opportunities to stimulate innovation, momentum, and impact. Research included interviews with over 50 sector leaders, an extensive literature review, and dozens of school visits. It uncovered real enthusiasm for the potential of competency-based education, along with lots of frustration around the barriers (described above) and concern about the risk of uneven quality of implementation.

The report outlines some of the critical elements of the path forward, including five recommendations:

  1. Support new competency-based networks and school models (XQ, NewSchools, and NGLC grantees are a good start).
  2. Support quality curriculum and assessment tools for competency-based models.
  3. Invest in high-quality learning platforms for competency-based models.
  4. Support solutions to technical barriers and design challenges.
  5. Advocate for room to innovate and for case studies of solutions.

Moreover, as secondary and postsecondary learning options increase and diploma systems become more flexible, young people will need better access to quality guidance. And we need to think in practical terms about how these advances can best be adopted—in real schools, by real educators, students, and families.

The research has also sharpened our focus on the implications of CBE for educational equity. Putting equity at the forefront is essential, and ensuring that competencies do not become “checklists” of sub-skills that never bring students to an integrated mastery of essential skills and knowledge is a key risk. It’s also true that high-quality CBE depends on a level of personalization that will be very difficult to achieve in under-resourced schools, especially in the early days when CBE tools and resources for teachers are under-developed.

Putting equity at the forefront will challenge our collective powers of imagination and invention. It’s not hard to see how students who learn a concept quickly can accelerate their progress in a “show what you know and move on when ready” system. It’s also fairly easy to envision how schools might support students who need more time to master a concept.

What’s more difficult, but absolutely imperative, is imagining how our schools can enable all students to achieve mastery. A new CBE system will need to ensure that students don’t “stall” in their learning, which will mean investing in and developing new ways to challenge, engage, and guide students so they achieve their full potential. We must also take account of the harsh realities faced by young people who are credit deficient, have transferred schools, or have been unable to “move on” for other reasons. In a CBE system, those students can—and must—accelerate their learning so that they don’t fall further behind.

With advances in these areas, we are confident that more young people will leave high school better prepared for college, careers, and citizenship.

We therefore urge the field as a whole to pursue work in the five overarching areas discussed in the report, while continuing to move forward with additional efforts directed at more specific impact opportunities. We also acknowledge that real progress will depend on an ambitious and fundamental rethinking of what graduates need to know and be able to do (the report notes progress on developing graduate profiles with support from groups including Battelle For Kids and KnowledgeWorks), what evidence will be used to demonstrate and assess their learning, and ultimately, how learning will be credentialed. Our research has strengthened our conviction that an effective, equitable CBE system must be built upon a new infrastructure of goals and requirements—thus calling upon us to rethink the high school credential itself.

We hope you will read the report, use it as a tool for encouraging discussion within your community, join in on the #ReThinkHighSchool conversation, and follow along with us as we continue to explore new ways to build momentum toward equitable CBE within our system.


And for more, see recent blogs and podcasts:

This post was originally published on Education Week.

Stay in-the-know with all things edtech and innovations in learning by signing up to receive the weekly Smart Update. This post includes mentions of a Getting Smart partner. For a full list of partners, affiliate organizations and all other disclosures, please see our Partner page.

Show What You Know: A Landscape Analysis of Competency-Based Education

Educators are genuinely enthusiastic about new, competency-based approaches to learning – as opposed to a system based on how much time students spend in class – but significant obstacles may prevent competency-based education from taking hold in U.S. high schools in the near future.

Believing that competency-based education is one of several necessary steps required to rethink American high schools, XQ asked us to conduct a landscape analysis to find out what’s happening in the field. When the findings came back, XQ decided to release the report publicly to share what was learned and to stimulate a much-needed conversation about this important topic.

Today, XQ published the report authored by Getting Smart, which is entitled Show What You Know: A Landscape Analysis of Competency-Based Education (CBE). This rich resource features an overview of the current status of competency-based education in the U.S. that we developed for XQ, and reflections from XQ on some of the more complex transition issues. Our analysis is based on interviews with more than 50 experts and educators in K-12 schools, higher education, technology, and philanthropy; analyses of more than 40 publications and other source materials; site visits to dozens of schools; and input from numerous education research organizations.

In our research, we found that educators are genuinely enthusiastic about new, competency-based approaches to learning, and that more and more schools are measuring student success by competency, which can help students take responsibility for their own learning, experience deeper learning, and develop the habits of lifelong learners. We also learned about how new resources and tools, including blockchain technology and machine learning, could make the path to quality easier for educators.

However, significant challenges continue to impede widespread adoption of competency-based approaches and models. Barriers include inadequate support for teachers and students, a lack of sufficient tools and resources, and the need for more descriptive transcripts accepted by postsecondary institutions.

Perhaps the most pervasive barrier is that, in many schools and districts, the system remains stuck in conventional routines and definitions that have changed little in decades. Schools are also stuck with tools and resources designed for a more static system, and with college admissions requirements and state accountability systems that reinforce old expectations and make change feel risky to teachers, parents, high schools, and students themselves.

“Every student deserves a great high school education. And by that we mean one that engages them to become self-motivated learners, challenges them to develop complex analytical and social skills, prepares them with foundational knowledge, and inspires them to become lifelong learners. Young people will need all that, and more, to succeed in the jobs of the future and to contribute to civic life,” said Russlynn Ali, Chief Executive Officer of XQ. “The shift from time- to competency-based learning is one critical element of making sure that young people get what they need.”

“The multidimensional shift to competency-based learning requires new experiences, supports, and structures; new teaching roles and capabilities; new assessments and reports; and new funding models and policies,” said Tom Vander Ark, CEO at Getting Smart. “Shifting to demonstrated competence is inevitable and well underway in corporate learning and alternative higher education, but it is complex enough that it’s likely to be a generation-long process in K-12 education.”

We therefore urge the field as a whole to pursue work in the five overarching areas discussed in the report, while continuing to move forward with additional efforts directed at more specific impact opportunities. We also acknowledge that real progress will depend on an ambitious and fundamental rethinking of what graduates need to know and be able to do, what evidence will be used to demonstrate and assess their learning, and ultimately, how learning will be credentialed. Our research has strengthened our conviction that an effective, equitable CBE system must be built upon a new infrastructure of goals and requirements—thus calling upon us to rethink the high school credential itself.

This work marks a milestone in XQ and Getting Smart’s partnership in examining competency-based education as it evolves and gains momentum in U.S. schools. Both organizations are continuing to explore questions about the high school credential, and XQ recently released a policy guide: High School & the Future of Work: A Guide for State Policymakers.

We hope you will read the report, share it with your network, and follow along with us as we continue to develop and release new resources for CBE, and explore new ways to build momentum toward equitable CBE within our system.


For more, see:

Stay in-the-know with all things edtech and innovations in learning by signing up to receive the weekly Smart Update. This post includes mentions of a Getting Smart partner. For a full list of partners, affiliate organizations and all other disclosures, please see our Partner page.