Tuesday, December 30, 2014

ForClass: A New and Innovative Education Platform

By Sean Scarpiello

One of the newest technologies to keep an eye on in 2015 is a creative education platform called ForClass. Teachers and professors are already extremely busy and find it increasingly difficult to prepare for class. ForClass is a platform geared towards easing the difficulties in preparing for classes while engaging students.

ForClass  enables teachers to assign questions to students for homework. These questions may be a guided reading, pop quiz, or a list of key concepts. As students answer these questions, teachers get an understanding of how each question is answered. This enables teachers to structure their lecture on the areas were students struggled. Further, ForClass gives teachers the statistical breakdown of how each student did on the assignment. Therefore, teachers can see where individual students are having difficulties and offer them help. This provides an easier education for each student individually. Over the course of a semester, ForClass can track a student’s progress, thereby enabling teachers to determine each student’s reasoning in answering questions.

One of the most important benefits of ForClass is how simple it is for the user. Teachers are able to quickly and effortlessly post questions and assignments for students to complete. The class results of each question for each individual student show up in real time for the teacher, in a simple format. Plus, teachers have an archive of all of their students’ responses at their fingertips. Students have also described  ForClass as a straightforward platform that encourages them to become more engaged in class. Students can log on and view each assignment for each class and answer each question at their own pace. As ForClass is web-based, any student with a laptop, tablet, or even a smart phone with a wireless connection can complete their assignments from almost anywhere.

ForClass also affords the opportunity for teachers to use this innovative platform in a creative manner. Teachers can use ForClass to assign take home quizzes or post lecture questions to see which topics  confuse students. Plus, teachers can come up with their own creative ways to implement the software in their classrooms that fit their students needs best.

 Overall, ForClass has additional benefits by being a  low cost or in some cases a free program for teachers and students. Plus, it is easy to use for both teachers and students.In addition,  its ability to enable students to critically think and have fun with class instruction is a great benefit. Most of all, ForClass keeps students actively engaged in class material and also benefits teachers by having a clear understanding of their student’s grasp of the material. It is clear that ForClass is an excellent addition to any classroom as it is easy to implement into classrooms where students can utilize technology to improve the quality of their education.

Source: http://www.forclass.com/

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Effectiveness of Online Writing Labs (OWLs)

By Sean Scarpiello

As the year 2015 quickly approaches, one interesting educational technology tool to keep an eye is Online Writing Labs or OWLs. These writing tools are designed to engage high school and college students in improving their writing skills to fit what college professors are looking for in essays and reports. More importantly, OWLs focus on improving writing in general, an important skill to have in all careers, regardless of the exact field of study in college. Different colleges such as Purdue University and Excelsior College offer their versions of OWLs online at no cost to users.

As OWLs are an online based technology, they can be accessed 24/7 from any laptop, tablet, or other device from any place with an internet connection.
Within the OWLs offered by Excelsior College, there are 8 different modules for improving college level writing. There are modules that focus on the actual process of writing. These processes  help students think about how they should go about brainstorming, developing arguments, looking at opposing viewpoints, and more. From there, students can find modules that help lay the foundations of what to include in their introductions and main content. In a series of fun to read and interactive instructional pages, students can also learn how to write without plagiarizing, control their voice, develop concise yet effective thesis statements and more. Plus, these pages include tips on how to revise and edit their papers so students can easily understand what areas their professors are focusing on during the grading process. One study showed that, on average, students using OWLs raised their final grade in a course by 6.6 points. While this is great for students’ transcripts in the short term, the long term benefit is improved writing styles which they will inevitably take with them beyond their educational career.

In addition to OWLs pages of content for improving writing, Excelsior College’s OWL  includes modules on how to craft writing for different audiences. There is an essay module and a grammar module which guides students  on how to write in the type of rhetoric that professors look for while retaining the proper grammar and format in their college essays. Another module that is especially useful is the digital writing module which instructs students on how to write for readers in the 21st Century. This includes information on writing blogs, discussion boards, online journals, social media, and more. To help pull all of these skills together, there is an interactive game called Paper Capers, which helps students apply what they have learned in the OWL. The game is designed to teach students how to understand the writing process and apply their knowledge by answering questions and judging if aspects of writing, such as different thesis statements and research methods, are effective.

Overall, regardless of the field of study in college, writing is an important skill which will follow students for the rest of their lives. Therefore, OWLs are a great resource for students  as they contain a wealth of knowledge and interactive media for improving writing skills and style at no cost. Plus, the programs online format enables them to be accessible from anywhere with any device at anytime. OWLs will no doubt go on to improve the quality of education as more students can utilize technology towards improving their education.

Excelsior College's OWL: http://owl.excelsior.edu/

Sunday, November 30, 2014

How Evernote Improves Organization In and Out of the Classroom

By Sean Scarpiello

Over the past few years, Evernote, an educational app designed to improve organization and collaboration in the classroom has continued to thrive and grow. Originally it started as an app with the ability to easily archive notes, Evernote has expanded to ease the jobs of both teachers and students. Evernote has now given students and teachers more benefits by adding additional utilities. The best part of all  is this free app is available to students on all different devices such as: smart phones, tablets, and laptops for Windows, Mac and Android. While there is a free version of Evernote, students and teachers may pay a small amount to gain access to more memory and utilities for education.

When you sign up for Evernote, users have access to really helpful programs. StudyBlue allows students to easily create flash cards, which can be used for studying large amounts of information quickly. Also, RefMe enables students to cite literature easily as well as bibliographies  and other assignments. Biscuit is another interesting program that allows students to improve their use of language while increasing their vocabulary, through word lists and dictionary tools.

One of the most interesting apps of Evernote is called eHighlighter, which truly improves the organization of students in and out of the classroom. Students can simply take a photo of their notes or the class blackboard and upload their photo to eHighlighter.  The app will then archive the students notes. Essentially, the notes within the photo are translated into text as if it were typed into a computer. eHighlighter then enables students to go back and review their notes by running searches  of specific key words within the notes. This allows students to easily find and review specific parts of their notes relating to specific class topics. As these notes are available in a digital media, students have full access to clearly written notes on their phone, tablet, or laptop. Furthermore, eHighlighter's features are not limited to class notes. Students can  take pictures of textbook passages, figures, graphs, homework assignments, and even confusing math problems worked out on a blackboard. eHighlighter then organizes all of these notes and rewrites the notes clearly  to be easily accessible. Another program in Evernote called Azendoo, allows students to take a photo of class notes or a worksheet  which is also converted into a digital file. Then, students can complete the worksheet on any of their devices and  email the completed document to their teacher. This allows students to not only easily complete and turn in their homework, but also save a copy  if there is a problem later on or for review when studying for a test.

Evernote even has an app that improves the educational experience of difficult math concepts which can often be awkward to learn on a computer. Through a program called Scalar, students have access to a digital notebook which helps map out and store the entire process of solving lengthy math equations. Scalar even includes a calculator for crunching numbers and other features where numbers can be color coded or crossed out to help students visualize solving math problems. Later, students can return to their account on any tablet, phone, or laptop and review all of the steps required to solve long and abstract math equations. Further, they have a copy of the math notes that are clear and easy to read.

Overall, Evernote has a number of innovative and extremely useful programs that improve the organization and collaboration of students in the classroom. In addition to Evernotes programs such as StudyBlue, RefMe, eHighlighter, Azendoo, and Scalar, have even more programs that student and teachers can benefit from in and out of the classroom. Plus, all of the data in a student’s account can be accessed from any device using the internet  in a clear and easy to read format. Most of all, Evernote is fantastic because it's technology is available at no cost and helps more students through the implementation of technology in education.

Evernote: https://appcenter.evernote.com/collection/education

Thursday, November 20, 2014

An Old Fashioned Alternative to Education Apps

By Sean Scarpiello

These days, young students have easy access to all kinds of technology. Some schools have tablets and laptops for their students, while many students have access to a tablet or computer at home. With so much technology at their fingertips, students are always on their device. Yet while there is a growing availability of educational apps and programs on these devices, there are so many other apps that draw in young minds. For many grade school students, games like Angry Birds or Candy Crush are seconds away. For high school and college students, these games along with social media apps are available with the tap of their finger.

Looking back to when I was a child, video games were only accessible on a TV or desktop computer and socializing with friends meant meeting up in the neighborhood. Since there are so many other activities to take part in on their devices, many young students flock to games and social media when they are both at home, on the go, or relaxing. One way that this is a concern is  all of this technology takes away from one of the best ways to learn- reading a book. In the past, a lot of my peers in school would read for fun. If we were on a bus, in a car, at home, or on a beach we would relax by reading. When I look around now, it seems like people are too plugged into the internet and do not relax by reading a book. While it now seems like an old fashioned way to learn, reading is proven to increase vocabulary, develop writing skills, improve critical thinking, and so much more.

This lack of reading is already a huge problem. Some surveys now show that around 80% of college students change their major. When I was recently talking to a friend who was facing difficulty settling on a major, I asked him what he enjoys reading. His response was that he doesn’t really read anything. He never sat down to read a book for leisure or to learn about something that interests him. And while this is just one example, this lack of reading among young students is pervasive. The reason for this could be traced back to such easy availability to technology. Instead of curling up with a book on a rainy day, young students are relaxing by staring at their phones, playing the latest version of mindless games or viewing social media.

How can this be changed? Teachers in schools should get students to read more about individual interests. I had a reading teacher in middle school that had a huge bookshelf with books on all kinds of topics. We were required to read 20 minutes each day, but we were able to choose what we wanted to read. He had everything from science fiction to biographies. If at any point we became bored or uninterested in a book, it was perfectly acceptable to pick out a new book. In other classes, I observed many of my classmates hating to read the assigned pages from the book the teacher chose in the beginning of the year. Therefore, when we were able to choose what we wanted to read about, there was much less resistance to reading and more emphasis on learning.

Overall, while it is important to introduce the latest technologies into the classroom to improve education, sometimes the old fashioned ways still work the best. By having students  put their phones down to read a book, students can develop their own interests. In addition  reading will improve  their thinking, writing, and so much more.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

MOOCs can be a Significant Factor in Opening Doors to Opportunity

By Daphne Koller

2013 has been a year of incredible growth for MOOCs, and Coursera has evolved more rapidly than we could ever have expected. We hit (and surpassed) a triple milestone of 100 partner institutions, 500 courses, and 5 million students. The demand for quality online education resources is simply staggering.

As is typical for developments in technology that force us to rethink the status quo of an industry, this growth has been met with some pushback among skeptics. Within online education, we’ve seen this manifest in criticism of student retention rates and demographic biases. Its natural for early results to be judged against old guidelines and metrics of success for traditional education, but at Coursera we see the outlook for retention and demographic diversity differently.

Among our priorities in the coming year, we hope to shift the conversation around these two dimensions of the learning experience, redefine what it means to be successful, and lay the groundwork for products, offerings, and features that can help students navigate this new medium of learning to meet their own goals, whether that means completing dozens of courses or simply checking out a new subject.

Across all Coursera courses, average retention measured overall is approximately 4%. We can all agree that this would be incredibly low for a 50-seat, on-campus lecture.

However, considering that class enrollment on our platform is completely open, free, and requires no commitment (not unlike reading a book while browsing at the library, or marking a course in a university catalog), we need to reconsider whether it is a failure for thousands of students to complete a course while tens of thousands are browsing (as recently argued very convincingly by Kevin Carey).

When we’ve looked deeper into the intent of users, we find a much more promising picture: One early study of Coursera students found that of those students who said at the outset of a course that they intended to earn a Statement of Accomplishment, roughly 24% successfully completed the course. Surveys of students one month into a course are an even better indicator: Of the “committed” students in these surveys, 64% end up completing all the coursework. (Take a look at figure 4 here. We’ll also be publishing more comprehensive and up-to-date data soon in ACM Ubiquity.) And in our Signature Track option, which offers students the option to pay a fee of around $50 to receive a verified certificate upon successful completion of a course, retention averages around 63% overall, 88% among the committed students and can be as high as 99%.

Clearly, there is more to the retention story than just the baseline numbers.

Beyond retention, we’ve heard questioning of the extent to which MOOCs are living up to their goals of democratizing learning. Recent studies, including a few run by our university partners, indicate that, within certain classes and areas of study, some 80% of students have already earned some kind of degree. This observation is entirely unsurprising, given the significant bias in many of the early courses to the more specialized topics, and the overall phenomenon that early adopters of technology tend to skew toward the educated.

Additional context might be gained from the fact that 40% of Coursera learners are in the developing world. In many of these countries, the few top-quality institutions have very limited capacity relative to the overall demand, and many students are relegated to institutions that are significantly understaffed, where the quality of instruction is highly variable. In such cases, the achievement of a university degree is far from guaranteeing employment, and the high-quality education provided by MOOCs can be a significant factor in opening doors to opportunity--even among the college-educated.

Still, we are deeply committed to expanding our impact on populations that have been traditionally underserved by higher education, and are actively working to broaden access for students in less-developed countries through a range of initiatives, including: working with our Translation Partners to provide translated subtitles for videos, to enable non-native English speakers to learn; localizing our website, so as to make non-English-language students feel “at home” on the site; working with multiple partners, including the US State Department, to host physical “Learning Hubs” in locations around the world where internet access is limited; and launching a mobile app to enable students to download course materials for offline viewing in places where connectivity is an issue. As another example, when Coursera first launched, we had very low student enrollment in China. This fall, we began working with a Chinese internet company, NetEase, to help improve the delivery of video content across the internet firewall. Now, China is our second fastest growing country in terms of daily student sign-ups, just behind the US.

MOOCs have come so far in just two years, but we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible. As we tackle existing challenges and face new ones in 2014, we are humbled by the response that we have seen at Coursera in these early stages and encouraged by the potential to expand, improve, and innovate to bring our vision for the future of education to life.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Utilizing Current Technologies Creatively in Schools

By Sean Scarpiello

While many schools across the country have implemented the latest tablets and laptops in providing education to their students, the reality is that some schools have not yet caught up with placing a computer in the hand of each student.  When I was in high school, my classmates and I were not given our own iPad, but some of our best teachers found a creative way to implement current technology towards improving our education. 

Looking back on my education, I had a high school social studies teacher who invented a resourceful way to turn a projector and her computer into an interactive game.  Using PowerPoint, the teacher would make up a game show review which was scheduled the day before each test.  There are tons of free blank PowerPoint templates available for download on the internet that teachers can use in their classes.  Game show templates for Jeopardy and others can be altered to include teachers’ own questions on material that is pertinent for the upcoming exam.  In my class, students were split up into groups where we could collaborate with each other to answer questions to win points.  While we were not able to look at our notes, we were able to jot down ideas and key points to study before the test.  The teacher also gave us an incentive to study by giving extra credit points to the group that won the game.  Overall, everyone benefited as students were studying days in advance instead of cramming all their studying in the night before. 

Other teachers would use PowerPoint in conjunction with polling software where students would each have their own remote clicker.  After each question, students would answer using their clicker and the professor could get feedback from the class to review material.  This also gave the students feedback after the teacher revealed the correct answer on the next slide so they know what to review later.  Some of my teachers would also utilize the current PowerPoint technology by importing the slides into a no cost software called Prezi.  Prezi can be used with or without an original PowerPoint.  Regardless of how teachers used Prezi, they are sure to make up an interesting and interactive class presentations.  Like PowerPoint, Prezi can embed videos, graphs, tables, and more.  Plus, Prezi can also be used to make up review question games.  Teachers can even use many of Prezi’s other cool functions to create their own enthralling lesson plans.

In all, there are so many different innovative ideas that teachers can think up using the technology they already have access to.  PowerPoint presentations can be turned into interactive game shows or even a fascinating Prezi Presentation.  Most of all, teachers can tailor these available technologies to personalize a high quality education at a low cost and without hardship to get iPads and laptops.  

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Graduating with Technology

Source: http://albanylawtech.wordpress.com/2013/10/17/infographics-on-technology/

Sunday, August 31, 2014

FreshGrade: A Communication Link Between Teachers and Parents

By Sean Scarpiello

It is often easy to take on the mindset that more technology in schools will improve the quality of education. While this is true with the proper implementation of technology, it is more important that parents stay involved in the education of their children. Studies have consistently shown that students with parents and guardians who remain active in their education achieve more in school and later in life. By combining the effectiveness of parental involvement in education and the ease of technology, FreshGrade enables parents and teachers a clear line of communication to track the educational progress of students. FreshGrade helps parents learn more about their children’s education and allows teachers to communicate a highly detailed assessment of students that goes way beyond a traditional report card.

Teachers can easily sign up for a FreshGrade account at no cost to the school or their students. From here, teachers can update parents directly as learning goes on in the classroom. For instance, if a teacher notices a student struggling or excelling in an area, they can instantly send out an update to parents. FreshGrade has an easy-to-use format that includes a gradebook, calendar, and more. Plus, there are webinars and tutorials offered to teachers and parents if they run into any difficulty navigating FreshGrade. This technology is available for use on any computer, tablet, or smart phone through an app available for the Apple App Store and Google Play. There are applications available for teachers, parents and even students.

On the parent side of FreshGrade, there is 24/7 access to a comprehensive student portfolio which is updated by teachers in real time. Here, parents can learn what their children are learning about in school, along with their strengths and weaknesses. It also keeps parents updated on when projects and homework assignments are due. Parents are also able to have a conversation on FreshGrade that goes beyond the traditional parent-teacher conference. Here, parents can hear suggestions on how to improve and supplement their child’s education from their teacher. This can be in the form of direct messages from teachers, as well as pictures, audio-recordings, videos, and other documents sent privately from the teacher.

One added benefit is that students can also have access to this material. Much like having a report card updated daily, students can see where they are struggling. Plus, this also empowers students as it enables them to tell their teacher discreetly where they are having trouble. Teachers are then able to easily respond to students’ issues in the form of a video, audio, or other format. I think this would be particularly useful in a subject like math. If a student is having trouble with a certain type of math problem, they can contact their teacher right when they are facing this difficulty. Teachers can then reply with a video of how to complete this type of problem in more detail. This lets students receive an individualized approach to education and they can watch the video over and over until they gain an understanding of the material. Plus, students do not have to wait until their next class to try and grasp difficult concepts.

FreshGrade is such an amazing technology because it can connect students, teachers, and parents in such a clear and concise manner that is completely free for everyone involved in the process of education. For teachers, this is a particularly useful tool because it offers even more resources than a link of communication for parents. Overall, there is no reason why all grade school students should not have access to this technology, as it improves the quality of education through the creative application of technology.

Source: http://web.freshgrade.com/

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

To Test or Not to Test

By Serenity Lewis

Source: http://www.topeducationdegrees.org/standardized-testing/

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Importance of a Mentor

By Sean Scarpiello

While schools are always trying to be up to date with the latest technology or newest textbooks, there are some factors that go into a high quality education that are not material. It has been highly proven that students with parents who are actively engaged in their children’s education are more likely to succeed, but I also feel that all students need a mentor in addition to involved parents. A mentor can supplement a student’s education because it forces them to take their own initiative in their education. Parents’ roles in education are to really push their children to do their work and succeed whereas effective mentors enable students to become self-motivated to accomplish their dreams.

A good mentor can be anyone. For example, they could be a famous politician, businessperson, or celebrity, a neighbor, family member, a family friend, and even a teacher. A mentor can even be someone successful in a field completely outside of a student’s specific interests. Really, a mentor is someone a student can look up to with qualities that they can try to emulate, such as passion for their field, strong interpersonal skills, or personal drive. When students recognize these important qualities in a mentor, it puts them in the driver seat and helps them to improve themselves independently of their parents.

Further, students should have multiple mentors which play a number of different roles in their life. In my experience, I found a fantastic mentor when I was young who is a neurologist at my local hospital. Aside from his strong work ethic which was evident the instant we met, I noticed that he was truly passionate about his job and his patients. Plus he showed deep compassion with patients and could offer them help in a friendly and serene manner. As I tried to emulate these qualities in my own life, I began to see changes in my personal, professional, and academic life. Another mentor I was fortunate enough to have in college operated in a completely different manner. For my senior capstone experience in college, all students were paired up with a professor to guide them through writing a thesis on a topic the students could choose. The professor I was paired up with had a reputation for always advising the best and hardest working students on their thesis. Early on, she made it clear that she expected our best work and would settle for nothing less. My own motivations for working hard were initially based off of meeting her high expectations, but as she continued to challenge all of her advisees to meet deadlines before our peers with other thesis advisors, all of us found we were ahead of everyone else. This same mindset was contagious and spread through other aspects of our lives where I saw personally that I became bored if I was not challenging myself to achieve more each day.

I have been extremely fortunate to have some fantastic mentors which gave me self-motivation. If more students had these sorts of figures in their lives, I’m sure there would more students who would try to improve themselves independently. A good mentor could get a student to put down their video games and read on their own to improve their vocabulary or go for a run to improve their physical fitness for gym class. Parents do play a vital role in a student’s success, but often times it is the mentors in a student’s life that are overlooked. Teachers and professors are in the best position to be mentors for students because they interact with students every day. However, this does not mean others cannot play meaningful roles in the lives of students. We all have a famous person we look up to and everyone can appreciate the story of someone who came from nothing and has become an outrageous success. The thing about mentors is that most of the time the mentor does not understand just how big of an impact they are having on the lives of those who look to them for guidance. In all, if educators can introduce their class to mentors, we can expect the students to drive themselves to success in and out of the classroom.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Practical Knowledge 101

By Sean Scarpiello

Throughout grade school and high school, students learn many important subjects such as chemistry, calculus, foreign languages, literature and more. However, by the time we graduate high school, many of us are not ready to take on the real world. While many of the classes that make up the curricula of American education are important, there are other vital subjects and experiences that can easily be taught in schools for low to no cost.

As we look back on our educations or help our children through their education, we see that all students are constantly asking “when will I use this in life?” Many teachers come up with creative ways to describe a time when the difficult or abstract concept can be used to answer this question before continuing on with the material. In reality, the majority of the facts and raw data we learn in school are forgotten after the final exam. Instead, teachers should focus their students’ efforts on improving analytic and problem solving skills. For example, I work for a small pharmaceutical company where I use an expensive piece of equipment that separates out molecules by size and then forms a graph based on the size of each molecule. By integrating the graph- finding the area under the peaks of data on the graph- we are able to test the purity of cancer drugs. During my schooling, I took a semester of differential calculus followed by a semester of the more difficult integral calculus. Here, I memorized integration rules, struggled to understand Maclaurin series, and tried to wrap my head around finding volume by the rotation of equations. Overall, I look back and see I that spent a lot of time working through grasping difficult concepts rather than applying knowledge and improving problem solving skills. While it is still important to know the basic framework of integrations, we have computer software in the lab which automatically integrates the data for us. For students, it is disappointing to look back and see a year of classes wasted on memorizing formulas when this time could be better spent working on critical thinking or developing hands-on skills. Alternatively, I took an Anatomy class, which is typically associated with memorizing parts of the body, and found that I improved my problem solving skills due to how the course was structured.

Another argument that could be directed especially towards high school is the need for classes on practical knowledge. Too many people today graduate without knowing how to do their taxes, balance a check book, apply for a loan, or many more of the everyday activities needed to be a functioning adult. Additionally, if people aren’t able to fill out tax information or budget their money properly, there can be some huge consequences. I find it frustrating that I can find the volume of a bullet or a doughnut using calculus, but I still need my parents to look over my tax information. I know of many adults who continue to struggle with personal finance, understanding credit, and even gaining comprehensive knowledge of software such as Word or Excel.

To address these issues, high schools could teach or sponsor online classes where students can learn the ins and outs of being a functional citizen. Many students graduate high school and college without some very important skills and experience which could have quickly and effectively been taught as part of the curriculum. A computer or tablet can be a great medium to teach a class on finance which can be simplified using interactive graphs and easy-to-digest visuals. Further, classes on computer applications can teach students all the possible formulas and statistical tests that can be run in excel. Many students who are preparing to graduate would be willing take these classes as they know they are going out into the real world.

In all, schools can effectively use technology and online based platforms to teach students skills, problem solving, and practical knowledge. Also, there are many classes that can be restructured to include many of these skills while leaving out unneeded memorization of formulas and specific details. The use of technology can present these highly beneficial skills in a way that is interesting and interactive for students, while remaining at minimal costs for schools.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Schoolfy: A Creative, No Cost Online Educational Platform

By Sean Scarpiello

With all of the different online learning platforms on market today, it may seem as if there are too many to choose from and that many are all the same. Platforms such as Blackboard, Canvas, and others work well, yet they still have their weaknesses. Schoolfy is a different type of learning platform that aims at individualizing education for each student while remaining affordable to bring education to all students. Just like all other online based learning platforms, Schoolfy gives 24/7 access to class materials wherever students can connect a device to the internet. Schoolfy also enables a clearer line of communication between teachers and students. Schoolfy is designed to avoid the weaknesses of other online learning platforms, while keeping in mind the needs of teachers and students.

One of the biggest benefits of Schoolfy is that it is completely free for anyone with a device and internet connection. This means any student with an email can log into any teacher’s Schoolfy account. Plus, teachers’ accounts can be made private, to share their material with just their students, or public. These public accounts allow teachers to share content with each other, whether these teachers are across the hall or across the country. Further, Schoolfy’s public account pages are a great resource for teachers to look into how other teachers are instructing similar courses, enabling them to bring new and more creative lesson plans into their classrooms.

In addition to the no cost benefit of Schoolfy, this learning platform also enables teachers to create capsules of data to share with their class. In these capsules, teachers can embed videos, links, quizzes, surveys, tables, photos, Microsoft documents, and more. Plus, these capsules have the capability to be shared on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Teachers are even able to share Schoolfy contacts with additional online based learning platforms that the school is using. In order to personalize these capsules of data for students who are struggling with class material, teachers are able to quickly and easily alter capsules and directly send them to individual students. Additionally, teachers can use capsules to survey or quiz students to see how well they are retaining material, thereby giving the teacher the ability to locate weak areas of the class overall which can later be addressed in class.

For students, Schoolfy not only makes education more individualized, but Schoolfy is easy to use. All of their quizzes, links, documents, and other assigned work are open on their own homepage of bright and colorful capsules of data. Here, students can easily view the subject, teacher, and the date the capsule was posted. Students can see everything that they need to complete on one, easy-to-read page, and they have access to the capsules of all other teachers across the country with public profiles. Therefore, they can complete the learning capsules of other teachers for extra practice if they need help in or are interested in a specific topic.

Overall, while there are many other online educational platforms available to teachers and students today, Schoolfy is a no cost option that anyone with a device and an internet connection can easily access. This means teachers and students can read through thousands of fun and interesting educational courses presented in a creative way. Schoolfy is an important educational resource that definitely has a place in the classroom as it is a no cost option for bringing a high quality education to students through technology.

Source: http://www.schoolfy.com/

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Learning By Playing - the Best Way to Learn

By Alisandra Wederich

It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them.
- Leo Buscaglia

Most of the time, we think of learning as coinciding more with work than with play. The word, "learning," tends to bring to mind images of textbooks and students bent over desks to study material, or even sitting at a computer doing online research. However, many teachers, and now some schools, are starting to acknowledge that hard work is not necessarily synonymous with great learning - in fact, playing and exploring are experiences that are scientifically proven to cause knowledge to more effectively stay with students. 

In Los Angeles, a group of founders and teachers have created a school based on the notion that learning through playing is the best way for students to grasp and retain new material. Aptly named, the Playmaker School, the staff is dedicated to teaching students through nontraditional methods. Rather than teaching rote memorization of historic dates, for instance, the school instructs students on what tools are available to look up such information (this is the age of Google, afterall), and instead of pushing students to regurgitate such information, students are asked to question what this information means.

This is a school that, instead of teaching facts and figures outright, asks students to create meaning, make connections, and problem solve. It asks students to be curious, creative and persistent until the answers are found, and encourages students to use the technology available to them. It's definitely a groundbreaking new way of teaching students how to learn, and staff are constantly re-evaluating their methods to make sure that materials presented are challenging students as well as playful.

Students at the Playmaker School love it, of course. Nolan Windham, grade 6, remarked at how other parents would be critical of how much play was involved, and question if they were learning anything. He says:

"We’re thinking about how when we take in information, how to process it and how to create information and how to create media, how to create different things, and that’s what you are doing in your adult life. You’re taking in things, you’re taking in information, you’re taking in food, you’re taking in money and you’re giving out services, ideas like physical labor. Just all of those things you are giving and taking in, but here you are really learning the internal processing. How all these things work together and what they mean.

If everyone could do [self directed learning], I think there would be so many more people that actually like school."

So far, the school has had raving reviews from staff, students, and parents, but there are many obstacles in the way of starting an education revolution. Standardized testing, core curriculum standard mandates, and other rules and regulations prevent this model school from rapid expansion. The education system has long been faulted with out-of-date techniques and tests, and perhaps the Playmaker School and its students are living testimony to why these things aren't necessary anymore. Unlike in most educational institutions, in the Playmaker School, if something doesn't work, teachers  and students have the ability to change it. Teachers listen to their students, and allow the students to have agency in their own education so that students have the power to change a class for the better. If the education system as a whole would listen to its students, the revolution of our educational system would already be underway. 

Reading about how the Playmaker School teaches physics through having students build model rollercoasters, or imagine and have to research what might happen if the world turned inside out not only feeds student imagination and creativity, but provides valuable teachable moments which educators thrive on. Ultimately, it is a step towards a better education system, but we are going to have to fight against an established system that teaches to standardized tests and regulated curriculum in order to ensure the continuation of such school and provide learning environments like these to more students.

Source: A School That Ditches All the Rules But Not the Rigor

Monday, June 30, 2014

Education Technology for Teachers

By Sean Scarpiello

Frequently, when education professionals discuss technologies for improving the classroom, they focus on computers and software that can be given to students. Tablets, online-based learning platforms, and other instructional technologies certainly improve the quality of education, but technology in education does not need to stop there. Putting the latest technologies in the hands of teachers will definitely enrich the quality of education for both students and teachers. In fact, many of these technologies are already available, yet are often underutilized.

One of the cheapest and most effective ways to improve education by having teachers utilize technology is through the use of fulfilling continuing education requirements (or professional hours) with online classes. Teachers can easily enroll in online classes or massive open online classrooms (MOOCs). In addition to being available at low cost, these classes are convenient to take as teachers can complete their coursework over the summer months or whenever it is best for them. In my experience, only one of my high school teachers was enrolled in classes during my semester in his AP Biology class. Often times in class, he would introduce some of the class material he was learning. Plus, he found that he was actively thinking as a student, making him describe unfamiliar concepts to our class more clearly. Further, all of my science professors in college were continuing their own research studies, keeping them up to date on the latest science which they would discuss in class. On the other hand, the high school teachers and some college professors that were not actively learning often had classes that seemed dry or out of date.

In addition to online courses or other technologies to keep instructors’ minds sharp, teachers could also benefit by implementing technologies that improve the communication link between teachers and parents. This holds true especially in grade schools. It has been proven that students whose parents are more actively involved in their education are more likely to succeed. Therefore, if teachers and parents have a clear link to discuss their children’s progress, it will be easier to keep parents involved in the educational process. There are low cost and even free software solutions that teachers can obtain to send out group or individual messages to parents. Additionally, there are even online bulletin boards available where teachers can post updates, upcoming events, homework assignments and more. Parents can then easily check these messages and ask their children about what is going on in school.

Additionally, there is a lot of different software available to help make organizing class data easier for teachers. While Excel and even hard copies of grades in notebooks are commonly utilized by teachers, there are better options available. Some of this software even track the progress of individual students and can help analyze trends seen over time. Other software even tracks student homework completion, student contact information, attendance, and more. There are many different programs with different functions on the market available for teachers at reasonable costs. By investing in these technologies, teachers can be sure to get years of use out of them. Plus, they can spend less time organizing class information and more time on their lesson plan, reaching out to parents, and other strategies to improve class.

Overall, there are many different technologies that are easily attainable for teachers at low or no cost. While we often focus too much on getting the latest technology in the students’ hands, it would further benefit class to have teachers utilizing the best technologies available. With this in mind, by having teachers use simple, low-cost technologies in class, we can expect students to benefit from an improved quality of education.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Socrative: A No Cost Class Polling Program

By Sean Scarpiello

In the past, teachers and students have described that class polling programs, such as Turning Point Technologies and others, have improved instruction in the classroom. Normally with these programs, students pick up their own remote before class which they use throughout the lecture. Teachers are then able to ask a number of different questions, and get their students’ feedback on different topics during lectures. While many teachers use these programs to ensure everyone in class understands key points, other teachers give tests and quizzes based on this technology where they get instant results. Socrative is a new type of software that enables teachers to use all of these same benefits from other polling programs, but without many of the downsides to these older methods.

When using conventional polling programs, students or teachers are often required to buy their own remote for marking responses in class. These systems do not run through the internet, so it is often difficult to keep track of class trends and the individual answers for each student in class. Socrative on the other hand does not have these issues. Teachers can get Socrative for no cost on its website and students can download the app for free on their tablet, smart phone, or other device. If students do not have their own portable device, they can easily access all of their class’ Socrative content online by logging into the website using any computer or laptop. Once teachers set up a class with the names of their students, they can post assignments and quizzes all through Socrative. Students can then log on during class when questions are posed in a PowerPoint, during lecture, or even a post-class questionnaire format.

Then, with the Socrative system, teachers are able to track the real time responses of the class as well as track the progress and success of each student in the class. Teachers are even given more flexibility with Socrative as they can make up their own questions or share questions with other teachers. Further, teachers can design a number of different question types such as multiple choice, true/false, or free response. One other benefit that teachers can expect from Socrative is that teachers can design questions to be incorporated into normal class instruction, part of a graded quiz, or turned into a game. No matter how the teachers decide to present the questions for students, they can be sure to easily track their class’ progress. Plus, pictures and other forms of media may be integrated into the questions, so students can evaluate and analyze visuals or tables of data to apply their knowledge and answer thought provoking questions. One last addition to Socrative is the Exit Ticket functions. With this, teachers can ask students to provide a short answer as to how they felt class went each day, what they learned, or what students found interesting during class discussion.

In comparison to other polling software, Socrative appears to be extremely beneficial to teachers and students. While teachers can get the same proven results seen with other polling programs, Socrative has additional benefits and comes at no added cost to students and teachers who have access to the internet. Plus, it is easy to use for both teachers and students and enables students to critically think and have fun with class instruction. In all, it is clear that Socrative is an excellent addition to any classroom as it is free and easy to implement into class where students can utilize technology to improve the quality of their education.

Source: http://www.socrative.com/

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

EverFi: An Online Education Company Teaching Practical Knowledge

By Sean Scarpiello

Upon graduating from high school and college students often feel intimidated and uniformed on many of the day to day duties of a normal adult. For example, many students graduate without knowing about their credit score, paying loans, or doing their own taxes. To help combat this problem, the online based education company EverFi aims at teaching students many of the financial responsibilities needed as an adult. Further, EverFi has also begun offering classes in technology and STEM education. These online courses are designed to not only teach students information relevant to being fiscally responsible, but also to challenge students to think critically.

First, EverFi’s financial classes have a lot to offer to students in grades 4 and up. The online based content in their Vault Program teaches 4th through 6th graders about topics in investing, credit/debit, and money management. Further, their program designed for 9th through 12th graders focus on the taxes, mortgages, 401Ks, credit cards, and other practical information for students about to graduate from high school. This is important as many of us graduate high school and even college without any of this knowledge which is key to being a thriving member of society. These courses are offered in an online format so students can access coursework from any place that has an internet connection. The format of EverFi is also designed to engage students and force them to think critically about their coursework. This is beneficial in and of itself as it helps students to not only memorize a list of financial and business terms but to apply this knowledge and use it to evaluate other data.

EverFi also offers classes in the field of STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) education. Their Ignition Program is designed to stimulate interest in STEM related fields for middle school students. This is done by introducing careers in technology, multimedia, and online research. EverFi’s Radius Program is designed for high school students to further develop an interest in STEM fields by teaching students topics such as binary code, Boolean logic, decryption, and coding. These programs are again designed to challenge students to think critically about their coursework. In addition to being presented in an online format, both the financial and STEM programs are available at low costs to students, teachers, and schools.

Overall, EverFi is a fantastic educational technology as it offers courses which teach practical and useful information to students. It is available in an online format and at low costs to schools. Recently, Pharrell Williams, a musician and producer, is using his charity, From One Hand to AnOTHER, to partner up with Everfi to enroll even more students in classes this summer. In all, EverFi will be successful as it brings relevant and useful education to students through the application of technology and at a low cost.

Source: http://www.everfi.com/

Friday, May 30, 2014

Is It Worth It To Drop Out of College?

By Alisandra Wederich

We've all heard about college drop-outs who found their way to success through hard work and entrepreneurship. Names like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Lady Gaga, Oprah and Michael Dell are just a few that come to mind when we think about those who have succeeded by dropping out of school. There is even the annual Thiel Fellowship which offers $100,000 to a handful of students under the age of 20 on the condition that they drop out of college and pursue a business venture instead - an effort by Peter Thiels to offer legitimacy and support to those who want to try the drop-out "path." However, in the midst of all these success stories, and in an age where student loans cause many to question whether it is worth it to start a college education, much less finish one; we often fail to hear about those who drop out of college and flounder.

It can be very misleading to think that dropping out of college will just land you on the path to a multi-million dollar project. Even in it's generous monetary offerings, the students selected to receive the Thiel Fellowship are extraordinary: a student who was matriculated into MIT by age 14, one of the youngest students at Harvard, and a student who was a Ph.D. candidate by age 16. These are students whose history already attests to their hard work and astounding success, so offering them money to continue their endeavors is less of a risk and more of an investment in already proven and focused efforts. Yet the story we hear when recounting many college dropout successes is not about a history of incredible success, but how dropping out of college provided them with the opportunity to launch their successful careers, leading to the belief that dropping out of college leads to success, rather than the key elements being luck, intellect, talent, or any other array of contributing factors.

The facts tell us a very different story than the "American Dream," we hear about. Many college students, daunted by student loans, have decided to drop out rather than push on to graduate, and it often comes with a great loss: these students are less likely to be employed, and will earn significantly less on average than their degree-wielding counterparts. In fact, according to the O.C.E.D.'s report, a college degree is worth $365,000 for the average American man (subtracting all its direct and indirect costs) over a lifetime. For women, who still struggle for wage equality in America, a college degree is worth $185,000. This makes a college degree incredibly valuable - far more valuable than what a Thiels Fellowship would offer.

Additionally, compared to those who finished their degrees, college drop outs are four times more likely to default on their student federal loans, and are unlikely to earn much more than those who only have a high school diploma. We never hear the stories of failure though - only those of success, which can offer a warped perspective on what to do when a desperate student is confronted with the abominable price of student loans.

There are, however, alternative solutions to these problems. While the Thiels Fellowship offers possibility to already exemplary individuals, other opportunities are available to those students who are not already successful young stars of the education world. Offering more financial aid to students is certainly a step towards making those student loans less daunting, but the best solution is providing a more affordable education to begin with. There are many already existing affordable and even FREE websites you can go to in order to pursue higher learning and many are already listed on our website. MIT, Stanford, and Cornell, already have online learning options available, but if more institutions invest in technology as a means to serve their student body, we will find that the cost of education does not need to be so outrageous. Technology serves to improve our world in countless ways, and the realm of education need only take its reins (or touch-screens) to find the benefits it can offer. We have already mentioned some here on our blog, but keep reading for more ways in which technological innovations can aid with education at little to no cost to students!

Sources: Peter Thiel and the Cult of the Dropout by Alison Griswold and Dropping Out Of College and Paying the Price by Eduardo Porter for the NY Times

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Bringing Computer Coding and Programming Classes into Schools

By Sean Scarpiello

As technology continues to become more advanced and cutting edge technology makes it onto the market each day, there has been some technology which has inevitably made it into schools. However, bringing technology into the classroom in the form of laptops or tablets is simply not enough. Some educational professionals are pushing to get schools to include computer science as part of their curriculum. While this may sound like a crazy idea, I think schools will eventually begin offering classes on coding and programming. Every day, we use computers, cell phones, apps, and tablets yet the overwhelming majority of us are completely unaware of how they work. Further, there are other classes, such as cursive and even spelling, which can be phased out as technology increasingly works its way into our lives.

Education has always focused on keeping students informed on the unknown and mysterious world around us. From early on in our science education, we learned why water freezes, how seasons change, and what the earth looks like from space. However, as technology becomes more advanced, it continues to be shrouded in mystery for many students and teachers. We continue to use this technology for work, utility, and fun, yet we still have no idea how an app works or how computer programs are designed to help us accomplish many feats in all fields of study. Therefore, much like simple science was once as mystery to everyone as children, it is imperative that classes on computer coding and programming are implemented in schools.

While this may seem as a huge undertaking, teaching students about designing software does not have to be difficult. I have already seen online platforms that schools can use to teach students some of the basics (such as Tynker, which I wrote about here). These platforms are available to students in second grade and up. Beyond this, schools can even start up their own computer science classes where teachers instruct in basic coding and programming. This would not be extremely difficult, as students will be excited to use computers and the use of this technology allows educators to walk students through the lesson step by step. Computer science classes can even be used to replace cursive and other similar types of classes which are becoming obsolete with the rise of technology. Even classes on typing could be used as an opportunity to teach students how to learn to type computer programs instead of the usual nonsense and repetitive words in class. Even more beneficial would be that students can instantly learn and apply their programming knowledge to make their own simple games, apps, and computer programs. Classes can spark their interest in STEM related fields and students can begin to work on their own independent projects outside of school. This would be especially beneficial to society as more and more technology is being released to the public each day. Further, the countries that are pumping out this technology will no doubt have an advantage in all other areas of scientific research and medicine.

In all, computer science classes would be simple and easy to implement in grade schools and up through college. Many students have very little, if any, knowledge on coding and programming so by starting students off early in their education in such a way that gets students interested in a STEM related field, coding classes would definitely by a huge success. Overall, many students would be actively learning STEM subjects through the implementation of technology which would be available to schools at little cost, thereby further advancing society in the cutting edge and interesting field of computer science and technology.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

MindTap: A New Type of Online Learning Platform

By Sean Scarpiello

Cengage Learning is an online education technology company devoted to bringing education into classrooms in such a way that keeps students engaged in learning and collaborating with others. Among many of Cengage Learning’s different programs, there is a completely original application called MindTap. Many educational institutions across the country are now beginning to implement MindTap along with other Cengage Learning platforms. MindTap showed a lot of promise already - 88% of MindTap students would recommend using this platform to others.

MindTap is not a learning management system or an e-book. Instead, it is Cengage Learning’s comprehensive learning platform where students can access all of their course material at a single, organized site. MindTap is available for instructors to use and personalize for their class. Schools can purchase different courses in subject matter pertaining to just about any subject. Courses include economics, business, art, English, sociology, psychology, and more. Further, Cengage Learning offers even more online-based classes for grades K-12, as well as college level courses. For students, MindTap allows class material to be easy to navigate, highly organized, and makes learning fun. As it is a online learning technology, class material available on MindTap can be accessed anytime and anywhere with an Internet connection. MindTap really simplifies students’ lives in that it allows all of their course content to be available and easily accessible in one secure location.

MindTap is also easy to use for instructors. In fact, teachers are able to completely personalize their course content and availability on MindTap. This means they can add or remove any course material or modules that they would like. Further, teachers can add videos, links, quizzes, their own material, and much more. Should teachers run into problems with MindTap, there’s a lot of support quickly available to help teachers get their class back on track. Instructors are also able to share different online applications with their students through MindTap. These applications include flashcards and collaboration programs which allow students to be more engaged with class material and with each other. Last, and most importantly, MindTap courses are available at reasonable cost for schools.

Overall, Cengage Learning’s MindTap learning platform is sure to be a success as it brings together course content in a highly organized easily accessible manner. This also helps teachers provide a highly personalized education for their students in a way that is fun and engaging. MindTap is sure to be successful for students of all ages as it brings a high quality education at low costs to many students by utilizing technology.

Source: http://www.cengage.com/mindtap/index.html

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Magnet Schools: An Innovative Way to Educate

By Sean Scarpiello

As alternative forms of education such as charter schools are becoming increasingly common, magnet schools have also been gaining popularity in the past several years. Magnet schools get their name from their highly specialized programs and curricula which attract students from all over. Further, they are simply public schools that draw students from all across the district and school zones which offer classes in the levels of elementary, middle, and high school. Magnet schools were originally designed in the 1960s to help reduce segregation in schools; however, they are now being revived and are drawing students individualized teaching styles too. These days, magnet schools have much more to offer and result in improved academic success in a number of different areas for students in kindergarten to grade 12.

First, magnet schools continue to bring diversity and innovative learning techniques into the classroom. They often require some sort of interview or entrance exam, but magnet schools also have high graduation rates, high college acceptance rates, and more. This is done by hiring specialized teaching staff that have a passion for their subjects. Together, this leads to fewer problems with discipline, higher student attendance, and increased teacher satisfaction. Compared to regular public schools, these improvements definitely make magnet schools appealing. Further, magnet schools have also reported having increased parental involvement in education which is one of the greatest factors leading to academic success. With all of these huge benefits in mind, many think that magnet schools would be expensive to educate students. However, magnet schools are publicly run schools that are designed to lure in students from different areas within a school district.

In light of all of these huge benefits to magnet schools, it is the highly specialized programs that attract most students. Many magnet schools have classes and curricula focused on subjects such as technology, entrepreneurship, engineering, humanities, and even the arts. Since classes are highly individualized for students, there are very low dropout rates and students continue to pursue these specialized fields after graduation. Despite these concentrations in different fields of study, magnet schools are not the same as vocational or technical schools. While some students attending magnet schools opt out of attending college, many magnet schools boast college acceptance rates of 100%. After graduation, many students report success in college and in the workplace due to emphasis placed on learning skills and practical application of knowledge rather than the regurgitation of facts in class. Also, students are urged to collaborate with each other in forming ideas and arguments for discussion, further adding to a well-rounded and people-based education experience.

Overall, magnet schools have a lot to offer and provide a lot of different benefits for students. Aside from receiving a specialized and individualized education from enthusiastic teachers, students also are engaged in innovative curricula centered on collaboration and learning alongside others. Best of all, a magnet education is available to practically anyone who lives in a district with magnet schools. In all, magnet schools are highly beneficial to the field of education as they offer a high quality yet low cost education to many students.

Source: http://www.magnet.edu/about/what-are-magnet-schools

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Moodle: A Completely No Cost Learning Platform

By Sean Scarpiello

While there are many different online educational tools available to teachers and students, many of them have high costs. However, the teaching technology Moodle allows teachers to easily organize and plan class activities in an online format for free. Already, Moodle is used by a number of different universities, high schools, and even corporate offices for online classes, training, and work seminars. Further, Moodle can be easily and effectively brought to any classroom where students have access to email.

To start Moodle in your classroom, head to Moodle's website, where free online content can be accessed. By working through the school’s own server or by getting help from one of Moodle’s partners, teachers are able to bring all of Moodle’s services to their students simply by having students log on with their school or personal email. Then, teachers can create different lessons, assignments, readings, and quizzes. For students, this means class work can be completed anywhere that there is access to an internet connection. Also, students, teachers, and parents can be directly connected to each other for clear communication for things like homework questions, late assignments, or progress reports.

While there are many other softwares that are similar to Moodle, none of these educational technologies are available at no cost to students or teachers. Further, the program can run on a school's existing server or another server which can be easily configured by a school's IT department. Both teachers and students have found using Moodle to be simple, easy, and beneficial to learning. In fact, surveys show that between 80% and 90% students reported using Moodle for homework and classwork most days of the week. There are also many testimonials on how students enjoy some of Moodle’s other functions such as a digital drop box which allows electronic documents to be turned in instantly from school, home, or elsewhere.

In the whole scheme of things, Moodle is not a groundbreaking software. There are many other similar learning platforms such a Canvas and Blackboard. However, what makes Moodle fantastic is that it is free. Further, its web-based content is easy for teachers to design and easy for students to complete. This holds especially true with Moodle’s online quizzes with instant feedback and open teacher-student communication. In all, Moodle is a very beneficial education software because of its ability to effectively bring education to more students through the implementation of technology at no cost.

Source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/benkepes/2014/04/18/lubricating-the-wheels-of-technology-in-education/


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Collaborating with College Students

By Sean Scarpiello

Many of my friends who are education majors at my college are going through the final stages in getting their teaching degree by student teaching at nearby elementary and middle schools. Part of their finishing requirements involve creating interesting, yet informative lesson plans on a variety of different topics. To do this, many of these soon-to-be teachers came up with clever ideas. However, one student teacher was really innovative and decided to come up with a whole new structure to her lesson plans. She decided to invite her friends who were political science and chemistry majors to come in and teach the class about some of the cool things they were learning in their college classes.

For the students in class, this meant that they were going to have some new visitors teach them about the latest material. For the college students, this meant finding a way to present difficult, current data in a way that young students can understand. As a result, this lesson plan was an absolute success. The political science major came to give a lesson on the structure of the US government in which he used visuals to demonstrate where government officials work and how they get elected. The chemistry major led a class discussion on the properties of water and demonstrated some cool experiments with water. These fun and interactive lessons with new faces and fresh perspectives worked out great for students as they were keen on listening to an “expert” on new material.

While the teacher and student teacher could have easily taught the class these lessons, bringing in someone with more experience in each of the different subjects allows the class to be taught in an unfamiliar and interesting way. Further, this gives teachers more time to focus on designing other lesson plans. For the college students, this was a change from the stereotypical class presentation in front of their peers who probably already understand a lot of what is being presented. Instead, college students were able to direct their presentations at students who are young and still looking for their passion in education. Furthermore, a lesson where a someone new comes in to present is great because the lesson plan is open and taught by someone with an extensive background in the field.

One other benefit of this is that it stimulates young students’ minds. By seeing someone who is working a job or learning a lot about a certain topic teach the class, they get to witness the passion and knowledge of  political science or chemistry college students. In this particular case, the students attending the elementary and middle schools where these presentations occurred have a low college attendance rate. In the very least, by having these older students teach the class and share their experiences, it motivates students to work harder in school so that one day they can go to college too.

In all, by having nearby college students or others with backgrounds in different fields come and present to an elementary or middle school class, there are a number of different benefits students can enjoy. Students get a fresh perspective from new faces that have a different teaching style than what they are used to. Teachers and schools get well-designed lesson plans from people with a lot of knowledge in the field, and a class gets taught by a passionate and knowledgeable person at no additional cost. Overall, these types of lesson plans are innovative as they bring a higher quality of education to students, at no cost, through collaboration.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Massive Open Online Classrooms (MOOCs) vs. Traditional Colleges

By Sean Scarpiello

Within the past few years, Massive Open Online Classrooms (MOOCs) have become increasingly popular. And as companies such as Udacity and Coursera begin attracting many new students, colleges and other higher education institutions are beginning to worry. Schools like Harvard, MIT, and Stanford have already begun developing their own forms of web-based courses; however, the majority of higher education institutions have not yet developed these technologies in this quickly evolving market of education. As a result, many four year institutions fear that these changes may lower enrollment in upcoming years. Further, educators at these institutions are quickly trying to raise awareness on the importance of a traditional college learning experience.

As I prepare to graduate from a four year liberal arts institution, I cannot help but think back on my experiences. In retrospect, I find that there were many introductory classes where many students simply do not need the stereotypical college class to succeed. In these cases, I believe a well-designed MOOC could easily replace such classes. This is because much of the initial college courses taken by freshmen are for distribution as well as simply building a foundation of knowledge for success in upper level classes. In fact, much of the material being discussed in these classes has been widely known for decades- even centuries- and I doubt that many professors find teaching these intro courses intellectually stimulating. Therefore, a MOOC that is designed to require a lot of the basic class material to be learned and applied on exams would be beneficial to students. Also, a question and answer component to this MOOC, where students can ask professors questions regarding the material, would definitely benefit students.

Looking at more upper level classes, I still find that there are many areas where MOOCs could be used to substitute traditional college lectures, but there are also many subjects that cannot be successfully covered by MOOCs. This is especially true for the STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects where a lot of material is being updated day by day as our understanding of cutting edge science progresses. This, along with many open discussions, debates, and labs in other sorts of classes which allow students to engage each other in a traditional setting, enforce that colleges with a physical campus and classroom cannot be replaced. I have seen this firsthand in classes that discuss biochemistry, biophysics, ethics, philosophy, and political science . Open discussion in many social science courses improve class by adding debates and dialogue into class. My institution even requires students to complete a senior capstone experience where I have personally been able to collaborate with one of my professors on research that is largely unexplored. This type of education is vital and can only be achieved at a traditional college and not in an online format.

In light of all of this information, can an entire college education be provided by MOOCs? Absolutely. But if I was a business owner and a job candidate had an entirely web-based education, I would unquestionably deny them a job. MOOCs are fantastic at getting information from a textbook into a student’s head. MOOCs may even work well at enabling students to apply and incorporate information. However, MOOCs will always take second best to traditional style higher education where learning to work with other people and collaborations take priority. At college, students are always learning whether they are in the classroom or dining hall. Colleges help students learn to collaborate with their peers, work in a lab based setting, develop networking and people skills, learn to analyze and cultivate opinions, to critically think and much more. Therefore, when educators fear that a college education is no longer relevant, they do not need to worry.
Overall, MOOCs are becoming increasing effective at providing students with high quality, personalized educations, but MOOCs will fail to provide the human element of education. Further, only traditional style colleges will be able to improve a students’ ability to collaborate well with others, develop debate and discussion skills, and quickly analyze data as it is presented by others. In this regard, traditional style education is still relevant despite MOOCs improving abilities to provide low cost, individualized education to many students.

Monday, March 10, 2014

How to Avoid Snow Days with Technology

By Sean Scarpiello

This winter in the Middle Atlantic region of the United States, there has been a lot of snowy weather leading to many snow days for students. To combat the loss of class time, many educational institutions are implementing technology in novel ways to ensure that students continue to receive a high quality education. I recently read an article that described how the Hun School, a private K-12 school Princeton, New Jersey had prepared for a potential snow day this past Monday, March 3. As news reports predicted poor weather, the school’s administration set up a meeting online to discuss the logistics behind offering Monday’s classes in an entirely online format for students. Therefore, students can still attend class without being hindered by the weather.

To prepare for the potential school closing, teachers used the learning management system, Schoology, where teachers post assignments, images, links to website, and even tests, while also allowing a clear link of the communication between teachers and students. Further, Schoology also enables teachers to automatically grade tests and assignments in a way that allows students to track revisions and get instant feedback. Classes also planned to meet up at specific times online using Google Hangout, a textual and video chat-room free to use with a Google email account. With these sorts of educational technologies, teachers can continue to provide valuable education in the event of a school closing or delay.

In addition to the technologies being implemented at the Hun School, many other schools are using common technology in innovative ways to make up for snow days this winter. One example I have seen personally has been how one of my past organic chemistry professors has turned to YouTube to make up for lost class time. For students to be successful in a difficult course such as organic chemistry, it is imperative that students attend lecture and get direct instruction on actually applying the material. But as school closings and delays significantly reduce class time, our professor posts lectures on YouTube for students to watch outside of class. He additionally makes himself available for students to come and meet him during his office hours to answer questions. Also, students can even ask questions in the comment section which can be further discussed in class or answered directly by the professor on the YouTube page. Many students concur that these video lectures are a great way to supplement lecture material in light of lost class time.

These two cases serve as shining examples of how simple and well-known technology can be used in an innovative manner to improve education when increased school closings and delays take away valuable class time. In fact, I have been in classes where professors use these technologies to further supplement education and can attest to the great success that the additional help and material provided through these technologies can achieve. Therefore, teachers and professors who can provide technology-based learning in the face of decreased class time are bringing a higher quality education to more students at lower or no costs.

Sources: http://princetoninfo.com/index.php?option=com_us1more&Itemid=6&key=3-5-14btl

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Study Smarter, Not Harder with StudyBlue

By: Sean Scarpiello

When it comes to studying, it is more important to study smart than it is to study hard. Many study methods, such as rewriting notes and rereading textbook chapters are often tedious, difficult, and ineffective study strategies. One educational website, called StudyBlue, is working to have students study smarter, not harder. StudyBlue is an online technology that allows students to choose from a database of pre-made flashcards or even create their own flashcards to study. Beyond the simple concept, StudyBlue offers even more benefits to improve learning and study strategies.

StudyBlue is available online on its website or even available as a free app in the iTunes Store and Android Market. This allows students to carry around classes’ worth of flashcards on their laptop, tablet, or smart phone. Further, StudyBlue has teamed up with EverNote, enabling students to link their accounts so students can organize all of their class material in a single, cohesive area. Best of all, the apps for both StudyBlue and ever note are completely free for students. StudyBlue works as a great study tool because studying with flashcards enables students to continuously think about material and keeping their minds active. Then, due to StudyBlue’s web based design, students can quiz themselves on the class material wherever there is an Internet connection.

Students are not the only ones who can benefit from such a technology; teachers can also make up their flashcards and share them with their class or the public. Teachers can even find pre-made sets of flashcards to share with their students. Already, there are thousands of flashcards already made in subjects such as math, English, biology, chemistry, music, vocabulary, history, and several languages. Plus, many college professors have already posted lists of flashcards for their students to use in specific classes. Many of these lists are available to anyone with a StudyBlue account for no cost. All through StudyBlue, teachers are able to track each student's progress and how well they perform on flashcard sets. This further helps teachers understand what areas they can review in class, as well as the material students are comfortable with. Teachers could even assign reviewing flashcards as a way to force the students to study and understand the material.

StudyBlue makes students’ lives easier when it comes to studying strategically for tests. By offering a number of free flashcards sets, students can log on practically anywhere quickly to begin studying smart for upcoming tests. Teachers jobs are also made easier as they can track student progress and understanding of class material in such a way that causes students to study. One of the best aspects of StudyBlue, as well as EverNote, is completely free for students with laptop, tablet, or smart phone. StudyBlue is definitely a useful educational technology as it brings a higher quality and personalized education to more students through the utilization of technology.

Evernote: http://straube.blogspot.com/2013/11/how-evernote-is-revolutionizing-note.html

StudyBlue: http://www.studyblue.com/

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Knewton's Adaptive Learning Platform

By: Sean Scarpiello

As technology continues to move into the classroom, it can be easy for students to feel as if they are not receiving an individualized education. When completing traditional types of homework assignments, teachers are able to review the thought processes of students, but now technology has made it difficult for teachers to understand their students’ thought processes. While technology can track a student’s progress, teachers often struggle with interpreting each student’s reasoning in answering questions because computers can only show teachers what questions were answered correctly and incorrectly. However, a company called Knewton has designed a plan based on adaptive learning.

In adaptive learning technologies such as Knewton, learning platforms track the progress of each individual student as they complete different assignments. Knewton’s learning platform studies the logic and reasoning that each student uses in formulating their answers. Using this data, Knewton develops a profile for each student, then begins to note where students excel and where their weaknesses lie. Knewton then integrates questions into students’ assignments that are meant to challenge yet improve students’ weaknesses. For example, if a student is struggling at word problems in physics, Knewton challenges students with questions that focus on improving critical reading skills. As a result, students can better understand how to interpret these word problems leading to their success.

So far, Knewton has been extremely successful in building a learning platform used by students at all levels. Knewton excels in subjects such as math, chemistry, biology, physics, finance, sociology, and more. In addition, Knewton’s learning platform has been used in a number of colleges and they have most recently teamed up with Pearson to reach out to even more students. In fact, the Knewton and Pearson partnership is currently being implemented at Arizona State University at a cost of $100 per student. This may seem a lot; however, this $100 fee replaces the costs of a textbook which is not needed in the program. This is a huge benefit for both companies as they can reach a massive number of students through technology that builds highly individualized education for each student.

Adaptive learning technologies such as Knewton will definitely benefit students as they bring highly individualized education to a large number of students through the use of technology that students already own. Further, Knewton’s and Pearson’s recent partnership empowers students even more as they learn the latest class material on one of the most innovative education technologies on the market today at a reasonable cost.

Source: http://www.knewton.com/

Monday, February 10, 2014

Bringing Social Media into Education

By: Sean Scarpiello

These days, it seems as if everybody has a Facebook – especially students. As social media becomes a greater part of our lives, we can also make social media a greater part of our education. Many educators are finding new and innovative ways to implement social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and more into education. As a result, students are beginning to learn unfamiliar material in an interesting way.

One example of this implementation of social media into education that I have experienced personally has been in a college level toxicology class. In the beginning of the semester, our professor had our entire class join a closed Facebook group where we had to find and post news articles pertaining to toxicology. After posting, our professor was able to track who read each article and we would later discuss these articles in class. I found this extremely interesting way to learn new material. While this not only had us to post articles to the group pertaining to toxicology, it also causes us to learn about topics we normally would not come across. Plus, I found myself becoming more vigilant to news I came across which related to class material.

While it is obvious that a program such as this would clearly benefit science students, science is not the only subject where new advances are being made each day. A psychology, sociology, and political science class could definitely benefit from such a program. This holds especially true for political science classes where students can read articles on political views and stances that they normally would not come across. These types of social media based homework assignments later spur debate and feed conversations in class. Also, students can read about the different interests of their classmates and explore new and unfamiliar areas in classes such as psychology or sociology

Social media based homework assignments do not solely need to be based off of Facebook. In fact, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, and others may be just as, if not more, effective. For example, Pinterest is a site where users can share pictures of things they like. While it is most often used for sharing pictures of clothes and jewelry by girls, there are some pretty cool pages on science, math, geography, politics, psychology, and many more. Plus, educators can create their own Pinterest for students or come up with other interesting and innovative ways of getting students to learn through these types of social media. Teachers could even "tweet" homework assignments or class updates through a class Twitter

In all, social media websites are quickly becoming a large part of our lives. Therefore, it would not be difficult to make use of these websites in class. Just about all students have a number of different social media sites that they use daily and are completely free to use. So, educators who can come up with innovative ideas to incorporate social media in class will face little difficulty in implementing these ideas. Further, making use of social media in the classroom will benefit students because it is a no cost method of bringing a higher quality education to more students through the use of technology.

Sunday, February 9, 2014