Ed Games Week Highlights the Emergence of Video Games in Education

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Ed Games Week wrapped up with a 48-hour Education Game Jam that brought together over one hundred veteran and independent game developers, teachers, and students. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Games and play are a central part of childhood and can stimulate creativity and learning. As technology grows as a tool for teachers, one question has been: what role might educational video games play in the classroom?

Today, increasing numbers of teachers are incorporating games to supplement and enrich classroom instruction. In addition, students of all ages are developing their own games, as showcased in competitions and hackathons in communities across the country.

Ed Games Week brought the discussion on educational games to Washington, D.C. The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the U.S. Department of Education (ED) collaboratively planned a series of events including the Ed Games Expo, the Ed Games Workshop, and the White House Education Game Jam.

The Ed Games Expo

The Ed Games Expo showcased 25 newly developed learning games developed with funding from the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programs at ED’s Institute of Education Sciences (ED/IES SBIR) and other federal programs. More than 150 attendees met face-to-face with the developers and played games that covered a range of topics – from STEM, history, and foreign languages – and used a wide variety of genres for gameplay. For example:

  • Addimal Adventure challenges children to solve mathematical equations with support of friendly characters.
  • Zoo U helps grade school students navigate a series of challenging social situations.
  • Reach for the Sun encourages deep understanding of photosynthesis as students grow a virtual sunflower from seed to full plant.

For more, check out the Office of Educational Technology YouTube channel:

Ed Games Workshop

The Ed Games Workshop brought together the Expo game developers and a team of federal experts. Workshop collaborators strategized exciting possibilities to create regional, national, or even international STEM game competitions featuring games that motivate as well as teach, such as through an X-Prize model. For more, see this article on the Clinton Foundation blog.

The White House Education Game Jam

Ed Games Week wrapped up with a 48-hour Education Game Jam that brought together over one hundred veteran and independent game developers, teachers, and students with the goal of creating educational games that make challenging K-12 topics easier for students to learn and for teachers to teach. Organized by the White House and Department of Education, developers were challenged to develop playable prototypes during the event. On Monday, Sept. 8, Game Jam participants presented videos of their games and demonstrated the prototypes at the White House. Twenty-three educational games were developed over the weekend including:

You can find videos of all the game prototypes on the Office of Educational Technology YouTube channel:

ED is committed to tracking the emergence of technology-based games in education as a way to enrich in-and-out of classroom learning opportunities for students. Follow @OfficeofEdTech and @IESResearch on Twitter for the latest!

Ed Metz is a developmental psychologist and the Program Manager for the Small Business Innovation Research Program at the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.

Russell Shilling is an experimental psychologist and the Executive Director of STEM Initiatives at the U.S. Department of Education.

Mark DeLoura is Senior Advisor for Digital Media at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Duncan Highlights Power of Tech and Barriers to Overcome at The Cable Show

Cable Show 2013- Technology and Education Panel

Secretary Duncan is joined by John Danner, Co-founder & CEO of Zeal, David Cohen, Executive Vice President of Comcast Corporation, Valyncia Hawkins, elementary school teacher, and moderator, Gloria Borger, CNN’s political analyst.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend the final day of The Cable Show, the cable industry’s huge annual conference, along with Secretary Duncan and several other colleagues here at the Department. Secretary Duncan delivered the keynote speech and participated in a lively panel discussion addressing, among other things, the potential of technology to be a great equalizer in education. After highlighting technology’s promise, he described the vexing problem that stands in the way of realizing it: most of our nation’s schools don’t have fast enough Internet connections to create 21st century learning experiences using 21st century technology.

At its core, that’s what President Obama’s ConnectED initiative is all about: equipping our schools and our teachers with the tools they need to harness the power of technology to better serve our nation’s students.


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Read Duncan’s speech and watch the full event, including Duncan’s speech and the ensuing panel conversation at The Cable Show.

Sujeet Rao is a special assistant in ED’s Office of Innovation & Improvement.

Technology Gives Students with Disabilities Access to College Courses

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Program Coordinator Jennifer Lang-Jolliff (green sweater) speaks about Mission Middle College program with guest Michael Yudin, seated on right.

Last week, I met with a group of high school students with learning disabilities who attend a dual-enrollment high school/college program at Mission Middle College in Santa Clara, California. The program emphasizes the use of technology, including the Bookshare accessible library, to help students earn college credit while still in high school.

The Mission Middle College educational program is a collaboration of Santa Clara Unified School District and Mission Community College. The program takes on a student-centered learning environment where seniors can complete required high school courses while accumulating college credits. Each student focuses on individual educational choices and academic and vocational studies relevant to future goals. The idea is to provide learning choices and empowerment for students.  The program is inclusive of all students, with or without a disability.

Some of the students have print and learning disabilities that impede their ability to easily read and comprehend grade-level text and complex curricula in print. Many of these students felt stuck and considered dropping out of school. Their instructors believe in every student’s learning potential and set high expectations. They teach students first to choose appropriate reading technologies for their learning needs, and then to find the reading assignments in digital accessible format, such as DAISY text and DAISY audio.

“We expect high standards from all students,” said Jennifer Lang-Jolliff, the Program Coordinator at Mission Middle College. “And we provide them with the instruction, tools, and resources to rise to the challenge of learning rigorous curriculum. Individualized instruction and timely access to curriculum in digital formats enable many students to feel more confident and prepared. Our high expectations and the e-literacy services available to students helped to shift their views of themselves personally and academically. They see their way through to college, community service, and good careers.”

Indeed, I was pleased to learn that starting with the graduating class of 2009, 100% of graduates at Mission Middle College had a viable postsecondary plan that included a college or university. This is right in line with President Obama’s key goal of being first in the world in college completion by 2020, and Mission Middle College is helping America meet that goal.

The students at Mission Middle College with print disabilities (including visual impairments, physical disabilities, and severe learning disabilities) are empowered to find the right assistive technology, computer software application, or device to help them achieve academically.

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A senior demonstrates technology for Michael Yudin (center) and Benetech’s GM, Betsy Beaumon (standing). Kate Finnerty observes the tech demo.

The students I met are members of Bookshare, a free and federally funded online library from the U.S. Department of Education. Bookshare is an initiative of Benetech, a Palo Alto, CA-based nonprofit that creates sustainable technology to solve pressing social needs. Bookshare provides timely access to curriculum in digital formats and offers a large collection of eBooks (currently over 190,000 books and growing) as well as reading technologies to enable students to experience multimodal learning—the ability to see and hear text read aloud.

I met Kate Finnerty, a high school senior with dyslexia, who qualifies for Bookshare. Kate has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that requires technology accommodations to aid her in her studies. She told me, “The library is very helpful. I use it to keep up with reading and research. Without it, I would have fallen behind.”  Kate is pursuing graphic design—she received acceptance letters from five U.S. colleges!

During the roundtable discussion, students, educators, parents, and administrators explored how Mission Middle College’s use of assistive technologies (AT) helps each student face their learning challenges with individualized approaches, which include digital books and reading technologies. Roundtable takeaways include:

  • The emphasis on self-advocacy. The students set clear goals and high expectations for their future.
  • Teachers give each student individualized attention, creating plans for their future and how to get there.
  • Students who qualify with print disabilities can receive timely access to curriculum and feel more independent and empowered in the reading process through Bookshare and the AT it provides.
  • Many of the students will be doing internships at Benetech this summer and will get work-based experience that will help prepare them for college and career.
  • Technologies can deliver flexible instruction based on learning needs and preferences, including multimodal reading (to see and hear text aloud) that may unlock the reader’s ability to decode words and more fully comprehend information.

Programs like this at Mission Middle College are about making sure every student graduates from high school and is college and career ready. Students who once had to wait for books now receive timely access to the curriculum in alternative formats. Many activities are streamlined for students who may not fit traditional models, and those who once felt like academic failures are now completing high school courses and are on track to college.

I often speak about the broad values of inclusion, equity, and opportunity for youth with disabilities to actively participate in all aspects of school and life. Programs like that of Mission Middle College, which use assistive technologies and digital accessible books provided by Bookshare, are truly models for others. They promote high academic standards for all, enabling more students to be college and career ready.

Michael Yudin is acting assistant secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education.  

Back to School During Teacher Appreciation Week

ed goes back to school

Steven Hicks, a senior policy advisory for early learning visited DC Prep’s Benning Elementary Campus faculty and students, as part of “ED Goes Back to School Day.”

As part of our celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week (May 6-10), more than 65 ED officials from across the country went “Back to School,” shadowing teachers and experiencing firsthand the challenges and rewards of a day in the classroom. Our team had a unique opportunity to hear about ways the Department can provide greater support for teachers’ work and better understand the demands placed upon them.

Each ED official was assigned to shadow one teacher at various institutions in 13 states and the District of Columbia including; early childhood, K-12, special education, adult learning and English learning programs. Following the regular teaching day, officials and teachers met with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other senior officials to discuss their experiences and share lessons learned. ED officials benefit greatly from this experience and it helps to inform their work throughout the Department.

Our team had high praise for the teachers they shadowed. Senior Advisor Jo Anderson, visiting second-grade teacher Nicole Lebedeff at Watkins Elementary School in Washington, D.C. compared her teaching style to that of a “symphony conductor” and called the way she managed her classroom a “work of art.” Special Assistant on Early Learning Steven Hicks was impressed with the social and emotional development of the young students at DC Prep, a charter school network with campuses in Northeast Washington D.C., and Teacher Liaison Laurie Calvert was surprised at the advanced level of the curriculum being taught in Riverside Elementary School classes in Alexandria, Va.

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Veteran English teacher Linda Golston makes writing lessons engaging for sophomores by harnessing students’ individual passions and 21st century technology at the New Tech Innovative Institute of Gary Community Schools Corporation. Photo courtesy of Anthony KaDarrell Thigpen

Outside of the D.C. area, Diana Huffman from ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach (OCO) in Denver, visited preschool teacher Cindy Maul at Red Hawk Elementary School in Erie, Colo., and said, “I wish every child in America had the opportunity to be with this woman.  Her interaction with the kids was so in tune with them.”

Julie Ewart of ED’s communications office in Chicago, praised the way veteran English teacher Linda Golston harnesses students’ individual passions to make writing lessons engaging at the New Tech Innovative Institute of Gary public schools in northwest Indiana. “I was not a good student last year, but now I’m an honors student,” said sophomore Charles Jones, who credits his improvement to Golston’s classwork that “relates to the real world.”

At the end-of-day wrap up discussion, Secretary Duncan asked the teachers what they would like him to know about what is working and what’s not. The teachers offered honest feedback, including:

  • One teacher thanked him for the recently released blueprint for the RESPECT plan (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching) – the result of an unprecedented national dialogue for reforming and elevating the teaching profession.  She said that it accurately reflected the concerns and needs of teachers. The RESPECT blueprint calls for teacher salaries to be competitive with professions like architecture, medicine and law; more support for novice teachers; and more career opportunities for veteran teachers.
  • Several other teachers expressed support for President Obama’s commitment to investing in early learning because a lot of students are coming into kindergarten behind the mark. Building on the state investments in preschool programs, the President is proposing $75 billion over 10 years to create new partnerships with states to provide high-quality preschool for all 4-year olds.
  • Teachers from all grade levels also expressed concerns about the frequency and content of testing, state implementation of the new college and career ready standards, parental engagement and how to help parents become more involved in their children’s education.
  • One high school teacher said that we must help students and parents understand that education is the most important tool for social mobility and success in college and career in a global society.

As we wrap up Teacher Appreciation Week 2013, we should make a commitment to remember all year long that our teachers need and deserve our support in transforming America’s schools.

Read Secretary Duncan’s.“More Substantive and Lasting than a Bagel Breakfast,” on the need to support teachers year round.

 Elaine Quesinberry is a Public Affairs Specialist and Media Relations at the U.S. Department of Education.

From Digital Doubter to Tech Guru

Teacher and student work together using technology

Chicago teacher Jennie Magiera was a tech skeptic, but has since successfully integrated technology into her classroom.

During a speech announcing the Department’s National Education Technology Plan, Secretary Arne Duncan noted that “technology empowers teachers like never before.” Once such teacher is Chicago’s Jennie Magiera. This is her story.

“Just bells and whistles.”

That’s how elementary math teacher Jennie Magiera described her feelings about the limited value of educational technology three years ago.

Today Magiera serves as Digital Learning Coordinator for the Academy for Urban School Leadership’s network of 25 Chicago Public Schools (CPS). As she trains others to use technology effectively, it is hard to imagine a time when she was so dismissive about technology in the classroom.

When iPads first came on the market, Magiera said, “I would openly mock my friends,” pointing out that they had just bought a “giant iPhone that can’t make calls.” The three computers in her classroom—clunky PCs that sat heavily on tables—were so old that one smoked when anyone dared to turn it on.

So how did this technologically impaired teacher come to be an advocate for digital learning in schools? For Magiera, the shift began in 2010 when 32 iPads arrived in her classroom. She admits that while she thought that technology wasn’t as amazing as a teaching tool as others seemed to believe, she still had a sense that her kids needed access to some devices to be successful. So Magiera applied for a grant to get a class set of tablets, pretty certain she would not get it.

Ironically, the grant readers at CPS called her bluff.

Read More

Education Datapalooza: Unleashing the Power of Open Data to Help Students, Parents, and Teachers

Imagine new tools to help students choose a college that is right for them and their family.  Or imagine an easy-to-read virtual dashboard for parents to track the academic performance of their children.  Or imagine a digital file that makes it easier for children of active military and for foster youth to make the transition to a new school.

These are the kinds of advances that were on display at the White House last fall, as more than 150 of America’s entrepreneurs, software developers, education experts, and policy makers come together for an Education Datapalooza. The gathering was a chance to celebrate new products, services, and apps—all built with freely available data from the government and other sources—that have the potential to help American students succeed and that empower students and their families to make informed educational decisions. Notable among the day’s many impressive announcements:

  • Over 78 million people are now able to download their own Federal student loan and grant data from the Department of Education via the NSLDS Student Access system.
  • On the K-12 level, pioneering school districts and states—including York County and New York State—are committing to give students the ability to access and download their own academic data.
  • A new state-led effort will make it easier to transfer academic information digitally and securely when moving between schools, an especially valuable service for children of active military and foster children.
  • A new Department of Education and higher education institution collaboration to work on a data standard for postsecondary course catalogs, degree requirements, and related information. As more postsecondary institutions provide their course and awards data in the same format, students will benefit with new options to shorten college completion time and costs.

Watch our playlist of the day’s presenters, including Secretary Duncan and US CTO Todd Park, or view them here.

Many of the announcements of the day build off a simple principle: in an increasingly digital educational system, students should have easy access to their own data.  Moreover, these data should be secure, yet mobile; too often, students can see their data online but can’t take it with them.

One of the core projects talked about is the MyData Initiative—a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Education and software developers to help students securely export or download their own educational data in open, machine-readable, human-readable formats, on any system. A number of vendors that already provide schools with software systems have committed to offer this functionality.

Giving students their own data can be potentially game-changing. For example, with access to their own data, students are able to create personal learning profiles—educational portfolios of their own records. They can then choose to safely share pieces of those learning profiles with an ever-growing network of applications being built by private-sector entrepreneurs to help inform choices about which classes to take, which colleges to apply to, and how to pay for tuition.

Open data standards can also solve problems inherent in the antiquated paper-based student record system. For example, many teachers and principals across the country deal with new students who show up at their classrooms with virtually no paper trail. This forces educators to make important decisions with no student records, no data, and no points of reference. If every student information system can import and export student academic records in the same standardized format, it makes it easier for schools to transfer information internally and with other schools. Moreover, this problem disproportionately affects low-income students, who are often more likely to be transient and are most dependent on support from their schools.

Smart use of open data will help improve college access and affordability for students, and help us meet the President’s challenge to regain our place as world leader in our proportion of college graduates by 2020.

Other open data initiatives such as the Blue Button and Green Button—which are empowering citizens with their own health information and household energy usage information—have proven that liberating data from government vaults can fuel new products and services, grow new businesses, and help create jobs. The Education Datapalooza demonstrated that this model of openness and entrepreneurship can help us achieve similar gains for American education.

Read More

Data, Evidence and Digital Learning

Have you noticed lately that MOOCs are all over the news? It’s hard to imagine that just a year ago, most people had never heard of Massive Open Online Courses—courses that hundreds of thousands of people all over the world take online, free of charge and that are rapidly growing in number. With this kind of opportunity comes the responsibility to ensure that these and other learning resources are quickly and continuously improved based on the best data available. Luckily, more and better data is emerging as digital learning becomes commonplace.

Change happens big in technology and it happens fast. And when public money is being spent and students’ futures are at stake, it is crucial that changes also happen smart. Our new report, Expanding Evidence Approaches for Learning in a Digital World, calls for smart change by presenting educators, policymakers, and funders with an expanded view of evidence approaches and sources of data that can help them with decision-making about learning resources.

The report discusses the promise of sophisticated digital learning systems for collecting and analyzing very large amounts of fine-grained data (“big data”) as users interact with the systems. It proposes that this data can be used by developers and researchers to improve these learning systems and strive to discover more about how people learn. It discusses the potential of developing more sophisticated ways of measuring what learners know and adaptive systems that can personalize learners’ experiences.

The report describes an iterative R&D process, with rapid design cycles and built-in feedback loops—one familiar in industry but less so in education (however, the report provides numerous examples of applications in education). An iterative R&D process enables early-stage innovations to be rapidly deployed, widely adopted, and—through continuous improvement processes—refined and enhanced over time. This means that data collection and analysis can occur continuously and that users are integral to the improvement process.

The report encourages learning technology developers, researchers, and educators to collaborate with and learn from one another as a means of accelerating progress and ensuring innovation in education.

In the spirit of an iterative development process, we are posting this report for public comment. Does the report resonate with your view of the emerging digital learning landscape and the data? Do you have examples of evidence gathering methods that use emerging data? Are the recommendations the right ones for enabling progress? Do you have other thoughts and ideas on the topic of data, evidence and digital learning? We would like to hear from you!

Karen Cator is director of the Office of Educational Technology.

Thanks to our Technical Working Group and Expert Advisors

This report was developed collaboratively, in partnership with a Technical Working Group of learning technologies experts. We wish to thank Eva L. Baker (University of California, Los Angeles), Allan Collins (Northwestern University), Chris Dede (Harvard University), Adam Gamoran (University of Wisconsin), Kenji Hakuta (StanfordUniversity), Anthony E. Kelly (George Mason University), Kenneth R. Koedinger (Carnegie Mellon University), David Niemi (Kaplan, Inc. ), James Pellegrino(University of Illinois, Chicago), William R. Penuel (University of Colorado, Boulder), Zoran Popović (University of Washington), Steve Ritter (Carnegie Learning), Russell W. Rumberger (University of California, Santa Barbara), Russell Shilling (Department of Defense, United States Navy), Marshall S. Smith (The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching) and Phoenix Wang (William Penn Foundation).

Autotuned Arne Begins Bus Tour Across America

 

The back-to-school bus in Sacramento

The "Education Drives America" bus arrives in Sacramento. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Silicon Valley: Transforming learning through technology and teaching

You might not think that a panel discussion on education technology with the Secretary of Education and the Chairman of the FCC would excite an auditorium of high school students, but at Wednesday morning’s tour kick-off event at Sequoia High School in Redwood City, Calif., the air was electric.

Alejandro Castro Pena, an honors student who recently moved to the U.S. from El Salvador, previewed his video “We Are The Future.” Castro Pena and fellow students made the video in conjunction with the John Lennon Educational bus, and with a little help from a few members of the Black Eyed Peas. The video, which included clips of Arne autotuned, brought down the house. Watch the entire event here.

Castro Pena introduced Secretary Duncan, who then moderated a panel discussion on education technology with Khan Academy founder Sal Khan, English teacher Catlin Tucker, and co-founder of Coursera Andrew Ng. One of Tucker’s statements really stuck out to me. She said, “I don’t think tech is going to save education. I think great teachers with great tools are going to save education.” Arne often echoes this when he says that all the technology in the world won’t replace a great teacher at the front of the class.

Sacramento: Leading reform at the local level

Duncan talks with students at the University of Nevada Reno

Secretary Duncan held a town hall on college affordability at the University of Nevada Reno. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Our second stop of the day took us to the Sacramento Public Library, where Secretary Duncan participated in a discussion with dozens of California mayors and school superintendents.

Arne spoke about the importance of parental engagement and lamented that historically the Department of Education has  “underinvested in parental engagement.” He noted that ED’s Promise Neighborhoods program is one step toward a greater commitment, but he also said that he has requested for Congress to double the amount of money for building the capacity of parents to engage in their children’s education. Rather than dictate family engagement programs from Washington, Arne wants the Department to find programs that work at the local level and provide them with the resources they need to flourish.

Reno: Sending more Hispanic students to college

After making our way through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Arne joined students and community members for a town hall on college affordability and issues impacting Hispanic Americans at the University of Nevada Reno.

The panel, moderated by Univision anchor Anya Arechiga, also included Associate Vice Provost of the University of Washington Luis Fraga, a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

The questions for Duncan and Fraga were diverse, ranging from career and technical training to how to pay for college. Some of the highlights included Duncan reiterating that “we desperately need to pass the DREAM Act” and that education is the best investment our country can make. He also gave a shout out to ED’s new website for accessing financial aid for college: studentaid.gov.

After a great first day on the road, I could go on, but I’ll let the Secretary wrap up the day. Enjoy this video as the Education Drives America bus keeps rolling across the country:


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital engagement and is blogging and tweeting his way from coast-to-coast during ED’s annual back-to-school bus tour.

Connected Educator Month: Game-Based Learning

The topic of “game-based learning” is gaining considerable attention as more and more young people are learning from games outside of school and more and more teachers are leveraging the power of games to engage students in school.

Well-designed games can motivate students to actively engage in meaningful and challenging tasks, and through this process to learn content and sharpen critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. Education gaming experts have identified some of the key features of games that may have the greatest potential to affect student learning, including:

    • exciting narratives and video-game quality graphics that motivate and engage students;
    • challenging discovery-based tasks;
    • adaptive supports that adjust to and support individual learners;
    • formative assessment; and
    • competition and rewards.

With the advent of modern web-based delivery mechanisms including smartphones and tablets, games are now available to young people anytime, anywhere.

The Department’s research arm, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), recently announced a new round of awards through its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program, including several awards that focus on the development of game-based learning education technology products. This year the program made 11 new Phase I awards (eight of which are for games) of up to $150,000 to support the development and research of commercially viable education technology products intended to support student outcomes in regular and special education settings.

In this first phase, awardees will develop prototypes of their products and conduct research on their feasibility. A second round of competitively funded awards will be made in 2013 for awardees to further develop these prototypes into marketable products and conduct additional research in schools. Awards for Phase II will be in amounts up to $900,000 for two years. For abstracts for all of the projects, please click here.

Even before the Phase I awards were announced in June, the IES SBIR program has invested in several projects that use games to support student learning. Below are details on three such projects.

(Note: The Department has provided the information and links in this blog post as a convenience to educators, parents and students. The Department does not control or guarantee the accuracy, relevance, timeliness, completeness or effectiveness of these resources. The inclusion of particular resources is not intended to reflect their importance, nor is it intended to endorse any views expressed or products or services.)

Sokikom

Screen shot from Sokikom

With awards in 2009 and 2010, IES SBIR funded the development of a Sokikom, a web-based set of math games for elementary school students. Results of a pilot study demonstrated that after one month of play by students in two 3rd grade classrooms, the technology worked as planned, and students were engaged when playing the game. Compared to a control group of two classrooms that followed regular instruction and didn’t play games, game play was associated with higher scores on end-of-unit math tests. Since the product launched in 2011, Sokikom has been used by schools and students in all 50 states. Sokikom has been recognized with several industry awards, including the 2012 CODIE Award from the Software & Information Industry Association for the best educational game,  the Distinguished Achievement Award from the 2011 Association of Educational Publishers, and the Winner of the Academic Gaming Solution from the Edtech Digest 2011 Cool Tool Award. For a video overview demonstration of Sokikom, please click here.

Game-enhanced Interactive Life Science (GILS)

A screenshot of the GILS game

With a 2010 award, IES SBIR is funding the Game-enhanced Interactive Life Science (GILS) suite, a set of five web-based life science games designed to facilitate conceptual understandings of the scientific inquiry process among middle school students, and especially among learners with disabilities. Research is currently underway to examine teachers’ best practices as they implement the games and to assess the promise of the games to improve student learning. GILS has received several prestigious technology awards. Most recently, the Software & Information Industry Association’s Ed-Tech Business Forum Innovation Incubator competition awarded GILS First Place: Most Innovative Education Technology Product. (Note: Another IES SBIR awardee won this award in 2011 for a dynamic program to support teaching and learning math). GILS took Grand Prize at the 2011 National STEM Video Game Challenge and Best in Show at the 2011 Games and Learning Society Conference. For a video overview demonstration of GILS, please click here.

Zoo U

A screenshot of the Zoo U game.

With awards in 2010 and 2011, IES SBIR is funding a web-based environment for elementary students to engage with pedagogical agents (animated life-like characters) to solve tailored, social-problem-solving tasks. Through game-like scenarios and interactions, Zoo U supports students’ practicing and improving in areas such as cooperation, communication, emotion regulation, empathy, impulse control, and initiation of play. The Zoo U product will provide self-paced learning for individualized instruction, student progress reports, and implementation supports for teachers. For a video overview demonstration of Zoo U, please click here.

The SBIR program holds one annual competition each year. IES will seek applications in late fall 2012. For information on the program, and for video demos of more than 20 products supported by this program, click here.

Edward Metz is the SBIR Program Manager at ED’s Institute of Education Sciences

Connected Educator Month Kicks Off

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan declared August, 2012 Connected Educator Month a month-long exploration and celebration of online communities and networks dedicated to broadening and deepening educator participation in learning and sharing, and bringing online community and education leaders together to move towards a more fully connected and collaborative profession.

The National Education Technology Plan articulated the need for teachers and leaders to be highly connected to the content, tools, resources, peers, experts, supportive problem solvers and perhaps most importantly, to their students and their communities. And, as teachers and leaders are at the forefront of developing and implementing innovative approaches to meeting student needs, our ability to share approaches and explore new opportunities is essential to transforming education and improving student learning.

Connected Educator Month (CEM) will be celebrated with four weeks-plus of online events and activities, including:

  • A three day online kickoff event (Aug. 1-3) about connected education in the context of the larger education landscape, featuring keynote addresses by Deborah Meier, Chris Lehmann, Douglas Rushkoff, Larry Johnson, and Connie Yowell, a panel with the directors of the Department’s Office of Educational Technology, and more.

  • Six month-long discussion forums on key educational issues, selected by the participating organizations, and explored in an online community context:

    • Professional Learning in the Learning Profession: 21st Century PD
    • It’s Personal: Personalized Learning for Students and Educators
    • Beyond Top Down: Distributed Leadership & Teacher-Led Change
    • Knocking On The Door: Connected Education & New Technologies
    • The First Six Weeks: Getting 2012-13 Off To The Right Start
    • Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due: Incentivizing and Recognizing Teachers for Their Investments In Learning

    Each forum includes a core group of thought leaders inside and outside education as well as top practitioners in the field; all are welcome to participate.

  • A variety of resources designed to help educators who are not yet engaged in online communities or networks get connected, including:

    • A starter kit for educators who aspire to build their connections to other inspired classroom leaders, using a 31-day approach (one step per day to get more connected)
    • A starter kit for districts to integrate Connected Educator Month and connected education in their back-to-school professional development
    • A book club (featured book: The Connected Educator, with author Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach participating)
    • Cross-community guided tours showing how online communities can address key educator needs
    • Community open houses, allowing educators to explore specific online communities and ask questions of community leaders and members live as they explore.
  • A culminating two-day event designed to synthesize and distill learnings from the month, and generate takeaways and next steps for the field. All events and activities from the month will be archived, many will continue to be available (and continue to grow) after August, and a distilled multimedia proceedings will be generated for distribution.

More than 100 education organizations, communities, and companies have committed to help get the word out and to put events and activities on the CEM calendar. These include a variety of contests and challenges to generate valuable resources for the field, as well as online courses, classes, content collections, community and feature launches, collaborative projects, and more.

At the end of the day, Connected Educator Month is dedicated to the proposition that no teacher should be an island, but rather have a rich personal professional learning network to support them every single day. We hope you’ll join us in bringing the profession together this month.

Karen Cator is director of the Office of Educational Technology.

Panel Shows What’s Possible in Education Technology

Last Monday, Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and committee member Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado co-sponsored a briefing on innovation in public education through the use of learning technologies. More than 50 Senate staff members came to hear from a panel I moderated that featured leaders in the ed tech field.

The panelists, Dr. Stephen Elliott (founding director of the Learning Sciences Institute at Arizona State University), Jennie Niles (founder of the DC-based E.L. Haynes Public Charter School), and Jeremy Roberts (director of technology for PBS Kids Interactive), all concurred that the promise of technology to transform education has fallen short of expectations for the past two to three decades. However, they also all agree that we are finally at a time where many factors are converging to overcome historic barriers: increasingly ubiquitous broadband, cheaper devices, digital content, cloud computing, big data, and generally higher levels of comfort with technology among the general population.

The panelists spoke compellingly about how their institutions are taking advantage of existing technology applications, products, and services to drive new ways of teaching and learning, whether inside elementary schools, college campuses or family rooms. For example:

  • PBS can use information as discreet as how long a student spends reading a passage or hovering over a wrong answer to determine what a student knows, what misconceptions he or she may have, and most importantly, what type of lesson might help that student learn best. With this information in hand, parents can make better-informed decisions about how to support their child’s learning based more and more on evidence rather than guess-work.
  • E.L. Haynes is leveraging technology to empower teachers and enable truly differentiated instruction. The school incubated a new online system for math instruction after discovering that there were very few learning resources that met their needs (i.e. aligned to standards, instructionally excellent, engaging and available anytime-anywhere). The system has been picked up by other schools across the country, demonstrating the potential for broad adoption of well-designed tools and resources. Haynes has also partnered in the development of a comprehensive web-based student information system able to track each student’s real time academic progress and other critical data. As a result of these efforts, teachers have more time to work directly with students and the information to target assistance where it is most needed.
  • Arizona State University (ASU), the nation’s largest public university, faced a convergence of funding cuts, a growing student body with significant developmental education needs, and pressure to retain and graduate more students. ASU brought together researchers, practitioners and entrepreneurs to solve these challenges and turned the university into a model testbed site for scalable technology solutions.   These partnerships produced a technology-enhanced developmental math course that significantly improved outcomes, as well as a monitoring tool (featured in a New York Times article last week) that tracks and supports each student’s progress towards graduation. ASU is now educating more students at a lower average cost per student and has raised its retention rate from 77% to 84%.

While these examples show the promise of existing technologies, they are also evidence of the largely untapped potential of technology to transform learning and improve outcomes.  Participants also discussed the role that the proposed Advanced Research Projects Agency for Education (ARPA-ED) could play in filling this critical gap and why the private market has failed to do so on its own.

An ARPA-ED would be modeled after DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which catalyzed the development of world-changing technologies such as the Internet and GPS. ARPA-ED would similarly focus on transformative research and development, pursuing projects such as digital tutors that are as effective as the best human tutors to support teachers in bridging the gap for every student; courses that improve the more students use them, and new ways to assess student progress that are as compelling and fun as video games.

As historic barriers fall and we attempt to accelerate the pace of improvement of our education system, rethinking the role of technology and leveraging new forms of R&D presents the opportunity to transform learning and teaching versus just “reforming” it. If we are successful, we will not only regain America’s leading position in educational performance and attainment, leap-frogging our global competitors; we will create new enterprises that push our nation to the forefront of a growing $5+ trillion sector.

Jim Shelton is the Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education.  

Summer Seminar Gets Personal

Recently teachers from across the country participated in a summer seminar to grapple with an emerging hot topic in education:  how to personalize learning in a classroom full of diverse students with varying interests, skills and learning styles.

The seminar, held at the U.S. Department of Education and via webinar, included presenters who are current and former classroom teachers who offered both the theory and practical strategies for teachers interested in moving their classroom learning beyond a one-size-fits-all mentality.

Personalized Learning Video Image

Click to watch the second summer seminar on personalized learning.

ED’s Richard Culatta defined personalizing learning as a way if individualizing learning for each student in the room by adjusting the pace, adjusting the approach, and leveraging students’ individual interests and motivations. He presented examples of schools and programs to illustrate some of the ways these strategies are being used in schools to offer teachers, students and parents plenty of data and formative information that empowers them to create systems that adapt to meet each student’s learning needs.

STEM teacher Matt McCrea took participants through strategies he has used successfully when personalizing instruction for his middle school math and engineering classes.  While teaching math, for example, McCrea’s students checked a classroom computer board to see whether they would be working at a computer individually, engaging in a small group task, or reviewing concepts with a peer tutor, pairing with another student, or working with the teacher in a small group or one-on-one setting.

Special education teacher and technology specialist Patrick Ledesma discussed what teachers can do to prepare for personalizing learning and how teacher leaders can help other teachers in their school to design effective personalized learning.

One thing all of the presenters agreed on:  using technology to personalize learning does not reduce the need for an effective teacher in the classroom.  If anything, there is more of a need for teachers who know their students and engage with them, who plan effective lessons, seek out instructional resources, manage student behavior, monitor learning, and modify instruction.  It’s about “moving the teaching profession into the 21st century,” Ledesma said.

Laurie Calvert

Laurie Calvert is an English teacher from North Carolina currently serving as the Teacher Liaison at the U.S. Department of Education.

View the Summer Seminars—including Civil Rights in the Classroom and What Teachers Need to Know about Personalized Learning—and download the slide presentations.

Read the National Technology Plan or the Executive Summary.