The Big 10

5/30/2013 6:00:00 PM

One sure measure of the edtech’s explosive growth is the speed at which it changes. Just in the past 12 months since we last published our most influential list, acronyms like MOOCs, phrases like “flipped classrooms,” company names like Amplify, and phenomena like Minecraft have invaded educator conversations and affected their work. The people selected for this year’s Big 10 issue were selected by our editors and advisors based on both what they have accomplished so far as well as what potential they have yet in store. Whether or not that poetential is good or bad, we leave for you to decide!

The 2103 Most influential in edtech list

“Building a strong economy and a strong country starts with education.”
—Joel Klein, CEO of Amplify

The question of whether or not “computers” should be in the classroom is thankfully behind us. The question of what that “computer” looks like and how it functions is not. Joel Klein, CEO of Amplify, has a strong suggestion. “Over the next five years, close to a third of the country’s three million teachers will retire. That means we’re going to see a huge influx of tech-savvy millennials in the classroom,” he said. “We’ve got a real opportunity here to transform learning as we know it.”

Unveiling a new affordable tablet that comes loaded with pre-packaged curriculum offerings should make Amplify a game-changer in the BYOD and 1:1 landscape. Touted as a complete learning solution organized around the school day, the open K-12 platform runs on a 10-inch Android tablet and offers a one-to-one personalized hub for educators that includes professional development and school-level device management (administrators can send school documents directly into tablets).

Of course, more than a few people are concerned with the idea of News Corp., Amplify’s parent company, authoring and defining standard curriculum. There is also the fact that as of press time, there have been no actual announcements of any official district implementations.

“We’ve spent years looking at bar graphs showing our students lagging behind the rest of the world. We know what the challenges are,” said Klein. “Technology has revolutionized the world, but not the classroom. Our hope is that this tablet will help change that.”

“We really want to reinvent education. We want to offer education on a planetary scale to people all around the world.”
—Anant Agarwal, President of edX

That’s pretty heady stuff. But Agarwal’s edX “Massive Open Online Classes” (MOOCs) have the chops to back up his intentions. Courses are offered jointly through a partnership between Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A far cry from a brick-and-mortar classroom way of learning, these high-level lectures (or “sequences”) offer video clips with accompanying exercises, homework that is instantly graded by a computer, with endless chances to arrive at the correct conclusion, and a discussion forum with 154,000 of your closest study buddies.

The platform’s peer-to-peer conversation and debate alleviates the problem of staff monitoring and intervention, and a “karma point” system gives status recognition to those proven to be qualified to assist.

What could this mean to the pre-college crowd? With the edX release of XBlock source code, developers can now create independent course components to seamlessly meld into the online learning platform’s existing programs. With 5-10% of edX’ers still in high school, perhaps the undiluted courses can offer a resource for teachers looking to spice up their curriculum (e.g. this program could offer supplemental content for the Mongolian teacher whose 15-year-old student earned a perfect final exam score on the course). Implementing edX is also a good opportunity for kids to dip a toe into MIT and Harvard level-higher learning and a way to impress college admission boards.

“I want to give everyone access to the best professors in the best universities in the world for free.”
—Andrew Ng, co-founder and co-CEO of Coursera

With over three million registered users signing up for over 10 million courses, Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng sounds comfortable talking big picture when it comes to this latest attempt to reinvent education.

“Most people today will never have access to a Stanford class, but working with top universities in the U.S. and 14 different countries, we’re putting those classes online and making them free for anyone. As a Stanford professor, I normally teach a class load of 400 students. I put my class online and it reached an audience of 800,000. For a professor like me to reach 800,000, I would have had to teach for 250 years.”

Ng hopes that providing captioning in several languages delivering new courses taught in French, Italian, Chinese and Spanish, and partnering with renowned international universities will broaden Coursera’s reach into new regions, such as French-speaking countries in Africa. Another new perk for this growing global community is the ability to partner with several publishers to provide free textbooks to students in developing countries.

Coursera’s offerings, though delivered from elite universities, are not all high-brow, science and techoriented courses requiring a working knowledge of physics and calculus. “Listening to World Music,” from the University of Pennsylvania, might appeal to future music majors or K-12 music educators looking to freshen up their lesson plans. “Child Nutrition and Cooking,” offered by Stanford University, might help teen athletes understand how to best fuel their onfield performance and make healthy meals. Courses directly targeting teachers, like “Art and Inquiry: Museum Teaching Strategies for Your Classroom” from MoMA or “The Dynamic Earth: A Course for Educators” by the American Museum of Natural History, offer convenient tips for busy schedules. Whatever the topic, anytime/anywhere learning seems that much more possible.

“Connected learning leverages the best of the Web to help young people become the makers, producers, communicators, and lifelong learners our connected world demands.”
—Constance Yowell , Director of Education for U.S. Programs, MacArthur Foundation

Constance Yowell oversees an $85 million program on Digital Media and Learning, one of the country’s first philanthropic efforts to explore digital media’s implications for the future of learning. One of the program’s goals was to create a new framework for learning. In order to combat inequality in schools and address gaps in achievement by ethnicity, a plan was devised to tune kids into a type of learning that fits better within their lives and bridges the gap between the classroom and their social interests. “Connected Learning” prepares young people for a highly networked, tech-enabled world that is producing new knowledge at an incredible pace.

In the spirit of innovation, hackathons, maker spaces, digital journalism and communications labs, and mentoring workshops will all compete for “Project: Connect Summer Youth Programming Competition” grants worth $10,000. “Project: Connect” is a joint effort of Yowell’s MacArthur division, Facebook, Mozilla, and FOSI (Family Online Safety Institute).

“Research shows us that the Internet has become a place where young people are learning and growing,” says Yowell. “We need to give youth the tools they need to become engaged and responsible digital citizens.”

Connie Yowell Talks About Connected Learning from macfound on Vimeo.

“Don’t listen to advice. Think, ponder, mull, then make up your own mind. ESPECIALLY don’t listen to advice on the Internet. Except this one.”
—Markus Alexej Persson, Minecraft, Founder and Creator

When Persson created his addictive, avatar-led, block construction and destruction virtual world game in 2009, he might not have realized it would one day be the gateway program to game-based learning in schools. He certainly does now. Teachers are finding classroom applications for this creative building game that go far beyond escaping zombies and creepers.

They use the game to create biology cell models, build authentic Ancient World dwellings, test physics theories through digital experimentation, or to explore languages and social civic lessons while students collaboratively construct a town.

The new education-specific application is now offered at a lower price to make it workable for tight school budgets while offering customization, world-building tools to facilitate curriculum tie-ins, and soon a functionality that will allow any educator to make a world, lesson, or activity and then share it. Teachers can browse and download a world that fits with their lesson plans in a few clicks.

Persson’s incredibly engaging game, so popular it toppled the “Call of Duty” games from their XBOX 360 pedestal for the first time in years, works as an ideal platform for curricula-based gaming—pushing edtech one step closer to a broader definition of the value of games in the educational landscape. His decision to endorse a classroom version demonstrates the indie spirit that has made him a true influencer of his passionate young following.

“We’re just a couple of teachers who had a really good idea.”
—Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams

Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, high school science teachers and co-authors of Flip Your Classroom—Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day, covered in the May 2012 issue of T&L, had a simple idea: What if they turned classwork into homework and the homework into classwork?

“We thought, ‘What if we stop giving direct instruction and pre-record our lectures into videos kids could access from home?’ Magic started to happen,” says Bergmann. “Recovering that valuable classroom time allows teachers to do project-based learning, offer interactive simulation and problems, encourage inquiry, and develop mastery.”

Educators need not fear being replaced by YouTube videos. This set-up is far from taking away an instructor’s influence. The flipped learning model offers even more opportunity for those rewarding one-on-one teaching moments. “The key thing is when the kids are struggling, they’re in the right place—in a room with an expert. So when they are trying to apply things and get stuck, we’re there with the time to walk them through it,” says Bergmann.

“While knowledge was once held in the library, textbook, or in the hand of teachers; that is not remotely true today,” says Bergmann. “We instructed 15,000 teachers on flipped learning just last year. Think of all those videos being made. The content’s out there. This idea has spread globally. Ten percent of Icelandic teachers were recently sent to learn this model in an effort to flip their whole country. It’s certainly changed our lives, but more importantly, it changed the lives of lots of kids.”

“The ‘No Child Left Behind’ Law … this is the most ridiculous piece of legislation ever passed by Congress.”
—Diane Ravitch, Research Professor of Education, New York University

When it comes to the automation of assessment and big data, whatever they’re selling, Diane Ravitch is probably not buying. “Our nation is not honoring teachers; we are caught up in this accountability movement where targets are set and people forget what the targets are about. The targets become more important than what they’re measuring. We confuse the actual goals of education with the measurement, so we have everyone told they have to reach the target and it doesn’t matter how they reach it. They forget it’s about education. It’s about children and developing human beings.”

A former Assistant Secretary of Education and Counselor to Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander during the George H.W. Bush administration, Ravitch was then appointed under President Clinton from 1997-2004 as a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress federal testing program. She no longer supports Common Core standards, feeling that the “effort is fundamentally flawed by the process with which they have been foisted upon the nation.”

“My concern is that we’re crushing the most important aspects of education — creativity, ingenuity, risk-taking, and critical thinking skills. All the things that other countries have so admired about America, we’re crushing in this dash to have everyone achieve higher test scores. Tests don’t teach. Tests are not instruction. They steal time from instruction. That’s time taken away from the arts and exploration.”

Introduced for her keynote address at 2012 CUE as the single most influential educator on Twitter, retweeted second only to Justin Bieber, Ravitch currently has well over 50,000 Twitter followers. As keynote speaker at the recent Suffolk Asset “Mandate Overload: Essential Technologies for Today’s Schools,” Ravitch spoke of technology’s ability to sidestep censorship. She also voiced her personal concern that policymakers might take advantage of the tech industry’s inability to raise or pension, cut costs, and break unions.

“I appreciate what technology has done for your freedom of thought, your freedom to teach, and even more what technology has done to open the minds of students and to enable them to take ownership of their learning,” says Ravitch. “That is a revolution. Technology is filled with promise, filled with possibilities, filled with exciting evidence for the venturesome, creative teacher. In almost every district we see teachers taking technology to the next level, demonstrating that learning can be challenging. Turning the learner into an explorer, a researcher, voyager, an adventurer.”

“I strongly support the student-weighted formula for determining how much money school districts should receive.”
—John Deasy, Superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District

Given that it’s the second largest school district in the United States, as L.A. Unified goes, so will the rest of the country’s districts—eventually. Superintendent John Deasy, head of California’s largest school district, has made recent news by implementing a plan to equip every student with a computing device by 2014, making it the largest district in the nation to provide each of its students with the technology. With 919,930 students to manage, working toward the five goals of the district —100% graduation, proficiency for all, 100% attendance, parent and community involvement, and school safety—means making fiscally smart decisions to ensure that necessary resources are available.

The first phase of LAUSD’s Common Core Technology Project Plan was made possible by $50 million of voter-approved bond funds and will put a computing device in the hands of every student at 47 of the district’s schools by August. While Deasy is known as a major job saver, salvaging over a thousand positions through innovative solutions in the past few years, the district also has learned to seek creative ways to “bridge the digital divide” without breaking the bank.

Fourth graders at LAUSD’s Melrose Elementary use the free MIT program, Scratch, in their science project learning. Ninth graders submit daily exit tickets through Socrative to their Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences English teacher. Students at the district’s Paseo del Ray School use the Tangram app to explore spatial relations and geography, while Nearpod is used to evaluate student responses and understanding of class material in real-time at Madison Middle School.

“We stand for teachers, counselors, administrators, and every other person who helps our students become graduate-ready for the 21st century,” Deasy said. “We have and will continue to support our district employees so they can teach, inspire, support, and create a successful learning experience for every student.”

“Nothing should hinder someone from learning or attaining knowledge.”
—Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned

Her Highness Sheikha Mozah of Qatar could have followed in the footsteps of many monarchal wives and concerned herself more with state dinners and social events than with hard political issues or championing a cause such as education. Taking on public transportation issues, abused women’s causes, and education reform might not be the expected route of a royal spouse in a conservative Arab region, particularly when she is the first to allow herself to even be seen in public. Sheikha Mozah has done this and far more.

Sheikha Mozah’s belief that “by encouraging critical thinking and processing of knowledge we are creating full, well-rounded human beings” melds nicely with her role as the driving force behind the Al Jazeera Children’s Channel “Jeem.” This channel provides educational entertainment to Arab children ages 7-15, including many international shows dubbed in Arabic (several PBS favorites made the list), as well as the construction and creation of Qatar’s innovative “Education City.”

Education City combines elite universities (six American, one British, one French, and one Qatari) and Qatar Science and Technology Park’s 21 world-class scientific research and development companies within 45,000 square meters of office and lab space. Education City also includes specialized academic programs like Qatar Academy (preschool through college prep), The Learning Center (for above average students with learning differences), and the Academic Bridge Program (for select secondary students seeking university acceptance).

When one of the Most Powerful Women in the World, and perhaps more importantly, one of the Most Influential Business Leaders in the Middle East, steps out of her expected role to achieve so much in the name of technology and progress toward the future via education, one can only hope the world follows her example.

“My number one goal in life is to see a game designer nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.”
—Jane McGonigal

Jane McGonigal wants your students to spend more time gaming. It’s no surprise a game designer might feel this way, but McGonigal’s programs go far beyond a flock of angry birds. McGonigal created games such as “SuperBetter,” a game she designed for her personal recovery from traumatic brain injury effects, and Evoke, which she developed to teach young people in sub-Saharan Africa how to start their own social enterprises and solve problems like poverty.

McGonigal’s message is that games are not just technological toys, but legitimate tools to achieve real-world goals. Today’s sophisticated games encourage higher-order thinking skills and collaborative problem solving. Educators can seamlessly incorporate games into the curricula, and vice versa, while getting kids excited about learning. And McGonigal has the stats to prove it.

“Ten years of scientific research shows that playing games is the most productive thing we can do— more productive than most of what we spend doing in work or at school,” says McGonigal. The TED Talk favorite, whose ultimate goal is to see the world spend 21 billion hours a week gaming, explains why this isn’t something for educators to fear. Far from killing success during assessments, McGonigal argues, the mood-boosting after-effects of gaming can alleviate anxiety and help students focus.

“What we’re doing is tapping into our best qualities and our best selves when playing games: to be motivated and optimistic, to collaborate with others, and to be resilient in the face of failure. The emotions we feel in games spill over into real lives. So playing a game with a powerful avatar for just 90 seconds will change how confident you are for 24 hours. You’re likely to do well in a workplace meeting or taking a test.”

Others to Watch

Michael Steffen, Director of Digital Learning, FCC
As part of its push to enhance Internet access in schools across the nation, the FCC has created a new position and named Michael Steffen the Director of Digital Learning. The FCC is the nation’s largest funder of Internet connectivity for K-12 schools. Steffen’s background is in expanding school access to broadband, and overseeing all FCC activities related to edtech connectivity issues,including school and library Internet tech funding. This should serve him well as he acts on behalf of the FCC to support the Digital Textbooks Initiative, a pledge to give all students access to digital learning materials within five years.

David Coleman, President of the College Board
A believer in traditional liberal arts and a Rhodes Scholar, David Coleman travels the country training teachers how to best implement Common Core standards in their classrooms. Though he is an education advisor, consultant, and lead architect of the Common Core standards, Coleman has not put in classroom time, which rankles some who are concerned that the advanced and complex suggested texts are too ambitious. His goal is to align the K-12 standards with college requirements. As head of the College Board—the nonprofit that administers the SAT and the Advanced Placement program—he aims to morph the SAT from an aptitude test into a knowledge-based exam.

Matt Cauthron
Matt Cauthron’s list of honors is impressive: CUE and ISTE Outstanding Teacher of the Year, Apple Distinguished Educator, and Adobe Education Leader. Cauthron runs the Digital Imaging (DI) program at Cathedral City High School’s Digital Arts Technology Academy (DATA). An advocate for digital arts education, Cauthron delivers his curriculum via a series of interactive websites and impressively equipped tech labs. When not teaching, he serves on the CUE board, helps as a planning member of the Digital Strand conference for the California Arts Education Association, and works in curriculum development for Apple’s Challenge Based Learning.

Where are they now?
Updates for some of our former Big 10 honorees

Karen Cator (2010 & 2011 T&L’s Top 10)
Karen Cator, former Director of the Office of Educational Technology in the U.S. Department of Education, just edged out 150 applicants to snag the position of chief executive at Digital Promise. Her interest in the nonprofit sector guided their work in connecting educators and researchers with entrepreneurs to develop real-world practices for teachers to use technology to enhance their students’ learning potential. Visions she shared in the Department of Education and helped write into the 2010 National Technology Plan are already present at Digital Promise.

Dr. Sugata Mitra (2010 T&L’s Top 10)
From a hole in the wall to a school in the worldwide cloud, education researcher and Newcastle University Educational Technology Professor, Dr. Mitra, is full of innovative ideas about child-driven education. His earlier experiment, where he dug a literal “Hole in the Wall” in an urban slum in Kalkajo, New Delhi, and installed an Internet-connected computer, demonstrated how kids would organically teach themselves and then share their knowledge with peers as they discovered how to work the computer sans instruction, through curiosity and play. Bringing this “minimally invasive education” concept to a larger scale, he made a 2013 TED Prize wish to build a “School in the Cloud”— and won.

Julia Stiglitz (2011 T&L’s Top 10)
Former Teach For America program director and member of the Global Community Management Team for Google Apps for Education, Stiglitz now sits as Director of Business Development and Partnerships, for Coursera. Stiglitz recently spoke at the GSummit 2013, sharing insights from Coursera. This course now has three million registered users and is a strong top runner in the relatively new field of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). Her presentation focused on the need for progress and what drives user behavior in a lifelong learning context, in her study titled, “Achievement and Progress: The Massive Education Example.”

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