C3: Project RED Findings

This short session was hosted by Tom Greaves and focused on research about what does and does not work in our schools. The Project RED report is titled “The Technology Factor: Nine Keys to Student Achievement and Cost Effectiveness.”

Their mission was to answer questions about improving student achievement, evaluating the financial impact of technology on budgets, and assessing the impact of the continuous access to a computing device by every student. How do you improve student achievement? they took data from nearly 1000 schools using 11 diverse measures of success and 136 variables.

Which technology practices improve learning the most? (listed in order of strength)

  1. Intervention classes: technology is integrated into every intervention class.
  2. Change management leadership by principal: leaders provide time for teacher professional learning and collaboration at least monthly.
  3. Online collaboration: students use technology daily for online collaboration.
  4. Core subjects: technology is integrated into core curriculum weekly or more frequently.
  5. Online formative assessments: assessments are done at least weekly.

Key Findings

  1. Only 1% of the schools that participated used all nine of the factors Project RED identified.
  2. Properly implemented technology saves money.  (amounting to about $448 per student).
  3. The principal’s ability to lead change is critical. (In addition, reductions in disciplinary actions (with students) also saved money.)
  4. Technology-transfused intervention improves learning. Dropout rates improved when the key predictors were present.
  5. Online collaboration increases learning productivity and student engagement.

C3: Cloud Cache

Cloud Cache explores Google Apps for Education and how it fits with the cloud.  Panelists included Jaime Casap, Education Evangelist at Google; Steve Nelson, Chief IT strategist at the Oregon Department of Education; and Stan Silverman, Director at the NY Institute of Technology.

Jaime Casap: Innovation in Education.

We’re improving education because education is the key. To share how digital natives find and use information, he gave a few examples about how his children work and play. At his daughter’s school, students are not allowed to bring or use their cell/smart phones. Today’s computer is the cloud. (we access info in the cloud through our devices.)

Our children have changed. Technologies have matured. Yet, classrooms haven’t changed to address new ways our children learn.  (he shows a chart detailing how smart phones are out selling laptop computers.) Our students have higher expectations.

He talked a bit about Google Apps, how it’s changed the past three years, and shared that the apps will continue to grow and mature. Both co-speakers will share how they’ve implemented Google Apps.

Stan Silverman: The original “cloud” was district mini computers and their tethered “dumb” terminals. The advent of personal computers untethered these devices to empower users. Yet, the primary problem were spiraling costs to purchase an maintain these.

The majority of New York’s school districts are rural. Through a public/private partnership with Intel, they began to create a cloud to serve teachers and students. They began with Thinkfinity, SAS Curriculum Pathways, and other cloud resources. Adding Google Apps for Education creating a tapestry for collaboration.  In NY, they’re moving forward to implementing these tools, although they don’t have formal authorization (NY is not an adoption state).

Steve Nelson: He began by praising his superintendent for directing him to create private/public partnerships.  Intel help them create a foundation with a variety of business partners. The state becomes successful when it creates something and then gets out of the way.

197 school districts in Oregon. Steve used to run Oregon’s data center, but now the majority of districts are running Google Apps. Legal issues about Google and privacy did cause problems. They had to work with the Department of Justice regarding FERPA and COPA definitions to mitigate compliance problems.

Q: How do cloud applications help reorganization education?

Stan shared that most organizational structures in NY are in legislation. However, as winner of the Race To The Top (RTT), their application will help direct changes to public education.

Capacity, Content, & the Cloud (C3): Conversation – Capacity

A few weeks ago, I was asked to participate, and serve on a panel, at Intel’s Capacity, Content, and the Cloud (C3) event  in Dallas. Below, and in future posts, are my notes from the sessions.

This session, moderated by Rick Herrmann from Intel, featured Robert Gravina, CTO of Poway Unified; David Akridge, Executive Manager of I.T. for Mobile County in Alabama; Jeanne Weber, Director of Suffolk Regional Information Center; and Rachel Wente-Chaney, Information Projects Manager of High Desert ESD in Oregon. The focus of this session was to explore how schools are supporting K-12 IT talent and infrastructure as well as innovative programs that provide technical support in schools.

Rachael works in a large geographic area that is lightly populated. Her support of a one-to-one laptop initiative proved challenging as time progressed.  They’re rolling out Google Apps for Education in Oregon.  Oregon’s cloud has content, resources, Google apps, teacher tools, and professional development.

Robert: Poway has 34K students and 37 schools. He’s been building Poway’s cloud for a few years. A local bond has helped support technology infusion in schools. Their IT vision is to empower students, parents and staff through innovative technology.  Current projects include a cloud computing portal, packet shaping, a new SIS, and an online high school.

Robert played a funny YouTube video “Everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy”  that talked about how much life has improved compared to the primitive technologies baby boomers were raised with, and yet we complain about current technologies.

Three keys to a strong network: standardization, consolidation, and automation.

Jeanne is the CIO for more than 60 school districts and 300K students. They host a variety of applications in the cloud they’ve constructed and store data offsite.  They’re currently working on public/private partnerships, virtualization, VOIP,

Who sets the technology agenda in your districts?

Rachel: it’s collaborative.

Robert: it’s important to always support the district’s & superintendent’s goals and to build flexible learning environments.  (They allow mobile devices and don’t lock down networks.) Kids should be allowed to use technologies that facilitate their learning.

Print vs. Digital: They’re Not Mutually Exclusive to Me

I’m a long time subscriber to Consumer Reports magazine and I’ve a shelf full of past issues for proof. At our house, few purchasing decisions of more than $100 are made without consulting the sages at CR, and while I may not purchase their “Best Buy”, I come away better informed. I always have a handle on which models are reliable and which features I need or should ignore.

But I’m a geek too, and I love to read and research online. So, to my frustration, when CR began publishing their monthly magazine and reviews online, I was shocked that CR wanted me to pay again for an online subscription. Really? While I’d guess that many people subscribe to their online site only, I don’t understand why I should pay twice to access the same content. I understand the expense of running a web site, and I’d even be willing to pay a small premium to access their content online. However, if I’ve read an article in their magazine and I’d like to review it later, why charge me for accessing it online instead of walking upstairs to find the issue? This, for me, is a failed model.

It’s to my delight that Time magazine is considering revising their model. Also a Time subscriber, I pay a pittance for their weekly goldmine of news and commentary, an amount I’m certain only covers postage. However, Time’s model up to now has been the same as Consumer Reports. Even if you subscribe to their magazine, you’ll have to pay again to read it online or on your iPad, which is why I don’t. Now, though, Time Warner CEO, Jeff Bewkes, has indicated that they may begin to provide digital access to their print subscribers.

Terrific. As with CR, I understand distribution costs, and I’d be OK with a small premium to my print subscription to access both. Still, I think Time Warner is beginning to get it.

I only hope that other publishers follow suit.

Hear that Consumer Reports?

DynamicBooks: The Next Step in the Digital Textbook Revolution

DynamicBooks, created by major publisher Macmillan, debuted today as the next generation of online, interactive, and customizable eBooks. I received a preview last week and I’d like to share my experience and reflections.

In this next step towards interactive, online textbooks, Macmillan has combined the course rental concept promoted by CourseSmart with the ability for professors to edit, supplement, and adapt these books for their specific needs.

While the downside of this, and all other e-textbooks, is the Digital Rights Management that confines user rights, Macmillan has offered a significant tradeoff for customers. In return for accepting DRM and a rental timeline for accessing the book online, Dynamic Books will be priced at just 40% of the cost of the print version. In addition, and this is significant, students can also download a version to their computer which will not be time-crippled. Books will also be available via an iPhone/iPad application, meaning that this could provide a boost to iPad sales, making it a contender in the eBook platform battle.

The obvious benefit over CourseSmart is that DynamicBooks allows users both online and downloadable access while CourseSmart requires students to choose between the two. In addition, CourseSmart books, which are rentals, time-out after a certain period, which can be one to two semesters.

But, just what are the benefits that DynamicBooks present.

Well, first, Macmillian, whose American K-12 subsidiary is Macmillan/McGraw-Hill,  is planning to move many of their textbooks to this format which should help encourage professors to adopt them. Acceptance of new technologies is often slow, but DynamicBooks is tempting professors with the ability to delete, revise, or add text; as well as insert pictures, lecture clips, audio and video clips, web links, and assessments. What’s more interesting to me is that Macmillan does not claim copyright for teacher-added content. Instead, they promote that professors retain copyright and that by enriching the book they are entitled to part of the royalties. Macmillan is attempting to create a community among content developers. Talk about buy-in!

Students have the same abilities as most eReaders: they can highlight text, add notes, search for text, directly access their notes, and self-assess.

So, while DynamicBooks is designed for college courses and will be piloted at 30 universities next year , this could be an interesting model for K-12 education. It certainly is one more development in the digital textbook revolution that takes us away from paper and towards interactive, online, and customizable resources.

Comments from Assembly Member Torlakson’s Education and Technology Informal Hearing

I’m Brian Bridges. Besides being President of the Board of Directors for Computer Using Educators, I’m director of CLRN, the California Learning Resource Network, a state-funded technology project that reviews electronic learning resources including digital textbooks, data assessment tools, and free web resources.

First, I’d like to recognize Assembly Member Torlakson’s contribution to education technology. Through a variety of bills, including one that reauthorized CTAP/SETS, he’s demonstrated his commitment to K-12 education and professional development. As such, CUE recognized him last spring with our Legislator of the Year award.

All is not well in the education tech community, though. Despite Assembly Member Torlakson’s contributions, K-12 education suffers from a lack of vision from our leaders. Education Week’s annual report, Education Counts, gave California a D+ regarding our students’ Use of Technology, while it graded our Capacity to Use Technology with a B+.  This clear discrepancy between performance and ability requires a technology IEP, or Individual Education Plan.

Funding would help. Not since the Digital High School program ended eight years ago has California funded technology at the school level. They’ve only passed on federal funding to districts.  Still, there’s no substitute for leadership and vision and it’s unfortunate that California stands still while Florida, Texas, and many other states promote innovative initiatives.

One area where California has started to show leadership is the Digital Textbook Initiative. Last summer, CLRN reviewed 20 open source math and science textbooks for their alignment to content standards. Widely touted as a means to save money and criticized for being impossible because districts don’t have hardware, the initiative was actually about two separate revolutions that are taking place worldwide.

Open Source Textbooks

The first is open source textbooks. Across the county, an increasing number of college professors are creating their own textbooks and releasing them with an open source license. This in response to out-of-control price increases from textbook publishers. These resources are easily found in repositories like Rice University’s Connexions, the private foundation CK-12, and CalTECH Books. The majority of resources CLRN reviewed for the Digital Textbook Initiative came from college professors.

Last year, two California bills aided the momentum: SB 247 allows districts to use textbook funds to purchase electronic textbooks; and AB1398, allows districts to use textbook funds to pay for electronic devices needed for these resources.

Texas leadership, though, went further. H.B. 2488 and 4294, both which are now law, encompassed California’s legislation and added several features to fuel the revolution’s momentum: districts may use textbook funds to purchase subscription-based textbooks and the equipment to access them; and K-12 open-source textbooks may be created by state colleges or organized by state education officials. Where is California’s leadership?

Texas State Representative, Scott Hochberg said, “We’re due to spend about $225 M to replace Grade 6-12 literature books. We can buy the content for under $20M.” That’s a cost savings.

I’d recommend legislation that would promote open source textbooks, allow the state to assemble and adopt them, and authorize districts to use them.

Textbook Transition

The second revolution is one actively embraced by the textbook industry, namely a transition from printed textbooks to comprehensive, online resources. This is a trend we’ve tracked at CLRN for several years.  While the resources we review average 27 standards per program, half of our work deals with resources that contain more than 100 content standards. By comparison, Algebra I has only 31 standards.  These programs are quite popular for tutoring, home and charter schools, and remediation. Both McGraw Hill and Pearson are actively creating the next generation of textbooks, which won’t be paper-based. Instead, they’ll be online, interactive, subscription-based resources with text, video, “live” links, and assessments. An example is Discovery Science, which was just adopted by the Oregon State Board of Education.

Rather than listening to those who criticize this movement, consider what critics might have said when Kodak created a one-megapixel camera in 1991 for $13,000. It would be easy to ignore. You might consider it a fad. But, you’d never imagine that someday everyone would own a digital camera and that Kodak would stop selling film. You do and they did. Disruptive Innovations work like that.

Once invented, they take time to evolve, mature, and gain critical mass. They don’t go away though. Taking the initiative, however, is one, inexpensive way for California to demonstrate leadership.

Peter Cohen, US CEO of Pearson Education recently said, “We are now in a transformational period. Everything we have has to be of two worlds: print and digital. The future of learning is going to be high-quality online material and, to a lesser extent, textbooks.’’ Houghton Mifflin’s senior vice president, Wendy Colby commented, “The textbook is no longer the center of the educational universe.”

Where is legislation that would allow districts to use textbook funds to subscribe to these resources?


Finally, we’d like to address the eLearning revolution. This movement is not new, but data continues to show that eLearning resources increase in popularity each year. According to a Center for Digital Education survey of 44 state policy makers, online education is a path to reform and 21st century learning. Being a disruptive innovation, these online learning experiences are still immature, but they have attracted a following with non-traditional consumers, particularly credit recovery, tutoring, rural schools that don’t have a critical mass of students to support a subject or qualified teachers to teach them, and home schools. eSchool News reports that at least 25 states now lead statewide online-learning initiatives, including Florida’s Virtual School which is ranked at the top. The Florida Virtual School boasts 125,000 students, a 25% increase over last year.

California is one of only 12 states that have no online learning program or plans to offer one.  Louisiana, Idaho, and Arkansas are all in the top 10. What is our vision?  When will California once again assume the role of innovator by creating a state-led online school?

Virtual or Online Schools have many advantages: 1) they offer courses that schools do not or can not provide; 2) they allow students to earn credit toward academic advancement; 3) students participate for credit recovery; 4) they offer access for students with disabilities; 5) they address teacher shortages or over crowded classrooms; and 6) they make it possible for rural schools to find qualified teachers, allowing students to take courses they are unable to access.

With or without California, online learning will continue expand its reach as it matures and as students and educators grow comfortable with these new education tools. Clayton Christensen, in his book Disrupting Class, predicts that by 2019, half of all high school courses will be taught online. Will California students be among them, or will we still be using 20th century tools to teach 21st century students? The decision is yours.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide input.

Digital Textbooks: Is it a Revolution if Everyone is on the Same Side?

After I wrote about Oregon’s adoption of an online, interactive textbook, Nancy Silva correctly reminded me that California has also opened the door to electronic textbooks. In 2007, California’s State Board of Education adopted no less than 15 digital-only textbook series for mathematics from nine publishers. While the great majority are CD or DVD-based, several are online-only. I’ve begun to plow through these and will report back in the next post. First, though, two quotes from industry leaders that tell me the revolution will end before most people know it’s begun.

Peter Cohen, US CEO of Pearson Education recently said, “We are now in a transformational period. Everything we have has to be of two worlds: print and digital. The future of learning is going to be high-quality online material and, to a lesser extent, textbooks.’’ Houghton Mifflin’s senior vice president, Wendy Colby commented, “The textbook is no longer the center of the educational universe.”

It’s evident that major textbook publishers understand the dynamics of the disruptive innovation that is taking place in their industry. Far from avoiding or denying it, publishers are embracing the opportunity to transform linear, paper-bound content into online, interactive experiences.  As with prior disruptions, it may be years before we see a perfect product. A variety of sustaining innovations will be necessary for a great product to emerge and be embraced by educators. Still, the journey is well underway as evidenced by the products adopted by California and Oregon.

Too Big To Succeed?

Are large publishing firms agile enough to survive and compete with the digital textbook disruption or are they too big to succeed?

Sometimes big is bad. Consider the plight of The Learning Company (TLC), founded in 1980. This inventive educational software company created the wildly popular series, Reader Rabbit, and quickly became a market leader. Along the way, they acquired smaller software publishers to round out their offerings, beginning with the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC). In 1995, SoftKey purchased it, keeping TLC’s name, and they continued buying companies including BroderBund and Mindscape. TLC was certainly the big name in educational software. That is, until Mattel purchased it 1999 for $3.8 billion. A  year later, Mattel sold the company for $27 million.

While a really bad business decision led to Mattel paying too much for TLC, I’ve witnessed quite a few software companies collapse under their own weight. As companies grow through acquisitions, they conserve money by laying off creative staff and rely on their current line of programs for income. This fatal flaw has led many companies to their demise.

What happens when a growing company creates a disruptive innovation that rocks their industry and in turn becomes the dominate player?

United Learning was a small, family owned, video publisher in the 1990’s selling quality VHS educational videos. Unfortunately for them, the industry was dying as an increasing number of schools and county offices were bailing out as video purchasers and distributors, leading to smaller profits.  Add the content standards revolution requiring teachers to utilize their time more efficiently and to teach to the standards and you’ve created a situation where educators are unable to view long videos during class.

In this atrophying environment, United Learning reinvented itself by creating a revolutionary model, streaming video that was both chopped into chapters but also was aligned with the content standards from each state. Educators could now search for video clips that developed specific content standards. The rest, as they say, is history as Discovery purchased United Streaming in 2003, becoming the leader in the educational video market.

However, big does not necessarily mean nimble. While Discovery Streaming has continued to add content to their service, smaller companies are beginning to eat into their market share, particularly Safari/Montage and Learn 360. Smaller companies often have both the incentive and the brain power to invent a better product.

Are textbook companies prepared to compete with the digital textbook disruptive innovation or will smaller, more nimble companies create a better product? Time will tell, but I’d recommend that they take Clayton Christensen’s advice from his book, Disrupting Class. Create a new division/company whose sole purpose is to create products designed to compete in the disruptive environment. A new, independent division would not have the creative, administrative, and historical limitations that tend to constrict larger companies.