• Inclusive Access study tracks student access and cost savings

    by Auburn University

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    Auburn University’s All Access program has saved students money and enabled first-day access to digital course materials having an impact on their retention, course grades, and overall success in college.


    Inclusive Access study tracks student access and cost savings

    Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama

    Key Findings

    • Pearson Inclusive Access at Auburn University (known as the All Access program) has cumulatively saved students close to a million dollars since Fall 2014.
    • Based on survey data, a projected 2,185 students who opted in to the Inclusive Access program during Spring 2017 would otherwise not have purchased course materials. It has enabled these students (over one-third of participating students) who would not have otherwise purchased the text to gain access to required texts from the start of the semester.


    Auburn University is a public research university in Auburn, Alabama. It is a land, sea, and space grant institution and one of the largest universities in the region. Offering a choice of over 140 majors in 15 colleges and schools, it enrolls over 28,000 students, with more than 22,000 undergraduates. Seventy-seven (77%) percent of students are White, nearly 7% are Black, 3% are Hispanic, and 2% are Asian. The university boasts a freshman retention rate of over 90%, and a five-year graduation rate of nearly 73%. Auburn prides itself on its international footprint, with over 800 international students benefiting from its Accelerator Program, 500 Auburn students studying abroad, and a global faculty.

    Challenges and Goals

    In the Inclusive Access model, all students enrolled in a course receive first-day access to digital course materials, and the cost of the materials is included in the course fee. Auburn University became a pioneer of Inclusive Access for several reasons. With its history of customer service and helping faculty solve problems to improve the educational experience, the bookstore sought to provide a digital solution that would empower faculty members in a new age. The bookstore management at Auburn embraces change and transparency as critical to moving the university bookstore industry forward. In its quest to serve as a value provider and seek innovation, Assistant Director Russell Weldon explained that, “Inclusive Access became the next logical step.” Finally, the model helped further the university’s strategic mission of engaging students and increasing success and retention rates.


    Auburn University’s bookstore began implementing its All Access program in Fall 2014. Its primary focus was on ensuring a smooth but easily scalable implementation. The first course adoptions had no need for a student opt out, since the digital materials were only available via the All Access program. Auburn also worked to develop their own in-house management system, rather than relying on a third-party partner, to ensure that they can more easily control all aspects of the implementation. Auburn’s system menu allows for use of an access code, an eText, or a Canvas (Learning Management System) integration of a digital product. The system emails students upon course registration to inform them that they have enrolled in an All Access class and are provided an individual access code. They are also redirected to the bookstore’s website to help them understand what this term means and how they will receive their course materials.

    In March, the bookstore hosted an event with multiple publishers and digital providers for forty instructors. All of the participating instructors chose to implement All Access in the Fall semester. As Russell Weldon described, “There is an explosive amount of interest and growth. We can tell that there is something happening.”

    As a result of the careful planning and infrastructure created to manage the program, students experienced a smooth transition to All Access, as reported by history professor Dr. Daren Ray, who implemented it in Spring 2017. Students received instructions from the bookstore that explained how they would be charged for the course materials and how they could opt out of the program. According to Dr. Ray, for nearly all students, this explained the process sufficiently. The only exceptions were a few international students who experienced difficulty understanding the instructions and required assistance from the instructor to explain the opt-out process. Professor Ray uses Revel™ in his course, and transitioning to All Access was a natural next step that simplified the registration and onboarding process for his students. In addition, the cost savings of twenty dollars per unit on the program reduced student frustration regarding the cost of the multiple course materials in his course.

    There’s an explosive amount of interest and growth. We can tell that there is something happening.

    —Russell Weldon, Assistant Director, Auburn University Bookstore

    Cost Savings

    The All Access initiative at Auburn University Bookstore has translated to significant cost savings for students:

    • Students have saved an average of fifty dollars for each unit in the program compared to the new price of the unit.
    • On average, students saved just over 50% off of the lowest print option (new or used).
    • In the Spring 2017 semester alone, 6,500 students enrolled in 20 courses saved a total of $178,000. In Fall 2017, the program grew to 16,000 students enrolled in an All Access course with cost savings of $441,850.
    • Over the lifetime of the All Access program (three years), students have realized a cumulative savings of almost one million dollars ($991,227).
    • In courses that required students to purchase course materials, student opt-out rates over the past three years has been less than 1.2%, significantly lower than the national average of close to 6%.1
    • Despite the significant student cost savings, the bookstore has consistently reported a revenue from All Access sales, enabling it to continue to provide faculty with solutions that facilitate their instruction.

    The Student Experience

    The Auburn University bookstore surveyed students enrolled in courses that participated in the All Access program at the end of Spring 2017.2 Out of 6,707 students, 112 students (1.7% of students surveyed) responded to the survey, of which 92 (82%) opted in to All Access for at least one course during the Spring semester.


    92% of student respondents who opted in to All Access believed that the cost of digital materials in the program were a similar or better value compared to print textbooks they had purchased in the past. Student perception here is in line with the actual student cost savings reported above.


    Over one-third of students surveyed reported that they were unlikely to purchase course materials at all if they were not offered digitally via the All Access program. This translates to 2,185 students (of the 6,284 students enrolled in the program during the Spring semester) who opted in and were able to access the course materials due to All Access. These 2,185 students would likely not have had any access to course materials during the semester without the All Access program. 78% of students who opted in to All Access agreed or strongly agreed that the digital course materials were easy to access.

    Spring 2017 survey data projections

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  • The education industry's new teacher: Sports

    by Robin Beck, Contributor, Pearson

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    Technology is driving the sports industry, making it easier to gather player insights. Can it do the same for student performance?

    The sports industry has changed drastically in recent years with the implementation of technologies that improve player and team performance. NFL teams now use digital playbooks to enhance training and communication, the NHL is planning to introduce smart puck technology in 2019 to track movement on the ice, and most recently at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, all 32 teams used Electronic Performance and Tracking Systems (EPTS), technologies that give coaches, analysts, and medical teams access to player statistics and video footage, such as player positioning data, speed, passing, and tackles. With high stakes competition in every game, coaches can rely on EPTS to help them make informed decisions. And sports coaches aren’t the only ones using technology to gain insights and drive results. Just ask a teacher.

    Teachers and coaches embrace technology

    According to a 2016 survey by Edgenuity, provider of online and blended learning services, 91% of teachers believe technology provides a greater ability for them to tailor lessons and homework assignments to the individual needs of each student.

    By implementing technology in the classroom and learning how to use new apps and platforms, teachers are able to stay on top of learner progress and provide immediate feedback that will improve performance. Teachers, like sports coaches, have to learn about the latest technologies so they’re able to build the skills and the talents of others.

    Technology affects everyone

    In 2016, FIFA invited the soccer industry to Zurich to learn more about new technologies like EPTS that would impact the game. Johannes Holzmueller, FIFA Head of Football Technology, believes the advantage of wearable technology is the amount of data people can access. His colleague Marco van Basten, FIFA’s Chief Technical Development Officer, notes that data informs players on their performance, it gives doctors insight into player health and wellbeing, and trainers can use it to recommend player substitutes.

    With innovative technology, a community of people interested in the soccer player’s abilities can work together. The collaboration and involvement look similar to the way teachers, parents, and administrators work together to do what’s best for the student. Cutting-edge technology affects an individual’s entire ecosystem.

    Keller Battey, a first grade teacher in Atlanta, Georgia, relies heavily on technology to help her track progress and personalize teaching. “Technology helps all students,” Battey says. “If a student is above grade level, I can extend a skill or a lesson and if a student is struggling then I can remediate. I know exactly how my students are performing and so do their parents. The data is all there.”

    Industry innovation

    Education companies, large and small, are listening to consumers and have focused on the benefits of providing data and analytics to help teachers and students achieve success. Pearson’s Intelligent Essay Assessor (IEA) is a prime example of a capability that meets the needs of teachers and students.

    IEA is a suite of automated essay scoring capabilities that can analyze open-ended responses from learners and then assesses the content knowledge and understanding. It uses a range of machine learning and natural language processing technologies to evaluate the content and meaning of text and feedback is immediate, allowing teachers to monitor ongoing progress at an individual and class level.

    The goal of technology here is to ensure correct evaluation and accuracy. In this year’s World Cup, the new Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology performed in a similar capacity.

    Technology as a supplement

    VAR was created to ensure fairness and identify any errors on the field. Video Assistant Referees work in a team of four, and each referee undergoes extensive training to support match officials in the decision making process.

    FIFA referee Mark Geiger has been a VAR since the project started in 2016 at the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan. He says, “When you have a critical decision in a game…they’re there to tell you ‘check complete.’ It’s the two best words for a referee to hear because now you know your decision was correct, and you’re able to go on with a lot of confidence.”

    VAR technology proved to be a controversial topic at the World Cup, and though it may undergo improvements, the technology is here to stay. At the closing news conference in Moscow, FIFA president Gianni Infantino touched on the technology at the games. “This is progress, this is better than the past,” he said. “VAR is not changing football, it is cleaning football.”

    A similar sentiment is expressed by education leaders who assure consumers and educators that technology doesn’t exist to replace teachers; it exists to support them. Tim Hudson, SVP of Learning at DreamBox, told Business Insider, “It’s important that we listen to teachers and administrators to determine the ways technology can assist them in the classroom.”

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  • Breaking down the effect of affordable course materials on student success

    by Sue Poremba

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    When students must choose between textbooks and food or gas money, the latter wins. But without course materials, students often find classroom success elusive.

    A student entering his or her first year of college can expect course materials to cost between 5 to 10 percent of total expenses. At the same time, student populations are changing from the traditional 18 to 22-year-old to campuses that are more diverse, including older adults and returning veterans, all with unique financial challenges. But one financial concern remains consistent: course materials are expensive are often the first college expense cut when money gets tight.

    The steep rise of textbooks

    In 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released a Consumer Price Index for college expenses. Between 2006 and 2016, tuition costs jumped 63 percent. Over that same period, textbook prices increased 88 percent. Covering that same time period, a study conducted by the Florida Virtual Campus revealed more than half of students spent more than $300 on books in a semester, while nearly a fifth shelled out more than $500.

    More importantly, the Florida study showed how the high cost of materials directly impacts the student’s ability to succeed. When books are too expensive, two-thirds don’t purchase them, and of those students, 37 percent earn a poor grade, while almost one-fifth end up failing. To compensate for high book costs, students are taking fewer classes or don’t register for a class they need — but that ends up extending their time in school, which costs more money. It’s an ugly, expensive cycle.

    How campuses stepped up

    Students began to complain openly about the price of textbooks. Faculty became concerned that students stopped purchasing the expensive materials. Educators at Indiana University paid attention.

    “We started pilots in 2009, working with some publishers, to make some electronic textbook content available, and we didn’t ask the students to pay,” said Stacey Morrone, associate vice president for learning technologies in the Office of the Vice President for Information Technology at Indiana University. The students liked the change.

    Indiana University now works with 30 publishers who agree that the cost of e-texts will be at least 35 percent of a hard-copy edition. They have publishers who now offer their entire digital catalog at a flat rate. And importantly, the students will be able to access the e-text throughout their college career. While digital formats are optional, more faculty are buying in because, Morrone said, it ensures every student has their materials on the first day of classes. Indiana’s data shows that students who achieve A/B grades start coursework immediately and keep reading.

    The faculty benefit

    San Diego State University began its Immediate Access program in 2016 with two classes. That’s since grown to 80 classes with savings of $2 million in textbook costs, with a projection of 150 classes next year and $4 million in savings.

    James Frazee, senior academic technology officer and director of instructional services, said students at SDSU are charged for digital books and materials as a course fee, and they aren’t charged the fee until after the add/drop deadline. The majority of students said they access the materials before that deadline and felt this access helped them academically.

    “Students feel this is a good value,” Frazee said. Not only are the materials more affordable, but they deepen the level of engagement with faculty. Faculty can monitor the way the materials are used and can focus lessons around sections where it is clear students are struggling. Also, as students have access to materials immediately, faculty can conduct more frequent, low-stake assessments earlier in the semester. Having improved insight to how students are faring from day one, faculty can restructure the lesson plan that lead to improved student success.

    Digital materials go beyond affordability, said Drew Miller, senior vice president of marketing with Pearson. Digital learning platforms, like Pearson’s Revel, combine content with immersive and engaged academic experiences. It allows both students and faculty to be interactive in the education process, creating a sustainable business model for both higher education institutions and the students they serve. Students are able to access and afford the materials they need to succeed while the institutions provide a learning environment that allows options that work best for all.

    This content was sponsored by Pearson. See the original article here.

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  • Soccer lessons

    by Robin Beck, Contributor, Pearson

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    Diversity, communication, and other learnings that companies and higher education can take away from the World Cup.

    The 2018 FIFA World Cup tournament is taking place in Russia from June 14 – July 15 and England is bringing the most diverse team it has ever taken. England has players ranging in age from 19-32 and nearly half of its players are black or of mixed identity.

    Bringing together 32 nations with players speaking more than 20 languages, the World Cup is celebrated for its diversity and multiculturalism. While billions of people will watch the matches to see who will be declared winner, there is something else that businesses, in particular, should pay close attention to — team diversity and culture.

    A recent article in the Harvard Business Review notes that a strong culture is implicit, pervasive, and enduring. Senior executives and HR professionals know this well. According to Deloitte Insights, 87 percent of organizations cite culture and engagement as one of their top challenges. Creating a diverse workplace with a strong shared culture is hard to build, but the rewards are far-reaching.

    Avid soccer fan Ikechukwu Odum says the World Cup is his favorite sporting event. Having traveled to Brazil for the 2014 matches, he said what he enjoys most is the competition, the talent, and learning about the players’ backgrounds. “The World Cup means so much for the players and for the countries, communities, and the people they represent. Every player brings different abilities and talents, but they come together and try their best to win.”

    In this way, FIFA soccer teams resemble the modern-day workplace, where different groups of people must work together to outperform the competition and reach a shared goal.

    Diversity not only brings different experiences and skills to a team, but it also drives team performance. England midfielder Dele Alli said, “We’re all confident in ourselves and the team we have. We have a young, very talented squad…we just have to play as well as we know we can.” The same spirit of teamwork and collaboration should be present in the workplace.

    Shideh Almasi, Director of People at Feedvisor, an algorithmic commerce company, said, “Teams at work function quite similarly to sports teams. They need to be diverse, they need to be adaptable, and they need to work together. You, of course, need the technical skills, but it’s the skills like communication, leadership, resilience, and interpersonal skills that help teams push forward to reach their goals.”

    And CEOs, much like head coaches, must embrace soft skills like empathy to help guide employees to achieve success. Former Starbuck’s CEO Howard Schultz was well-known for his inspirational and touching messages to employees, driving big wins for the global company.

    German soccer coach Joachim Low has a similar success story. During the 2014 World Cup championship, he told player Mario Götze, “Show the world you are better than Messi and can decide the World Cup.” Götze went on to score the game-winning goal for Germany.

    Talent is the prerequisite, but the interpersonal skill of communication is what set Germany apart from the competition. Soft skills for both players and coaches prove to be crucial, driving results and positive outcomes.

    Reflecting on the victory, Götze said, “…We can be happy that we have so many great and skillful players and a real good mixture of young guys and experienced players.” While there is no gender diversity among the all male soccer teams, the different ages, languages, and backgrounds make teams stronger, more agile, and more competitive.

    The referees who govern the game are not exempt from using strong communication to work through language barriers and cultural differences. The 36 referees and 63 assistant referees were picked based on their skills and personality. Prior to refereeing the games, they were required to attend workshops and seminars.

    FIFA Director of Refereeing Massimo Busacca said, “…the referee has to prepare himself in the best possible way in all areas…Knowing the different football cultures will help him in his performances.”

 Similarly, companies like Pearson offer employees ongoing training to help them develop a global mindset and understand cultural differences.

    “It’s not always pretty if the teams aren’t organized or if there’s not a shared philosophy,” Odum says. “But you hardly see bickering or egotism, because the players know they represent more than the game.” Companies that take time to build their culture with diverse teams and shared values have employees who work effectively with others toward the mission and vision of the organization.

    Almasi adds, “There’s so much you can learn by working with people who share common goals and values, but who think differently and maybe even look differently than you.” Soccer teams competing in the World Cup understand this and use diversity to their advantage. Businesses tuning into the World Cup may do the same and prioritize investing in a more diverse workforce. That’s a winning strategy — on or off field.

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  • Professor blazes a trail to find the best learning

    by Pearson

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    Luke Reinsma recently retired from Seattle Pacific University, where he worked as Professor of Medieval Literature since 1986. His approach to teaching has inspired generations of students, including Melody Joy Fields.

    It was Melody’s freshman year at Seattle Pacific University, and as she says, “I didn’t know anyone — or anything.” She was taking a class and a teaching assistant asked her if she’d met Dr. Reinsma yet. “You MUST meet Dr. Reinsma,” the TA told her.

    “She walked me up to Luke’s office — completely book-lined walls, classic professor’s office—and he immediately invited me to come in, sit down, and tell him about myself.”

    The traditional professor/student dynamic had always bothered Luke. From early in his career he had tried to find ways to bridge that gap. He felt that if professors and students could talk to and learn about each other as equals, the outcomes would be better for everyone.

    His first approach to teaching was a simple one: by getting to know his students as individual people, he felt they’d open up to him, enabling them to learn more and understand better. He spent more than half of his time talking with his students to learn about them and their backgrounds. And more often than not, it happened outside of the classroom.

    As Luke puts it, “I’m not sure the best learning happens inside a classroom, so I make sure to leave the classroom behind and change the context now and then.” Often that meant one-on-one office hours, meetings at the local coffee shop — even organized group hikes in the coastal forests.

    Only after he’d gotten to know each student would he tackle the essays they’d written for his class.

    Melody recalled learning a lesson from Luke the first time she met him to get feedback on an essay.

    “He made me realize that you never know what’s going on in students’ lives. They don’t always come to class ready to learn — I certainly didn’t. Only after he’d really figured out who I was and what I was bringing to the classroom every day did we discuss my essay.”

    His dedication would be inspiring in any person but it’s exceptional in a teacher.

    — Melody Joy Fields, Adjunct Professor

    With the professor/student hierarchy broken down, Luke would often write as much feedback on the papers as content Melody had written. His responses delved deeply into her opinions and ideas, which he would always value over grammar or grades. She responded well to this mutual respect.

    “Luke excelled at finding something incredible rather than only seeing problems,” says Melody. “He always managed to find at least one elegant sentence so that I left his office knowing I could do it. His dedication would be inspiring in any person, but it’s exceptional in a teacher.”

    That empathy and desire to find something beautiful in every essay also gave Melody the confidence to begin the revision process.

    “He’d find a passage I’d written and say, ‘That’s ordinary. What’s extraordinary about this?’ And that taught me what revision is all about. It’s rethinking and revisioning what it is you really want to say, and saying it in the best way possible.”

    Now a professor herself, Melody credits Luke with inspiring her to become a teacher.

    “I didn’t know I was going to become a teacher. Certainly not a professor. I didn’t think I was smart enough. But I really wanted to be just like Luke. I wanted to read amazing stories, find incredible moments, and help others see that. To have someone take the time to see the world with you and give you fresh eyes — that’s what Luke did.”

    Melody also credits Luke with her approach to teaching.

    “Luke is why I teach the way I do. My experience as a student was so much more about a relationship, and not just about passing along information or skills. Yes, teaching is about skill building, but the best way to learn a skill is to see it modeled in front of you. And I saw the most valuable skills modeled by Luke every time we spoke.”

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  • New report: Demand-driven education

    by Caroline Leary, Manager, Pearson

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    A new report responds to The Future of Skills by exploring its implications for education systems and offers up practical solutions for higher education to more closely align with what the workforce needs.

    We are excited to share a new report by Jobs for the Future (JFF) and Pearson that explores the changing world of work and provides recommendations for shifting from the traditional route to employment to a network of pathways that is flexible, dynamic, and ultimately serves more learners.

    Released at the Horizons conference in June, Demand-Driven Education: Merging work and learning to develop the human skills that matter looks at what is required for transitioning to the third wave in postsecondary education reform – demand driven education.

    The first wave – access – was focused on getting more people to enter higher education. The second wave was focused on improving achievement – getting more students to earn degrees and certificates.

    In this third wave, the worlds of education and work will converge producing programs that ensure students are job-ready and primed for lifelong career success.

    Adapting to the needs of both the learner and the employer, “demand-driven education takes account of the emerging global economy — technology-infused, gig-oriented, industry-driven — while also striving to ensure that new graduates and lifelong learners alike have the skills required to flourish.”

    The report states, “as the future of work unfolds, what makes us human is what will make us employable.”

    While technological literacy is critical, learners need educational experiences that cultivate skills, including fluency of ideas, originality, judgment, decision-making, and active learning, all supported by collaborative academic and career paths.

    Higher education and employers are making headway in this arena with innovative programs like University of North Texas’s Career Connect and Brinker International’s Best You EDU.

    In a recent interview, Joe Deegan, co-author of the report and senior program manager at JFF, said,“although technology such as digital assessment might enable educators to make programs faster and more adaptive, the most significant change is one of mindset.”

    The future is bright. And there’s a lot of good work to do through active collaboration and partnership to create rewarding postsecondary learning experiences that are responsive to our changing world and inclusive of all learners.

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  • Winning hearts & minds in Chicago's struggling schools... with data

    by Gillian Seely, Contributor

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    With the help of her professor, Katie grew from an aspiring leader to one of Chicago’s most respected school administrators.

    What traits come to mind when you think of the attributes of an excellent school administrator? You might say being affable, able to connect with students and teachers, and maybe even fun. When asking what sets assistant principal Katie Magnuson apart from her peers, we certainly didn’t expect to spend time talking about leadership through the use of data, but that’s exactly what happened. University of Illinois at Chicago professor Shelby Cosner has played no small part in Magnuson’s steady rise to becoming one of Chicago’s most respected school administrators.

    Katie, who now works at Skinner North Classical School, was part of Professor Cosner’s cohort-based program at UIC. As members of the cohort, aspiring school leaders spend several years learning the fundamentals of educational leadership by way of not just classroom learning, but also a rigorous resident principal program at a struggling school. During their year-long residency they also work closely with a UIC leadership coach.

    “Katie was able to use her incredibly strong data skills to make sense of large student learning and instructional data sets, and help her school leadership team draw conclusions about the strengths and growth areas at her school. It’s not an easy thing to do.”

    Katie has a special way of getting people to work with and for her. She is patient, reflective, and persistent all at the same time.

    — Beverly LaCoste, School Leadership Coach, UIC

    Professor Cosner credits Katie’s work ethic and passion as driving factors that have led to her success, although it’s evident that Cosner herself is behind more of it than she admits. Each year, she helps her students realize that being a data-driven leader involves much more than coming into a school, seeing low math scores, and then trying random strategies to improve them. To really get to the heart of improving learning outcomes, one needs to take a long-game approach and must go where the data leads.

    Professor Cosner helps her students grasp this by assigning real-world exercises that have a “heavy lift” component. For Katie, this meant building a school leadership team that would help guide this work and then leading the design and implementation of a data system that would find instructional problems that undermined student success. They then studies those instructional practices to determine whether they limited student learning.

    “You can’t learn to swim by standing on the side of the pool,” Professor Cosner quips.

    This project-based strategy has proven effective, and had a profound impact on Katie.

    “It is rare to have a college professor who uses such strong educational pedagogical strategies, but that is Shelby Cosner,” Katie tells us. “She’s a dynamic and talented educator and professor. She engages students on a level that allows for deep understanding of content and connects learning to real life. Her classes pushed my thinking on leadership and made me strive to be my best. The work I did in her classes still guides my thinking, leadership, and understanding of trust.”

    So, it seems, the secret to school improvement is in the data. But what of passion? In the case of both Katie and Professor Cosner, there’s more than enough of that to go around.

    “Principalship is greatest job on the planet,” says Cosner, who served as a principal for years prior to becoming a professor at UIC. “It’s the most exciting job I’ve ever had in my life. I speak from my heart when I say that.”

    If she’s able to impart that passion into more up-and-coming school leaders like Katie, the future of Chicago’s schools is in good hands.

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  • Proving anyone can learn math

    by Pearson

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    Dianne Young, a developmental math professor at the Austin Community College District in Austin, TX, showed Shellie Burton strategies to overcome her math anxiety. Shellie now uses those strategies with her own students.

    “She believed in me and showed me what an excellent teacher looks like,” Shellie Burton, a 3rd grade teacher, said about Dianne Young, a professor who helped her reach her goals.

    Shellie, a college dropout and single mother, enrolled in at Austin Community College (ACC), when her youngest child entered kindergarten. She wanted to earn a teaching degree so that she could better support her family.

    But after being placed in developmental math, she wasn’t sure if she would be able to graduate. “Math was my biggest anxiety,” Shellie confided. “I hated math growing up. I really wanted to be a teacher, but I didn’t know if I had the math skills to be able to do it.”

    Dianne, who has taught developmental math at ACC for a dozen years, works with many students who have math anxiety. She believes that every student can learn math. “Maybe he or she hasn’t learned how to do it yet, but I can teach anybody math if they show up and they want to learn,” she said. “Math should never be the reason why somebody can’t fulfill the career path that they want.”

    … I can teach anybody math if they show up and they want to learn.

    — Professor Dianne Young, Developmental Math, Austin Community College District, Austin, TX

    Shellie met Dianne when she took her Elementary Algebra course. “She was so encouraging, and no question was a dumb question,” Shellie recalled. “Unlike most professors, she walked around the classroom. She got to know you, and she was really passionate about her subject.”

    Dianne remembered Shellie coming to office hours with her friends and asking a lot of questions. “She made it clear she didn’t like math,” Dianne commented. “But she wanted to learn. I taught her that she can do math. And I told her that when she becomes a teacher, she will need to teach math and she can inspire her students.”

    Shellie passed all her math courses at ACC and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree, magna cum laude, in elementary education at Concordia University in Austin. Since graduating, she has taught in elementary schools in Texas and California, and was nominated for Teacher of the Year by her school during her fourth year of teaching.

    Shellie regularly uses Dianne’s strategies to alleviate math anxiety in her own classroom. “Dianne asked a lot of questions,” she noted. “‘Who can help me with the next step?’ and ‘What’s the next step that I would do?’ So there is a conversation that’s going on instead of a teacher telling you what to do.”

    “Dianne also pulled different students into the conversation because there are different strategies you can use to solve a math problem,” she added. “Having peers teach peers is another great way to get students to learn and feel safe to share. I do that in my classroom, too.”

    To help her students overcome their fear of failure, Shellie occasionally makes mistakes on the board on purpose. She said, “My students will say, ‘Ms. Burton, you added that wrong,’ and I’ll thank them for helping me out so they know that mistakes are OK and we’re on the same team. I learned that from Dianne.”

    “I’m proud of Shellie,” Dianne concluded. “If I ever have grandchildren, I would want them to be in her class because she’s very, very good.”


    Shellie Burton is a single mother of three. After transferring from Austin Community College to Concordia University to earn her bachelor’s degree in elementary education, she taught 4th and 5th grade in Round Rock Independent School District in Texas. She is currently a 3rd-grade teacher at Huntington Christian School in California.

    Dianne Young earned her bachelor’s degree in secondary education math from the University of North Florida and her master’s degree in education from Virginia Polytechnic University. She has been teaching developmental math courses at community colleges for more than twenty years, most recently as an adjunct professor at the Austin Community College District.

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  • What do Generation Z and millennials expect from technology in education?

    by Pearson

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    Pearson study reveals Generation Z and millennials’ learning preferences

    Young people are the first to admit they can easily spend hours a day on the internet—whether it’s via a desktop computer, tablet, or smartphone. While they may be tech-savvy by nature, this innate connectivity poses the question of technology’s place as it relates to how Generation Z and millennials learn.

    In a recent survey of 2,558 14-40 year olds in the US, Pearson explored attitudes, preferences, and behaviors around technology in education, identifying some key similarities and differences between Gen Z and millennials.

    While 39% of Gen Z prefer learning with a teacher leading the instruction, YouTube is also their #1 preferred learning method. And 47% of them spend three hours or more a day on the video platform. On the other hand, millennials need more flexibility—they are more likely to prefer self-directed learning supported by online courses with video lectures. And while they are known for being the “plugged in” generation, it’s apparent that plenty of millennials still prefer a good old-fashioned book to learn.

    Regardless of their differences, the vast majority of both Gen Z and millennials are positive about the future of technology in education. 59% of Gen Z and 66% of millennials believe technology can transform the way college students learn in the future.

    See below for the infographic, “Meeting the Expectations of Gen Z in Higher Ed” for additional insights on Generation Z and millennials’ learning preferences.

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  • 10 reasons to go digital with your course materials

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    When I was a college student, there were times when I skipped out on buying a required textbook for a course. Finances were always tight, so I tried to balance my checkbook with buying actual books. Even then, textbooks weren’t cheap. Today, students are paying more and more for their higher education experience. If a university can find ways to make attending college more affordable, accessible, and “high-tech/high-touch”, well, it’s not really an option, it’s a necessity.

    Today’s technology makes it easy to distill course materials into digital formats and enhances them as a result. Colleges and universities are quickly shifting from books to bytes to improve the student experience and boost course outcomes.

    Here are 10 reasons why your university should go digital with its course materials:

    1. Affordability

    This may seem like an obvious reason to move to digital delivery of course materials. Students will end up paying less for digital course materials. From production to shipping, textbooks require a lot of costly infrastructure. Digital materials eliminate these costs and pass the savings on to students.

    2. A better experience for students with disabilities

    Unlike print books, modern eTextbooks can be accessible “out of the box.”  When eTextbooks include features such alternative text descriptions of visuals and content that can be used with assistive technology, students can start reading right away, without waiting for a disability services department to create a file.

    3. Learning analytics and digital integration

    Can you remember when a physical book connected to a digital learning system? It’s just not possible. However, with digital course materials, integration with the campus LMS/VLE is possible. Plus, with learning analytics built in, digital materials can help support at-risk learners who may need additional assistance.

    4. Recruitment

    Digital course materials might not seem like they give universities a recruitment edge, but in an increasingly competitive enrollment landscape, everything helps. Students seek modern solutions for their educational experience. For bring-your-own-device (BYOD) campuses and institutions that provide technology platforms for students, digital course materials hit the sweet spot. They create more affordances for student success and showcase a university experience that is effectively using the latest technologies.

    5. Multi-platform capability

    The ability to view course materials on a variety of devices represents a huge advantage for digital course materials. If a student needs to read a chapter while on the go, odds are, they will be able to access it on whichever device they have with them. Also, it’s a good bet that no one misses having a backpack filled with textbooks.

    6. Seamless group work

    University campuses are filled with versatile seating and project workspaces. You can’t project a textbook onto a large screen, but you can with digital course content. It’s simply a matter of either plugging in or wirelessly beaming content to a screen. It makes group work and collaboration a much easier task.

    7. Always current

    Have you ever tried to update a textbook? Editions come and go, each one costing more than the last. With digital course materials, content is as up to date as possible and it doesn’t cost students more for this “always current” content. Who wants a used book when you can have a new digital version?

    8. Instant access

    No longer do students have to search for the lowest price option or wait until after term starts. Instant access to digital materials, through programs such as Pearson Inclusive Access and others, ensures all students are ready to learn on the first day of class, not the third week. It’s as easy as logging into the university system, selecting the appropriate course, and downloading the material to a compatible device.

    9. Interactivity

    Textbooks have been surpassed in form, function, and capability. Digital course materials allow authors the opportunity to embed audio and video into their work. This makes for a much more interactive and “real” experience for students.

    10. Retention

    Anything that a college or university can do to assist students with their academic success is a good thing. Digital course materials aid and enhance an institution’s ability to improve their overall retention rates and bolster student success with all of the supportive elements in this list.

    What would you add to the list?

    Digital course materials are not the future for higher education; they’re the present. It’s only a matter of time before your institution goes digital for student success.

    This post was sponsored by Pearson as part of a higher education influencers collaboration.

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  • Head down, grades up: Making it big in Chicago

    by Gillian Seely, Contributor

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    Jai Shekhawat stood out from the other MBA students in Howard Tullman’s class at Kellogg School of Management 22 years ago. He sat in the back row, never raised his voice, and kept a low profile. Rather than talk about his aspirations or accomplishments, he came to class prepared, and it quickly became evident that he was putting in the work behind the scenes to make big things happen.

    “Jai is just as kind and self-effacing today as he was then,” Howard confides.

    So how has Jai changed? Far from sitting in the back row today, he has successfully founded and sold a business for $1 billion, and is considered one of Chicago’s most successful entrepreneurs. In 2012, Jai was named Ernst & Young’s 2012 Midwest “Entrepreneur of the Year”, and has been recognized as an innovator in the Vendor Management Software (VMS) space.

    In 1999, Jai took what he had learned from Howard and others and channeled it into a project that addressed a problem he was deeply familiar with. He started Fieldglass, a company that offers the world’s most widely used Cloud platform for the procurement of contract labor and services.

    Over the past two decades, Jai and Howard have kept in touch and maintained a student/mentor relationship that has blossomed into a friendship. Howard credits Chicago’s unique business culture in part for helping to make Jai a success.

    I know of few people with more enthusiasm, and being in his class gave me the confidence to eventually find my own path as an entrepreneur.

    — Jai Shekhawat

    “Chicago is different,” says Howard. “People here are loyal in a way that perhaps you don’t see on the coasts — we’re in it for the long haul. Loyalty is a competitive midwestern advantage, and we also have an economy that is good for entrepreneurs who have diverse interests.”

    Chicago can’t take all the credit, though. Howard taught Jai early on that it takes five things to be successful as an entrepreneur: passion, preparation, perspiration, perseverance, and principles. These “5 Ps” are instilled in many of the young, hopeful entrepreneurs that come to Howard’s prestigious startup incubation program, 1871 Chicago. And Jai gives credit where it’s due.

    “Back then and right up to today, I thought of Howard as half teacher and half preacher. He’s always spreading the gospel and excitement of innovation and entrepreneurship. I know of few people with more enthusiasm, and being in his class gave me the confidence to eventually find my own path as an entrepreneur.”

    Always the teacher, Howard deflects with more praise of Jai’s work ethic.

    “Of course everybody wants to be the next Jobs, but with Jai, we sensed that he had the determination to be really successful. Perhaps more important than talent or anything else is the ability to keep your head down and stay focused. Half the battle is keeping your butt in the chair. Jai’s got that.”

    What does one do after selling a company for $1 billion? In Jai’s case, he’s staying active in the city’s entrepreneurial scene with Howard at 1871, but he’s also focused on making Chicago the best city it can be by way of social activism and community service. He is heavily involved with an inner city academic program called MetroSquash, which helps to teach underprivileged urban youth how to play the unlikely game of squash while devoting an equal amount of time to academics. In doing so, MetroSquash mentors teach them dedication and discipline,two traits that Jai discovered are crucial to making it in his much-loved city.


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  • Goldilocks and the three bears of critical thinking (Part 3)

    by Lourdes Norman-McKay, PhD, Florida State College-Jacksonville

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    (This is the last part of our three-part series “Goldilocks and the Three Bears of Critical Thinking.” Read part one and part two).

    Empty calories or nutritious porridge?

    Most students acknowledge that easy classes tend to serve the empty calories of rote memorization and regurgitation; however, when given a choice, students often pick such an option over a more rigorous course that serves the nutritious porridge of critical thinking.

    We see this behavior when students “shop” for the easiest professor. In all honesty, I can’t blame them. It’s only natural that students are pathologically hung-up on grades when parents, scholarship committees, and collegiate programs are GPA obsessed.

    During my 15 years of teaching introductory microbiology and anatomy and physiology to allied health students and tomorrow’s nurses, I have heard the phrase, “I have to get an A” countless times. However, a high GPA is not necessarily linked to passable work-skill competencies or even average critical thinking skills.

    This is partially why standardized tests have become important screening tools for admission into colleges and graduate programs. When students say they, “have to get an A,” perhaps we should reply that an A is useless if it’s not packed with vitamins. So, how do we make a healthy porridge that students will try and perhaps even enjoy?

    A recipe for porridge

    Students often avoid trying the critical thinking porridge because they are afraid to fail. It’s no wonder they fear failure—society’s message is pretty clear, “We don’t have time for you to learn from your mistakes.”

    The good news is we can get students to try the porridge of critical thinking and position them for success if we add pedagogical ingredients that: (1) foster a growth mindset, (2) require that students are prepared to participate in class, and (3) include context-rich assessments that provide ample opportunities to practice in the Goldilocks zone of development.

    Let’s delve a little deeper into each of these ingredients.

    Intelligence mindset matters

    Psychologists tell us that how we perceive intelligence may affect our academic experiences. Some people have a fixed intelligence mindset, which means they see intelligence as static. In contrast, others see intelligence as cultivable, and are said to have a growth mindset. People with a fixed mindset often interpret a struggle with tough course material as proof of an inherent lack of ability.

    They are therefore, more likely to give up when courses challenge them and they are prone to excusing themselves from the struggle with cop-out phrases such as, “I’m just not a math person,” (or fill in your choice of discipline).

    As educators, we have an important role in shaping the intelligence mindset of our students. We should emphasize that just as students can strengthen their muscles through training and pushing their boundaries, so too can they strengthen their minds through practice.

    Prepared to participate

    My gym teachers never made dressing out optional. We were required to come prepared to participate, otherwise we were as good as absent. The same should hold true when it comes to academic classes. If we expect students to be prepared to participate, then we can’t make being prepared to participate optional—we must require it.

    To do this I use Pearson’s MyLab and Mastering platforms, which integrate Socratic coaching and immediate wrong answer feedback so that my students are redirected before misconceptions take root; this also affords them a chance to ask about missed questions in class. I don’t delude myself into thinking that everyone will do the work, but certainly more do it than if I didn’t require it.

    Requiring that students are prepared to participate through a warm-up exposure to the content facilitates more meaningful content exploration in class.

    Plus, because the online platform gives me diagnostic information and specifically points out where students are confused, I can practice precision training with my students instead of making assumptions about what they do or don’t understand. That optimizes our class time and keeps boredom at bay.

    The Goldilocks zone for development

    The work we give students must be relevant to their careers which means it must put content in context. Case studies, word problems, and reflecting on loosely defined problems are good exercises, but only if they are in the “just right” zone for student development.

    That means the work can’t be too easy, nor can it be frustratingly difficult. There’s a reason we don’t use James Joyce novels to teach 6-year-olds to read.

    Goldilocks wins

    Goldilocks’s triumph over the bears in the forest of critical thinking doesn’t have to remain a fairy tale. We can help students navigate the forest of critical thinking by filling their prerequisite knowledge gaps, overtly teaching critical thinking, and providing context rich exercises in their zone of development.

    To accomplish this, we can’t rely on teaching strategies that were designed to support the education goals of the Industrial Revolution. In this Information Age, where information is cheap and easy we must leverage technology to get students from where they are to where they need to be.

    There is more than just a grade at stake. The innovators of tomorrow are in our classes, let’s not feed them to the bears.

    Hear directly from Dr. Norman-McKay in her recent webinar Thinking Critically from Day ONE of Class on how to explore and apply case-based content to facilitate deeper thought and authentic learning opportunities.


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  • Goldilocks and the three bears of critical thinking (Part 2)

    by Lourdes Norman-McKay, PhD, Florida State College-Jacksonville

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    (This is part two of our three-part series “Goldilocks and the Three Bears of Critical Thinking.” Read part one).

    Bear-ier #2: The bear that lacks a map through the critical thinking forest

    Map-less Goldilocks beat the odds when it came to escaping bears, but it’s unrealistic for us to expect that all students, or even most students, can safely navigate the forest of critical thinking without a map. However, we regularly have this expectation.

    Most college faculty say they value critical thinking and most say they teach it. Indeed, I used to believe that I was overtly teaching critical thinking; but when students failed at it I realized that I had mistaken modeling critical thinking, assigning it, and expecting it for overtly teaching it.

    The symptoms that I was not overtly teaching critical thinking were all there; students continuously got frustrated with higher level assignments, they complained when assigned case work, and they regularly said that they didn’t even know where to start on the critical thinking based assignments I gave them. My students were struggling to overcome bear-ier #2—the lack of a map toward critical thinking.

    Time to be honest…

    The truth is I wasn’t trained as a teacher—I was trained as a scientist. Many college faculty share this history with me; they too were hired for their specific discipline credentials versus their teaching credentials. Accrediting bodies evaluate institutions based in part on faculty credentials.

    In general, the minimum qualification to teach college credit courses is a Master’s degree with 18 or more graduate credit hours in the discipline being taught. There’s no requirement that faculty have official training in teaching or even an iota of teaching experience. Consequently, many college faculty have very little if any training in teaching, never mind a specific course in how to teach critical thinking.

    My point is that we’ve embraced a “you just do it” mindset when it comes to collegiate teaching, so it’s not entirely shocking that we’ve applied that very same mindset to critical thinking—”you just do it.”

    Of course, this is garbage. You don’t “just do it” any more than you just fly a plane or you just play the piano. It takes training and it takes practice, just like learning the course content does. While we don’t expect students to learn how to read on their own without an overt curriculum, it seems we often expect self-teaching when it comes to critical thinking.

    In light of this, it’s not surprising that so few students are competent at critical thinking, even after earning a college degree.

    Critical thinking cartography

    Unfortunately, when students fail at critical thinking faculty get frustrated and we may assume that “students just aren’t ready to think critically.” The thing is, students can think critically and they are ready to do it if we give them the tools. It’s up to us to help them overcome the barriers they face to developing their critical thinking prowess—we must give students a map to critical thinking.

    This is why I developed the S.M.A.R.T. framework as map toward critical thinking. Because my courses are focused on training the healthcare team of tomorrow, I thought about how trained clinicians and scientists approach problems. I also followed the literature on the neurological aspects of how we learn and how we develop critical thinking skills.

    Years of teaching and experimenting with thousands of my own students led me to distill the process into the five steps in S.M.A.R.T. These steps are easy to teach, model, and evaluate students on—and students can readily remember them. Because S.M.A.R.T. is a map for higher order problem solving, these five steps can be applied across disciplines.

    Getting S.M.A.R.T. about critical thinking

    The S.M.A.R.T. approach is a stepping stone style methodology that provides a cognitive scaffold for sifting through large amounts of information and applying it to solve higher order problems.

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  • Grade Increase: Tracking Distance Education in the U.S. [Infographic]

    by Caroline Leary, Manager, Pearson

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    In 2016, distance education enrollment continued to grow for the 14th straight year.

    This is the headline coming out of Grade Increase: Tracking Distance Education in the United States – a recent report released by Babson Survey Research Group (BSRG).

    As stated in BSRG’s press release: “The growth of distance enrollments has been relentless,” said study co-author Julia E. Seaman, research director of the Babson Survey Research Group. “They have gone up when the economy was expanding, when the economy was shrinking, when overall enrollments were growing, and now when overall enrollments are shrinking.”

    Explore the key findings from Grade Increase in our infographic below and download the full report to dive in deeper.


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  • Spring into learning digital learning

    by Caroline Leary, Manager, Pearson

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    Digital learning webinar series for educators

    In the spirit of always learning, we have an extensive lineup of free, professional development webinars that will leave you with actionable ideas and strategies to effectively implement digital learning tools that will increase student engagement and leave you with the freedom to do what you do best: teach.

    Pick and choose from over 50 webinars that span across all disciplines featuring renowned authors and digital learning leaders, like you.

    Aren’t sure where to start? Check out a sampling below or visit our This is Digital Learning Webinar Series website to browse or sort by discipline.

    Unable to attend live? No problem – all webinars are recorded and available to you at your convenience.

    Showcase your learning

    Digital credentials allow you showcase the learning you’ve achieved. When you attend one of the webinars live and complete a brief assessment at the end, you will earn a Digital Learning badge via Acclaim to share with your networks.

    Happy digital learning!

    Monday, March 19, 2:00-2:40 p.m.
    Learning Mathematics through Digital Technologies…the Right Way!
    Kirk Trigsted, Professor, University of Idaho

    Tuesday, March 20, 11:00-11:30 a.m.
    6 Ways to Use Polling Questions to Engage Students in Your Accounting Classroom
    Dr. Wendy Tietz, Professor, Kent State University

    Wednesday, March 28, 4:00-4:30 p.m.
    WAKE UP! Engagement Strategies to Compete in an Attention Economy
    Michael R. Solomon, Professor, Saint Joseph’s University

    Monday, April 9, 12:00-12:30 p.m.
    Dynamic Techniques for Teaching Structure and Agency in the Sociology Classroom
    Jodie Lawston, Professor, California State University, San Marcos

    Tuesday, April 10, 2:00-2:30 p.m.
    Measuring Student Apprehension, Comprehension, and Engagement in the E-book Era
    Dr. Sam Sommers, Professor, Tufts University & Dr. Lisa Shin, Professor, Tufts University

    Thursday, April 12, 11:00-11:30 a.m.
    Stories and Histories: Hooking Students with the Tale
    Bill Brands, Professor, University of Texas at Austin

    Metacognitive Learning Strategies for A&P Students (recording available)
    Chasity O’Malley, Professor, Palm Beach State College

    Thinking Critically from Day ONE of Class (recording available)
    Dr. Lourdes Norman-McKay, Professor, Florida State College-Jacksonville

    No More “But That’s the Answer the Computer Gave Me” (recording available)
    Jim Hanson, Professor, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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  • Teaching reading in an IRW class: why, what, how

    by Kathleen T. McWhorter, Professor Emerita of Humanities, Niagara County Community College

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    “College students already know how to read, don’t they?”

    Yes, students know how to recognize words on a page. But no, many do not know how to read actively to create meaning and analyze and evaluate the author’s message.

    Why reading needs to be taught

    Just as writing needs to be taught, active reading strategies also need to be taught. It may be intuitive to us, as instructors, but it is not for our students. Integrated Reading & Writing (IRW) classes teach these skills fundamental to student success.

    Many developing college writers have a rudimentary command of basic grammar. They can speak clearly and be understood. They may also possess a massive store of word meanings, but they cannot write coherent paragraphs or essays. Likewise, as readers, many college students can recognize words, understand word meanings, and pronounce and define words, but they do not know how to engage and interact with a text to extract meaning from it.

    Both reading and writing are essential survival and success strategies for college and the workplace. Both involve critical thinking: interpretation, analysis, and evaluation of ideas.

    What needs to be taught

    College reading is built on five approaches and skill sets that can be taught:

    1. Teach that reading is a process that parallels the writing process. Emphasize that it is an active process in which the reader interacts with the writer’s ideas.
      Reading = recognition of techniques (for example, identifying and understanding topic sentences)
      Writing = implementation of techniques (for example, drafting and revising topic sentences)
      Reading = analysis of ideas (for example, analyzing a writer’s tone)
      Writing = expression of ideas (for example, choosing a tone that suits the audience and purpose)
    2. Explain that reading involves strategies to use before, during, and after reading. Students need to:
      • preview before reading
      • think, connect, and anticipate ideas as they read
      • review and analyze after reading
    3. Teach students to extract meaning from a text. This involves interacting with the text and being able to explain the author’s intended meaning in their own words.
    4. Teach students to think critically, analyzing and evaluating the author’s ideas. Show students how to examine the author’s techniques and assess a work’s accuracy, worth, and value.
    5. Equip students with skills to learn and remember what they read. In their other college courses, students must not only discover meaning, but determine what to learn, and use strategies to retain the material. Skills such as paraphrasing, highlighting, annotating, summarizing, and outlining or mapping are valuable.

    How to teach reading more effectively

    Instructors can teach reading more successfully by following these guidelines:

    1. Always prepare students for a reading assignment. Don’t just assign a reading and send students off to complete it. You might pre-teach the reading by:
      • offering some background on the topic
      • building interest through a brief classroom discussion
      • asking students to do a quick Google search of the topic
      • creating a list of questions about the topic

      Alert students about trouble spots, and offer some specific purposes for reading. (For example, “Watch how this author uses shocking examples to stir your emotions.”)

    2. Be intentional about teaching reading and writing together. Always remind students that reading is the “flip side” of writing. If you consistently remind students of this connection, they will eventually make the connection themselves and transfer this awareness to new situations.
    3. Teach process not content. Don’t focus on the content of the reading (who did what, when and where). Instead teach how to discover what the author says and means. Strategies for discovering meaning have long-lasting value, while knowledge of a particular reading’s content is far less important. Think of the reading as a vehicle for teaching skills and strategies, not as an end in itself. Show students how to find the important details in a paragraph, for example, but don’t spend time on the details themselves.
    4. Ask students to stretch. They should be asked to engage with challenging material, while you give them help and support to succeed. You might create a reading guide or graphic organizer; or use scaffolded instruction by providing a partially complete outline to guide them through the reading. Students will encounter difficult materials in other courses, so they need to develop strategies to cope. As they complete difficult readings, they will experience growth, a sense of accomplishment, and greater confidence in their abilities.
    5. Teach by showing, not telling. “Walk” students through challenging readings. Demonstrate how to uncover meaning. For example, suggest questions to ask, or use think-aloud protocols.

    By using these techniques to teach the approaches and skills outlined here, you can help students think more critically, and interpret, analyze, and evaluate ideas more effectively. Those abilities will empower them — in college, at work, and in society.


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  • Engaging Gen Z students and learners

    by Dillon Kalkhurst, Author & Contributor

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    Generation Z is the youngest of the five generations, active in today’s economy. They are already the largest generation in the U.S. and will represent 40 percent of the population in 2020. In the world of higher-education, Gen Z accounts for all of the students enrolling today. Generation Z has experienced the most change in their short time on earth. Most of those changes center around technology. Gen Z is disrupting decades-long practices in our education system, forcing colleges and universities to adapt at a rapid pace or become irrelevant.

    Millennials were different and required some modifications so higher-ed has been adapting to their needs. Millennials were the first generation to come to campus, laptop in hand. Gen X may have used desktops in computer labs on campus. The Millennials forced educators to begin using technology as a teaching tool. Gen Zs were born with technology. They will never know what life was like without the internet. Gen Z learners don’t see technology as a tool, they see it as a regular part of life.

    While Millennials used three screens on average, Gen Z students frequently use up to five. Most use a smartphone, TV, laptop, desktop, and a tablet. These devices occupy ten hours of Gen Z’s daily activity. The constant stimulation and access to all the world’s information at their fingertips has given them an eight-second attention span and has trained their brains to expect instant gratification. Sitting in a hall or classroom listening to a lecture is Gen Z torture. Gen Z students want a chance to be part of the learning process, not a passive bystander.

    Gen Z students are much more pragmatic and skeptical than generations before. Many experienced their parents’ and friends’ families lose everything in the Great Recession. They felt intense pressure as their parents did all they could to get them into college. Because of that experience, they are very worried about college debt, and demand colleges provide a good return on their investment. A Gen Z survey from the nonprofit, College Savings Foundation showed seventy-nine percent said costs are a factor on college choice. Thirty-nine percent said high costs caused them to change their path and enroll in state schools, community colleges, or vocational and career schools.

    The financial stress continues once Gen Z students enroll. The high cost of textbooks is prohibiting some students from pursuing their choice of classes and majors. A survey of more than 22,000 college students found 49 percent reported taking fewer courses per semester, and 45 percent reported not registering for a course because of the high cost of the textbook. Sixty-four percent of students opted out of buying textbooks for the first day of class.

    I’ve seen this with my college sophomore son. He will wait as long as three weeks after a class starts before he decides whether to purchase an expensive textbook. He tells me that some professors won’t even use the book so he waits. He has even dropped classes after learning how much the textbook will cost.

    Fortunately, many professors and their institutions are saving students money by migrating to digital textbooks and course materials. Education companies like Pearson provide Pearson Inclusive Access for students that can save them upwards of 80 percent off the price of a new print textbook. Offering digital textbooks also makes it possible for students to receive their course materials the first day of class. Professors can begin teaching immediately without concern that half their students do not have required materials because they either can’t afford it or are spending time searching or borrowing to save money.

    In addition to the cost savings, digital textbooks appeal to Gen Z students because they can access course materials on the same devices they already embrace. Gen Z wants to seamlessly jump from their personal experiences to their educational experiences on-demand and do it outside the classroom anytime, anywhere. Seventy-eight percent of students prefer digital course materials. I am not surprised because they provide three Gen Z “must-haves.” Cost savings, convenience, and interactivity. Being able to scan for specific topics, or click on audio and video links keeps those eight-second attention spans engaged in the course materials.

    Professors and institutions benefit as well. Digital textbooks provide data on how students are engaging in the content. This is invaluable feedback that can help educators identify struggling students and make adjustments when needed. More than 425 colleges and universities across the country have partnered with Pearson to provide digital course materials, and they are starting to see real results in student achievement.

    The primary focus of my book is to help each generation become self-aware of their own generational preferences. When educators become self-aware, they can ignore common Millennial, and Gen Z stereotypes and embrace their unique strengths, preferences, and learning styles. Many Boomer and Gen X educators struggle with this, and it is understandable. Technology has caused Gen Z to see more changes in ten years than older generations will experience in their lifetimes.

    Change can be hard, and it can be good, especially when it helps young people grow, learn, and become successful adults. Experienced educators should do everything they can to make learning fun, interactive, and engaging for their Gen Z students. Utilizing digital course materials and other technologies that can provide that kind of experience is a step in the right direction.

    This article was originally published on Dillon Kalkhurt’s LinkedIn Pulse page and has been reposted here with permission.


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  • 5 questions for author Susan Riedel on teaching electric circuits

    by Susan Riedel, Professor, Marquette University & Yvonne Vannatta, Product Marketing Manager, Pearson

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    Yvonne Vannatta, Product Marketing Manager at Pearson recently sat down with Susan Riedel, author and Marquette University professor to talk about the challenges instructors face when teaching Electric Circuits and the best practices Susan uses to tackle them.

    Yvonne – What is the biggest challenge instructors face when teaching Circuits?

    Susan – Mastering the many different circuit analysis techniques presented in Electric Circuits requires most students to solve a lot of problems.  It is often hard to convince students that they cannot simply read through a worked example problem, or watch an instructor solve a problem at the board – they need to actively solve problems themselves in order to learn the circuit analysis techniques.

    While I typically assign 10 – 12 problems each week for homework, the students would benefit from working at least twice that number of problems every week.  So I have to find ways to get students to solve lots more problems than I assign for homework.

    Yvonne – What strategies do you use to engage students in more problem solving?

    Susan – I use a combination of Learning Catalytics questions, pre-lab questions, and old exams to present and ask students to solve more problems.

    Learning Catalytics

    I use Learning Catalytics to pose questions to my students throughout my lectures.  They get a small amount of extra credit for attempting to answer the questions, even when they answer incorrectly.  I usually start the lecture with a Learning Catalytics question focused on the material we covered in the previous day’s lecture, as a way to review the material and remind them what we are working on.

    Then throughout the lecture I pose Learning Catalytics questions that may ask them to complete a problem I started to solve for them on the board, find a way to verify that the problem’s solution is correct, or discover some interesting property of the circuit we are analyzing.

    The students are solving additional problems, not just watching me solve them, and I am getting real-time feedback that tells me whether or not the topic I’m covering is being understood by the students.

    About once every two weeks, I pick a lecture day and turn it into a group problem-solving challenge, again using Learning Catalytics.  The students work together in small self-selected teams to solve several circuit problems.

    I wander around the classroom, look over their shoulders, answer questions they ask, and encourage them.  Even though I don’t present this as a competition, they like to compete and see how their team stacks up against the other teams in the class.

    They are actively solving problems that are not assigned as homework, and I can observe what material they may be struggling with, so I can adjust my next lecture accordingly.

    Pre-lab questions

    The Electric Circuits class I teach has an embedded lab.  There are 11 labs during the 16 week semester.  Each lab requires students to complete a pre-lab assignment that they turn in to me for grading two days before the lab.  I return their graded pre-labs within 24 hours so they can correct any errors they made before building the circuits in the lab.

    Every pre-lab has two parts – an analysis of one or more circuits, and MultiSim simulation of those same circuits to verify the analytical results.  So again, they are solving additional circuit problems that are not assigned for homework, then simulating those same circuits and eventually building the circuits and acquiring and analyzing data.

    Old exams

    Students take an in-class exam every 4 weeks.  I make all of my old exams available to them so they can solve the exam problems as a way to study for the upcoming exam.  I never provide my solutions, to encourage them to solve the problems themselves and not merely study problems and their solutions.

    They can check their solutions during my office hours and during an evening Study Group I hold the night before the exam.  Again, they are willingly solving lots of additional circuit problems that are not formally assigned in order to prepare to take the exam.

    Using the combination of Learning Catalytics, pre-lab assignments, and old exams, I usually get close to my goal of having students solve 20 – 25 circuit problems every week, even though I formally assign about half that number as homework.

    Yvonne – What is the biggest challenge students face when taking Circuits?

    Susan– Many students struggle with the initial step in solving a circuit – where do I start?  Consider that a simple circuit with a dc source and a few resistors must be described by six or eight independent equations derived from Ohm’s law and the Kirchhoff laws.

    This often overwhelms a student seeing circuit analysis for the first time.  Most of my students would be discouraged by the prospect of entering six or eight equations into their calculator correctly to solve for the circuit’s voltages and currents.

    So when students finally discover a tool like the node-voltage method, they realize that six or eight equations are not necessary to describe simple circuits.  But many students still need some guidance to use the general-purpose circuit analysis tools.

    Yvonne – How do you prepare students to find that starting point?

    Susan – To help students first learning to use the general-purpose circuit analysis tools like the node-voltage and mesh-current methods, I have always constructed a step-by-step procedure for them to follow.

    The step-by-step procedure tells them what kinds of equations to write (KCL or KVL, for example), how many of these equations to write, where to write those equations in the circuit, and how to check their solutions to those equations by balancing the power in the circuit.

    We have now formalized these step-by-step procedures in the 11th Edition of Electric Circuits, where they are called “Analysis Methods.”  The Analysis Methods give students the confidence they need to solve circuit problems because they know how to start the problem and what procedure to follow to reach a solution.

    Initially students rely heavily on the Analysis Methods but they eventually need to follow a step-by-step procedure less often, often preferring to take a more intuitive approach.

    For most students, following an Analysis Method initially allows them to grasp the circuit analysis concepts faster than students who are not given a step-by-step procedure to follow.  Students using Analysis Methods spend less time trying to decide how to solve a problem because they follow a set of steps.  They finish their assignments faster and endure much less frustration along the way.

    Yvonne – What advice would you give to instructors new to teaching Circuits?

    Susan – There are so many resources available to instructors teaching Circuits, and a lot of thought and hard work have gone into the design and implementation of these resources.  Instructors should take advantage of as many resources as time allows.

    Learning Catalytics is a terrific resource for active learning in the classroom, supplying real-time feedback to instructors that enables them to identify material their students are struggling with.

    Mastering Engineering has tutorials that guide students through important material using intelligent feedback to assist their learning, video solutions for many different problems, automated grading for assigned homework, and many other useful features.

    Software simulators allow students to study a circuit with changing component values, plot circuit variables of interest, and use many different types of analysis including dc, transient, and ac steady-state. Many students benefit from the virtual laboratory experience that a simulator provides, even if an actual laboratory experience is not available to them.

    The more resources an instructor can bring to bear on the Circuits material, the more likely it is that the instructor will align with the various learning styles of all students in the classroom, leading to the success of every student.

    Hear directly from Professor Riedel on how you can engage more students in team-based problem solving our webinar: Using Learning Catalytics Inside and Outside the Circuits Classroom.


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  • Games-based learning from "content" to "creation" (Episode 8)

    by Dr. Kristen DiCerbo, Vice President of Education Research, Pearson

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    This series, produced with The Edtech Podcast, explores the implications of and questions around future tech for education. Listen for insights from experts — including contrarians — from across industry, research, and academia. Get caught up with episodes 1-7.  

    What initiatives are supporting teachers and students to co-create games together? In this episode of our Future Tech for Education podcast series, hear from educators, gaming companies, and researchers on the evolution of games-based learning from “content” to “creation”.

    Subscribe to the Future Tech for Education on iTunes.


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  • Student, software and teacher in "personalized learning" (Episode 7)

    by Dr. Kristen DiCerbo, Vice President of Education Research, Pearson

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    This series, produced with The Edtech Podcast, explores the implications of and questions around future tech for education. Listen for insights from experts — including contrarians — from across industry, research, and academia. Get caught up with episodes 1-6.  

    In episode 7 of our Future Tech for Education podcast series, we explore: What is personalized learning? What is it not? Is there an evidence base yet for personalized learning and what does the research evidence show us about the contexts where personalized learning works best? What is the role of student, software and teacher in a personalized learning context? What questions should we be asking?

    Subscribe to the Future Tech for Education on iTunes.


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  • Imagine (a world of assessment without tests) (Episode 6)

    by Dr. Kristen DiCerbo, Vice President of Education Research, Pearson

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    This series, produced with The Edtech Podcast, explores the implications of and questions around future tech for education. Listen for insights from experts — including contrarians — from across industry, research, and academia. Get caught up with episodes 1-5

    How do we get beyond the tick-box or bubble filling exercise of exams and tests, whilst also measuring ‘progress’? In episode 6, we review ideas around ‘invisible assessment’ and question who benefits from ‘traditional’ and re-imagined forms of assessment, including games-based assessment. Can ‘tests’ be fun and should they be? How do we measure collaboration?

    Subscribe to the Future Tech for Education on iTunes.


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  • What can VR, AR & Simulation offer teaching & learning? Plus, strategies to avoid the technopanic (Episode 5)

    by Denis Hurley, Director of Future Technologies, Pearson

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    This series, produced with The Edtech Podcast, explores the implications of and questions around future tech for education. Listen for insights from experts — including contrarians — from across industry, research, and academia. Get caught up here with  episode 1,  episode 2, episode 3, and episode 4

    In the latest episode of our Future Tech in Education podcast series, we dip into the world of VR and mixed reality to uncover what high-cost, high-risk learning opportunities are being made more accessible to all by this technology.

    Plus, we wrap our co-curated mini series with practical suggestions for educators: be mindfully skeptical, resist fear, understand that you can start small and grow, and avoid technology for technology’s sake. This last one is harder than it sounds. Many new technologies wow us but do not have useful application to education. Learn how to make the most of technology.

    Subscribe to the Future Tech for Education on iTunes. 


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  • Professors: 3 things you might be spending more time on than you need to

    by Pearson

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    Being a full-time educator takes commitment, organization and time — lots and lots of time. It’s rare to find an educator at any level who finishes his or her day once class is dismissed. With limited time to focus on the many aspects of quality course instruction, educators need the best tools to maximize their time.

    Ideally, leveraging said tools should focus on automating the most common tasks to which educators devote the majority of their time. Find out how leveraging the right digital learning platform can help with creating personalized lesson plans, student engagement and monitoring student progress.

    Developing a lesson plan is one of the most important tasks for educators. Lesson plans set the tone for the entire course from the outset. Creating a lesson plan personalized for each course and each group of students is immensely time consuming. Educators are expected to create new and engaging plans for each day, often with very little feedback with which to work.

    Engaging with students

    Keeping students engaged – in class and out of class – is vital for receiving feedback on teaching materials and assessing the concepts students retain and those they struggle to understand. Traditional methods of engagement, i.e. fostering group discussions and question-and-answer periods, are particularly difficult in larger classrooms. Students get distracted more easily and educators struggle to create a rapport with each individual.

    With digital learning educators can now utilize the devices students already bring into the classroom, think smartphones, tablets and laptops, to engage them in more sophisticated tasks to help develop critical thinking skills. MyLab creates a platform where students submit answers on a web-enabled device and receive immediate feedback from their instructors.

    Revel assignments completed prior to class allow instructors to use classroom time more efficiently for group work and discussion Increased dialogue and feedback between students and educators can make even large classes seem more personal.

    Monitoring student progress

    Keeping track of student progress allows an educator to know whether students are learning on pace with the lesson plan and completing all assignments. Traditional methods used to monitor progress – homework assignments, quizzes and exams – take time to develop on the front end and time to review on the back end.

    In larger classes especially, it may take several days or even weeks before students receive grades from previous assignments and exams. Delayed feedback is outdated and can be difficult for students to apply to future work.

    Monitoring student achievement is easier than ever before with Revel, a platform that saves hours of time by tracking assignment completion and automating analytics. A trending column, for example, demonstrates whether students’ grades are improving or declining, making it easy to identify students who need extra attention.

    Additionally, students have the opportunity to increase their own accountability by viewing real-time progress reports. With faster feedback, students can keep up with the pace of the course and address areas of difficulty as soon as they arise.

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  • The best way to increase student engagement in your classroom

    by Pearson

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    We’ve all had it happen. You spend countless hours preparing for a lecture only to watch students lose focus and disengage from class. From cellphones to that one student who manages to derail class (likely for a full 20 minutes after alerting class to the first snowfall out the window), it’s almost impossible to teach a class without some type of distraction.

    As instructors, we’re tasked with a lot. Achieving maximum comprehension, information retention and improving test scores are just a few of the challenges faced in addition to maintaining student attention.

    If you’re ready to take back your class time and refocus attention on course material, you’ve come to the right place. Keep reading to find out how you can leverage digital learning in your classroom to fight these distractions and foster student engagement.

    Teaching your classroom in a one-size-fits-all mindset

    In any classroom, there are students who learn at a different pace than the planned syllabus. Some students grasp concepts quickly, and may become bored by too much classroom time spent on a topic, while others struggle to keep up.

    There are countless reasons why a student may fall behind – whether it’s an overloaded schedule or something happening in their personal life. Regardless of the reason, a student who’s struggling to keep up, is increasingly likely to disengage from class and runs the risk of falling even further behind.

    When students can master basic subject level concepts away from the classroom, professors are able to refocus class time on engaging students by expanding on core concepts.

    Drowning in a sea of outdated class resources

    Let’s face it. No student wants an instructor who bogs them down with dozens of different paper handouts and online portals that may or may not have been constructed during the dawn of the internet.

    For many students, keeping track of materials for all their classes, including textbooks and paper handouts, can be a struggle. And a student who forgets one of the 80 “essential” materials for class that day may be unable to participate.

    Traditional materials like textbooks are a stark contrast to other media that students today are more familiar with. Today’s students are used to the internet, where simple keyword searches produce immediate results and relevant information on any internet-connected device.

    Confining all classroom materials in an online learning management system simplifies organization by placing all class and student materials in one place. With the necessary materials easily accessible, students are free to focus on learning and staying engaged in the classroom (unless someone breaks out a fidget spinner, at which point we can’t help you).

    Lecture format classes

    Keeping students engaged can be particularly difficult in a large lecture setting. With dozens, or even hundreds of students in just a single class, it’s no surprise to find professors standing at the front of the room talking for the entire period and hoping that some small fraction of their wisdom is being absorbed.

    Obstacles like acoustics for students in the back, or those who take advantage of class setup to escape on social media, are just a few of the challenges faced.

    If this scenario sounds familiar to you, trust us when we say you’re not alone. One of the best ways to foster greater engagement in a lecture-style class is through interactive question-and-answer sessions and peer discussions supplemented by an online learning platform.

    With a solution like this, professors can break a large class into groups quickly and easily, while receiving instant feedback to tailor lessons to student preferences.

    Avoiding new technology

    With the prevalence of social media and smartphones, it’s no surprise that today’s students expect to be constantly connected. Interacting with the world through their smartphones and tablets, it’s quite common for disconnect to occur when professors use outdated technology.

    With news apps and social networking platforms enabling information to spread like wildfire, today’s students are used to information in real time. When the internet provides them the information that they need instantly, it’s common for them to lose patience with textbooks written years before their time.

    Instead, professors can leverage the devices with which students are already familiar and which they bring to class, to provide a more interactive learning environment. An online learning platform makes it easy for professors to pose questions and receive immediate feedback from each student in the classroom (rather than one or two), and adjust their instructional strategies in real time.


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  • Educators: Are you leveraging digital learning in your classroom?

    by Pearson

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    Students today use technology more than ever — whether for research, studying or chatting every second of the day with friends. It’s no surprise that leveraging the ubiquity of digital communication can help produce countless benefits in the classroom for students and educators alike.

    Online assessments have the power to give students rapid feedback, while digital tools allow instructors to provide multimedia learning experiences. Video explanations, games, online note-taking and other features all work to help keep students engaged as they read and study. With the power of digital, educators can analyze test scores and tailor instruction to suit students’ strengths and weaknesses.

    Expand learning opportunities

    When teaching a subject like geology or art, it’s hard to fully convey the power of a volcano or the expansiveness of a work of art with photos alone. By incorporating videos and other digital assets, course instructors can fully engage students. With digital examples in geology for example, instructors won’t just tell students how landslides happen; they can show them.

    Video demonstrations allow students to take virtual field trips whenever they want, at their own pace and on their preferred devices. This video tour of the Pantheon leaves a much more lasting impression than any descriptive words ever could. Tour options take them to places they could never explore in person — at least not as part of a classroom.

    In addition to learning through experiences students also need concrete skills for success. Critical thinking is an important skill that applies to almost any field, and writing can be one of the best ways to master it. 

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  • Language learning as the test-bunny for educational future tech (Episode 4)

    by Denis Hurley, Director of Future Technologies, Pearson

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    This series, produced with The Edtech Podcast, explores the implications of and questions around future tech for education. Listen for insights from experts — including contrarians — from across industry, research, and academia. Watch episode 1,  episode 2, episode 3.

    Technological change is exponential, which means it will only impact our lives more and more quickly. Among the aspects of our lives undergoing change, language usage is one of the ones being altered most drastically. New technologies also create new opportunities for learning. How must we adjust and what can we take advantage of?

    Subscribe to the Future Tech for Education on iTunes.


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  • How higher education is innovating instruction (and why it needs to continue to do so)

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    Digital learning and technology has a short and turbulent history as creating cultural, social, generational, and socio-economic divides. The swiftness of change in society due to technological advances has disrupted just about everything we do, but in education, the disruption is perhaps the most important to consider.

    There is a discontinuity in how education is evolving compared to the realities of career and society. Higher education attempts to be responsive to these changes, but the course corrections are often slow and/or don’t align well with the actual trajectory of the modern world. The solution is not clear-cut, but there are many ways higher education is trying to keep pace.

    Here are 5 trends that are helping higher education to align better with the actual needs of students:

    1. Online and hybrid classes have become a very popular part of the landscape at many institutions of higher education. The mix of flexibility and the infusion of technology such as video-conferencing software, cloud-based office suites such as Google’s Gsuite or Microsoft’s 365, and the use of learning management systems such as Blackboard or Desire to Learn. While the technology serves the purpose of adding flexibility and leveraging resources, the experiences students gain from working and learning in this environment align closely with the modern workplace.
    2. Digital Delivery of learning materials is the obvious evolution for higher education, and one that has been painfully slow. While the ability to deliver what we used to think of as a “textbook” as a digital resource has long been possible, many programs still rely heavily on student and faculty use of printed media. It doesn’t have to be this way, and some schools are beginning to take a hard look at the way materials are used in courses. In many cases, the switch can be easy. For instance, Pearson Education is one of the leaders in providing access to digitally delivered learning materials. The digital catalogs available for students and faculty are massive and growing every day. At this point, any move toward digital delivery is a positive one. This transition would modernize the higher ed experience and probably save students some money.
    3. Internships and outside experiential learning built into degree programs have continued to be a popular route due to the development of personal and social skills, but internships have a secondary yet powerful consequence: they also help instructors and program chairpeople stay current. There is a lot to be said for programs where internships, programming, and instruction are woven together in ways that a more traditional, sanitized, classroom experience cannot replicate.
    4. Student voice and choice is changing the landscape of post-secondary education. There is a great power in programs willing to allow for a variety of student voice and choice in the learning experience, not just for the capstone, but throughout the learning journey of the students. This seems to be far more accepted in vocational and advanced degree programs, and I’d like to see it sweep through the undergraduate experience as well.
    5. Embracing the learner, not the system, is really the key to the survival of many post-secondary programs. While the integration of learning technology, internships, diverse media delivery and student voice make for an increasingly intimate and individualized experience, it can’t survive in a vacuum. The evolution to embrace learner needs, especially when those needs run afoul of traditional practice, needs to be valued. Whether differentiated by time, place, pace, or method of delivery, individualized instruction can happen now in ways that would have been impossible or impractical even ten years ago. Not only can professors use their LMS platforms to deliver multimedia-rich learning options, but there are many options for curricula and review material already assembled and ready to use, such as Pearson’s Revel and MyLab/Mastering products.

    Disruption is the constant today, and post-secondary programs will need to continue to find ways to attend to the gap between what they deliver and what students actually need. They need to be nimble and responsive to the world they are preparing students for.

    While the familiar may have a certain nostalgia to some professors and instructors, these disruptions represent the best potential for future growth of programs, institutions, and the individuals. Unlike any other time in history, higher education faces a shift from tried and true to a constant reinvention to meet the fluid demands of both the working world and an ever-changing student body.

    This article was originally published on Dr. VonBank’s LinkedIn Pulse page and has been reposted here with permission.

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  • Developing responsible and calm digital citizenship (Episode 3)

    by Denis Hurley, Director of Future Technologies, Pearson

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    This series, produced with The Edtech Podcast, explores the implications of and questions around future tech for education. Listen for insights from experts — including contrarians — from across industry, research, and academia.

    Technology is a part of almost every aspect of our lives: buildings can be 3D printed, cars can drive themselves, and algorithms can direct our education.

    In the third episode of this series (catch episode 1 and episode 2), we explore how do we react to, interact with, and create with the tools of technology? It’s essential that we understand how these function and what the implications.

    We also look into the changing world of work and how we can best prepare.

    View on YouTube

    For more information, check out the Pearson Future Skills report.

    Subscribe to the Future Tech for Education on iTunes.


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  • What is AI & what has it got to do with me and my students? (Episode 2)

    by Denis Hurley, Director of Future Technologies, Pearson

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    This series, produced with The Edtech Podcast, explores the implications of and questions around future tech for education. Listen for insights from experts — including contrarians — from across industry, research, and academia. Subscribe to the Future Tech for Education on iTunes here.

    Smarter digital tools, such as artificial intelligence (AI), offer up the promise of learning that is more personalized, inclusive and flexible. Many see the benefits of AI, some are skeptical – but it’s crucial we understand what these tools can do and how they work.

    In the first episode of this series, we talked about the how to navigate the challenges and opportunities tech brings to the future of education. In episode two, we explore: What is AI and what is it not? What’s the difference between narrow AI, general AI, and super-intelligence? What type of AI is used now in education? What type do people fear? What questions might teachers want to use when thinking about AI in education?

    View on YouTube

    For more information, check out the report, Intelligence Unleashed: An argument for AI in Education.


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  • What does future tech for education look like? (Episode 1)

    by Denis Hurley, Director of Future Technologies, Pearson

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    This series, produced with The Edtech Podcast, explores the implications of and questions around future tech for education. Listen for insights from experts — including contrarians — from across industry, research, and academia. Subscribe to the Future Tech for Education on iTunes.

    In our first episode of the Future Tech for Education podcast series, we put “future-forecasting” in perspective through a few useful but simple models. We talk about the history of the future and mindful skepticism, and we delve into the four foci of edtech technologies — mixed reality, data science (AI), biosyncing, and human-machine relations — and their effect on education, teaching, and learning.

    View on YouTube 

    Employ mindful skepticism. This means not accepting a new technology as inherently good or evil. But try to understand what the possibilities are. Try to understand what can it be used for; how can I make the most of this technology.

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  • Generation Z: Get to know your new students

    by Pearson

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    Gen Zers are the current generation to embark on their journey in higher education. They are present on your campus and in your classes, with many more enrolling every year. How well do you know them? Do you have the tools to shape these newcomers into successful and productive adults after just a few short years of schooling?

    Born between 1997 and 2015, Generation Z accounts for 26% of all the total United States population, according to a Nielsen report. They’re currently the largest living generation and have the potential to reshape how we use technology and view the workplace, so you probably should.

    Understanding what drives this generation can help you better tailor your coursework around tangible and transferable skills so students can better understand how it relates to their future. Barnes & Noble College conducted a survey of 1,300 Gen Zers, and more than 89% of respondents acknowledge that a college education is valuable.

    For them, college is seen as the pathway to a good job. The study also states that Gen Z’s top criterion in selecting a college is how it will prepare them for their chosen careers, followed by interesting coursework and professors who care about student success.

    Learning how to engage with this generation is just as important as learning what tools to use to engage them. Their comfort and trust in the online space will greatly determine how they interact with their educators. In fact, Gen Zers often prefer video content—with 85% of surveyed students reporting that they watched an online video to learn a new skill in the past week, according to The Center for Generational Kinetics.

    And they have high hopes for their post-collegiate future, too. In fact, 88% of surveyed Gen Zers reported that they were optimistic about their own personal future—more than any other generation, according to a report by Vision Critical.

    But that optimism is balanced by realistic expectations about their careers. When asked what matters most in their ideal jobs, in the same survey, they favored salary more and work-life balance less than their millennial counterparts.

    Here’s just some of what you can expect to learn more about:

    • Up-to-the-minute analysis of what’s happening in higher education
    • Illuminating insights from multigenerational surveys about Gen Z behaviors and attitudes about education
    • Eye-opening interviews and surveys about the individual experiences of hundreds of Gen Z students from Jean Twenge, author of iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood

    In the meantime, dive deeper into the Gen-Z psyche, and read about their learning habits in the infographic, “Engage from A to Gen Z.” Learn more about this generation’s make-up, goals, and what makes them tick.


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  • 5 chats you don't want to miss from Educause

    by Caroline Leary, Manager, Pearson

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    This year at Educause, Erick Jenkins, East Carolina University student and Pearson Campus Ambassador, and Jenn Rosenthal, community manager at Pearson, went behind the scenes to learn about what was top of mind for contributors to the best thinking in higher education IT.

    Erick and Jenn spoke with digital learning advocates about the latest and greatest in digital learning and what exactly that means for students, educators, and institutions.

    Together, they demystified Inclusive Access, discussed the importance of 21st century skills, engaged with cognitive tutor extraordinaire – IBM Watson, and dove into the world of AR and mixed reality.

    Catch their interviews below and let us know what roles you see technology playing in the future (near or far) of education in the comments section.

    Erick and Jenn talk with Jeff Erhlich, Director of Special Projects at Park University about what exactly Inclusive Access is (hint: it’s more than eText) and the benefits it brings to students, educators, and institutions.

    What is Direct Digital Access?

    We are sitting down to chat with Jeff Ehrlich, Park University Director of Special Projects, about Direct Digital Access. #edu17

    Posted by Pearson on Wednesday, November 1, 2017


    Jenn chats with Leah Jewell, Pearson’s Head of Career Development and Employability, about the Career Success Program and the importance of developing strong personal and social capabilities.

    Preparing Now: Career Success

    Chatting with Leah Jewell, Pearson's Head of Employability, about the Career Success Program.

    Posted by Pearson on Wednesday, November 1, 2017


    Erick gets a taste of how artificial intelligence can help students power through to success. Pearson’s Kaitlyn Banaszynski and Amy Wetzel introduce Erick to Watson – the cognitive tutor.

    Student Perspective: Watson

    East Carolina University student & Pearson intern, Erick Jenkins, is chatting with Pearson colleagues & IBM Watson experts, Kaitlyn & Amy.

    Posted by Pearson on Wednesday, November 1, 2017


    Jenn and Erick examine virtual patient Dave through HoloPatient using Microsoft HoloLens and chat with Mark Christian, Pearson’s Global Director of Immersive Learning about how Pearson is using AR/VR to enhance learning.

    Hololens & Immersive Learning Innovations

    We are so excited to try out the HoloLens – an example of Pearson immersive technology – and chat with Pearson's Global Director of Immersive Learning, Mark Christian.

    Posted by Pearson on Wednesday, November 1, 2017


    Erick sits down with Jenn and talks about how technology has played a role in his college experience.

    Student Perspective: Educational Technology

    We are live at EDUCAUSE 2017 with Pearson intern and East Carolina University student, Erick, talking about how technology has played a role in his college experience! #EDU17

    Posted by Pearson on Wednesday, November 1, 2017


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  • How to engage tech-savvy students

    by Pearson

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    From textbooks to laptops and white boards to smartboards, digital technologies continue to propel higher education forward. Instant access to information and various types of media and course materials create a more dynamic and collaborative learning experience.

    Today’s tech-savvy learners are accustomed to instructors utilizing technology to bolster curriculum and coursework. In fact, a majority of surveyed students (84%) understand that digital materials help solve for issues facing higher education, according to “Digital appetitive vs. what’s on the table,” a recent report that surveyed student attitudes on digital course materials. And many (57%) also expect the onus to fall on the institution to shift from print to digital learning tools.

    Many higher education institutions are looking for new ways to integrate technology into their coursework. Recently, Maryville University, a private institution in St. Louis, MO, developed a digital learning program that provided iPads to their students—with great results.

    94% of faculty have integrated iPads into their courses, and 87% of students agree that technology has been instrumental in their success at the school. What’s more, enrollment increased by 17.7% over two years, in part due to the Digital Learning Program, reports Inside Higher Ed.

    Learn more about how digital learning can strengthen higher education institutions with this infographic, “Digital Learning: Your best teacher’s assistant.”

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  • Teaching collaboration skills from cradle to career

    by Emily Lai, Ph.D, Kristen DiCerbo, Ph.D, Peter Foltz, Ph.D

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    We’ve heard from Emily Lai, Ph.D., twice before. Last year, she shared the story of her work in Jordan to improve learning opportunities for the children of Syrian refugees. More recently, she offered her tips for parents and teachers on helping students improve their information literacy.

    The Components of Collaboration

    “Most of us know what collaboration is, at least in its most basic sense,” says Emily Lai, Ph.D.

    “It means working with others to achieve a common goal.”

    Emily is Director of Formative Assessment and Feedback for Pearson. Her work is focused on improving the ways we assess learners’ knowledge and skills, and ensuring results support further learning and development.

    “We’ve been reviewing the research, trying to figure out what we know about collaboration and how to support it. For example, we know that collaboration skills have an impact on how successful somebody is in all kinds of group situations—at school, on the job, and even working with others within a community to address social issues.”

    Teaching Collaboration in the Classroom

    Teaching collaboration skills in the classroom can be harder than expected, Emily says.

    “When a teacher assigns a group project, oftentimes students will divide up the task into smaller pieces, work independently, and then just shove their parts together at the very end.”

    “In that case, the teacher likely had good intentions to help develop collaboration skills in students. But it didn’t happen.”

    Checking all the Boxes

    “Tasks that are truly supportive of collaboration are not easy to create,” Emily says.

    Digging deeper, Emily says there are three sub-components of successful collaboration:

    Interpersonal communication – how you communicate verbally and non-verbally with your teammates.

    Conflict resolution – your ability to acknowledge and resolve disagreements in a manner consistent with the best interest of the team.

    Task management – your ability to set goals, organize tasks, track team progress against goals, and adjust the process along the way as needed.

    Emily says she understands how difficult it can be for educators to check all three boxes.

    Before beginning an assignment, Emily suggests teachers talk to students explicitly about collaboration: what makes a good team member versus what makes a difficult one, as well as strategies for working with others, sharing the load responsibly, and overcoming disagreements.

    During group work, she says, observe students’ verbal and non-verbal behavior carefully and provide real-time feedback.

    “Talk with them about how they’re making decisions as a group, sharing responsibility, and dealing with obstacles,” Emily says.

    “In the classroom, it’s all about the combination of teaching collaboration skills explicitly, giving students opportunities to practice those skills, and providing feedback along the way so those skills continue to develop.”

    “The research shows that students who develop strong collaboration skills get more out of those cooperative learning situations at school.”

    Teaching Collaboration at Home

    Emily is a mother of two daughters, 4 and 8.

    At home, she says, there’s one part of collaboration that is especially valuable: conflict resolution.

    “Most often, it comes in handy on movie nights.”

    “The 8-year-old tends to gravitate towards movies that are a little too scary for the 4-year-old, and the 4-year-old tends to gravitate towards movies that are a little too babyish for the 8-year-old.”

    “It would be easy to intervene and just pick a movie for them, but my husband and I do our best to stay out of it,” Emily says.

    “We’ve established the procedure that they have to negotiate with each other and agree on a movie, and now they have a collaborative routine in place.”

    “They know they get to watch a movie, and we know they’re learning along the way.”

    “Taking turns in conversation is another big one for the four-year-old,” Emily says.

    “She doesn’t like to yield the floor, but it’s something we’re working on.”

    “I know from the research that if my daughters learn these collaboration skills, they are more likely to be successful in their future careers.”

    Sharing the Latest Research

    This week, Emily and two of her colleagues are releasing a research paper entitled “Skills for Today: What We Know about Teaching and Assessing Collaboration.”

    The paper will be jointly released by Pearson and The Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21), a Washington, DC-based coalition that includes leaders from the business, education, and government sectors.

    “We teamed up on this paper because we both believe collaboration is too important for college, career, and life to leave to chance,” Emily says.

    It is the first in a four-part series on what is known about teaching and assessing “the Four Cs”: collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and communication.

    “P21 is the perfect partner for this effort,” Emily says.

    “Our partnership signifies a joint commitment to helping stakeholders—educators, parents, policy-makers, and employers—understand what skills are needed to be successful today, and how to teach them effectively at any age.”

    To download the full version of “Skills for Today: What We Know about Teaching and Assessing Collaboration,” click here.

    Three executive summaries of the paper are also available:

    Pearson LearnEd originally published this article on April 24th, 2017, and it was re-posted here with permission.

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  • 90%+ first-call resolution, and powerful support for GGU's teaching mission

    by Golden Gate University-San Francisco, CA

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    World-class support for 5,000+ busy adult learners

    To make higher education work for its students, many of whom are working professionals, Golden Gate University (GGU) offers flexible programs both online and at four campuses. Even its in-person courses are extensively enhanced with robust web components, and some have evolved towards flipped learning models.

    Both GGU’s students and its instructors are deeply reliant on the university’s online LMS and other systems. However, they have diverse expertise, and equally diverse hardware, ranging from old laptops to the newest smartphones.

    Students with full-time jobs often set aside nights and weekends for schoolwork. Most GGU faculty work professionally in the fields where they teach, bringing a wealth of experience and enthusiasm. Both students and teachers often need help desk support, especially as GGU has integrated more robust web functionality into courses—and neither group has time to wait for answers.

    As Doug Geier, GGU’s Director of eLearning and Instructional Design, puts it, “We provide really good support for our instructors and students, but we rely on the help desk to fill a critical need.”

    GGU’s small internal help desk responds during weekday business hours, focusing not only on technical help, but also calls requiring involvement from administrative offices. To fill the gaps, GGU chose Pearson, which seamlessly extends GGU’s own help desk, presenting its services as part of GGU. Through this close partnership, the help desk delivers 24x7x365 support for virtually any technical problem, regardless of location or device.

    GGU chooses to pay on a per inquiry basis, smoothly ramping up whenever it needs more help—for example, at the start of each trimester, when new students must quickly solve login or compatibility issues.

    Pearson’s reporting helps both partners identify emerging trends in support calls and escalations, flag individuals who need more training, find opportunities to improve, uncover student or faculty retention issues, and improve course quality to support GGU’s teaching mission.

    GGU’s Pearson help desk consistently exceeds 90% first-call resolution, so students and faculty can quickly move forward with their work. GGU’s Geier notes that some calls the help desk can’t resolve are due to issues it can’t control. “When that happens, Pearson can take the calls, offer some assurance as to when it’ll be fixed, and make sure our students and faculty don’t feel like they’re all alone. And sometimes Pearson’s help desk is first to know of a problem, and [they] tell us so we can follow up more rapidly.”

    Working together for more than six years, Pearson and GGU have built a trusted collaborative partnership with multiple benefits. “We reached out to Pearson as we integrated Turnitin to improve student writing and prevent plagiarism, and when we recently deployed a new video platform,” says Geier. “Pearson’s wide higher education support capabilities are becoming ever more critical as we continually expand the utility of our LMS and online course environment.”

    “Pearson’s help desk is incredibly responsive,” Geier concludes. “Their service is top-notch, it’s customizable, and it’s helped us come a long way in how we work with students and faculty. Pearson does more than just provide services: this is a true partnership.”

    Pearson’s help desk is incredibly responsive. Their service is top-notch, it’s customizable, and it’s helped us come a long way in how we work with students and faculty. Pearson does more than just provide services: this is a true partnership.

    Doug Geier, Director of eLearning and Instructional Design
    Golden Gate University

    To learn more about Golden Gate University’s help desk services, read the full success story.

    Read the full success story

  • Tapping into G-R-I-T to enhance students' 'burn to learn'

    by Paul G. Stoltz, Ph.D.

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    Helping students effectively harness their GRIT comes down to the difference between telling them about it and equipping them with the tools to acquire and grow it. I recently experienced the stark contrast between mere advising and actual “equipping” when I failed my own godson at a critical time.

    How? Well, instead of helping him tap into his GRIT in substantive and productive ways, I fell into the “sympathetic (if meaningless) advice trap.” Let my failure illuminate our path.

    As a first-term, out-of-state freshman at a challenging four-year university with a rigorous major, my godson has plenty on his plate and no shortage of distractions. But when the deadliest fires in California’s history surrounded his hometown of Napa, being away from home took on new meaning to him.

    Even though his family and pets were safe and their most precious possessions secured, summoning the drive and the discipline to slog through calculus homework seemed overwhelming and unimportant to him. He simply stopped doing it, and even when he tried to apply himself to him, his commitment soon waned.  This was understandable given the circumstances, but not ideal.

    So, what did I do? I checked in with him, offered some mouldy cliches and bland old platitudes like, “Thank goodness they’re safe”; “Don’t hesitate to call me anytime”; and “It’s always good to remember: It could be so much worse.”  Nice? Yes. Heartfelt? Definitely. But I could have done so much better by him. I missed my moment.

    What I didn’t do was serve up the harder truth. I didn’t take this critical opportunity to help him realize that “stuff happens,” adversity strikes, and moments like these—when it feels like life is grabbing you and strenuously pulling you away from your educational goals—are both the key tests of your GRIT and the opportunities to significantly grow and apply it to things that matter.

    Every student experiences some combination of rigorous academics, relational breakups, family issues, health concerns, roommate dramas, bureaucratic headaches, personal injustices, scheduling conflicts, emotional hardships, financial stress, external pressures, and existential angst while pursuing a college degree. This is a long list, but worthy path is strewn with struggles!

    My godson didn’t need my warm but vague advice as much as he needed the essential, practical tools to truly own—to dig deeper and better in order to unwaveringly pursue—his learning and his goals in the midst of his struggle. How could I have helped? I should have pointed him to the GRIT questions.

    Each and every component of GRIT—Growth, Resilience, Instinct and Tenacity—is critical, and individuals must fully engage with them to truly own and achieve worthwhile educational goals.

    Consider these four facets of GRIT and the questions I, a teacher, a counselor, or anyone can ask about each one to help students own their learning, their goals, and their lives in good times and bad.


    The propensity to seek out fresh ideas, perspectives, input, and advice to accelerate and enhance one’s progress toward one’s long term, difficult goals.

    Growth is about going after one’s goals and finding out what one needs to know in order to get there better and faster. It shifts a student from being a victim or a passenger to being the driver at the helm of his journey. This dimension of GRIT accelerates growth, learning, and momentum, while reducing the kind of frustration and exasperation that lead many to fall short or quit.

    • What new resources might you tap into to get some clarity and support around your goal?
    • Who could you talk to, both inside and outside of school, who could offer you the best, freshest wisdom on this issue or concern?
    • Do you notice that as you keep attempting to achieve your goal, the effort seems to be making you stronger and allows you to imagine new strategies to get where you want?


    One’s capacity to not just overcome or cope with, but to make constructive use of adversity.

    One of the big wake up calls in education is: Adversity is on the rise everywhere, and resilience truly matters. Support and resources are external. Resilience is internal. Resilience is not about bouncing back. That’s not good enough.

    It’s about harnessing adversity, using it as fuel to end up better off because of the increased strength and knowledge that comes from working through and overcoming a difficult obstacle. There is no better place for a student to learn and master this distinction than in higher education.

    • While you perhaps can’t control this situation, what facets of this situation can you at least potentially influence?  Of those, which one(s) matters most to you?
    • How can you step up to make the most immediate, positive difference in this situation?
    • How can you use your experience of struggling against this adversity to actually fuel your next attempt to reach your goal?


    One’s propensity to pursue the best goals in the most effective ways.

    Arguably one of the most consistent and potent contributors to student failure, dropouts, or underperformance is a lack of Instinct. The vast majority of students waste tremendous energy, time, and effort pursuing less than ideal goals in less than optimal ways. That’s why so many lose their way or quit. That’s why it’s important to ask:

    • What adjustment(s) can you make to your goal to have it be even more compelling and clear for you?
    • What specific tweaks or shifts can you make to how you are pursuing your goal to best accelerate and/or enhance your chances of achieving it?
    • As you think about your goal (e.g. graduation), in what ways might you be wasting your precious time, energy, and/or effort?  If you could do less of one thing and more of another to most dramatically enhance your chances of success, what would that look like?


    The sheer relentlessness with which one pursues one’s most important, long-term, difficult goals.

    This is the classic, traditional definition of basic grit. But as the world education wakes up to the hard reality that more tenacity is not always a good thing, we have an opportunity to infuse the qualitative aspects of GRIT. These include two continua, Good versus Bad GRIT, and Effective versus Ineffective GRIT.

    Pretty much every student has expended considerable Tenacity on the wrong stuff, or in less than optimal ways. The more students master how to funnel the right of Tenacity and overall GRIT toward their most worthy goals, the more likely they are to thrive and succeed.

    • If you utterly refused to quit, and were to give this goal your best-ever effort, how would you attack it even better this time?
    • How can you re-engage toward and go after your goal in a way that is most beneficial, even elevating, to those around you?
    • If your life depended on you sticking to and achieving this goal, what steps would you take now, that you’ve not yet taken?

    How do we equip students to stay on path, no matter what occurs—from natural disasters to simple, everyday adversity?  Growth, Resilience, Instinct, and Tenacity spell more than GRIT. They spell ownership. And they transcend plain old advice (even the god-fatherly kind).

    While each of these dimensions is powerful on its own, when we weave them together they become the four, actionable facets of GRIT that not only fortify students, but can also permanently instill in them a lifelong sense of ownership for learning, making important decisions, and for contributing something of value to their own lives and their society.

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  • 3 steps to upgrade your GRIT in education

    by Paul G. Stoltz, Ph.D., Author

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    Grit, it is a powerful tool to help you achieve your goals, but as we know, it can sometimes fall short. Worse yet, using it the wrong way can backfire, even lead to real trouble. Consider this “fall short” and “backfire” conversation I overheard just last week.

    “What’s your grit and resilience strategy?” the Provost at a premier regional college asked his cross-town colleague at a college fundraising dinner I recently attended. The question instantly caught my ear and my eye. I was struck by both the ease with which this clearly loaded question fell from his lips, as well as the relaxed assumptiveness with which it was received.

    “Ah, well, you know, there’s so much talk and information about grit out there now, but honestly, we’re not sure what we think about it yet. Of course we’ve had our people watch the videos, read the books, start talking about to each other it more…at least the basics, you know? But frankly, results seem mixed, at best.

    Get this! We had one student repeatedly camp on the doorstep of the Registrar’s Office, apparently in an effort to get his grade changed, because he thought he could get what he wanted just be refusing to take no (or a bad grade) for an answer. When it was explained to him repeatedly that this wasn’t the best strategy and his grade was actually determined by his professor, the student somewhat deafly responded, ‘Got too much grit to quit!'”

    “That’s an amazing story,” the Provost replied. “Good to know. Honestly, you’re way ahead of us. We’re still exploring all the options on what we’re might pursue with grit, but your example will definitely help.”

    So what’s your grit and resilience strategy for your institution? And how do you avoid the dreaded and increasingly common “mixed results” or backfire conundrum? How do you minimize the potential downside of students misusing their and maximize the vital upside that will make them successful and productive? Here are three simple steps to Upgrade Your GRIT™ in Education.

    Step One: Shatter the “More is Better” Grit Myth

    Arguably one of the most dangerous assumptions when it comes to grit is the burgeoning belief that “more is better, more is more”. It’s nearly everywhere. “We just gotta show more grit!”, Dabo Swinney, Clemson University’s football coach declared after a heartbreaking loss.

    In another instance, I was asked by a faculty member at a Texas university, “Dr. Stoltz, how do we help our students grow and show more grit?” This is not an uncommon question. One I hear more and more.

    However, if just having more grit is so desirable, consider this simple provocation. First, think of the most dangerous person you’ve ever heard of or known. Second, ask yourself how much grit—determination, passion, and effort—they showed in pursuit of their nefarious goals. Next, ask yourself, is grit always and necessarily a good thing? For everyone? In all situations?

    The truth is that helping  our students build higher and higher levels of grit guarantees next to nothing. Worse yet, it can lead to disaster.  In truth, many students have plenty of grit. That’s not the issue. Their quantity of grit is not  what’s getting in their way. It’s the quality of their GRIT that may be hobbling their efforts, progress, and success.

    To free yourself from the “more is better” myth, ask yourself and/or your team a simple question. What matters more – the quantity or quality of your students’ grit? When it comes to the kind of students we want to grow, the kind of lives we’d like them to live, and contributions we’d like them to make in the world, do we want them touse their growth mindset, resilience, instinct and tenacity to not merely achieve their goals but also to show their consideration for other people, for their environment, and for the general good?”

    Ready for a bizarre, if not impossible statistic? I’ve asked this exact question of more than 500,000 people across six continents, and one hundred percent respond resoundingly with “Quality!” 100 percent. That’s stunning. And each time I test it, I get the same result: When it comes to GRIT, remember– Quantity is what we require, but Quality takes us higher.

    Step Two: Foster Smart GRIT

    “But I worked really hard on this!” How many times have students used said that do defend work or a test wasn’t as good as it should be. Don’t forget its anemic sibling, “I stayed up all night (or “spent all weekend’) studying for this test!” “Doesn’t my effort count?” they complain.

    What I sometimes call “Smart” and “Dumb” GRIT can be re-labeled “Effective” and “Ineffective” GRIT. Does urging our students to just try harder, to pour more effort and energy into the task always lead to the best results? More importantly, does it best serve our students as they try to make progress in an occasionally puzzling world? What if, instead, we taught them how to use ever-more thoughtful, intelligent, effective GRIT—the kind that accelerates and enhances their success—especially for the most daunting, long-term, challenging assignments, projects, and tasks?

    Shifting students’ focus from a concern with “how much or how hard can I try” to asking the questions “How else can I achieve my goal?” and “How can I do this even better?” can lead to profound revelations for them. By encouraging them to consider rational, creative, or more efficient alternatives when they get stuck or new ways to solve problems that might yield an even greater result, we begin to equip our students for the adversity-rich, highly demanding world of work, where they will be rewarded mainly for how well they achieved their goals, not the how much sheer effort or drive they expended in their pursuit.

    Step Three: Grow Good GRIT

    Ever see that high achieving student whose classmates find him hard to be around or to work with? What about the ones who, the higher their marks, the lower their classmates’ desire to pay attention to their comments or be part of that student’s group project?

    We’ve all experienced the boss, colleague, or student who has plenty of GRIT but goes after goals in ways that hinder, even hurt others. Consider the powerful difference between Bad and Good GRIT. Bad GRIT happens when a person goes after goals in ways that are intentionally or unintentionally detrimental to others. Good GRIT is of course the opposite: its hallmark is pursuing goals in ways that take other people and their goals into consideration or working in teams in ways that allow all participants to benefit. Pretty much everyone I know, me included, has demonstrated Bad GRIT, despite the best of intentions. That’s pretty humbling.

    Good GRIT happens when we go after our goals in ways that are ultimately beneficial, and ideally elevating to those around us–this attitude is often described by none other than rock star  Bruce Springsteen as he ends his concerts: “Nobody wins unless everybody wins.”

    Teaching students the difference between Good and Bad GRIT is arguably one of the most potent and important lessons we can impart. Awakening them to the power and potential of Good GRIT is elemental to us graduating not just decent students, but good citizens.

    Long after they return their caps and gowns, it is the quality of our students’ GRIT that determines how they will navigate life’s ups and downs and what kind of mark they will make in their community, their workplace, and their world.


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  • The Networked University

    by Denis Hurley, Director of Future Technologies, Pearson

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    From tomorrow through Friday (31 Oct-3 Nov), you can visit Pearson’s booth (#401) at Educause to learn about how the student of the future may navigate her learning experiences through networked universities with the assistance of Pearson’s digital products and services.

    This scenario is based on The Networked University: Building Alliances for Innovation in Higher Education, written by Jeff Selingo, which imagines institutions of higher education strengthening their own offerings and improving learner outcomes through greater collaboration rather than competition.

    Pearson’s partnership with IBM Watson, our mixed reality applications created for Hololens, and our digital badging platform Acclaim are just a few of the ways we are empowering students to make the most of emerging technologies.

    Since its inception, the Future Technologies program at Pearson has explored many of these technologies while considering how our education systems can evolve. We continue to scan the horizon for new opportunities, and we are always learning.

    If you are unable to attend Educause, check out the video below and follow Olivia’s journey from discovery and enrollment through lifelong learning:

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  • Chirons will lead us out of the AI Technopanic (and you can be a chiron)

    by Denis Hurley, Director of Future Technologies, Pearson

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    Now more than ever, faster than ever, technology is driving change. The future is an unknown, and that scares us. However, we can overcome these fears and utilize these new technologies to better equip ourselves and steer us in a positive direction.

    Language evolves, and understanding these changes is crucial to learning how to communicate effectively. Like almost all change, it’s best to embrace it rather than try in vain to reject it.

    For example, it appears as though I’m on the losing side in the popular definition of the term “mixed reality.” Sorry, Mr. Milgram — I’ve given in.


    A technopanic is extreme fear of new technology and the changes that they may bring. Consider the Luddites, who destroyed machinery in the early 19th century. The only constant is change, so they had little success slowing down the Industrial Revolution. In recent history, think of Y2K. This was a little different because we feared that new technology had been embraced without our full understanding of the consequences. Of course, we proceeded into the new millennium without our computer systems plunging civilization back into the Dark Ages.

    Last year, the BBC compiled a list of some of history’s greatest technopanics. One of my favorites was the fear that telephone lines would be used by evil spirits as a means of entry into unsuspecting humans who were just trying to walk grandma through how to use her new light bulbs.

    Our current technopanic is about artificial intelligence and robotics. I am not saying this fear is unreasonable. We don’t know how this will play out, and it appears as though many jobs will no longer be necessary in the near future. However, expending too much energy on fear is not productive, and the most dire outcomes are unlikely. The Guardian produced this clever and amusing short about artificial intelligence:

    Working with New Technology

    The Replacements

    Narrow artificial intelligence is now prevalent, which means programs are better than humans at performing specific tasks. Perhaps the most famous example is IBM’s Deep Blue defeating Garry Kasparov, the world champion of chess at the time — in 1997. Today, complex algorithms outperform humans at driving and analyzing lab results, among many other things.

    Robots, which are stronger, larger (or smaller), and do not get bored or sick or go on strike, have been replacing humans for hundreds of years. They can fly and work through the night for days on end or longer.

    Can Humans Compete?

    Spending too much energy on searching for an answer to this question is a waste of time. We should not see progress as a competitor or as an enemy. These are tools we can use.

    Augmenting Ourselves

    Cyborgs: For many people, this is the word that will come to mind when reading the phrase above above it. While the word makes us think think of science fiction, we have been implanting devices in our bodies for decades. But we can now control artificial limbs directly from our brains, bypassing the spinal cord.

    More “extreme” cyborgs do exist, such as Neil Harbisson, who can hear colors via an antenna implanted in his skull. Transhumanists aim to overcome human limitations through science and technology.

    Becoming a cyborg is not practical, desirable, or even feasible for many of you. It’s also not necessary.

    Cobots: A cobot is a robot designed to work interactively with a human in a shared workspace. Lately, some people have been using the word to refer to the human who works with robots or to the unified entity itself.

    I don’t think the new definition of this word is useful. When referring to a specific type of robot, it has practical use.

    Centaurs: After Kasparov lost to Deep Blue, he understood the potential of humans working with machines. He created a new form of chess called “centaur chess” or “freestyle chess.” Teams can consist of all humans, all algorithms, or a combination (a centaur). The champion has almost always been a centaur. Kasparov saw the value of combining what humans do best with what machines do best.

    We Should Strive to Be Chirons

    In Greek mythology, centaurs tended to be unruly, amoral, and violent. When considering a blend of human abilities and machine abilities, a potential outcome is losing our sense of humanity.

    Chiron was a sensitive and refined centaur in Greek mythology. He taught and nurtured youth, most notably, Achilles.

    In the context of maintaining sanity through this technopanic and, more generally, coping with technological change, Chiron embodies the centaur we should aspire to.

    In regard to how we should manage technology-induced fear (reaction, interaction, and creative acceptance), this would be the third stage. We all need to strive to be chirons. For our own sake, this is critical to lifelong learning. For the sake of our youth, we need to be able to demonstrate constructive and responsible use of technology.

    At Educause 2017, we will explore how new technologies can impact the future of higher education and student success. Discover opportunities to engage with Pearson at the conference and drive these critical conversations.


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  • Is ed tech really working? 5 core tenets to rethink how we buy, use, and measure new tools

    by Todd Bloom, David Deschryver, Pam Moran, Chrisandra Richardson, Joseph South, Katrina Stevens

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    This is the fifth in a series of essays surrounding the EdTech Efficacy Research Symposium, a gathering of 275 researchers, teachers, entrepreneurs, professors, administrators, and philanthropists to discuss the role efficacy research should play in guiding the development and implementation of education technologies. This series was produced in partnership with Pearson, a co-sponsor of the symposium co-hosted by the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, Digital Promise, and the Jefferson Education Accelerator. Click through to read the firstsecondthird, and fourth pieces.

    Education technology plays an essential role in our schools today. Whether the technology supports instructional intervention, personalized learning, or school administration, the successful application of that technology can dramatically improve productivity and student learning.

    That said, too many school leaders lack the support they need to ensure that educational technology investment and related activities, strategies, or interventions are evidence-based and effective. This gap between opportunity and capacity is undermining the ability of school leaders to move the needle on educational equity and to execute on the goals of today’s K-16 policies. The education community needs to clearly understand this gap and take some immediate steps to close it.

    The time is ripe

    The new federal K-12 law, the Every Students Succeeds Act, elevates the importance of evidence-based practices in school purchasing and implementation practices. The use of the state’s allocation for school support and improvement illustrates the point. Schools that receive these funds must invest only in activities, strategies, or interventions that demonstrate a statistically significant effect on improving student outcomes or other relevant outcomes.

    That determination must rely on research that is well designed and well implemented, as defined in the law. And once implementation begins, the U.S. Department of Education asks schools to focus on continuous improvement by collecting information about the implementation and making necessary changes to advance the goals of equity and educational opportunity for at-risk students. The law, in short, links compliance with evidence-based procurement and implementation that is guided by continuous improvement.

    New instructional models in higher education rely on evidence-based practices if they are to take root. School leaders are under intense pressure to find ways to make programs more affordable, student-centered, and valuable to a rapidly changing labor market. Competency-based education (the unbundling of certificates and degrees into discrete skills and competencies) is one of the better-known responses to the challenge, but the model will likely stay experimental until there is more evidence of success.

    “We are still just beginning to understand CBE,” Southern New Hampshire University President Paul LeBlanc said. “Project-based learning, authentic learning, well-done assessment rubrics — those are all good efforts, but do we have the evidence to pass muster with a real assessment expert? Almost none of higher ed would.”

    It is easy to forget that the abundance of educational technology is a relatively new thing for schools and higher ed institutions. Back in the early 2000s, the question was how to make new educational technologies viable instructional and management tools. Education data was largely just a lagging measure used for school accountability and reporting.

    Today, the data can provide strong, real-time signals that advance productivity through, for example, predictive analytics, personalized learning, curriculum curating and delivery, and enabling the direct investigation into educational practices that work in specific contexts. The challenge is how to control and channel the deluge of bytes and information streaming from the estimated $25.4 billion K-16 education technology industry.

    “It’s [now] too easy to go to a conference and load up at the buffet of innovations. That’s something we try hard not to do,” said Chad Ratliff, director of instructional programs for Virginia’s Albemarle County Schools. The information has to be filtered and vetted, which takes time and expertise.

    Improving educational equity is the focus of ESSA, the Higher Education Act, and a key reason many school leaders chose to work in education. Moving the needle increasingly relies on evidence-based practices. As the Aspen Institute and Council of Chief State School Officers point out in a recent report, equity means — at the very least — that “every student has access to the resources and educational rigor they need at the right moment in their education despite race, gender, ethnicity, language, disability, family background, or family income.”

    Embedded in this is the presumption that the activities, strategies, or interventions actually work for the populations they intend to benefit.

    Educators cannot afford to invest in ineffective activities. At the federal K-12 level, President Donald Trump is proposing that, next year, Congress cut spending for the Education Department and eliminate many programs, including $2.3 billion for professional development programs, $1.2 billion for after-school funds, and the new Title IV grant that explicitly supports evidence-based and effective technology practices in our schools.

    Higher education is also in a tight spot. The president seeks to cut spending in half for Federal Work-Study programs, eliminate Supplemental Educational Opportunity grants, and take nearly $4 million from the Pell Grant surplus for other government spending. At the same time, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is reviewing all programs to explore which can be eliminated, reduced, consolidated, or privatized.

    These proposed cuts and reductions increase the urgency for school leaders to tell better stories about the ways they use the funds to improve educational opportunities and learning outcomes. And these stories are more compelling (and protected from budget politics) when they are built upon evidence.

    Too few resources

    While this is a critical time for evidence-based and effective program practices, here is the rub: The education sector is just beginning to build out this body of knowledge, so school leaders are often forging ahead without the kind of guidance and research they need to succeed.

    The challenges are significant and evident throughout the education technology life cycle. For example, it is clear that evidence should influence procurement standards, but that is rarely the case. The issue of “procurement standards” is linked to cost thresholds and related competitive and transparent bidding requirements. It is seldom connected with measures of prior success and research related to implementation and program efficacy. Those types of standards are foreign to most state and local educational agencies, left to “innovative” educational agencies and organizations, like Digital Promise’s League of Innovative Schools, to explore.

    Once the trials of implementation begin, school leaders and their vendors typically act without clear models of success and in isolation. There just are not good data on efficacy for most products and implementation practices, which means that leaders cannot avail themselves of models of success and networks of practical experience. Some schools and institutions with the financial wherewithal, like Virginia’s Albemarle and Fairfax County Public Schools, have created their own research process to produce their own evidence.

    In Albemarle, for example, learning technology staff test-bed solutions to instructional and enterprise needs. Staff spend time observing students and staff using new devices and cloud-based services. They seek feedback and performance data from both teachers and students in response to questions about the efficacy of the solution. They will begin with questions like “If a service is designed to support literacy development, what variable are we attempting to affect? What information do we need to validate significant impact?” Yet, like the “innovators” of procurement standards, these are the exceptions to the rule.

    And as schools make headway and immerse themselves in new technologies and services, the bytes of data and useful information multiply, but the time and capacity necessary to make them useful remains scarce. Most schools are not like Fairfax and Albemarle counties. They do not have the staff and experts required to parse the data and uncover meaningful insights into what’s working and what’s not. That kind of work and expertise isn’t something that can be simply layered onto existing responsibilities without overloading and possibly burning out staff.

    “Many schools will have clear goals, a well-defined action plan that includes professional learning opportunities, mentoring, and a monitoring timeline,” said Chrisandra Richardson, a former associate superintendent for Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland. “But too few schools know how to exercise a continuous improvement mindset, how to continuously ask: ‘Are we doing what we said we would do — and how do we course-correct if we are not?’ ”

    Immediate next steps

    So what needs to be done? Here are five specific issues that the education community (philanthropies, universities, vendors, and agencies) should rally around.

    • Set common standards for procurement. If every leader must reinvent the wheel when it comes to identifying key elements of the technology evaluation rubric, we will ensure we make little progress — and do so slowly. The sector should collectively secure consensus on the baseline procurement standards for evidence-based and research practices and provide them to leaders through free or open-source evaluative rubrics or “look fors” they can easily access and employ.
    • Make evidence-based practice a core skill for school leadership. Every few years, leaders in the field try to pin down exactly what core competencies every school leader should possess (or endeavor to develop). If we are to achieve a field in which leaders know what evidence-based decision-making looks like, we must incorporate it into professional standards and include it among our evaluative criteria.
    • Find and elevate exemplars. As Charles Duhigg points out in his recent best seller Smarter Faster Better, productive and effective people do their work with clear and frequently rehearsed mental models of how something should work. Without them, decision-making can become unmoored, wasteful, and sometimes even dangerous. Our school leaders need to know what successful evidence-based practices look like. We cannot anticipate that leader or educator training will incorporate good decision-making strategies around education technologies in the immediate future, so we should find alternative ways of showcasing these models.
    • Define “best practice” in technology evaluation and adoption. Rather than force every school leader to develop and struggle to find funds to support their own processes, we can develop models that can alleviate the need for schools to develop and invest in their own research and evidence departments. Not all school districts enjoy resources to investigate their own tools, but different contexts demand differing considerations. Best practices help leaders navigate variation within the confines of their resources. The Ed Tech RCE Coach is one example of a set of free, open-source tools available to help schools embed best practices in their decision-making.
    • Promote continuous evaluation and improvement. Decisions, even the best ones, have a shelf life. They may seem appropriate until evidence proves otherwise. But without a process to gather information and assess decision-making efficacy, it’s difficult to learn from any decisions (good or bad). Together, we should promote school practices that embrace continuous research and improvement practices within and across financial and program divisions to increase the likelihood of finding and keeping the best technologies.

    The urgency to learn about and apply evidence to buying, using, and measuring success with ed tech is pressing, but the resources and protocols they need to make it happen are scarce. These are conditions that position our school leaders for failure — unless the education community and its stakeholders get together to take some immediate actions.

    This series is produced in partnership with Pearson. The 74 originally published this article on September 11th, 2017, and it was re-posted here with permission.

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  • Communicate often and better: How to make education research more meaningful

    by Jay Lynch, PhD and Nathan Martin, Pearson

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    Question: What do we learn from a study that shows a technique or technology likely has affected an educational outcome?

    Answer: Not nearly enough.

    Despite widespread criticism, the field of education research continues to emphasize statistical significance—rejecting the conclusion that chance is a plausible explanation for an observed effect—while largely neglecting questions of precision and practical importance. Sure, a study may show that an intervention likely has an effect on learning, but so what? Even researchers’ recent efforts to estimate the size of an effect don’t answer key questions. What is the real-world impact on learners? How precisely is the effect estimated? Is the effect credible and reliable?

    Yet it’s the practical significance of research findings that educators, administrators, parents and students really care about when it comes to evaluating educational interventions. This has led to what Russ Whitehurst has called a “mismatch between what education decision makers want from the education research and what the education research community is providing.”

    Unfortunately, education researchers are not expected to interpret the practical significance of their findings or acknowledge the often embarrassingly large degree of uncertainty associated with their observations. So, education research literature is filled with results that are almost always statistically significant but rarely informative.

    Early evidence suggests that many edtech companies are following the same path. But we believe that they have the opportunity to change course and adopt more meaningful ways of interpreting and communicating research that will provide education decision makers with the information they need to help learners succeed.

    Admitting What You Don’t Know

    For educational research to be more meaningful, researchers will have to acknowledge its limits. Although published research often projects a sense of objectivity and certainty about study findings, accepting subjectivity and uncertainty is a critical element of the scientific process.

    On the positive side, some researchers have begun to report what is known as standardized effect sizes, a calculation that helps compare outcomes in different groups on a common scale. But researchers rarely interpret the meaning of these figures. And the figures can be confusing. A ‘large’ effect actually may be quite small when compared to available alternatives or when factoring in the length of treatment, and a ‘small’ effect may be highly impactful because it is simple to implement or cumulative in nature.

    Confused? Imagine the plight of a teacher trying to decide what products to use, based on evidence—an issue of increased importance since the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) promotes the use of federal funds for certain programs, based upon evidence of effectiveness. The newly-launched Evidence for ESSA admirably tries to help support that process, complementing the What Works Clearinghouse and pointing to programs that have been deemed “effective.” But when that teacher starts comparing products, say Math in Focus (effect size: +0.18) and Pirate Math (effect size: +0.37), the best choice isn’t readily apparent.

    It’s also important to note that every intervention’s observed “effect” is associated with a quantifiable degree of uncertainty. By glossing over this fact, researchers risk promoting a false sense of precision and making it harder to craft useful data-driven solutions. While acknowledging uncertainty is likely to temper excitement about many research findings, in the end it will support more honest evaluations of an intervention’s likely effectiveness.

    Communicate Better, Not Just More

    In addition to faithfully describing the practical significance and uncertainty around a finding, there also is a need to clearly communicate information regarding research quality, in ways that are accessible to non-specialists. There has been a notable unwillingness in the broader educational research community to tackle the challenge of discriminating between high quality research and quackery for educators and other non-specialists. As such, there is a long overdue need for educational researchers to be forthcoming about the quality and reliability of interventions in ways that educational practitioners can understand and trust.

    Trust is the key. Whatever issues might surround the reporting of research results, educators are suspicious of people who have never been in the classroom. If a result or debunked academic fad (e.g. learning styles) doesn’t match their experience, they will be tempted to dismiss it. As education research becomes more rigorous, relevant, and understandable, we hope that trust will grow. Even simply categorizing research as either “replicated” or “unchallenged” would be a powerful initial filtering technique given the paucity of replication research in education. The alternative is to leave educators and policy-makers intellectually adrift, susceptible to whatever educational fad is popular at the moment.

    At the same time, we have to improve our understanding of how consumers of education research understand research claims. For instance, surveys reveal that even academic researchers commonly misinterpret the meaning of common concepts like statistical significance and confidence intervals. As a result, there is a pressing need to understand how those involved in education interpret (rightly or wrongly) common statistical ideas and decipher research claims.

    A Blueprint For Change

    So, how can the education technology community help address these issues?

    Despite the money and time spent conducting efficacy studies on their products, surveys reveal that research often plays a minor role in edtech consumer purchasing decisions. The opaqueness and perceived irrelevance of edtech research studies, which mirror the reporting conventions typically found in academia, no doubt contribute to this unfortunate fact. Educators and administrators rarely possess the research and statistical literacy to interpret the meaning and implications of research focused on claims of statistical significance and measuring indirect proxies for learning. This might help explain why even well-meaning educators fall victim to “learning myths.”

    And when nearly every edtech company is amassing troves of research studies, all ostensibly supporting the efficacy of their products (with the quality and reliability of this research varying widely), it is understandable that edtech consumers treat them all with equal incredulity.

    So, if the current edtech emphasis on efficacy is going to amount to more than a passing fad and avoid devolving into a costly marketing scheme, edtech companies might start by taking the following actions:

    • Edtech researchers should interpret the practical significance and uncertainty associated with their study findings. The researchers conducting an experiment are best qualified to answer interpretive questions around the real-world value of study findings and we should expect that they make an effort to do so.
    • As an industry, edtech needs to work toward adopting standardized ways to communicate the quality and strength of evidence as it relates to efficacy research. The What Works Clearinghouse has made important steps, but it is critical that relevant information is brought to the point of decision for educators. This work could resemble something like food labels for edtech products.
    • Researchers should increasingly use data visualizations to make complex findings more intuitive while making additional efforts to understand how non-specialists interpret and understand frequently reported statistical ideas.
    • Finally, researchers should employ direct measures of learning whenever possible rather than relying on misleading proxies (e.g., grades or student perceptions of learning) to ensure that the findings reflect what educators really care about. This also includes using validated assessments and focusing on long-term learning gains rather than short-term performance improvement.

    This series is produced in partnership with Pearson. EdSurge originally published this article on April 1, 2017, and it was re-posted here with permission.


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  • Technical & human problems with anthropomorphism & technopomorphism

    by Denis Hurley, Director of Future Technologies, Pearson

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    Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human traits, emotions, and intentions to non-human entities (OED). It has been used in storytelling from Aesop to Zootopia, and people debate its impact on how we view gods in religion and animals in the wild. This is out of scope for this short piece.

    When it comes to technology, anthropomorphism is certainly more problematic than it is useful. Here are three examples:

    1. Consider how artificial intelligence is described like a human brain, which is not how AI works. This results in people misunderstanding its potential uses, attempting to apply it in inappropriate ways, and failing to consider applications where it could provide more value. Ines Montani has written an excellent summary on AI’s PR problem.
    2. More importantly, anthropomorphism contributes to our fear of progress, which often leads to full-blown technopanics. We are currently in a technopanic brought about by the explosion of development in automation and data science. Physically, these machines are often depicted as bipedal killing machines, which is not even the most effective form of mobility for a killing machine. Regarding intent, superintelligent machines are thought of as a threat not just to employment but our survival as a species. This assumes that these machines will treat homo sapiens similar to how homo sapiens have treated other species on this planet.
    3. Pearson colleague Paul Del Signore asked via Twitter, “Would you say making AI speak more human-like is a successful form of anthropomorphism?” This brings to mind a third major problem with anthropomorphism: the uncanny valley. While adding humanlike interactions can contribute to good UX, too much (but not quite enough) similarity to a human can result in frustration, discomfort, and even revulsion.

    Historically, we have used technology to achieve both selfish and altruistic goals. Overwhelmingly, however, technology has helped us reach a point in human civilization in which we are the most peaceful and healthy in history. In order to continue on this path, we must design machines to function in ways that utilize their best machine-like abilities.

    Technopomorphism is the attribution of technological characteristics to human traits, emotions, intentions, or biological functions. Think of how people may describe a thought process like cogs in a machine or someone’s capacity for work may be described with bandwidth.

    A Google search for the term “technopomorphism” only returns 40 results, and it is not listed in any online dictionary. However, I think the term is useful because it helps us to be mindful of our difference from machines.

    It’s natural for humans to use imagery that we do understand to try to describe things we don’t yet understand, like consciousness. Combined with our innate fear of dying, we imagine ways of deconstructing and reconstructing ourselves as immortal or as one with technology (singularity). This is problematic for at least two reasons:

    1. It restricts the ways in which we may understand new discoveries about ourselves to very limited forms.
    2. It often leads to teaching and training humans to function as machines, which is not the best use of our potential as humans.

    It is increasingly important that we understand how humans can best work with technology for the sake learning. In the age of exponential technologies, that which makes us most human will be most highly valued for employment and is often used for personal enrichment.

    There may be some similarities, but we’re not machines. At least, not yet. In the meantime, I advocate for “centaur mentality.”


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  • Can Edtech support - and even save - educational research?

    by Jay Lynch, PhD and Nathan Martin, Pearson

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    There is a crisis engulfing the social sciences. What was thought to be known about psychology—based on published results and research—is being called into question by new findings and the efforts of individual groups like the Reproducibility Project. What we know is under question and so is how we come to know. Long institutionalized practices of scientific inquiry in the social sciences are being actively questioned, proposals put forth for needed reforms.

    While the fields of academia burn with this discussion, education results have remained largely untouched. But education is not immune to problems endemic in fields like psychology and medicine. In fact, there’s a strong case that the problems emerging in other fields are even worse in educational research. External or internal critical scrutiny has been lacking. A recent review of the top 100 education journals found that only 0.13% of published articles were replication studies. Education waits for its own crusading Brian Nosek to disrupt the canon of findings. Winter is coming.

    This should not be breaking news. Education research has long been criticized for its inability to generate a reliable and impactful evidence base. It has been derided for problematic statistical and methodological practices that hinder knowledge accumulation and encourage the adoption of unproven interventions. For its failure to communicate the uncertainty and relevance associated with research findings, like Value-Added Measures for teachers, in ways that practitioners can understand. And for struggling to impact educational habits (at least in the US) and how we develop, buy, and learn from (see Mike Petrilli’s summation) the best practices and tools.

    Unfortunately, decades of withering criticism have done little to change the methods and incentives of educational research in ways necessary to improve the reliability and usefulness of findings. The research community appears to be in no rush to alter its well-trodden path—even if the path is one of continued irrelevance. Something must change if educational research is to meaningfully impact teaching and learning. Yet history suggests the impetus for this change is unlikely to originate from within academia.

    Can edtech improve the quality and usefulness of educational research? We may be biased (as colleagues at a large and scrutinized edtech company), but we aren’t naïve. We know it might sound farcical to suggest technology companies may play a critical role in improving the quality of education research, given almost weekly revelations about corporations engaging in concerted efforts to distort and shape research results to fit their interests. It’s shocking to read efforts to warp public perception on the effects of sugar on heart disease or the effectiveness of antidepressants. It would be foolish not to view research conducted or paid for by corporations with a healthy degree of skepticism.

    Yet we believe there are signs of promise. The last few years has seen a movement of companies seeking to research and report on the efficacy of educational products. The movement benefited from the leadership of the Office of Education Technology, the Gates FoundationLearning AssemblyDigital Promise and countless others. Our own company has been on this road since 2013. (It’s not been easy!)

    These efforts represent opportunities to foment long-needed improvements in the practice of education research. A chance to redress education research’s most glaring weakness: its historical inability to appreciably impact the everyday activities of learning and teaching.

    Incentives for edtech companies to adopt better research practices already exist and there is early evidence of openness to change. Edtech companies possess a number of crucial advantages when it comes to conducting the types of research education desperately needs, including:

    • access to growing troves of digital learning data;
    • close partnerships with institutions, faculty, and students;
    • the resources necessary to conduct large and representative intervention studies;
    • in-house expertise in the diverse specialties (e.g., computer scientists, statisticians, research methodologists, educational psychologists, UX researchers, instructional designers, ed policy experts, etc.) that must increasingly collaborate to carry out more informative research;
    • a research audience consisting primarily of educators, students, and other non-specialists

    The real worry with edtech companies’ nascent efforts to conduct efficacy research is not that they will fail to conduct research with the same quality and objectivity typical of most educational research, but that they will fall into the same traps that currently plague such efforts. Rather than looking for what would be best for teachers and learners, entrepreneurs may focus on the wrong measures (p-values, for instance) that obfuscate people rather than enlighten them.

    If this growing edtech movement repeats the follies of the current paradigm of educational research, it will fail to seize the moment to adopt reforms that can significantly aid our efforts to understand how best to help people teach and learn. And we will miss an important opportunity to enact systemic changes in research practice across the edtech industry with the hope that academia follows suit.

    Our goal over the next three articles is to hold a mirror up, highlighting several crucial shortcomings of educational research. These institutionalized practices significantly limit its impact and informativeness.

    We argue that edtech is uniquely incentivized and positioned to realize long-needed research improvements through its efficacy efforts.

    Independent education research is a critical part of the learning world, but it needs improvement. It needs a new role model, its own George Washington Carver, a figure willing to test theories in the field, learn from them, and then to communicate them to back to practitioners. In particular, we will be focusing on three key ideas:

    Why ‘What Works’ Doesn’t: Education research needs to move beyond simply evaluating whether or not an effect exists; that is, whether an educational intervention ‘works’. The ubiquitous use of null hypothesis significance testing in educational research is an epistemic dead end. Instead, education researchers need to adopt more creative and flexible methods of data analysis, focus on identifying and explaining important variations hidden under mean scores, and devote themselves to developing robust theories capable of generating testable predictions that are refined and improved over time.

    Desperately Seeking Relevance: Education researchers are rarely expected to interpret the practical significance of their findings or report results in ways that are understandable to non-specialists making decisions based on their work. Although there has been progress in encouraging researchers to report standardized mean differences and correlation coefficients (i.e., effect sizes), this is not enough. In addition, researchers need to clearly communicate the importance of study findings within the context of alternative options and in relation to concrete benchmarks, openly acknowledge uncertainty and variation in their results, and refuse to be content measuring misleading proxies for what really matters.

    Embracing the Milieu: For research to meaningfully impact teaching and learning, it will need to expand beyond an emphasis on controlled intervention studies and prioritize the messy, real-life conditions facing teachers and students. More energy must be devoted to the creative and problem-solving work of translating research into useful and practical tools for practitioners, an intermediary function explicitly focused on inventing, exploring, and implementing research-based solutions that are responsive the needs and constraints of everyday teaching.

    Ultimately education research is about more than just publication. It’s about improving the lives of students and teachers. We don’t claim to have the complete answers but, as we expand these key principles over coming weeks, we want to offer steps edtech companies can take to improve the quality and value of educational research. These are things we’ve learned and things we are still learning.

    This series is produced in partnership with Pearson. EdSurge originally published this article on January 6, 2017, and it was re-posted here with permission.


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  • Learning through both physical and virtual discovery

    by Denis Hurley, Director of Future Technologies, Pearson

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    This morning, I read Bill McKibben’s “Pause! We Can Go Back!,” a review of David Sax’s The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter. My friend and mentor of twenty years, the filmmaker Jill Godmilow, emailed it to me. I immediately thought of Delicate Steve’s interview with Bob Boilen on “All Songs Considered,” and then I mentally time-traveled to 2011…

    I was in Austin in 2011 for SXSW, learning from other startups, networking, and promoting my own digital products. The interactive component of the conference ended with a “surprise” performance at the enormous Stubb’s BBQ concert venue. I reluctantly waited in line with hundreds of others, hopeful to hear something like LCD Soundsystem, who had appeared in a previous year. Once we were all inside, The Foo Fighters took the stage. Considered by many to be “the last great American rock band,” they’re just not my thing. A traveling companion saw the boredom on my face and asked, “Do you want to hear something different?”

    6th Street was dead for the first time all week (nearly all the conference attendees were at Stubb’s), and we popped into a small bar where about ten other patrons huddled near a wiry young man on a small stage. Delicate Steve began to play The Ballad of Speck and Pebble. My brain lit up. It was one of the most inspiring live performances I’ve ever heard.

    In my kitchen, six years later, while I was making applesauce with my earbuds in, Slate’s “Political Gabfest” ended, and Mr. Boilen’s voice came on to introduce Steve Marion, aka Delicate Steve, on “All Songs Considered.” Marion talked about being a “Napster kid” as well as how he was inspired to play music after his grandmother gave him a toy guitar.

    He dove into the rabbit holes of discovery that were available via the Internet to a kid living in northwestern New Jersey. Driven by curiosity and play, using the physical and virtual tools available to him, he began to create. Last year, he played slide guitar on Paul Simon’s new album, and next week, he’ll be at The Bowery Ballroom in New York City.

    In McKibbon’s review in The New York Review of Books, he comments, “Spotify’s playlists show people picking the same tunes over and over.” I believe the same was true when analogue music dominated. Virgin Megastore promoted the latest big release from one of the giant record labels.

    The difference now is that more tools — virtual and physical — are now available to us. How we use them is up to us. We need to ensure that everyone, especially young people are aware of them all and how to use them properly for discovery. Dig deep into that artists’s archive on Spotify. Flip through those old records on Bleeker Street.

    In the late 1990’s, Jill Godmilow taught me how to edit film and sound by hand while I was a student at The University of Notre Dame. I used an 8-plate Steenbeck. It was a lot of work to cut a film like that, but it helped me understand the value of a frame: 1/24 of a second.

    Now I have a child, and I try to help her understand how things work by making mechanical object available to her. She’ll pick up the hand-made kaleidoscope I brought back from London, or crank the Kikkerland music box to hear “Waltzing Matilda.” Together, we play both Minecraft and Clue. Her favorite Christmas present last month was a record player. She chooses to put on the Taylor Swift record “Red” over and over and over again. She also explores Minecraft videos made by other kids all over the world.

    Some of these interaction blend the virtual and the physical, like using the Osmo pizza game, learning math while playing, or programming Dash to wheel around the apartment, learning problem-solving.

    We can foster creativity and encourage exploration using whatever tools we have available to us. I am not advocating constant barrage of entertainment or toys — there is also value in escaping into a book or a tent in the woods — but new, digital tools are not necessarily a bad thing, and to many, they offer ways to learn and build, expanding their minds and enriching our culture.

    Explore, be weird, enjoy what you do, learn through what you enjoy. But do be careful not to lose yourself entirely into the virtual world. The physical world offers a nearly limitless amount of new experiences and adventures. These are thrilling to us because of our human nature, and even as we learn how to embrace the digital to a greater extent, we should do so to enrich our lives, not in an attempt to replace something that doesn’t need replacing.

    I will always be grateful to Jill Godmilow for showing me how to analyze the finest moving parts to a completed whole, which I often have to do in a purely digital format, where the individual elements are not so apparent. I appreciate the music from Delicate Steve, meticulously constructed with his mind and fingers through a medley of neuron-firings, Google searches, and guitar riffs.

    I am thankful that my daughter wonders at our Remington typewriter and miniature carousel, watches the interlocking pieces, and reconstructs some of these relationships with blocks on her iPad, with dominos on the table, and with her friends in the schoolyard.


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  • Why 'what works' doesn't: False positives in education research

    by Jay Lynch, PhD and Nathan Martin, Pearson

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    If edtech is to help improve education research it will need to kick a bad habit—focusing on whether or not an educational intervention ‘works’.

    Answering that question through null hypothesis significance testing (NHST), which explores whether an intervention or product has an effect on the average outcome, undermines the ability to make sustained progress in helping students learn. It provides little useful information and fails miserably as a method for accumulating knowledge about learning and teaching. For the sake of efficiency and learning gains, edtech companies need to understand the limits of this practice and adopt a more progressive research agenda that yields actionable data on which to build useful products.

    How does NHST look in action? A typical research question in education might be whether average test scores differ for students who use a new math game and those who don’t. Applying NHST, a researcher would assess whether a positive—i.e. non-zero—difference in scores is significant enough to conclude that the game has had an impact, or, in other words, that it ‘works’. Left unanswered is why and for whom.

    This approach pervades education research. It is reflected in the U.S. government-supported initiative to aggregate and evaluate educational research, aptly named the What Works Clearinghouse, and frequently serves as a litmus test for publication worthiness in education journals. Yet it has been subjected to scathing criticism almost since its inception, criticism that centers on two issues.

    False Positives And Other Pitfalls

    First, obtaining statistical evidence of an effect is shockingly easy in experimental research. One of the emerging realizations from the current crisis in psychology is that rather than serving as a responsible gatekeeper ensuring the trustworthiness of published findings, reliance on statistical significance has had the opposite effect of creating a literature filled with false positives, overestimated effect sizes, and grossly underpowered research designs.

    Assuming a proposed intervention involves students doing virtually anything more cognitively challenging than passively listening to lecturing-as-usual (the typical straw man control in education research), then a researcher is very likely to find a positive difference as long as the sample size is large enough. Showing that an educational intervention has a positive effect is quite a feeble hurdle to overcome. It isn’t at all shocking, therefore, that in education almost everything seems to work.

    But even if these methodological concerns with NHST were addressed, there is a second serious flaw undermining the NHST framework upon which most experimental educational research rests.

    Null hypothesis significance testing is an epistemic dead end. It obviates the need for researchers to put forward testable models of theories to predict and explain the effects that interventions have. In fact, the only hypothesis evaluated within the framework of NHST is a caricature, a hypothesis the researcher doesn’t believe—which is that an intervention has zero effect. A researcher’s own hypothesis is never directly tested. And yet with almost universal aplomb, education researchers falsely conclude that a rejection of the null hypothesis counts as strong evidence in favor of their preferred theory.

    As a result, NHST encourages and preserves hypotheses so vague, so lacking in predictive power and theoretical content, as to be nearly useless. As researchers in psychology are realizing, even well-regarded theories, ostensibly supported by hundreds of randomized controlled experiments, can start to evaporate under scrutiny because reliance on null hypothesis significance testing means a theory is never really tested at all. As long as educational research continues to rely on testing the null hypothesis of no difference as a universal foil for establishing whether an intervention or product ‘works,’ it will fail to improve our understanding of how to help students learn.

    As analysts Michael Horn and Julia Freeland have noted, this dominant paradigm of educational research is woefully incomplete and must change if we are going make progress in our understanding of how to help students learn:

    “An effective research agenda moves beyond merely identifying correlations of what works on average to articulate and test theories about how and why certain educational interventions work in different circumstances for different students.”

    Yet for academic researchers concerned primarily with producing publishable evidence of interventions that ‘work,’ the vapid nature of NHST has not been recognized as a serious issue. And because the NHST approach to educational research is relatively straightforward and safe to conduct (researchers have an excellent chance of getting the answer they want), a quick perusal of the efficacy pages at leading edtech companies shows that it holds as the dominant paradigm in edtech.

    Are there, however, reasons to think edtech companies might be incentivized to abandon the current NHST paradigm? We think there are.

    What About The Data You’re Not Capturing?

    Consider a product owner at an edtech company. Although evidence that an educational product has a positive effect is great for producing compelling marketing brochures, it provides little information regarding why a product works, how well it works in different circumstances, or really any guidance for how to make it more effective.

    • Are some product features useful and others not? Are some features actually detrimental to learners but masked by more effective elements?
    • Is the product more or less effective for different types of learners or levels of prior expertise?
    • What elements should be added, left alone or removed in future versions of the product?

    Testing whether a product works doesn’t provide answers to these questions. In fact, despite all the time, money, and resources spent conducting experimental research, a company actually learns very little about their product’s efficacy when evaluated using NHST. There is minimal ability to build on research of this sort. So product research becomes a game of efficacy roulette, with the company just hoping that findings show a positive effect each time it spins the NHST wheel. Companies truly committed to innovation and improving the effectiveness of their products should find this a very bitter pill to swallow.

    A Blueprint For Change

    We suggest edtech companies can vastly improve both their own product research as well as our understanding of how to help students learn by modifying their approach to research in several ways.

    • Recognize the limited information NHST can provide. As the primary statistical framework for moving our understanding of learning and teaching forward, it is misapplied because it ultimately tells us nothing that we actually want to know. Furthermore, it contributes to the proliferation of spurious findings in education by encouraging questionable research practices and the reporting of overestimated intervention effects.
    • Instead of relying on NHST, edtech researchers should focus on putting forward theoretically informed predictions and then designing experiments to test them against meaningful alternatives. Rather than rejecting the uninteresting hypothesis of “no-difference,” the primary goal of edtech research should be to improve our understanding of the impact that interventions have, and the best way to do this is to compare models that compete to describe observations that arise from experimentation.
    • Rather than dichotomous judgments about whether an intervention works on average, greater evaluative emphasis should be devoted to exploring the impact of interventions across subsets of students and conditions. No intervention works equally well for every student and it’s the creative and imaginative work of trying to understand why and where an intervention fails or succeeds that is most valuable.

    Returning to our original example, rather than relying on NHST to evaluate a math game, a company will learn more by trying to improve its estimates and measurements of important variables, looking beneath group mean differences to explore why the game worked better or worse for sub-groups of students, and directly testing competing theoretical mechanisms proposed to explain the game’s influence on learner achievement. It is in this way that practical, problem-solving tools will develop and evolve to improve the lives of all learners.

    This series is produced in partnership with Pearson. EdSurge originally published this article on February 12, 2017, and it was re-posted here with permission.


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  • Analysis: For ed tech that actually works, embrace the science of learning

    by Kristen DiCerbo, Aubrey Francisco, Bror Saxberg, Melina Uncapher

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    This is the second in a series of essays surrounding the EdTech Efficacy Research Symposium, a gathering of 275 researchers, teachers, entrepreneurs, professors, administrators, and philanthropists to discuss the role efficacy research should play in guiding the development and implementation of education technologies. This series was produced in partnership with Pearson, a co-sponsor of the symposium co-hosted by the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, Digital Promise, and the Jefferson Education Accelerator. Read the first piece here.

    As education technology gains an increasing presence in American schools, the big question being asked is, “Does it work?”

    But as curricula and learning tools are prepared for rigorous evaluation, we should think about how existing research on teaching and learning have informed their design. Building a movement around research and impact must include advocating for products based on learning research. Otherwise, we are essentially taking a “wait and hope” strategy to development: wait until we have something built and hope it works.

    When we make a meal, we want to at least have a theory about what each ingredient we include will contribute to the overall meal. How much salt do we put in to flavor it perfectly? When do we add it in? Similarly, when creating a curriculum or technology tool, we should be thinking about how each element impacts and optimizes overall learning. For example, how much and when do we add in a review of already-learned material to ensure memory retention? For this, we can turn to learning science as a guide.

    We know a lot about how people learn. Our understanding comes from fields as varied as cognitive and educational psychology, motivational psychology, neuroscience, behavioral economics, and computer science. There are research findings that have been replicated repeatedly across dozens of studies. If we want to create educational technology tools that ultimately demonstrate efficacy, these learning science findings should serve as the foundation, integrating the insights from decades of research into how people learn and how teachers teach into product design from the beginning.

    Existing research on learning

    So what do we know about how people learn? You could turn to foundational texts like Clark and Mayer’s e-Learning and the Science of Instruction, Dan Schwartz’s The ABCs of How We Learn, and Hattie and Yates’s Visible Learning for detail. Or you could look to the excellent summaries compiled by Deans for ImpactLearningScientists.org, and Digital Promise Global.

    Here are a few examples:

    Spaced practice: We know that extending practice over time is better than cramming all practice into the few days before an exam. Spaced practice strengthens information retention and keeps it fresh over time, interrupting the “forgetting curve.” Implementing spaced practice could be as simple as planning out review time. Technology can help implement spaced practice in at least two ways: 1) prompting students to make their own study calendars and 2) proactively presenting already-learned information for periodic review.

    Retrieval practice: What should that practice look like? Rather than rereading or reading and highlighting, we know it is better for students to actually retrieve the information from memory because retrieving the information actually changes the nature of the memory for the information. It strengthens and solidifies the learning, as well as provides more paths to access the learning when you need it. Learners creating flashcards have known about this strategy for a long time. RetrievalPractice.org offers useful information and helpful applications building on this important principle. There is a potential danger point here for designers not familiar with learning literature. Since multiple-choice activities are easier to score with technology, it is tempting to create these kinds of easy questions for retrieval practice. However, learning will be stronger if students practice freely recalling the information rather than simply recognizing the answer from choices.

    Elaboration: Taking new information and expanding on it, linking it to other known information and personal experience, is another way to improve memory for new concepts. Linking new information to information that is already known can make it easy to recall later. In addition, simply expanding on information and explaining it in different ways can make retrieval easier. One way to practice this is to take main ideas and ask how they work and why. Another method is to have students draw or fill in concept maps, visually linking ideas and experiences together. There are a number of online tools that have been developed for creating concept maps, and current research is focusing on how to provide automated feedback on them.

    So how many educational technology products actually incorporate these known practices? How do they encourage students to engage in these activities in a systematic way?

    Existing research on instructional use of technology

    There is also significant research about how technology supports teaching practices, which should inform how a product is designed to be used in the classroom.

    For example, there is a solid research base on how to design activities that introduce new material prior to formal instruction. It suggests that students should initially be given a relatively difficult, open-ended problem that they are asked to solve. Students, of course, tend to struggle with this activity, with almost no students able to generate the “correct” approach. However, the effort students spend in this activity has been shown to build a better foundation for future instruction to build on as students have a better understanding of the problem to be solved (e.g., Wiedmann, Leach, Rummel & Wiley, 2012 Belenky & Nokes-Malach, 2012. It is clearly important that this type of activity be presented to students as a chance to explore and that failure is accepted, expected, and encouraged. In contrast, an activity meant to be part of practice following direct instruction would likely include more step-by-step feedback and hints. So, if someone wants to design activities to be used prior to instruction, they might 1) select a fundamental idea from a lesson, 2) create multiple cases for which students must find an all-encompassing rule, and 3) situate those cases in an engaging scenario.

    Schwartz of Stanford University tested this idea with students learning about ratios — without telling them they were learning about ratios. Three cases with different ratios were created based on the number of objects in a space. This was translated into the number of clowns in different-sized vehicles, and students were asked to develop a “crowded clowns index” to measure how crowded the clowns are in the vehicles. Students are not specifically told about ratios, but must uncover that concept themselves.

    Product developers should consider research like this when designing their ed tech tools, as well as when they’re devising professional development programs for educators who will use those technologies in the classroom.

    Product makers must consider these questions when designing ed tech: Will the activity the technology facilitates be done before direct instruction? Will it be core instruction? Will it be used to review? How much professional development needs to be provided to teachers to ensure the fidelity of implementation at scale?

    Too often, designers think there is a singular answer to this series of questions: “Yes.” But in trying to be everything, we are likely to end up being nothing. Existing research on instructional uses of technology can help developers choose the best approach and design for effective implementation.

    Going forward

    With this research as foundation, though, we still have to cook the dish and taste it. Ultimately, applying learning science at scale to real-world learning situations is an engineering activity. It may require repeated iterations and ongoing measurement to get the mix of ingredients “just right” for a given audience, or a given challenging learning outcome. We need to make sure to carefully understand and tweak our learning environments, using good piloting techniques to find out both whether our learners and teachers can actually execute what we intend as we intended it (Is the learning intervention usable? Are teachers and students able to implement it as intended?), and whether the intervention gives us the learning benefits we hoped for (effectiveness).

    The key is that research should be informing development from the very beginning of an idea for a product, and an evidence-based “learning engineering” orientation should continue to be used to monitor and iterate changes to optimize impact. If we are building from a foundation of research, we are greatly increasing the probability that, when we get to those iterated and controlled trials after the product is created, we will in fact see improvements over time in learning outcomes.

    Follow the conversation on social media with the hashtag #ShowTheEvidence.


    • Kristen DiCerbo, Vice President, Education Research, Pearson
    • Aubrey Francisco, Chief Research Officer, Digital Promise
    • Bror Saxberg, Chief Learning Officer, Kaplan
    • Melina Uncapher, Assistant Professor, Department of Neurology, UC San Francisco

    This series is produced in partnership with Pearson. The 74 originally published this article on June 5, 2017, and it was re-posted here with permission.

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  • #ShowTheEvidence: Building a movement around research, impact in ed tech

    by Aubrey Francisco, Bart Epstein, Gunnar Counselman, Katrina Stevens, Luyen Chou, Mahnaz Charania, Mark Grovic, Rahim Rajan, Robert Pianta, Rebecca Griffiths

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    This is the first in a series of essays surrounding the EdTech Efficacy Research Symposium, a gathering of 275 researchers, teachers, entrepreneurs, professors, administrators, and philanthropists to discuss the role efficacy research should play in guiding the development and implementation of education technologies. This series was produced in partnership with Pearson, a co-sponsor of the symposium co-hosted by the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, Digital Promise, and the Jefferson Education Accelerator.

    To improve education in America, we must improve how we develop and use education technology.

    Teachers and students are increasingly using digital tools and platforms to support learning inside and outside the classroom every day. There are 3.6 million teachers using ed tech, and approximately one in four college students take online courses — four times as many as a decade earlier. Technology will impact the 74 million children currently under the age of 18 as they progress through the pre-K–12 education system. The key question is: What can we do to make sure that the education technology being developed and deployed today fits the needs of 21st-century learners?

    Our teachers and students deserve high-quality tools that provide evidence of student learning, and that provide the right kind of evidence — evidence that can tell us whether the tool is influencing the intended learning outcomes.

    Evidence and efficacy can no longer be someone else’s problem to be solved at some uncertain point in the future. The stakes are too high. We all have a role to play in ensuring that the money spent in ed tech (estimated at $13.2 billion in 2016 for K-12) lives up to the promise of enabling more educators, schools, and colleges to genuinely improve outcomes for students and help close persistent equity gaps.

    Still, education is complex. Regardless of the quality of a learning tool, there will be no singular, foolproof ed tech solution that will work for every student and teacher across the nation. Context matters. Implementation matters. Technology will always only be one element of an instructional intervention, which will also include instructor practices, student experiences, and multiple other contextual factors.

    Figuring out what actually works and why it works requires intentional planning, dedicated professional development, thoughtful implementation, and appropriate evaluation. This all occurs within a context of inconsistent and shifting incentives and, in the U.S., involves a particularly complex ecosystem of stakeholders. And unfortunately, despite the deep and vested interest of improving the system, the current ecosystem is many times better at supporting the status quo than introducing a potentially better-suited learning tool.

    That’s the challenge to be taken up by the EdTech Efficacy Research Symposium in Washington, D.C., this week, and the work underway as part of the initiative convened by the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, Digital Promise, and the Jefferson Education Accelerator. People like us rarely have the opportunity to collaborate, but this issue is too important to go it alone.

    Over the past six months, 10 working groups consisting of approximately 150 people spent valuable hours together learning about the challenges associated with improving efficacy and exploring opportunities to address these challenges. We’ve looked at issues such as how ed tech decisions are made in K-12 and higher education, what philanthropy can do to encourage more evidence-based decision-making, as well as what will be necessary to make the focus on efficacy and transparency of outcomes core to how ed tech companies operate.

    Over the next six weeks, we’ll explore these themes here, sharing findings and recommendations from the working groups. Our hope is to stimulate not just discussion but also practical action and concrete progress.

    Action and progress might look like new ways to use research in decision-making such as informational site Evidence for ESSA or tools that make it easier for education researchers to connect with teachers, districts, and ed tech companies, like the forthcoming National Education Researcher Database. Collaboration is critical to improving how we use research in ed tech, but it’s not easy. Building a common framework takes time. Acting on that framework is harder.

    So, as a starting point, here are three broader issues that we’ve learned about efficacy and evidence from our work so far.

    Everyone wants research and implementation analysis done, but nobody wants to pay more for it

    We know it’s not realistic to expect that the adoption of each ed tech product or curricular innovation will be backed up by a randomized control trial.

    Investors are reticent to fund these studies, while schools or developers rarely want to pick up the price tag for expensive studies. When Richard Culatta and Katrina Stevens were still at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology, they pointed out that “it wouldn’t be economically feasible for most app creators (or schools) to spend $250k (a low price tag for traditional educational research) to evaluate the effectiveness of an app that only cost a total of $50k to build.”

    We could spend more efficiently, leveraging the 15,000 tiny pilots and decisions underway into new work and new insights without spending more money. This could look like a few well-designed initiatives to gather and share relevant information about implementations and efficacy. Critically, we’ll need to find a sustainability model for that type of rigorous evaluation to ensure this becomes a key feature in how adoption decisions are made.

    We need to recognize that evidence exists on a continuum

    Different types of evidence can support different purposes. What is important is that each decision is supported by an appropriate level of evidence. This guide by Mathematica provides a useful reference for educators on different evidence types and how they should be viewed. For educators, it would be wise to look at the scale and cost of the decision and determine the appropriate type of evidence.

    Tools like the Ed Tech Rapid Cycle Evaluation CoachLearn Platform, and Edustar can provide useful support in making decisions and evaluating the use of technology.

    It’s important to remember that researchers and philanthropists may use education research for different purposes than would a college, university system, or districts. Academic researchers may be looking to identify causal connections, learning gains, or retention rates, while a district is often focused on a specific context and implementation (what works for schools similar to mine).

    When possible, traditional randomized control trials provide useful information, but they’re often not affordable, feasible, or even necessarily appropriate. For example, many districts, schools, or colleges are not accustomed to or well versed in undertaking this type of research themselves.

    It’s easy to blame other actors for the current lack of evidence-driven decisions in education

    Everyone we spoke to agrees that decisions about ed tech should be made on the basis of merit and fit, not marketing or spin. But nearly everyone thinks that this problem is caused by other actors in the ecosystem, and this means that progress here will require hard work and coordination.

    For example, investors often don’t screen their investments for efficacy, nor do they promote their portfolio companies to necessarily undertake sufficient research. Not surprisingly, this tends to be because such research is costly and doesn’t necessarily drive market growth. It’s also because market demand is not driven by evidence. It’s simply not the case that selection choices for tools or technologies are most often driven by learning impact or efficacy research. That may be shifting slowly, but much more needs to be done.

    Entrepreneurs and organizations whose products are of the highest quality are frustrated that schools are too often swayed by their competitors’ flashy sales tactics. Researchers feel that their work is underappreciated and underutilized. Educators feel overwhelmed by volume and claims, and are frustrated by a lack of independent information and professional support. We have multiple moving pieces that must be brought together in order to improve our system.

    Ensuring that ed tech investments truly help close achievement gaps and expand student opportunity will require engagement and commitments from a disparate group of stakeholders to help invent a new normal so that our collective progress is directional and meaningful. To make progress on this, we must bring the conversation of efficacy and the use of evidence to center stage.

    That’s what we’re hoping to help continue with this symposium. We’ve learned much, but we know that the journey is just beginning. We can’t do it alone. Feel free to follow and join the conversation on Twitter with #ShowTheEvidence.


    • Aubrey Francisco, Chief Research Officer, Digital Promise
    • Bart Epstein, Founding CEO, Jefferson Education Accelerator
    • Gunnar Counselman, Chief Executive Officer, Fidelis Education
    • Katrina Stevens, former Deputy Director, Office of Educational Technology, U.S. Department of Education
    • Luyen Chou, Chief Product Officer, Pearson
    • Mahnaz Charania, Director, Strategic Planning and Evaluation, Fulton County Schools, Georgia
    • Mark Grovic, Co-Founder and General Partner, New Markets Venture Partners
    • Rahim Rajan, Senior Program Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
    • Robert Pianta, Dean, University of Virginia Curry School of Education
    • Rebecca Griffiths, Senior Researcher, Center for Technology in Learning, SRI International

    This series is produced in partnership with Pearson. The 74 originally published this article on May 1, 2017, and it was re-posted here with permission.

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  • 3 simple research-based ways to ace a test

    by John Sadauskas, PhD, Learning Capabilities Design Manager, Pearson

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    On top of the traditional challenges of balancing their classwork, part-/full-time jobs, extracurricular activities, and social lives, today’s higher education students also face the challenge of the ever-present information firehose that is the Internet. Every day, they receive a constant stream of emails, push notifications, instant messages, social media comments, and other digital content — all of which they can carry in their pockets, and more importantly, can interrupt whatever they’re doing at a moment’s notice.

    As a result, one major challenge for today’s students is to manage the ever-growing amount of information, communication, and priorities competing for their time and attention — especially when they need to study.

    We’ve been hearing from many students that when they do make time to sit down and study, they find it difficult to manage that time efficiently — particularly making decisions on what to study, when to study, how often to study it, and how long to study until they become confident enough in preparation for multiple upcoming exams.

    Fortunately, researchers have been investigating this problem for decades and have identified multiple methods for getting the most out of study sessions. Accordingly, here are some research-based best practices that students (or anyone else, for that matter) can use to boost their memorization skills.

    Memorization takes practice

    Every time you recall a piece of information (your mother’s birthday, a favorite meal at a restaurant, a key term’s definition for an exam) you retrieve it from the vast trove of knowledge that is your long-term memory. However, you’ve probably found that some pieces of information are easier to remember than others.

    You’re likely to recall your home address easily because you constantly need it when filling out online forms and ensuring Amazon knows where to ship your limited edition Chewbacca mask. On the other hand, it may not be as easy to recall a friend’s phone number because it’s stored in your contacts and you rarely need to actually dial the numbers.

    Unsurprisingly, researchers have found similar results to these — the more often people “practice” retrieving a certain piece of information, the easier it is for them to remember it. More importantly, scientists have demonstrated that getting yourself on a regular studying schedule can take advantage of this using what is called “spaced practice” — studying in short sessions spaced out over long periods of time. Essentially, spaced practice involves quizzing yourself and giving yourself many opportunities to practice pulling information out of your long-term memory — and doing it often over an extended period of time.

    Want to give spaced practice a try? Here are some key guidelines to ensure you’re getting the most out of it.

    Study early and daily

    One of the most important things to remember when using spaced practice is to give yourself enough lead time before an exam. Research has shown that in general, the earlier in advance students start studying and keep studying until an exam, the higher their scores.

    For example, if you have an exam in two weeks, you could begin studying for 20 minutes every day for those two weeks. That way, you’ll have many opportunities to practice retrieving the information, increasing the likelihood that you’ll remember it the day of the exam.

    In contrast, if you start studying only a few days before the exam, you’ll have fewer opportunities to practice retrieving the material, and are less likely to remember it. So while there isn’t a magic recipe to determine the exact moment to start studying based on the amount of material you need to remember, it’s clear that the earlier you start studying every day, the better.

    Short and sweet beats long and grueling

    Another key component to spaced practice is the length of the study session. While it is common for students to embark upon marathon, multi-hour study sessions, researchers have found that when using spaced practice, long study sessions are not necessarily more effective than short study sessions. In other words, committing to studying certain material every day for 30 minutes is likely just as effective as studying that same material for an hour every day.

    Now, this doesn’t mean we should all keep our study sessions as short as humanly possible and expect amazing results. Instead, it reinforces the concept of spaced practice. For instance, let’s say your goal is to memorize 15 definitions for a quiz, and you’re committed to practicing every day until that quiz. You sit down to practice each definition twice, which takes 30 minutes. (Remember, the aim of spaced practice is to retrieve a memory, and then leave a “space” of time before you retrieve it again.)

    Because your brain has already retrieved each definition twice in that sitting, you may not benefit much more from studying the same words for an additional 30 minutes and reviewing each definition a total of four times. In short, once you’ve started studying early and daily, make sure to practice each concept, definition or item a few times per session — but more than that in a single sitting is likely overkill.

    Don’t break the chain

    I’ve emphasized the importance of practicing daily quite a bit here, and there is also a scientific reason behind that. A solid spaced practice routine means we’re continually retrieving certain information and keeping it fresh in our minds. However, if we stop practicing before something is committed to our long term memories, we’ll eventually forget it. Scientists have charted out this phenomenon in what is referred to as “The Forgetting Curve.”

    The Forgetting Curve

    Source: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/cns-spectrums/article/play-it-again-the-master-psychopharmacology-program-as-an-example-of-interval-learning-in-bite-sized-portions/E279E18C8133549F94CDEE74C4AF9310#

    In the same way that continual practice with short spaces between each session helps us to remember information, scientists have found that our ability to remember something decreases over time if we don’t practice or use the information — which is what the steep downward slope of the Forgetting Curve is meant to illustrate. When we learn new information and are immediately asked to recall it, we’re likely to remember it (the very left side of the graph).

    However, from that moment on, the likelihood that we’ll remember decreases quickly and drastically unless we recall or use the memory again. If we do, then we can keep resetting or “recharging” that Forgetting Curve and keep remembering the information over time with daily practice.

    Herman Ebbinghaus and the forgetting curve

    Source: http://www.wranx.com/ebbinghaus-and-the-forgetting-curve/

    For example, if you took a foreign language in high school, it’s likely that being in class five days a week, doing homework and studying for the exams kept the language’s vocabulary words fresh in your mind. However, unless you have continual opportunities to practice speaking that language after high school, it’s likely that you won’t be able to recall words, phrases, and verb conjugations over time — unless you start practicing again.

    With this all in mind, if your goal is to remember something, the Forgetting Curve suggests that daily practice is key. Essentially, it’s “use it or lose it.”

    Start early, finish quickly, practice daily

    Although memorizing material for an exam (or multiple exams) can be intimidating, research on learning has given us a few key guidelines that have consistently demonstrated results:

    1. Start early. The earlier in advance you start studying daily for the exam, the better
    2. Finish quickly. Cover all of the material you need to remember in your daily session, but keep it short and sweet.
    3. Practice daily. Don’t break the daily studying chain.

    While today’s students may struggle with numerous competing priorities, incorporating these habits into their routines when they do sit down to study is sure to make their sessions much more efficient.



    Cepeda, N. J., Pashler, H., Vul, E., Wixted, J. T., & Rohrer, D. (2006). Distributed practice in verbal recall tasks: A review and quantitative synthesis. Psychological Bulletin, 132(3), 354–380.

    Ebbinghaus, H. (1964). Memory: A contribution to experimental psychology (H. A. Ruger, C. E. Bussenius, & E. R. Hilgard, Trans.). New York: Dover Publications. (Original work published 1885)

    Nathan, M. J., & Sawyer, R. K. (2014). Foundations of the Learning Sciences. In R. K. Sawyer (Ed.) Cambridge Handbook of The Learning Sciences. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Pavlik, P. I., & Anderson, J. R. (2005). Practice and forgetting effects on vocabulary memory: An activation-based model of the spacing effect. Cognitive Science, 29(4), 559-586.

    Rohrer, D., Taylor, K., Pashler, H., Wixted, J. T., & Cepeda, N. J. (2005). The effect of overlearning on long-term retention. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 19(3), 361–374.

    Stahl, S. M., Davis, R. L., Kim, D. H., Lowe, N. G., Carlson, R. E., Fountain, K., & Grady, M. M. (2010). Play it Again: The Master Psychopharmacology Program as an Example of Interval Learning in Bite-Sized Portions. CNS Spectrums, 15(8), 491–504.


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  • University increases student access to course materials

    by University of California, Davis

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    A university saves students $7 million while increasing student access to course materials

    University of California, Davis

    “New students come to campus prepared for everything,” Jason Lorgan, executive director, Campus Recreation, Memorial Union, and University of California, Davis (UC Davis), Stores, explained. “They have a bus pass and a gym pass. All their classes and their dorm room are assigned. Yet the default is that they have no access to their course materials. Something that is core to their education is not automatic.”

    So Lorgan began investigating ways to increase student access to course materials. “As more adaptive learning digital content such as MyLabTM & MasteringTM came out, we started thinking that they could be adapted to a licensing model similar to the one our design students use for Adobe® Photoshop® versus the textbook model where the default is that you start without access to the content.”

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