EdTech Developer’s Handbook - Draft

A formatted PDF of the draft is here.

This draft handbook is an initiative of the Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology. The handbook is designed to sketch the education landscape just enough so that a startup or established company can decide if EdTech is worth visiting. It also gives newcomers enough of the local lingo to get going and to provide navigation aids to data sources and standards, APIs, and who to follow on Twitter. We are using this draft version to collect feedback.

Use the Google Insert Comment feature to let us know what topics are important, whether there are missing pieces, or if you know of success stories or challenges to use as examples. When you leave a comment, please provide your name and affiliation. Thanks!

About the Guide............................................................................................................................... 4

K-12 Education Opportunities and Trends..................................................................................... 4

What Problems Need Solving in K-12 Education?......................................................................... 5

Important Trends on the Education Landscape.............................................................................. 8

Blended Learning............................................................................................................................ 8

New Standards for Learning........................................................................................................... 8

Personalized Learning.................................................................................................................... 9

Where to Learn More: Information and Opinions.......................................................................... 10

EdTech Start-up: Zero to Funding to Customers......................................................................... 12

First Steps..................................................................................................................................... 12

Ed Tech Incubators and Accelerators.......................................................................................... 13

Educational Research................................................................................................................... 14

Beta Testing and Customer Development................................................................................... 16

Teacher Training........................................................................................................................... 19

Getting Permission to Work with Human Subjects...................................................................... 19

Student Data and Privacy............................................................................................................. 20

Business Models within Education............................................................................................... 21

Funding Opportunities................................................................................................................... 22

Working Inside Schools................................................................................................................ 25

Market Size................................................................................................................................... 25

Education Revenue Sources........................................................................................................ 25

Setting School Budgets................................................................................................................ 25

Federal Funding – No Child Left Behind Act of 2002................................................................... 26

Competitive Funding.................................................................................................................... 27

Procurement................................................................................................................................. 27

Purchasing Examples.................................................................................................................. 27

Challenges for Districts................................................................................................................ 30

Ways to Expedite.......................................................................................................................... 31

Important Decision Makers and Potential Purchasers................................................................. 32

Acceptable Use Policy................................................................................................................. 35

Getting Apps in the Hands of Users............................................................................................. 36

Keeping Up and Learning More..................................................................................................... 37

How to Get Noticed....................................................................................................................... 37

Events Worth Checking Out......................................................................................................... 38

Organizations to Know About....................................................................................................... 39

Keeping Up with EdTech.............................................................................................................. 40

Software Interoperability and Open Data...................................................................................... 40

Current Initiatives........................................................................................................................... 43

The Experience API (xAPI)............................................................................................................ 43

The Learning Registry................................................................................................................... 44

Learning Resource Metadata Initiative.......................................................................................... 44

My Data Initiative…........................................................................................................................ 45

Open Badges................................................................................................................................ 45

Open Educational Resources....................................................................................................... 45

Sources of Education Data........................................................................................................... 46

Education.data.gov........................................................................................................................ 46

National Student Loan Data System............................................................................................. 47

Applications using Data Sets........................................................................................................ 47

MyData - eScholar........................................................................................................................ 47

Financial Aid Shopping Sheet....................................................................................................... 48

Background Information................................................................................................................ 48

Testing/Assessment..................................................................................................................... 48

Education Theories....................................................................................................................... 49

Universal Design for Learning....................................................................................................... 50

Teacher Certification..................................................................................................................... 51

Many thanks to those who contributed writing to the project: Shawn Rubin of the Highlander Institute, Jessie Arora of TeacherSquare, Tom Driscoll of the Highlander Institute and Putnam Public Schools, Cathy Sanford and Dana Borrelli-Murray of the Highlander Institute, Mike Hruska of Problem Solutions, and Marie Bienkowski and Sarah Nixon Gerard of SRI International. Jason Tomassini of Digital Promise and Mary Jo Madda of EdSurge provided additional content. Early thinking and editing were provided by Heather Gilchrist of Socratic Labs, Marissa Lowman of LearnLaunch, and Alan Louie of imagine K12. Barbara Means, Bob Murphy, and Dan Humphrey of SRI International provided valuable information on educational research and teacher training.

Stories from the field were provided by educators such as Dawn Casey-Rowe of Pawtucket, RI; Mary Moen and Jessica Geremia of Wood River Junction, RI; Brad Waid and Drew Minock of Bloomfield Hills, MI; Brian Bennett of Okemos, MI; Kate Baker of Manahawkin, NJ; Jason Bretzmann of Muskego, WI; Steven Hodas of Innovate NYC Schools; Brian Baldizar of Providence, RI; and Vanessa Waggenheim of Providence, RI. Stories from the field were also provided from Steve Midgley of Mixrun and the Department of Education, Ridvan Aliu of EDUonGo, and Alice Wilder of Amazon Studios.

About the Guide

This guide is designed for software designers and developers who are creating tools for the pre K-12 education space, whether you are part of a startup or an established organization. The guide does more than give you basic information about districts, schools, teachers and students (though it does that, too!). It is intended to be a jumping off point for introducing you to the kind of specialized knowledge about the educational ecosystem that developers who are experts in this space had to learn the hard way.

 

Creating tools for education is distinct from other fields.  For example, feature requests for your apps may stem from federal, state, and local policies. There are some unique questions you are going to want to ask. Does the school board need to approve purchases? Do teachers have the training to use your app in the right way? How does school privacy law intersect with the sharing features you included?  There are complexities you will need to unravel.  Who actually funds the purchase of your app? The teacher, the principal, the parent, the student, the district? The IT specialist? The state?  And there are specialized incubators, gatherings, venture funds, and news outlets focused on the space you are going to want to engage.

 

Some of the essentials you need to know to get familiar with the challenges and opportunities are in here. Resources to learn more are also provided. Each section is written to stand alone, so you can jump around as needed.

 

This guide is an initiative of the Office of Educational Technology in the U.S. Department of Education. Additional resources are available at http://www.ed.gov/edblogs/technology/

K-12 Education Opportunities and Trends

It’s an exciting time to be creating apps for learning.  Schools are getting the infrastructure they need to support digital and online learning.  Parents and teachers are looking for new ways to use technology to engage and empower learners.  But most importantly, there are many important and meaningful challenges that the smart use of technology can solve.

 

When creating tools and apps for learning, you have an opportunity to make a tremendous difference in the lives of students, teachers, and parents.  You probably already have ideas of problems you want to solve. But it’s also critical to understand the educational – and organizational – needs of your potential customers and users[MB1] . Addressing these challenges will increase the relevance of the solution you want to build, and contribute to your success.

 

Confirming the Problem: Talking to Teachers

By Brett Kopf from the EdTech Handbook

Brett Kopf, co-founder of Remind101, a fast growing EdTech startup and an Imagine K12 accelerator alumnus, shares his experience building his company on three principles: talk to users; build a simple product; and solve a real problem. Check out his tips on how to connect with 100+ educators and what questions to ask to refine your product.

[MB2]

What Problems Need Solving in K-12 Education?

 

Here are some important categories of educational opportunities identified from publicly available sources, with a few examples in each category. You can find more through national and regional news, education-specific news outlets, US and state departments of education, and research and policy reports.

 

Academic Skills for Students

 

One way to pinpoint areas where students need help is through standardized test results. Recent results from international tests show that students need help with mathematics, for example, and individual teachers pinpoint ways they can help students achieve, not necessarily through more practice with skills, but with reworking classroom activities to help students take control of their learning. State-level policies, driven by data, can identify subgroups for special attention, such as 3rd grade readers, and seek both learning activities and new assessments to help these groups succeed.

 

For complex reasons, certain subjects may lack participation by some subgroups of students. For example, Advanced Placement courses (good for college entry) have uneven participation of women and minorities across course offerings, as judged by which students take the tests.  

 

Achievement Gaps

 

“Achievement gaps occur when one group of students outperforms another group and the difference in average scores for the two groups is statistically significant (that is, larger than the margin of error). The NAEP reports on the Hispanic-White achievement gap and the Black-White achievement gap use NAEP scores in mathematics and reading for these groups to illuminate patterns and changes in these gaps over time.” http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/studies/gaps/

 

All states look at test results, and scores on their own tests, to see how students fare based on certain characteristics. Each state strives to close these gaps, which can exist for complex reasons, such as living in foster care or historically low performing groups such as African American boys.

 

Non-Cognitive Factors

 

Motivation, grit, resilience, and social-emotional learning are growing in importance. A soon-to-be-released report from the US Department of Education asks, “How can we best prepare children and adolescents to thrive as successful, productive, and well-adjusted adults in the 21st century? While the test score accountability movement and conventional educational approaches have tended to focus on intellectual aspects of success, there is a broad and growing movement to explore the potential of the so-called “noncognitive” factors— skills, attributes, dispositions, social skills, attitudes, and intrapersonal resources, independent of intellectual ability—that high-achieving individuals draw upon to accomplish success. In this brief, we take a close look at a core set of noncognitive factors—grit, tenacity, and perseverance. These are factors that facilitate an individual’s capacity to strive for and succeed at fulfilling long-term and higher-order goals in the 21st century, within school and beyond, and persist in the face of the vast array of challenges and setbacks they will inevitably face throughout schooling and life.

 

Parental Engagement

 

Parental and caregiver involvement in learning is especially important for early development and in cases where students need special assistance, e.g., if they have diagnosed learning disabilities or are at risk of falling behind because of lack of learning in the early years.

 

College Choice and Financing

 

College should be available and affordable. There are many issues with making college choices available to all students, for example: Do students even apply? Do they understand how much college costs? Do they understand what is required, academically, to attend college?

 

 

Teacher Productivity

Teachers need productivity tools just as do other professionals. What is unique, perhaps, for K-12 teachers, is managing the distinct needs of many different students throughout a school year. Some particular challenges that could improve teacher productivity include supports for:

  • ·         Adjusting instruction for students who need extra time or a different pacing or a different.
  • ·         Adjusting teaching approaches for different students with different interests,
  • ·         Pinpointing knowledge gaps through probes or, alternatively, identifying competencies through assessments (including stealth assessments),
  • ·         Tracking progress through tasks and identifying struggles and stalls,
  • ·         Creating scenarios that are difficult to evoke in the classroom using simulation,
  • ·         Helping students feel engaged with their learning and supporting persistence and tenacity
  • ·         Helping students with special needs and needs for accessible content.

 

It is also important to be aware of existing apps and tools that are available.  One way to get a feel for the wide variety of approaches and the diversity of educational needs that are out there is to peruse educational app databases such as EdSurge’s EdTech Index or Common Sense Media’s Graphite tool. The EdTech Index groups educational apps into 5 categories; browsing through these will give you a sense of the EdTech tools that developers have built or are working on.

 

While there are many important problems to solve, it is also possible to choose problems that will have less of an impact.  For example, apps that simply digitize traditional practice (digital versions of worksheets, PDF versions of textbooks, etc.) are less meaningful than apps that support new approaches to teaching and learning. Justin Reich addresses this in EdTech Start-ups and the Curse of the Familiar.

 

 

Disruptive vs. Non-disruptive Innovations

Innovations in blended learning and education technology can be categorized in one of two ways. Some technologies are disruptive and go beyond just improving upon the current way that work is done. According to the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, disruptive products alter existing processes and markets, often in unexpected ways. Non-disruptive, or sustaining, innovations, generally serve to automate or simplify existing processes. (Is this too simplified? Read Audrey Watters’ thoughts: The Myth and the Millennialism of "Disruptive Innovation")

The Institute is exploring the need for a third category, hybrid innovations, which are solutions that straddle sustaining and disruptive innovations and are sometimes necessary in the jump from sustaining to disruptive. The Institute considers blended learning to be one of those hybrid innovations (See Is K–12 blended learning disruptive?)

Whatever you decide to focus on, you are sure to encounter some of the major educational trends below.  Some of the most interesting innovation in K-12 is happening around them and because of them.

Important Trends on the Education Landscape

Blended Learning

Blended learning is a fundamental reengineering of the teaching and learning experience to increase individual student performance and goes beyond adding technology to an existing learning flow. The Christensen Institute categorizes blended learning variations and gives examples, defining it as “a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace at least in part in a supervised brick-and-mortar location with the modalities along each student’s learning path connected to provide an integrated learning experience.”

 

What this means in practical terms, for technology, is that teachers need ways to author [MB6] or curate content to deliver to students, to assess student effort and achievement, and students need engaging high quality content that provide the right level of challenge. It also makes classrooms look different: it is easier to show than to describe, so we have included several video resources below.

 

Blended Learning Videos that Capture Core Ideas

·         What is Blended Learning? from The Learning Accelerator provides a brief overview of blended learning. (~5 minutes).

·         “Seton Partners teamed up with Mission Dolores Academy in San Francisco to create blended learning classrooms. Here's a look at the first year” which shows data-driven instruction, assessment, differentiation, at a cost of $.25M. (~9.5 minutes)

·         Edutopia video “Blended Learning Energizes High School Math Students (Tech2Learn Series) Educator Peter McIntosh helps his students to take ownership of their learning by using interactive subject-mastery tools like Khan Academy.” (~5.5 minutes)

·         Blended Learning at the RI Model School shows blended learning using a classroom rotation model in an elementary school. (~3 minutes)

·         This KIPP Empower Academy video is another example of what blended learning can look across grade levels. (~9 minutes)

·         A high school using a flexible model of blended learning is at the Carpe Diem Schools   (~8.5 minutes)

New Standards for Learning

In the past, each state determined its own learning standards, which spell out what students are expected to learn at each grade level.  One of the most significant recent reform movements is the development, adoption and implementation of the same math and English Language Arts standards by a majority of states. Developers should familiarize themselves with the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards.

 

Common Core State Standards. Developed and adopted by 45 states, the CCSS represent a compendium of rigorous learning expectations designed to correspond with knowledge and skills necessary in civic and business life. A phrase that you will see often see associated with these standards is “college and career ready.” College and Career Standards encompass CCSS but also include state standards that followed a parallel path by starting with what colleges and universities needed and working backwards to K-12.

 

Next Generation Science Standards. The NGSS, a research-based set of interdisciplinary science standards across all grade levels, are similar in aim to the CCSS but not as widely adopted.

 

Although these sets of standards, particularly the CCSS, have become politicized, and therefore controversial, it still makes sense to design your products with them in mind. Most educators believe these standards are poised to shape much of the curriculum and instruction in U.S. schools over the next several years.

Personalized Learning

 

In 2010, the US Department of Education released the National Education Technology Plan 2010, which presents a model of learning powered by technology. This model puts students at the center, empowers them to take control of their learning, and calls for engaging personalized learning experiences for all learners. The picture of learning it lays out is forward looking, and personalized learning[MB7]  is a core part of the vision it sketches.  

 

 

Individualized, Personalized, and Differentiated Instruction[a][b]

Words like individualization, differentiation, and personalization have become buzzwords in education, but little agreement exists on what exactly they mean beyond the broad concept that each is an alternative to the one-size-fits-all model of teaching and learning. For example, some education professionals use personalization to mean that students are given the choice of what and how they learn according to their interests, and others use it to suggest that instruction is paced differently for different students…we use the following definitions:

 

Individualization refers to instruction that is paced to the learning needs of different learners. Learning goals are the same for all students, but students can progress through the material at different speeds according to their learning needs…

 

Differentiation refers to instruction that is tailored to the learning preferences of different learners. Learning goals are the same for all students, but the method or approach of instruction varies according to the preferences of each student or what research has found works best for students like them.

 

Personalization refers to instruction that is paced to learning needs, tailored to learning preferences, and tailored to the specific interests of different learners. In an environment that is fully personalized, the learning objectives and content as well as the method and pace may all vary...

Personalization can be a great asset in the classroom because it is efficient: kids can learn faster because content is tailored to their needs. One-on-one instruction, particularly for struggling students, can be much more beneficial than instruction with the whole class. Personalized instruction can serve as an “extra pair of hands” for struggling students or it can challenge students performing above grade level.

 

Teachers like that capability because it helps them develop innovative classroom structures. Instead of all students participating in the same activity at the same time, teachers have more flexibility: some students can be engaged in personalized learning on computers; some can gather in small group instruction with the teacher; and some can participate in small group centers.

 

Finally, most personalization programs give teachers the ability to get an overview of how their students are doing in a class. The ability to quickly assess which students have “got” a concept and which haven’t—without wasting class time taking and checking quizzes—is invaluable for teachers.

 

However, some teachers and schools struggle with the transition to this model because they have to take on new roles, they need new skills, new ways to manage time and learning, new relationship with students, among others.

 

Where to Learn More: Information and Opinions

 

Here are some starting points for learning more about the education landscape. Other resources are provided in the Background section at the end of this document.

 

  • ·         What Every Techie Should Know About Education. EdTech blogger Audrey Watters created this checklist for tech entrepreneurs to assess their own understanding of a variety of topics relevant to building tools for schools. The checklist explains the work that has led to this point in the EdTech movement and provides some food for thought for aspiring entrepreneurs
  • ·         Grant Wiggins, The 31 most influential classic books in education
  • ·         Unbundling Edu. A good way to identify opportunities in the EdTech space is to track the proliferation of OER content and mobile devices in schools. This simple framework will help you understand how unbundling is taking place in areas like content, credentialing and coaching.
  • ·         “If you’re an educator, surely you know that technology has and will continue to have an incredible impact on learning. Whether it’s the Internet, innovative learning tools, or teaching technology itself, these two subjects are intertwined. In these talks, you will find essential information for educators concerned with technology.
  • ·         The National Academies Press has a variety of reports on 21st century science, technology, engineering and mathematics learning, including learning through games and simulation, informal learning, and 21st Century skills and assessment.
  • Video Clips Inside the Classroom
  • o   In these video clips from actual classrooms around the country, Doug Lemov, founder of the charter-school network Uncommon Schools, analyzes techniques that effective teachers use to get students to pay attention and follow instructions.” In different video clips, he talks about joy, correcting, and high expectations.
  • o   These show what developmentally appropriate classrooms look like as a teacher counts with kindergarteners.

EdTech Start-up: Zero to Funding to Customers

 

There are an unlimited number of resources you can draw upon to learn how to succeed as a lean tech startup.  There is no need for us to cover that ground.  But we do want to make you aware of particular resources and approaches along that path that you may find particularly useful when working in the EdTech space.

 

How to find K12 teachers for product feedback

Author: Mike Lee; Source: EdTech Handbook

Mike Lee, founder of edShelf, draws back the curtain to reveal how to identify and engage educators to provide that critical feedback needed when you’re getting started. In his words, “You may be surprised to hear that there are many enterprising educators out there. I don’t mean they are profit-seeking; I mean they are inventive, progressive, and oftentimes tech-savvy. Some call them edupreneurs, some call them teacherpreneurs. Whatever you call them, as a startup, you can see them as innovators or early adopters, in “Crossing the Chasm” parlance.”

[MB9]

First Steps

 

       Getting Started: Early Stage/Low Commitment. Have an idea for an education app? Struggling with a painful problem in your classroom and want to design a solution? If you’re at the very beginning of your EdTech journey, a great way to test some assumptions and connect with other edupreneurs is through meet-ups and one-day/weekend events that happen in your locality. (For regional events, e.g., in Kansas, try search terms like: “edtech accelerating ideas inception launch kansas”)

       Talk with Stakeholders. Even before you’ve designed an initial prototype, it is worth the effort to talk with teachers, parents and researchers [MB10] to make sure you are solving the right problem.  Once you get to the prototype stage, you’ll be eager to get as much feedback as possible as you move through alpha and beta testing your assumptions. Along the way, you’ll learn suggestions on how to engage educators and even students in this process to continue to refine your product. There are a growing number of educators who are tech-savvy and looking for innovative ways to integrate useful tools into their classrooms. A challenge comes from identifying, organizing, and compensating these early evangelists. In the end, the insights they provide may make the difference between success or irrelevance.

       Design Thinking is a creative process that can help you design meaningful solutions to problems in the classroom, at school, and in the community. The design firm IDEO created Design Thinking for Educators Toolkit as a free, how-to toolkit and course that introduces educators to the process and methods of Design Thinking. Take a weekend or even a few hours to explore this toolkit and begin brainstorming solutions for your problem.

       Accelerating your Idea: From Inception to Launch. Depending on what stage you are at, there are a variety of events and programs that introduce product design concepts (brainstorm. prototype. test. iterate) to help you refine and improve your product ideas.

       Startup Weekend Edu is one of the fastest ways (54 hours from idea to launch!) to test your idea and your appetite for the startup culture. Plus you’ll connect with other like-minded folks

       Education Hackathons: Similar to Startup Weekend Edu, edu-related hackathons are hosted by various organizations. Some of the popular ones include Facebook’s HackEd. If you can’t find an education hackathon in your corner of the world consider hosting your own.

Ed Tech Incubators and Accelerators

Developers with a novel idea for solving an EdTech problem are often drawn to one of the many EdTech incubators that are popping up across the country and even globally. These incubators are attractive as they offer quick capital, access to schools, investors, software development expertise, and a wealth of experience in the tricky world of school sales. But incubators are not for everybody.  Often times the acceptance processes are challenging, and sometimes the requirement to relocate your fledgling business will be impossible for you to meet.

 

To decide whether to accelerate or incubate your company (or not), it might be useful to better understand the distinctions between incubators and accelerators. The truth is that there is no hard line between the two, and many people use the terms interchangeably. But there are some subtle distinctions that generally hold true, and this IdeaCrossing article does a pretty solid job of outlining them. This chart by Heather Gilchrist of Socratic Labs (see http://edtechhandbook.com/) highlights the distinctions between incubators and accelerators. Just keep in mind: these are general trends, not rules. Every program is different, and accelerators vary from one another almost as much as they do from incubators (and vice versa).

Getting accepted into an incubator will not automatically improve your chances of success. Incubators are great for getting much needed capital enabling start-up entrepreneurs to pay for initial development and marketing. But often times the $15,000 - $20,000 that an incubator supplies is just enough to live on during the six months that the incubator runs. You should consider your particular company’s needs and speak with start-up founders who have previously exited a particular incubator before you join. Ironically, sometimes the time you spend interviewing, preparing slide decks, and relocating could be much better spent talking to teachers, iterating on your code, and getting noticed on Twitter.

 

Forging Ahead. Ready to take the plunge? If you’re a bit further along in development, you may be better suited for an education-related accelerator program where you live or online. Literally dozens of these programs take place around the country. Some representative examples include:

 

·         4.0 Schools is an early stage-education incubator that brings educators, entrepreneurs and technologists together to launch ventures that redefine schools. 4.0 Schools is the heart of the EdTech scene in New Orleans, Louisiana, and hosts a series of events including Startup Weekend sponsorships, hackdays, pitch competitions -- all open to the public. The core program, Essentials, is a one-day immersion for people ready to take the first step toward solving a problem in education. For those looking to take their ideas to the next level, 4.0 offers a more intensive Launch Program. While based in New Orleans, the organization also pilots programs in NYC and online. Alumni of 4.0 communities include Kickboard for Teachers, EnrichED and mSchool.

·         ImagineK12 is a 3-month incubator program based in Palo Alto, California, designed to help entrepreneurs take an idea from early stage to the point of raising funds from angel investors and venture capitalists. This immersive program includes weekly office hours, networking with education experts and lectures from Silicon Valley luminaries. Alumni include ClassDojo, Remind101, CodeHS and Socrative. Imagine K12 has a rolling entry and the application for the fall 2014 program opens in early 2014.

·         LearnLaunch offers classes, peer group learning, conferences, networking opportunities and other educational services to drive EdTech innovation in New England. LearnLaunchX is a Boston-based accelerator program that ran their first cohort in June 2013 and their second cohort began Feb 2014.

·         Kaplan EdTech Accelerator is a 3-month long New York City based program, powered by the more established and well-known TechStars program. The inaugural cohort ran June-Sept 2013 and applications for the Summer 2014 are open until May 5th. This program brings together innovators in the EdTech space as well as an impressive list of mentors and investors. Alumni include MentorMob and Ranku.

·         Socratic Labs is early stage support ecosystem for educational technology companies, providing investment, sponsored services, infrastructure, and advisory services. Socratic Labs is based in New York City, but offers support and other services in other locations as appropriate. The team focuses on helping its companies identify and pursue the most appropriate ways to fuel their growth—including angel investment, grants, small business loans, company revenues, strategic partnerships, and venture capital investment. Various stages of programming are available for education entrepreneurs and EdTech startups, from would-be entrepreneurs’ earliest exploration of challenges and opportunities in today’s schools through the first year or more of a company’s growth.

Educational Research

When developing educational tools and apps, we suggest that you start with the foundation already laid by decades of learning study. Education researchers have made significant progress in our understanding of how learning takes place that are highly relevant to EdTech start-ups. It is a common mistake for an EdTech startup to come out with a very well-coded, well-meaning learning app that is hampered by a naïve learning design that researchers have debunked years ago. Because developers are not aware of the fields of cognitive psychology, instructional design, or the learning sciences, or because they are in a hurry to get to market, they sometimes miss the most important feature of all: an evidence-based learning approach. While we can’t cover all of the possibly relevant education research here, we do include some places where you might get tripped up, and some new approaches that are being developed. Key resources include:

 

New Evidence Frameworks. The US Department of Education provides a report on new ways of finding evidence for effectiveness. One of the insights was that online A/B experiments (embedded online randomized controlled trials or short efficacy trials, such as CFY is conducting) can test different strategies for applying learning principles such as “What is our criteria for going on to the next unit?” or “Do we need interactive or static diagrams?”

Measuring Learning. Many digital systems fall short on a key measure: student learning. Some developers make the mistake of equating lots of time spent with their tool as a sign that students are learning, rather than looking at measures of learning. With online systems that collect student data, it’s possible to measure effects such as long-term retention, or preparation for future learning. If finding and measuring learning outcomes is not prioritized, developers can slip into poor design choices because the feedback they use isn’t about learning.

Relationship to Outcomes. To demonstrate the benefits of your solution to potential customers, you need to show that performance on your app has an effect on an outcome that matters to schools. If you are asking a school to use your app for a significant amount of instruction time, your audience will want evidence that it works before taking on such a risk. While measuring engagement with a student rating of thumbs up or down is enough for some non-EdTech developers, it is not sufficient for districts to invest time and money. However, if you can demonstrate that your product has an impact on absenteeism, dropouts, minority subgroups, or other variables that schools are graded on and receive funding for, a school is substantially more likely to take on the risk.

Evaluation Rigor vs. Risk. If your expectation is that your solution is going to be used by students on their own time, on the bus, at home, and it’s free - then it’s low stakes/low risk. But if your expectation is that your solution is going to be adopted in the classroom as a regular practice, then the burden of demonstrated evidence of impact is substantially higher. In this situation, developers need to understand that they are entering a complex school ecosystem with a host of dependencies that their product may be disrupting.  Even if that disruption is exactly what you think is needed, you still have to deploy your solution in the current system. Do not assume that if you build it, teachers will use it. It may take some time for teachers and school officials to figure out how to adopt your product.  Once you have a successful instance of seamless adoption and demonstrated impact, however, your job gets much easier.  You can share these use models with other potential customers. Researchers, who see products deployed in many contexts, often can provide a broader perspective on how products might be used.

Design-Based Implementation Research. Education researchers are responding to the need to do projects that simultaneously build new theories, test new technology designs, and change teacher practice. An emerging area of work, called design-based research or design-based implementation research, operates at the intersection of research, software, and school systems and can help mediate among competing needs of the student, teacher, administrative, and developers.

 

Research-Based Design Principles. Here are some useful documents to get you started with lessons learned from research. (Having a researcher on your team or collaborating with a research group can help with successful application of these.)

  • ·         The Pittsburgh Science Learning Center has collected a set of instructional principles as well as some hypotheses that are still under study. A short paper in Science describes how to manage the complex search space that results from variations on principles related to instructional timing, technique, and dosage.
  • ·         The National Science Foundation sponsored researchers to develop a design principles database that contains meta and pragmatic principles as well as feature rationales.
  • ·         The American Psychological Association website hosts an article outlining principles shown to increase student gains.
  • ·         Rich Mayer has two relevant books, one on multimedia learning and the other, co-authored with Ruth Clark, specific to e-Learning.
  • ·         The Hewlett Foundation supported efforts to promote Deeper Learning and provides a list of resources.

 

How to Identify and Attract Educators as Collaborators

Credited Author: Mike Lee; Source: EdTech Handbook

Gathering feedback from early users is great. As you refine your product it can be incredibly valuable to bring some of those early adopters deeper into the fold as team members or advisors. In this post, Mike Lee, founder of edShelf shares tips on how to identify and invite educators to play a more structured role in your startup as an advisor.

Beta Testing and Customer Development

Lean Startups. Customer feedback is important at all stages of a startup. Getting customer feedback early and using it to drive development is a central tenet of the “lean startup.” Lean startup is an approach in which a venture under extreme conditions of uncertainty uses small feedback loops to define assumptions, create prototypes, and obtain early customer feedback to validate the market’s need for such a product (or invalidate it, thus saving time, money, and other resources).

Typically, a short cycle driven by a process known as customer development is used to verify that a market exists for a product and the product is incrementally advanced from that starting point. Shorter iterations and faster testing of assumptions drive product development more efficiently.  In a lean startup, a bare bones version with limited critical features, or Minimum Viable Product (MVP), is created to seek customer feedback. The MVP is continually refined by testing assumptions against customer feedback.

An EdTech lean startup has different customer than other startups, whether it is a student, teacher, district, state or national stakeholder. Since education stakeholders have varying needs and operate under different constraints in the highly regulated and procedure-driven education marketplace, using lean startup approaches can enable your project to get feedback and steer key development earlier in your lifecycle. This reduces the risk of investing time, money, talent and passion on a product that may not work for education consumers. You will find elements of this approach embraced widely at Startup Weekend Education events and by incubators and accelerators.  

Once you’ve designed an initial prototype or MVP, you’ll be eager to get as much feedback as possible as you move through the process of Customer Development. Here are some considerations to keep in mind if you want to product test with teachers and/or in schools.

Technology Infrastructure. Don’t expect a school’s Internet access to be the same as your office. A school may not have enough bandwidth, there may not be wireless access throughout the building, or there may be intermittent activity that overloads the school network, such as students logging onto online testing or downloading a video simultaneously.  The State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) recommends that schools and districts meet the below minimum bandwidth goals between now and the 2017-2018 school year. However, many schools are still struggling to get anywhere near those bandwidth goals. It is estimated that only 20% of schools in the country have reliable broadband service to the classroom.

(source: SETDA, The Broadband Imperative, 2012)

 

Schools use a variety of devices - tablets, laptops, smartphones, and more - to connect to the Internet. These devices use a variety of operating systems. For schools with 1:1 programs, laptops or tablets are the most common devices. Today, numerous tablets are available using Apple, Google Android, and Microsoft Windows platforms. Keep in mind that schools are not inclined to change operating systems just to use your software. You may be surprised that there are still many schools that ban the use of personal devices at school, including cellphones, as distractions from learning.

 

Yet you may also encounter schools with a BYOD (bring your own device) system. Depending upon guidelines set by the school, students bring their own laptop, tablet, netbook, notebook, e-reader, or smartphone to school. In this environment, your software will have to work on multiple operating systems. Developers who are used to targeting smartphones and who assume continuous, ubiquitous connectivity sometimes have a rude awakening when they are faced with a typical school’s technology limitations.  Doing some homework upfront can save a lot of effort put towards a solution that requires infrastructure that only a fraction of schools can provide.

 

Testing your Product in a Range of School Environments. It’s important to test EdTech products in as many school environments as possible. Most companies hope to build products that work across any and all environments. Yet schools are notoriously diverse in their infrastructure, organization, staffing, and purchasing. For example: Some school calendars run throughout the summer, and others take a break, making calendar functionality within applications difficult. Some school districts classify sixth grade as an elementary grade and some roll it into middle school, making sales of Middle School Math content doubly tough. Some school filters block video streaming and others don’t. Some districts use and praise Google Apps for Education and some districts are terrified that Google is stealing their student data. The list goes on. This is a major challenge, and you may need to limit your initial target market to just charter schools, or just urban schools, etc. so you can focus your resources on core features and not the endless variations of context you are sure to encounter.  Just remember that even if you have managed to prove out a powerful solution in one context, you will probably not be able to scale it until you have addressed these kinds of perplexing housekeeping items.

 

Product Testing in Schools: Organizations and products that support user testing in schools. Testing an EdTech product in a school can be a logistical nightmare. Unless you have an inside connection, it is very difficult to convince a school principal or district superintendent to give you access to students for experimental purposes. That’s especially true if your product is still relatively buggy and your company has no track record. It is sometimes easier to get teachers or administrators to test a product that is “adult facing” because they don’t feel like they’re wasting student-learning time. But even this can be tough unless you are targeting an early adopter educator.

 

There are some organizations devoted to making product testing in schools a bit easier. Jennie Dougherty’s Beta Classroom was an early non-profit to approach teacher EdTech beta testing with an organized and systematic approach.  EdSurge recently started to bring more educator voices to the table through their EdSurge Tech in Schools Summits, but it’s important to note that these events involve bringing teachers to a centralized location to share products, rather than putting products in the classroom. In Rhode Island, the Highlander Institute has made inroads with public, private and charter districts, and it leverages these connections to get EdTech products into more schools and classrooms. Regardless, the process is still slow and difficult to scale.

 

Get Outside the Building: Teacher Driven Product Development

Credited Author: Jennifer Medbery; Source: EdTech Handbook

Jennifer Medbery, TFA and 4.0 Schools Alum shares insights from building Kickboard for Teachers with strong belief that “if you’re serious about teacher-driven product development, you’re going to have to spend a lot of time understanding the context in which educators work.” One way she builds this understanding and empathy is arranging time for her team to spend a day working at a local school, side by side with teachers and students. Efforts like this keep the team focused on their end user and develops clear understanding of the environment in which their users live and work.

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Mobile App Checklist for New Developers

Credited Author: Lorraine Akemann; Source: EdTech Handbook

Veteran EdTech evangelist and founder of Moms with Apps, Lorraine Akemann created this simple checklist of best practices for anyone starting down the path of creating a mobile app.

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Involving Students in Design and Implementation

Credited Author: Tony Wan; Source: EdSurge

Innovative EdTech educator, Angela Estrella, shares with EdSurge how she created Virtual Vikings, a team of students at Lynbrook High School that help bridge the disconnect between students' and teachers' perspectives on EdTech. The Virtual Vikings program is similar to that of MOUSE, a non-profit organization founded in 1997 that has trained over 4,200 students across 377 sites to serve as “digital media and technology experts in their schools.”

Teacher Training

EdTech products are only valuable to teachers when they know how to leverage them effectively.   Therefore, some form of teacher training and support are necessary. Here are a few considerations. First, what type of training is needed for your product?  For example, is the user interface simple to use even for the teacher with very limited technology skills?  Or does your product require more advanced skills and tech savviness?  As you design a training program, consider how it will be delivered.  Will the training be on-site, remote, blended, synchronous, asynchronous, etc.? Decide who will develop the materials and who will conduct the training.  Will they be employees of your company, paid consultants, or early adopter volunteers?  Beyond training, how will you communicate with teachers and districts that use your product? For instance, will there be a support team to answer emails and phone calls?   Often, an EdTech startup’s ability to communicate and work with early adopters improves the chance for a long-term commitment from teachers and school districts.

 

And consider this: any training is going to cost teachers time, and the school money, that they weren’t spending before you arrived with your solution.  The best amount of required training is zero. It is a common error to save usability optimization until later, and instead to deliver a product that requires so much handholding or is so prone to user error that it simply never has a chance to demonstrate its effectiveness.

Getting Permission to Work with Human Subjects

When you move beyond talking casually to teachers and students and running the occasional focus group, you’ll need to get permission, especially to work with large numbers of students and to gather personally identifiable information. Some schools (e.g., NY City’s iZone) even require that you pass their review boards before conducting research. At federally funded universities and nonprofits, Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) oversee research involving human subjects and are required by federal regulations. IRBs review proposals to conduct research by considering risk to subjects: does proposed research subject subjects to physical and/or psychological harm; are subjects informed and do they consent to participate voluntarily; and, is subjects’ data kept safe and secure. Clearing even a simple research study through these committees can require weeks or months of lead time, a lot of paperwork, and on the ground requirements like signed permission slips from the guardian of every child in your study.  While there is a movement to simplify and streamline these requirements for straightforward educational studies, the present requirements are pretty daunting, especially if you have never encountered them before.  You will want plenty of lead time (way more than any product cycle would anticipate) and a consultant or friend who knows how to fill out the necessary forms and keep the paperwork moving.

Student Data and Privacy

To safely harness the power of the Internet in schools, educators, parents and software developers need to be mindful of how data privacy, confidentiality, and security practices affect students. There are four applicable federal statutes on student privacy and Internet access: FERPA, COPPA, CIPA, and PPRA.

 

The Family Educational Rights Privacy Act (FERPA) gives parents and eligible students the right to access and seek to amend their children’s education records; protects personally identifiable information in education records from unauthorized disclosure; and requires written consent before personally identifiable information is shared, unless an exception applies. An exception to the rule is “school officials with legitimate educational interests.”

 

The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) governs online collection of personal information from children under 13. Before a software company can collect information from students under 13, “verifiable parental consent” is required because of COPPA. One potential problem in BYOD programs is the gray area that occurs when a student is signed up for a program at school using a personal device – and then the student brings the learning device home. The Department of Education is continuing to work with the FTC to find a policy that allows schools the full use of educational technology while complying with COPPA.

 

The Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) imposes several requirements on schools or libraries that receive E-Rate discounts for Internet access. Schools and libraries must certify that they have an Internet safety policy that includes technology protection measures. These protection measures must block or filter Internet access to pictures that are obscene, pornographic or harmful to minors, and schools must also monitor the online activities of minors.

The final relevant statute is the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA), which is intended to protect the rights of parents and students in two ways. The first way is by seeking to ensure that schools and contractors make instructional materials available for inspection by parents if those materials will be used in connection with an ED-funded survey, analysis, or evaluation in which their children participate. Two, it seeks to ensure that schools and contractors obtain written parental consent before minor students are required to participate in any ED-funded survey, analysis, or evaluation that reveals information potentially embarrassing or illegal facts or behaviors about the student and/or family.

Schools and districts have to strike a balance between enabling software companies to monitor student progress within a program and protecting identifiable student data from being used to create new programs. The Department of Education has maintained that under FERPA, companies can use student data to improve a product that a student is using, but not to create a new product. Software companies are allowed to track students within their program, but COPPA prevents companies from tracking that student across the Internet. The Department of Education plans to release additional guidance in 2014 to help parents, schools, and developers navigate these and other student privacy concerns.        

 

Whose Data is it anyways?

As schools and students conduct more and more of their activities online, this generates a tremendous amount of data, which some consider the holy grail of the modern online learning movement. Buzzwords like ‘adaptive learning’ and ‘personalization’ are all based on the assumption that harnessing this student data will empower educators to make better decisions around their instructional practices and ideally shift to more engaging, hands-on activities that are targeting each student’s learning level and goals. While the vision seems promising, there are significant challenges embedded in those assumptions, including how schools and families access and manage this data. The NYTimes and others have documented some of the challenges that school communities are already facing. As you build new products, you will likely have an opportunity to capture student data. It is important to keep these policies and implications in mind.

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Business Models within Education

As consumer-focused technology entrepreneurs jump on the EdTech bandwagon they might be tempted to build products before figuring out a business model. This can be a challenging approach, and seasoned EdTech veterans will urge newcomers to consider customer and business models from day one. This section provides general suggestions to help understand various K12 sales channels and design/discover a business model to sustain your growing startup.

 

 

Here is a quick overview of several business models that EdTech startups have tried and insights from their experiences:

·         Freemium for Teachers: Offer a basic version of your product for free to teachers and encourage them to purchase the premium version with added features.

·         Freemium for Students: Offer a basic version of your product for free to students and encourage them to purchase the premium version with added features.

·         Freemium for Schools: Offer your product for free to users (teachers or students) and then charge schools/districts for the premium version.

·         Sell to other EdTech companies: Offer your product for free and then charge other companies for access to your service or distribution channel. Often referred to as middleware in the EdTech.

·         Enterprise: Products that solve problems for administrators often bypass any consumer angle and go straight to selling directly to districts. Many start-ups have found blending consumer and enterprise components successful.

·         Product driven Professional Development Sales: As more and more schools experiment with blended learning solutions, they may also decide to purchase professional development packages.

·         Direct to consumer (aka parents): Offering your product for free to schools/teachers can be a gateway to reaching parents as your end customer.

Funding Opportunities

 

Beyond Bootstrapping. Once you’ve been through the prototype-test-iterate cycle a few times you will likely reach the point where additional funds are needed. At the very least, if you have users and sales, you will have to expand your testing, team and distribution channels. While your mind may immediately jump to pitching investors, there are several ways to secure some funding to keep your startup growing. Two funding options to consider—particularly when you are starting out—are crowdfunding and grants.

 

Crowdfunding is a way to raise money from a wide variety of supporters.  If you’re looking to tap into your personal network to help fund a project you have several crowdfunding platforms to choose from, including IndieGoGo, Kickstarter, and CrowdTilt. Each has its own style of campaigns and backers, so you’ll have to do some homework. You can also check out CrowdsUnite, which aims to be a Yelp for crowdfunding platforms.

 

A few education folks have been down the crowdfunding path and share the good, the bad and the ugly of their experiences: BrightLoop and Odyssey Initiative[MB18] .

 

Many crowdfunding platforms use a process popularized by Kickstarter. This approach enables developers to pool money from a wide variety of individual sponsors who are willing to back their project. (Brightloop, mentioned above, reached its funding goal by raising more than $30,000 through a  Kickstarter campaign). In return for financial support, project backers typically receive early versions of products and services, or perks based upon their contribution levels.  A modest donation may result in a free t-shirt, while a more substantial donation may result in a free subscription to the service.  This process is also an effective way to reach out to potential beta testers within school districts.

 

Grants

More substantial funding can be obtained through grants, both public and private. Although more involved than crowdfunding, grants offer the opportunity to raise substantial funding, guidance, and feedback for your product. Here are just a few representative examples:

Examples of Federal Innovation Funds

  • Challenge.gov is an open innovation portal that aims to be a catalyst and broker for new ideas and solutions in the education sector.  The website links innovators with funding opportunities to promote innovation as well as increased capital formation in the field.
  • The Department of Education Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program offers funding to help small businesses engage in research and development and to stimulate innovation in educational and assistive technology.  
  • The Investing in Innovation (i3) Program (current) has funded 92 projects that seek to provide innovative solutions to common education challenges.

 

EdTech Angels and Venture Capitalists

·         Angel Investors: When you’re looking to raise private capital to build your startup, the first step is connecting with angel investors (including friends/family) to write those checks. AngelList offers the most comprehensive platform for researching and connecting with angel investors. There are also angel networks that focus on social impact investing, such as Investors’ Circle. In general, early angels will come from your network. Note: while crowdfunding is rapidly changing the early stage fundraising process, there is still substantial value in attracting a lead investor who writes a foundational check.

·         Venture Capitalists: Many institutional investors have been eager to jump on the EdTech trend in the past few years. New Schools Venture Fund, one of the leaders in the education investment space compiled this data about Who’s Funding K12 EdTech (highlighting the Trailblazers, Enthusiasts and Dabblers) over the past several years as well as this deep dive into the action from 2013. In addition, EdSurge has compiled their list of investors interested in the EdTech space.

Finally, before you make an investor pitch, spend time studying what works. At the very least, check out this set of insider tips from Michael Staton at Learn Capital EdTech and Mick Hewitt at Masteryconnect on raising money from investors.

 

Private Foundations interested in educational innovation include: The Annie E. Casey Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Ford Foundation, John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The Learning Accelerator, Lumina Foundation for Education, NewSchools Venture Fund, Next Generation Learning Challenges, Robertson Foundation, The Wallace Foundation, The Walton Family Foundation, The William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The National Science Foundation, a federally funded organization, funds fundamental research and education in science and engineering and development through their Small Business Innovation Research Program.

Working Inside Schools

Market Size

According to a January 2014 report released by the Software & Information Industry Association based on 2012 sales data, total preK-12 non-hardware expenditures on education software, digital content and resources totaled $7.97 billion. The sector is expected to more than double in size to $13.4 billion by 2017. In addition, consistent and significant year-over-year gains of almost 5% per annum occurred over the last several years, even as overall spending on traditional curriculum and support materials is decreasing. This presents a significant opportunity for EdTech startups.

Education Revenue Sources

Startups often think first of selling to districts, so it’s important to understand how they are funded. In formal education, school districts (Local Education Authority, LEA) are fiscally responsible for overseeing K – 12 schools within its specific jurisdiction.  The United States has approximately 13,800 school districts.  Generally, charter schools operate as an independent LEA – a “district of one school’” in the 2012-2013 school year, there were 6,004 charter schools in the United States. The bulk of K–12 education funds are allocated to LEAs that in turn pay school operating costs.

 

District budgets come from state funds (47%), local community funds (43%), federal funds (9%), and (less than 1%) from private funding (competitive grants and donations). Monies go to instruction (66%), operations (17.8%), administration (11%), and student support services (5.2%). Most of instruction goes to staffing, leaving 9% for supplies and services.

Setting School Budgets

At the LEA level, budget discussions involve administrators, school boards, employees and community members.  Some districts are “financially dependent” and their budgets are subject to approval by an additional level of government, such as school boards or city councils. At the state level, education funding is set and managed by the governor, state legislators and the state department of education. At the national level, Congress legislates spending programs and the U.S. Department of Education administers them.

 

For LEAs, the school budget process often bridges the gap between goals and resource allocation. Many LEAs operate on a budget period of July 1 – June 30.  When this is the case, a typical budget process could look like this:  budget discussions begin in the fall to evaluate existing programs and set program priorities.  By mid-winter, LEAs integrate estimated costs of new initiatives, anticipated savings and any cost adjustments into a preliminary budget.  Meanwhile, governors submit state budgets, and districts make their projections.  In the spring, final review and public hearings precede the adoption of district budgets.  Concurrently, the state budget is signed into law and funds become available to districts for the upcoming school year.

 

Facts about school budgets

  • Public school districts operate with the goal of spending down their accounts every year and cannot save funds over time to afford one-time expenses; decisions and funding allocations must happen within one fiscal year.
  • Charter schools receive formula funding for pupils served and can try to set aside money each year to build financial reserves.
  • Federal funding (Title, Special Education) must be completely spent down during a school year in order for a district to access these funding streams for the new school year.  This is the case for every LEA, including charter schools.

For more information on school budgets, see this resource (PDF).

Federal funding is a critical source of revenue for LEAs but so-called categorical funds often create silos where the needs of different student sub-groups are coordinated, funded, and implemented separately.

 

Federal Funding – No Child Left Behind Act of 2002

In 2002, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program was enacted under a Federal commitment that public education be held accountable for improving the academic performance and opportunities of the least advantaged children. NCLB funds impact LEA operations because funds support the instructional budgets of LEA to address struggling students who fall into certain categories or subgroups.

 

NCLB is organized into 10 sections called “titles” each of which is connected to formula funding (through state agencies and based on categories of students) for qualifying LEAs. Title funding is often called categorical funding because of the restrictions placed on these funds to address specific student populations (such as individuals with disabilities).  While many districts elect to spend title funds on staff, these funds can be, and are, used to support new ideas and new initiatives.

Competitive Funding

Multiple initiatives at the Federal, state and private foundation level seek to support innovative education reform efforts.  These programs typically award short term funding over a period of 12 – 60 months to organizations that apply for them.

Examples of Federal Innovation Funds for Schools.

·         The Race to the Top Program (RTTT, 2009) was a US Department of Education competitive grant program designed to encourage and reward States that were creating the conditions for education innovation and reform.

Examples of State Innovation Funds.

  • ·         The New York School Innovation Fund awards grants to partnerships committed to the rigorous work required to redesign and turnaround schools into high performing, high quality organizations.
  • ·         Wyoming Trust Fund For Innovative Education Grants supports innovative educational ideas leading to the improvement of public education.
  • ·         The RI Model School Grant (supported by Race to the Top, 2012) was a competitive grant process that awarded $470,000 to an elementary school with a powerful blended learning vision and strong implementation partnerships.

Procurement

The[c] latest report from Digital Learning Now! dives into the EdTech procurement process and elaborates on the "12 rules of smart EdTech procurement.”  Aimed at state and district leaders, the report also offers many key questions to consider before signing the big checks, along with advice for strategic purchasing and ways to simplify the purchasing process. For entrepreneurs, this report will help you understand the thought process of potential customers. (EdSurge Edition 153:  BUYERS GUIDE)

Purchasing Examples

Purchasing, or procurement, practices vary by district and state but tend to be bureaucratic and complex (some procurement documents are over 200 pages long) in order to provide fair opportunity for companies to compete for public funds and preventing unapproved purchases and save costs. Often the procurement process is more cumbersome for larger districts.  The following sample procurement stories illustrate the similarities and differences between different sized districts and charter schools.

 

1.         District serving 30,000 students across 45 schools

Requests for the purchase of items are made through the district network to the Purchasing Department, who ultimately issue purchase orders for approved requests.

·         Purchases under $500 require one quote confirming the price.

·         Purchases between $500 - $2,000 require three documented quotes that are filed for five years.

·         Purchases between $2,000-$15,000 require three written quotes on a specific form that are filed for five years OR specifications must be sent to the purchasing department for written quotes.  Purchases of this size must be submitted to the Superintendent for approval.

·         Purchases over $15,000 must be formally bid on a set of specifications (clearly describing the requirements and encouraging competition) submitted to the purchasing department.  The process must be in accordance with the state procurement code with public notice given, and comprehensive files established for each bid received.  The purchasing department coordinates the announcement, review and award of all bids.  The final award must have approval from the Board of Education.

 

The start to finish timeline for a $10,000 request might take between 7 - 12 weeks:

 

Task

Responsible Party

Time Required

Prepare Specifications

Requester

1 - 2 weeks

Prepare & submit resolution to the Superintendent

Requester

1 week

Superintendent approves resolution

Superintendent

2 - 6 weeks

Provide copies of specifications to Purchasing Department

Requester

1 week

Request price quotations from vendors

Requester

10 days

Evaluate quotes and make a selection

Requester

3 days

Process purchase order

Purchasing Department

3 - 4 days

The start to finish timeline for a $30,000 request might take between 4 - 7 months:

 

Task

Responsible Party

Time Required

Prepare comprehensive specifications

Requester

1 - 8 weeks

Prepare and submit resolutions to the Board requesting permission to bid

Superintendent

1 week

Board approves resolution

Board

2 - 6 weeks

Provide copies of specifications to Purchasing Department

Requester

1 week

Prepare and submit Legal Advertisement to Treasurer’s Office

Requester

1 week

Publish Legal Advertisement for 2 consecutive weeks

Treasurer’s Office

2 weeks

Hold a pre-bid conference

Requester &

Compliance Officer

1 day

Open Bids

Requester, Treasurer, Compliance Officer, Legal Officer

1 day

Establish a window for bid submissions

Requester

2 - 4 weeks

Evaluate bids and make selection

Requester

1 week

Prepare requisition and submit to Purchasing Department

Requester

1 week

Submit requisition to Superintendent

Purchasing Department

1 week

Board approves requisition

Superintendent

1 day

Process purchase order

Purchasing Department

1 week

 

2.         District serving 5,800 students across 13 schools

All purchases in excess of $2,500.00 require approval from the Superintendent.

·         Purchases under $500 require one verbal quote confirming the price.

·         Purchases under $2,500 require three verbal quotes that are documented on a formal bid sheet.

·         Purchases under $8,000 must be submitted on a purchase requisition to enable a purchase order to be issued.  Three written quotes must be attached.

·         Purchases over $8,000 require a formal bidding process which includes placing a legal notice in the newspaper, sending bid invitations to interested bidders and formally opening bids at a designated time and place.

The start to finish timeline for a $2,400 request might take between 2 - 4 weeks.

The start to finish timeline for a $10,000 or $30,000 request might take between 2 - 3 months.

 

3.         Charter School serving 400 students in grades PK – 8

The school board must approve any expense over $10,000 for construction related projects and any general expense over $5,000.  This policy can be waived under certain circumstances.  The head of school has latitude to seek quotes or bids as deemed reasonable.  Federal procurement policies apply to all federal funding streams at the school.

 

The start to finish timeline for both a $10,000 and $30,000 request might take between 1 - 4 weeks.

Challenges for Districts

While procurement protocols are certainly challenging for vendors, particularly start-ups, the process often hinders a district from matching needs with innovative solutions.  Some particularly challenging elements include:

·         Categorical spending. If a principal wants to purchase technology but only has funding available for the category of teacher professional development, the school will have to do without what they need (technology) and procure what they don’t want (training).

·         Time delays. If, at the conclusion of a 6 month procurement process, a district determines that their process yielded the wrong vendor or approach, they can go forward with an imperfect plan or start over and lose 6 more months.

·         Fiscal year budgets.  When districts have unspent money at the end of the year, purchases may not align with long-term district goals.

·         Forecasting revenue. District revenues depend upon state and federal appropriations, which constantly change based on current fiscal situations.  Consequently, districts create programs and procure resources when times are flush and cut whole programs when budgets decrease.

·         Red tape. Arduous procurement processes and difficulty changing contracts once they are approved can thwart innovation. Forced to define work 6 or more months before it starts; districts are often unable to nimbly adjust initiatives based on new technology or innovative services. 

Ways to Expedite

Companies may have opportunities to minimize procurement delays and accelerate decision-making, particularly in small- to mid-sized, highly organized districts. Here are some ways that might work.

 

Key Observation: Getting through the procurement process quickly requires an internal champion who believes in the importance of the project and makes it a priority to get the work approved.

Corresponding Approach: Introduce the product to district leadership sooner rather than later and leverage teacher enthusiasm to generate meetings with key decision-makers.

 

Key Observation: Unions may have influence if teachers are affected.

Corresponding Approach: If necessary, make sure the union (through the representing teachers) supports the purchase.  Consider meeting with union leadership early in the process.

 

Key Observation: Districts often have categorical and general funds that must be spent down before the end of the fiscal year.

Corresponding Approach: If the purchase is not budgeted in the current fiscal year (set by March of the prior year), consider providing professional development services, creating a pilot project or otherwise engage in groundwork with any available funds to improve your chances of being included in the budget for the following year.

 

Key Observation: District employment and/or volunteer requirements will likely apply if you or someone from your team needs to be inside a school for implementation support.

Corresponding Approach: Check district requirements early to have time, for example, to make sure that each individual who will be onsite has a background check (including fingerprinting) and Tuberculosis clearance. Check for insurance considerations and requirements to comply with certain labor laws, such as “prevailing wage.”

 

Key Observation: Procurement, contract terms, and approvals can cause delays.

Corresponding Approach: Learn the district’s procurement policy and recognize the steps and timelines involved. Pre-qualify as a vendor for the district. Review standard contract terms and negotiate modifications early. Understand the nuances in both professional service agreements and software licensing agreements. If a contract has to be approved by the board of education, determine when the board meets and the lead-time required for getting on the agenda.

 

Key Observation: Different threshold amounts require purchases to be competitively bid and approved by the board of education and

Corresponding Approach: Be strategic about pricing and selling within the district policy.

Important Decision Makers and Potential Purchasers

Knowing who makes decisions within a district is important: key players include:

  • The Director of Curriculum and Instruction position (also referred to as the Assistant Superintendent in some districts) supports the allocation of funds for instruction and oversees budgets across departments and funding streams.
  • The Title 1 Director develops and implements budgets for Federal title funding.
  • The Director of Special Education prepares the budget for Federal funds from the Individuals with Disabilities Act.
  • The Director of Technology prepares the district technology budget.

Typically, schools rarely make funding decisions: districts allocate resources across schools to ensure uniformity of curriculum and instruction. However, movements are underway to empower principals with greater authority to spend resources to meet specific needs, particularly for schools identified as “persistently low performing.”  Other times, schools are granted greater fiscal autonomy as they meet various performance thresholds.

 

Similarly, grassroots efforts are underway to empower teachers as fiscal decision-makers.  This movement is still in its infancy; but as innovative and relatively inexpensive products become available many educators hope the tension between bureaucratic procurement policies and teacher demands will be addressed.  Some notable teacher purchasing projects are the experimental Teacher Wallets project and a platform called Donors Choose in which teachers post technology (and other) requests and have them funded through crowdsourced donations.

 

Because of smaller size, greater flexibility and site-based management, charter schools represent a more local staff-based approach to fiscal decision-making.  Generally, charter teachers have more input in allocating instructional resources.  In some cases, individual teachers also have small budgets to purchase materials that can meet the needs of specific students.

 

Inside a Typical School District

Credited Author: Jessie Arora

Source: EdTech Handbook

Successfully navigating the K12 school system requires a guide that provides insights and an overview of how they are organized and the various stakeholders involved. As you begin to build a product or service that you would like to one day see utilized in multiple schools and districts, it will serve you well to have a basic understanding of how most school districts are structured and run. (To start, it is important to note that while these practices are common to many schools and districts it is not the case for all.)

[MB21]

Here are descriptions of staff roles inside and outside the school building that are important to know.

 

School Level Staff

The general theme for all school-based educators—from principal to kindergarten teacher—is busy! There is never enough time to accomplish all the chores, tasks, and goals that educators are responsible for completing within a brick-and-mortar environment. Most likely the teacher you’re talking to or the principal you’re calling is forgoing their lunch or a trip to the bathroom to have a conversation with you. Keep your interactions short, focused, and only engage them when it’s absolutely necessary.

 

School Administrators. Depending on the size of the school, there may be anywhere from one to ten administrative people. In larger schools the administrative roles are usually distributed so it’s important to identify, as soon as possible, which school administrators are responsible for problem that your EdTech product aims to solve.

 

Increasingly, administrators are being tasked with teacher evaluation. They are pushed to spend more time in classrooms observing teachers, more time meeting with teachers to debrief lessons, and less time in their offices. If your product is intended to be used by an administrator, remember that their jobs are becoming more mobile and data driven.

 

Teachers/Specialists/Tutors. Educators who work directly with students usually fall into one of three categories when it comes to EdTech adoption. Generally, 20% of a school staff are early adopters or fast followers; 60% need various levels of incentives to test or try new innovations, and around 20% refuse to give any new initiative the time and/or energy it demands.

 

Early adopter educators are a startup’s best friend within a school. Usually these folks are at the forefront of committee work within the building. They may have the ear of a school administrator, and most likely they are the ‘gurus’ that other teachers come to for any and all technology related questions. If you are able to get an early adopter educator to buy into your product she is more likely to spread that product amongst the rest of the staff than anyone else in the building.

 

It’s also important to identify whether early adopter teachers are helping or hurting your cause within the building. Teachers who are misusing your product or who tend to promote any product that comes across their plate will have less standing and respect within a school, and will ultimately tank your chances of product adoption within that building.  

 

Parents as purchasers. While it’s difficult to create an EdTech product that is both marketable to parents and schools, many companies are trying to add to their revenue by targeting a parent’s desire to help their child succeed. Traditional markets like SAT prep, tutoring, and homework help remain viable options for selling products to parents, and more parents are also willing to buy mobile (both IOS and Android) applications like math apps, ebooks, and games, which are fun and can help children learn.

 

Some parents are eager to involve their children in creative media or maker projects. The goal is to balance the teacher-centered learning happening at school with more open-ended projects at home. Sites like DIY.org and Makezine.com are promoting coding, making, design and media creation. Simple kits and applications are becoming more and more accessible for students of all ages, and these markets will do well to cater to parents who do not feel like enough of this creative work is happening in schools.

 

At another level, school-based grade book and assessment applications, including Learning Management Systems (LMS), have identified parents as users even if they are not direct purchasers. Parent feedback on these products is crucial to the decision making process for schools so it’s important for EdTech products that have parent facing portals to seek feedback and input from parents. The last thing that a school administrator wants to hear from a parent is that the grade book they just purchased for the school is causing grief at home.

 

Remember, socioeconomic status plays a large role in Internet and hardware accessibility in homes. Many low-income parents do not have the resources to augment what their child receives in school. Alternative funding measures for these students must be considered.

 

Students as Purchasers. Most K-12 students do not buy EdTech products with their own money. Even though many students bring personal phones and tablets to and from school, it is quite rare for them to buy a learning aid or tool. High school students, however, are quite tech savvy in the eyes of the parents, teachers and administrators, and in some schools, students are the first line of support for struggling peers and teachers who need assistance with software and hardware issues. Burlington High School in Massachusetts has one of the more famous help desk websites in the country. This student-run help desk creates has become useful information source for adults and students well beyond the school’s walls.

Acceptable Use Policy

Developers should understand the implications of what is commonly referred to as an acceptable use policy (AUP). To deal with concerns about accessing inappropriate materials, many districts are developing and implementing AUPs for their teachers, staff, and students. This can be a burdensome undertaking for some school communities but is important for protecting school systems from liability issues as students and teachers consume and create digital media. CoSN (Consortium for School Networking) created this guide to help schools that are rethinking their AUPs.

 

Before students are allowed to access the Internet at school, whether via a classroom computer or a personal device, most schools ask parents and students to agree to an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP). Parents are asked to sign a permission slip acknowledging that their child agrees to basic care and responsibility guidelines. Students are asked to sign a contract agreeing to follow rules governing their use of the Internet and online conduct.

 

Since the decision to provide funding for Internet access and devices often comes from the district, districts often draft AUPs, with some schools modifying or adding to the district AUP based on their needs. With rapidly changing technology, AUPs now need to address one or more of three usage models: 1) shared digital devices that stay in school (for example, laptops on carts shared between classrooms); 2) student-owned devices under BYOD programs; and 3) 1-to-1 devices that belong to school but that students are allowed to take home.

 

 Getting Apps in the Hands of Users

Conferences & Events. One strategy to make sure educators are aware of your tools is to participate in conferences and events related to educational technology.  (See "Events Worth Checking out" above).  Conferences and education-themed events provide great opportunities to establish connections, build relationships, and market your product. You will have the greatest impact if you attend these events as a registered vendor. If this is not possible, then go as a participant. Although you are not officially selling your product at the conference, this will provide you with an opportunity to engage in conversations and trade contacts with people in your areas of interest.  You may also find early adopters and beta testers from this pool of engaged and forward-thinking attendees. If you can't attend yourself, consider sponsoring educators to go on your behalf.

 

There are hundreds of EdTech conferences throughout the nation and globally. Well-known events include: The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), whose annual conference last year drew more than 18,000 people and included more than 800 sessions and hundreds of vendors.  The FETC National Conference attracts educators and technology leaders to its annual event that includes over 350 sessions and workshop, 500 vendors.  The SXSWedu Conference & Festival features exciting programs such as LAUNCHedu, a start-up competition that highlights innovations in the field.  Two other major conferences to note are the iNACOL Blended and Online Learning Symposium and the COSN Continuously Connected Constantly Learning Conference.

 

A growing collection of virtual sessions and smaller gatherings has arisen to complement the major conferences.  Smaller and more affordable, these events provide similar opportunities for connecting and engaging with educators and tech leaders.  There are a number of regional conferences across the country, as well as some geared toward specific subgroups (e.g. K-12 history teachers, or early childhood teachers). Two examples of virtual conferences include the Global Education Conference and K-12 Online Conference.  Other engagements, (some which may not have official sponsors) may still be worthwhile to attend, include Edcamps, unconferences and Playdates that regularly take place throughout the nation.

 

The following articles from seasoned EdTech entrepreneurs and experts share firsthand experience on how to approach business model choices and sales channels:

Navigating K12 Sales Channels.

Credited Author: Anil Hemrajani; Source: EdSurge.

Veteran EdTech entrepreneur Anil Hemrajani outlines direct and indirect selling methods as well as a hybrid model to help you understand various K12 sales channels.

 

The Science of Blended Selling.

Credited Author: Jessica Lindl; Source: EdTech Handbook.

“You know one size doesn’t fit all in education, so make sure you don’t have just one approach to selling” suggests Jessica Lindl in this piece on how to design hybrid sales models for your startup.

 

How to Succeed in Education Technology.

Credited Authors: James Byers, Adam Frey; Source: EdSurge.

The founders of Wikispaces share insights from their experiences tailoring their product for the education market. Notable recommendation: They urge EdTech founders to “start charging your customers on day one.”[MB22]

 

Case study/news release. One way to highlight how your product is used in an educational setting is to develop a case study, and follow it up with a news release.  For example, you or an outside company can write a case study of how a teacher has effectively leveraged your EdTech product.  Here is an example of how startup EDUonGo developed a case study about how their LMS platform helps educators manage and enhance Flipped Learning environments.   Once a case study is complete, you can research different education-themed media organizations to see if the document can be adapted into an article suitable for their readers.   Providing educators with clear examples of how your product is being used to improve learning outcomes is one of the most powerful forms of marketing you can provide.  [MB23]

Keeping Up and Learning More

How to Get Noticed

Below is a list of the resources to watch: bloggers and podcasts; media outlets and newsletters; Twitter folks and connected educators; and conferences and events.  In addition, there are many regional EdTech communities with their own resources worth looking into.

Bloggers and Podcasts

Media Outlets/ Newsletters

Twitterati/  Connected Educators

Conferences/Events

Hack Education

KQED Mindshift

Steven W Anderson @web20classroom

ISTE

Free Tech 4 Teachers

EdSurge

Tom Whitby @tomwhitby

FETC

Bam Radio Network

edutopia

Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher

EdCamps

EdReach Education Media Network

EdWeek

Eric Sheninger @NMHS_Principal

EdTech Meetup Groups

Google Educast

StartupDigest Edu

George Couros @gcouros

EdSurge Tech for Schools Summits 2014

Edudemic

Education Gadfly

Lisa Dabbs @teachingwthsoul

SXSWedu Conference & Festival

GettingSmart

Tech & Learning

Adam Bellow @adambellow

iNACOL Blended & Online Learning Symposium

The Jose Vilson

EdTech Times

Larry Ferlazzo @Larryferlazzo

Global Education Conference

Meet Education Project

Alliance for Excellent Education

Angela Estrella @amestrella

K12 Online Conference

Blend My Learning

EdLab New Learning Times

Erin Klein @KleinErin

Startup Weekend EDU

Events Worth Checking Out

       EdTech Meetups: EdTech meetups are an opportunity for educators and entrepreneurs to explore topics at the intersection of education and technology, to learn about the technologies supporting teachers, and to hear from teachers about problems in education. EdTech meetups can take the form of keynotes, panel discussions, mixers, member spotlights, or hands-on learning experiences. They inspire teachers, entrepreneurs, technologists, education reformers, and ed-tech enthusiasts to try new EdTech products and offer feedback.  New York City and San Francisco have strong EdTech Meetups. Boston, Chicago, Austin are other vibrant meetup cities. Here’s a video of a Providence EdTechRI Meetup in action.

       EdCamps: Edcamps are a free educational movement that promotes participant-driven professional development for K-12 educators worldwide. Edcamps are modeled after the BarCamp movement. Anyone can access EdCamp materials from the EdCamp website and start her own EdCamp. The first EdCamp (Philly) met in 2009.

       UnConferences: Like EdCamps, Unconferences are participant-driven professional learning events that reject the format of traditional conference and professional development experiences.  In typical unconferences, the agenda and topics are set by the participants and the event includes open time for discussions and collaborations.

 

EdReach Education Media Network

EdReach is a media network for educators. A good example of their content that is useful for learning about education is the Two Guys Show.  Products can also be highlighted on the channel.

Best Practices:  Social Media and Live Events. Social media has become an effective medium to learn about educational trends and to market your product.   Educators have joined the global rush to use services such as Twitter and Google+ to connect and collaborate in ways never before possible.  As a developer, you have an opportunity to peer into these public conversations and see what educators are interested in and care about.  For example, you can track education themed chats by following hashtags such as #edchat, #EdTechchat, or #flipclass.   Start by absorbing as much as you can and before entering the conversation to promote a product.  Nobody, including educators, appreciates their chats being bombarded with promotional tweets.  Better Twitter and G+ etiquette is to develop relationships within a chat group before promoting your product.

Live events, from meet-ups to tech conferences, are terrific opportunities to create and build relationships with teachers.  Again, avoid pushing your product right away.  Start by asking questions, gauging interest in certain topics, and contributing expertise when appropriate.  If you come across as someone genuinely interested in improving education, chances of buy-in for your product will increase.  Also use collaborative opportunities to learn about professional learning networks (PLNs) that may benefit from your product and possibly be a beta-testers or early adapters.

Organizations to Know About

       The State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) is a non-profit membership association that supports and represents U.S. educational technology leaders. Its mission is to increase the capacity of state and national leaders to improve education through technology. www.setda.org.

       Digital Promise is a nonprofit research organization authorized by Congress to advance technology to transform teaching and learning. The organization is funded by companies and foundations and includes the League of Innovative Schools, a group of superintendents representing schools rich in technology and supporting research on its use. www.digitalpromise.org.

       The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) is a professional association for district technology leaders. CoSN supports members with tools for management, community building, and advocacy. http://www.cosn.org.

       The Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) is a trade association for software and digital content industries. The organization provides services to its members for government relations, business development, corporate education and intellectual property protection. SIIA’s mission is to promote, protect, and inform the software and digital content industry. http://www.siia.net.

       The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) is a national nonprofit association of librarians, library workers and advocates whose mission is to expand and strengthen library services, including digital literacy, for teens (12-18). YALSA is a division of the American Library Association. http://www.ala.org/yalsa.

       The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) is an international membership association for educators and education leaders. The mission of ISTE is to empower learners in a connected world by cultivating a professional learning community, linking educators and partners, leveraging knowledge and expertise, advocating for strategic policies, and continually improving learning and teaching. https://www.iste.org/.

           The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) is a professional organization of mathematics educators. The organization’s goal is to support teachers to ensure quality mathematics learning for all students through vision, leadership, professional development, and research. One of its six strategic priorities is to promote the “Use of technology to advance mathematical reasoning, sense making, problem solving, and communication.” http://www.nctm.org.  

           The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) is a professional organization of science teachers, science supervisors, administrators, scientists, and business and industry representatives involved in and science education. The organization is committed to promoting excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning.  http://www.nsta.org.

Keeping Up with EdTech

As the EdTech space continues to grow, so does the number of media web sites and individual bloggers. Below are several sites useful for keeping up with EdTech news.

·         EdSurge: Looking to get plugged into what’s happening in the world of education technology? One of the best ways to keep up with news, events, jobs and more is to subscribe to the EdSurge weekly online newsletter. EdSurge also produces ES-Instruct for educators and EdTech Index, a database that categorizes and reviews hundreds of EdTech start-ups, products, and services.

·         KQED MindShift: If you’re looking for a deeper dive into topics related to learning, check out MindShift.  Launched in 2010 by KQED and NPR, MindShift explores the future of learning in all its dimensions, including cultural and technology trends, innovations in education, groundbreaking research, education policy, and more.

·         EdWeek Digital Directions: Part of EdWeek, Digital Directions covers news, trends, and best practices for the K-12 tech audience.

·         Graphite: Created by Common Sense Media, Graphite provides reviews of EdTech products where educators can filter results by type (app or website), subject, grade level, and price.  Product information provided includes setup time, skills addressed, intended student audience, and tech notes.  Designed for educators, the products are reviewed by volunteer teachers who utilize a review system that examines pros, cons, engagement, pedagogy, support, and the bottom line.

Software Interoperability and Open Data

Student Information Systems (SIS) are common in schools for managing data about students (e.g., Silverback Learning Solutions, www.silverbacklearning.com) There are many school data systems, and not all of them (grades, library, bus schedule, transcript) share data. The situation can become even worse with online and digital learning systems that use student data for tailoring instruction, for reporting to teachers, and for improving their own products: newcomers on the market cannot hope to build ways to exchange data with every other data system in schools.

Some elements to a solution are captured in this quote from the 2014 report Guide to EdTech Procurement:

“Buying a la carte from companies who are not integrating with other programs and partnering to make integration easier in a world of rapidly advancing technologies will not work—for educators or for students. The key to easier integration is to leverage industry standards, single sign-on and data interoperability.”

 

Single Sign-on. A la carte purchases can meet specific teacher and student needs, such as grading, creating videos, polling, or delivering content to students, and the data that is collected in each can have value to different people. A teacher teaching 6 classes of students per day with multiple products needs a way to manage licenses, rosters, login credentials etc. If it’s not easy to set up logins, adoption is hard. So solutions involving single sign-on are needed so teachers and students can access all of their EdTech products though one centralized set of login credentials.

 

For example, Clever takes care of one part of this issue. Clever allows an SIS to send student names into an EdTech product but no data from either a student-facing product or teacher-facing product goes back into SIS. Clever’s solution is a good example of the direction needed, but more open APIs could help in ways that affect teaching and learning. The consumer web industry is approaching this problem though a combination of authorization solutions like Oauth (see image, below) and authentication services like SAML.  Solutions like EdElements offers a platform that integrates their partners such as Dreambox, Mastery Connect, and Kickboard.

 

Closed vs. Open Systems. Solutions such as DOCENT by Digital Promise offer a testing platform for teachers, and reflect the reality that educators appreciate choice and the ability to test and try new things.  When hosting learning applications, for example, some teachers prefer EdModo as their LMS while others prefer Schoology. Schoology supports the Learning Tools Interoperability standard, which means that LTI-compliant resources can be accessed from within its platform. If product developers can come together to create open standards by which teachers can use any platform in tandem with any additional applications that they enjoy, this helps with teacher choice. Solutions such as IMS Global’s LTI are a step in the right direction, but LTI is not widely adopted.

 

It is true that with single-vendor proprietary systems data can be managed in one environment and the user interface across the system can be more uniform and simple for teachers to use. However, the more developers close off systems the less we are encouraging teachers to try new products and the more difficult we are making it for new and innovative products to be of use to more teachers. No startup product will be able to build to the large number of API integrations necessary for the myriad of closed systems that teachers may use.

 

However, some do product-to-product integrations, such as Socrative—a student response system—that exports exit tickets, quizzes and tests to the Always Prepped reporting system via account sharing services. Always Prepped connects to other web-based accounts such as Khan Academy and Engrade. And companies like PowerMyLearning  and Gooru offer cloud-based access to curated resources with corresponding data collection from the resources.

 

And teachers need all of this data at their fingertips in a way that supports action in the classroom, e.g., as the Amplify suite of consulting services around data use does.

 

                AMPLIFY “Taking Action with Data” Methodology

 

Data Interoperability. Common Core State Standards have the potential to align EdTech products to common learning standards. However, Common Core alone will not get EdTech to a place where all educators ‘speak the same language’ across all grades and content areas. The long-standing semantics debate in education makes the movement of student data between products challenging. In addition, developers are creating new complexities as they build products based upon subjective standards for storing and labeling activities, videos, and data.

 

Data Standards. Organizations like the Ed-Fi Alliance are working to create common data standards for communication between products, but in addition to agreeing upon common vocabularies, developers must also work to create common data transfer protocols so that both qualitative and quantitative data can flow smoothly from product to product, which makes teacher’s, student’s and parent’s lives much easier. EdFi is an alliance tackling the data interoperability problem. It allows states and districts to aggregate information from disparate data sources (multi-vendor) to give consistent and comparable performance data across schools, districts and programs. It comes with a dashboard starter kit to provide educators with real-time. It not only aligns with existing local systems as well as federal standards such as Common Education Data Standards (CEDS) but it helps lower the time and money spent on state- and federal-level reporting

 

Current Initiatives

The Experience API (xAPI)

Technology provides information about a learner’s experience that can be used to improve learning by tailoring content, conducting assessments, or making the technology better. In order to share across data systems, developers should adopt a uniform method to capture and describe learning experiences: the Experience API (xAPI). The xAPI supports capture of the streams of learning activities and experiences, both online and offline, in formal, informal, and experiential learning.  

Credit: Liz Burow (@Burlix)

The xAPI can store experiences from online learning (such as in a web browser) or in the form of traditional records, such as scores or completion and learners' actions, like reading a book or watching a video. Collecting data can help a system automatically adjust and give students a more personalized learning experience. The xAPI gives a specification that enables data to be gathered across multiple platforms and shared in a common schema (Actor, Verb, Object). xAPI has no restrictions on content (vocabulary) but provides a way to report to data systems and be managed as  a single user profile. Because it is about the learner experience, it provides a way to understand learning pathways.

 

xAPI is stewarded by the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative of the Department of Defense (DoD) and continues many years of R&D efforts surrounding learning, education and training.  xAPI is designed to work with a Learning Record Store (LRS) and can track self reported experiences, learning game data, competency assessments, and other activity streams from LMSs.

The Learning Registry

The Learning Registry is a new approach to capturing, connecting and sharing data about learning resources. The LR has a goal of allowing educators and students to access the right content in an open and easy manner by capturing “social metadata” (i.e., data about activities with and uses of a learning resource) in a data pool that allows for aggregation and amplification by other applications. The LR is open source software with a node-based store-and-forward capability that stores and shares data about resources, not the resources themselves.  The LR stores (1) metadata (data about content like author, date created) and (2) paradata (data about how the content was used).        The LR has the ability to publicly show the availability of a resource and other data like publisher, location, content area, standards alignment, ratings, reviews, and more.  The LR architecture allows for individuals to setup their own node.  You can replicate to and from other LR nodes.  This provides the potential for curation networks among other emerging business models.

 

Currently the LR is powering free.ed.gov to show the availability of resources.  

Learning Resource Metadata Initiative

Searching is a lot easier when resources as tagged: recipes, directions, store information all have common fields that can improve search results for users. The Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LRMI) is working on making things findable through smart tagging.  Specifically, LRMI aims to make it easier to publish, discover, and deliver quality educational resources on the web.   LRMI is built on the efforts at schema.org.

 

Schema.org is a Bing/Google/Yahoo!/Yandex collaboration to develop and encourage the use of metadata to make it easier to find web pages that more closely match search criteria. Schema.org is one of the ways LRMI metadata may be used. To support the objectives of Schema.org, LRMI metadata is based on contributions from experts and organizations that have worked with metadata and metatagging since the early 1990s and, as such, it is comprised of the “best” of existing systems rather than a reinvention.

 

[MB24] LRMI has developed a common metadata and vocabulary for learning resources hosted on websites or described in the Learning Registry.  This metadata framework allows creators of resources to tag them consistently and effectively.

My Data Initiative

The MyData Initiative seeks for every student (or parent of an underage student as appropriate) to have access to his or her own academic data, wherever that data is stored, in both machine-readable and human-readable format.  Learn more about the MyData Initiative.

Open Badges

Open Badges is an innovative infrastructure that allows colleges and industry organizations to award micro-credentials (badges) to students who demonstrate proficiency in specific competencies. A student may earn a particular competency badge by demonstrating prior experience, or by participating in courses or informal learning experiences.  Because the technology behind the badges is open, a learner can collect badges from any number of different organizations and showcase them in one single place. Eventually, employers may use open badges to search for new employees based on specific competencies, leveling the playing field for job-seekers while doing a better job of matching the right skillsets to the right positions.  Learn more about the Open Badges.

 

Open Educational Resources

Open Education Resources (OER) is an umbrella term that identifies the backbone of effective blended learning. This movement became popular when MIT’s Open Courseware launched in Oct 2002. OER Commons is a digital content hub that organizes numerous content providers. Edutopia recently published this OER Resource Roundup, an educator's guide to open educational resources (OER), including online repositories, curriculum-sharing websites, sources for lesson plans and activities, and open textbooks.

Sources of Education Data

Education.data.gov

The Education.data.gov data center houses a large number of data sets. There are a wide variety of potential applications for data from education.data.gov. Examples include tools to help students make informed choices about college choices, tools for mapping and visualizing educational trends, improving employment search services, and augmenting educational institution comparison engines. See the OET’s blog post regarding the Education Data Initiative for more info on the below data sets.

 

The Integrated Postsecondary Data System (IPEDS) gathers information from every postsecondary institution participating in federal student financial aid programs. Institutions report data on enrollment, program completions, graduation rates, faculty and staff, finances, institutional prices, and financial aid. IPEDs offers institution-level information about college access, comparative pricing, graduation rates, degree types, instructional costs, finances, and on-campus crime for over 7,000 U.S. postsecondary institutions.

 

The Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) collects education access and equity data disaggregated by race/ethnicity, sex, limited English proficiency, and disability. The 2009-2010 CRDC captures elementary and secondary school data on educational access and opportunities, including access to college- and career-ready courses, teacher equity, school expenditures, retention, access to pre-K programs, bullying and harassment, and discipline. The CRDC also provides information on teacher salaries and athletics.

Public elementary and secondary schools in the U.S. spend in excess of $500 billion annually. The Common Core of Data (CCD) is a comprehensive annual statistical database of all those public elementary and secondary schools and school districts. The CCD provides an official listing of all public elementary and secondary schools and school districts in the nation. The CCD provides information on student population characteristics by gender, race, and grade; the number of schools that opened and closed each school year in every state and school district; the percentage of students attending charter schools; the teacher/student ratio; high school completion rates; employee salary and benefit information; and per pupil expenditures.

EDFacts is a Department of Education initiative to put performance data at the center of policy, management and budget decisions for all K-12 educational programs. It is the central collection system and national repository for federal program information on state, district and school performance measures. Programs such as Race to the Top are investing hundreds of millions of dollars to encourage evidence-based progress, so performance data is increasingly necessary. EdFacts provides data on the percentage of students reaching grade level proficiency in reading or math; the percent of a 9th grade cohort that graduated in 4 years; and the proportion of a district's Title I schools that have been identified as needing focused attention or improvement.

 

The Federal Student Aid Data Center is the centralized repository for information regarding Department’s Office of Federal Student Aid. Whether it’s the more than 9 million Pell Grants or the more than 23 million student loans disbursed annually, Federal Student Aid programs are a key funding source for millions of families. This center provides institutional-level information about how much each postsecondary institution receives in the student aid programs each year, along with performance information like the student loan default rate. It also contains information on earnings and loan repayment for vocationally-oriented programs. Information is divided into three categories: Student Aid Data; School Data; and Federal Family Education Loan and Guaranty Agency Reports. The Student Aid Data reports will have information about Title IV federal financial assistance aid applicants, recipients, and disbursements. The School Data reports have more information about the approximately 6,000 postsecondary institutions participating in Title IV programs.

National Student Loan Data System

The National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) is the U.S. Department of Education's central database for student aid. NSLDS receives data from schools, guaranty agencies, the Direct Loan program, and other Department of ED programs. NSLDS Student Access provides a centralized view of Federal Student Aid so that aid recipients can access their Federal student loans and/or grant data. NSLDS contains extensive data on federal grants and loans provided to individual students along with their background information. There are a variety of potential applications for this data, such as student financial and educational advisement, personal management of financial aid, search assistance for supplementary financial aid, or services targeted to financial aid recipients.

 

Applications using Data Sets

MyData - eScholar

eScholar provides the longitudinal data systems that assist 13 states’ use of data to improve education. eScholar collects data from nearly 5,000 school districts and higher education institutions, including information about the educational experience of each student. It integrates data for individual students throughout their educational experience, spanning moves from district to district and maintaining contiguous records as students progress into postsecondary education. Data includes institution and campus attributes, facts, history, student and staff demographics, qualifications, student educational background, courses, course enrollment, degrees earned, financial aid, and transfer information.

eScholar features a particularly rich set of detailed data representing a substantial slice of the national population. Potential applications of eScholar data must be determined in consultation with eScholar and consistent with permissions granted by the responsible state agencies and authorities. The large volume of detailed, specific data fields supports potential applications in a wide variety of consumer, employment, education and information appliances. For more information on eScholar, see the 2012 DataJam materials.

Financial Aid Shopping Sheet

The Department of Education Office of Postsecondary Education is working with students, families, the financial aid community, and others to develop an easy-to-read standardized format for the financial aid offer form, the "Financial Aid Shopping Sheet.” This form will assist students in understanding and comparing college costs. The Financial Aid Shopping Sheet is the result of an effort led by the Department of Education and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to encourage transparency in college tuition pricing and net cost disclosures. The Financial Aid Shopping Sheet can provide students with clear numbers that show out of pocket cost of attendance with any offered loans, grants and other forms of assistance clearly identified, as well as calculated debt at graduation. Sample application ideas for the data include third party application integration, comparison and recommendation engines, student services counseling and administration utilities, financial services benchmarking. For more information, see the 2012 DataJam materials.

Background Information

 

This section provides additional information on important topics. We invite your additions for more short topics here!

Testing/Assessment

When selecting a problem to solve, or talking to educators about what concerns them, standardized testing often comes up. It even impacts the school year calendar, as any ancillary activities stop just before and during test weeks.

 

 NAEP: Commonly referred to as “The nation’s report card,” the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the most popular and widely used national test to gauge students’ knowledge and skills across various subject areas.  This test helps determine how states and urban districts compare regarding student growth and achievement over time.  This test assesses math, reading, science, writing, the arts, civics, economics, geography, and U.S. history.  The newest test to be released in 2014 will be on Technology and Engineering Literacy.  

 

TIMSS: Another national assessment is the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). This assesses 4th and 8th grade students in math and science achievement every four years. (The next TIMSS assessment will be conducted in 2015.)  In 2011, 500,000 students from more than 60 nations participated in this study.  Since there is a growing emphasis on measuring students’ competencies based upon both statewide and international benchmarks, the value and importance of these assessments will likely increase in coming years.

 

PARCC: The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is a consortium of more than 18 states working to develop a common set of K - 12 assessments in English and Math. PARCC assessments will aligned to the Common Core State Standards, and will replace annual assessments in states that transition to these online exams. As a result, they will provide data on student proficiency across state lines.  PARCC assessments will be ready for state administration during the 2014 - 2015 school year.

 

Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium: “The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (Smarter Balanced) is a state-led consortium working to develop next-generation assessments that accurately measure student progress toward college- and career-readiness. Smarter Balanced is one of two multistate consortia awarded funding from the U.S. Department of Education in 2010 to develop an assessment system aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) by the 2014-15 school year.”

Education Theories

As a developer, you may find that teachers will refer to particular learning theories when stating their classroom and learning goals. Here is a quick introduction to some popular learning theories to help you understand how educators approach instruction.

 

Bloom’s Taxonomy: Bloom’s Taxonomy is well known for capturing deeper levels of learning and is the underlying framework of the modern maker/project-based-learning (PBL) movement. This approach suggests that students develop higher order thinking skills as they move up the pyramid towards evaluating and creating.

 

Theory of Multiple Intelligences: Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences builds on Bloom’s Taxonomy, proposing that there are eight distinct types of intelligence and that individuals possess a unique blend of them. Understanding these different styles empowers learners to seek learning resources and modalities that are best suited for them to achieve mastery of content.

In combination, Bloom’s Taxonomy and Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences provide a comprehensive framework to support project-based/maker-focused activities in K12 schools. An example of an organization leading this charge is the Maker Education Initiative. The maker movement is supported by technology in many ways including engineering, robotics, and fab labs, which are relatively new to K-12 and not in the core curriculum.

Universal Design for Learning

CAST published “Universal Design for Learning Guidelines” to encourage instructional practices and educational content that embraces diversity of learners.

 

Mastery Based Learning: Mastery learning, or Proficiency- or Competency-Based Learning, is a growing trend in education theory, that students learn best by mastering a particular learning goal before moving on.  Understanding this trend is important for developers, since many schools no longer use a traditional model. In this model, educators design progressions of sequential learning goals that progress from simple knowledge and skills to complex tasks.  For this to work well, the goals must be personalized so that they are challenging to students but not too frustrating to achieve.

 

Standards-Based Grading. Mastery learning has an assessment counterpart, called “standards-based grading.” Instead of averaging a students’ general achievement over a period of time, teachers in mastery systems evaluate student performance in specific topics and skills and categorize their performance as advanced, proficient, basic, or below basic. In a true standards-based grading system, students do not progress until they demonstrate proficiency.  Check out Robert Marzano’s “Formative Assessments and Standards Based Grading” for a more in-depth look at mastery learning.

 

Callout box: Delving Deeper:

1.       Alfie Kohn reading on Progressive Education

2.           E.D. Hirsch - Core knowledge

3.           Montessori >>

Teacher Certification

Teachers get certified either through traditional four-year undergraduate teacher education programs or through alternative certification programs. Certification is the generally the responsibility of the state.  Traditional teachers are certified by completing a bachelor’s or master’s degree in education, after which they typically receive a preliminary probationary certification. Then they must fulfill other requirements - additional tests (usually a Praxis test), participating in a certain number of hours of professional development, completing an induction program, or getting a master’s degree, depending on the state - in order to get permanent certification.

 

Alternative certification programs, designed to expedite the transition of non-teachers into the classroom, began in the 1980s and have proliferated in the past decade. Some programs labeled alternative are more rigorous and take even longer than traditional programs, while others are fast tracked and have little or no practical training.  Some of the big alternative programs include Teach for America, The New Teacher Project, the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, as well as many smaller residency or online programs. Alternatively certified teachers comprised approximately one fifth of the teaching force in 2006, and that number has only grown since. Teachers with alternative certifications come from a wider array of backgrounds - many have worked for years before transitioning to teaching. The split between traditional and alternative programs is part ideological - some people think that ed schools are unnecessary, not doing it well, or simply not producing enough quality teachers.

 

Studies vary as to whether alternative certification teachers are better/worse/equal than traditional counterparts, with the results of the study often aligning with the perspective of the funder. Researchers have found that that there is actually more variation in teacher performance within a single preparation program than there is across programs, whether traditional or alternative. In addition, they found that first year teachers’ preparation and teaching ability are primarily shaped by three factors: their personal background (academic record and previous classroom experience), their formal training (coursework), and the actors and resources in their school (principal and mentor support, professional community, availability of materials).

[a]Barbara Bray's work here is great & recently updated. I'd drop in a link to some of her graphics that really break this down well.

[b]http://www.personalizelearning.com/2012/05/stages-of-personalized-learning.html

[c]Here's the link to the PDF: http://www.digitallearningnow.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Procurement-Paper-Final-Version.pdf AND INFOGRAPHIC: http://www.digitallearningnow.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Procurement-Infographic-FINAL.pdf which would probably be more useful to readers than the snippet from edsurge