Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Challenge to Create a New EdTech App

Today, Aneesh Chopra, former Chief Technology Officer of the US Government, spoke to entrepreneurs, engineers, developers, designers, and business people at the StartNorfolk event. He invited me to share a few thoughts regarding trends in leveraging technology for learning and gave me the opportunity to issue a challenge for the development of a new app.

I’d like to start my remarks by telling you about David. David was an 11th grade student in my school district last year who was taking Algebra II. David is very quiet. He didn’t talk much to his peers or to the teacher. When it came time to review for the semester exam, his teacher decided that rather than providing the review herself, she would crowdsource the assignment: she would rely on the expertise of the entire class. She challenged David and all the other students to create math tutorial videos and post them on the internet. The students rose to the challenge-they loved that they were creating videos not just for their peers in that class but for a global audience. Because they were so into it, they worked hard to create coherent, easy-to-understand tutorials. David’s video was particularly compelling. Not only did he break down a complex solution into understandable steps, he integrated graphics and sound that grabbed the attention of viewers. The teacher highlighted his video as an example of an effective instructional video and he loved the recognition. The teacher reports that the review was much more effective with this approach. The class would not have benefitted from David’s ability to teach if she had not taken this crowdsourcing approach.
I share this story because it relates to several trends in leveraging technology for learning.
1.       Global Connectivity-it takes advantage of the Internet to provide students with a global audience, thereby increasing their willingness to commit themselves fully to their work
2.       Anytime/Anywhere/Any Device Learning-students in this classroom were able to access the videos, not just at school, but from anywhere that they have connectivity. Also, students are now able to create these tutorials with devices of their choice. Our school district allows students to bring smart phones, netbooks, laptops, and other devices to school and connect with our wireless network. Also, if they wanted to access the resources of our network from home in order to create their tutorial, they could do so because we have a virtual desktop infrastructure that basically serves as a private cloud for our students and teachers.
3.       Open Source/Crowdsourcing-There were no restrictions on who was providing or accessing content. The whole class was doing the job of instruction. This is a bottom-up, not top-down approach. And the content was free.
4.       Personalization/Choice-Each student choose what topic he would teach, as well as what device and software he would use to create the tutorial. And they choose which tutorials to access to prepare for the exam.
I have a confession to make. The story about David and the comments about these four trends were a set up. I was setting you up for an ask.  Aneesh gave me a wonderful opportunity-to issue a challenge to you regarding the creation of a new digital tool or app. I asked whether it could be any challenge and he said yes, so here goes.
Click here to view.
I want an app that helps teachers, and even parents and students leverage the newly created learning registry. Aneesh Chopra for being one of the driving forces behind the register. The learning registry is an emerging web-based library of resources. It is an open community. Any organization or individual can contribute or access resources. Right now, many teachers spend hours surfing the internet to find resources to help them create successful lesson plans. The registry will help teachers find the best resources, not only for their grade or content area, but for particular students.
Design Specs
·         Searchable: I want to be able to search the tagged content by topic, grade level, skill, author, and the time period it was posted to the registry;
·         Platform and Device Agnostic: I want to be able to use this app regardless of whether I am using a PC, tablet, or handheld device and regardless of the operating system I am utilizing.
·         Continuous Content Aggregation:  I want the app to constantly update available resources based on searches that I save.  If I do search looking for lesson plans, I want to be able to save that search and have the results of the search automatically updated as new resources are added to the learning registry;
·         Personalized Smart Search: I want the app to prioritize the resources it identifies based on my preferences, previous usage, and my rating of content I have accessed previously. I want the app to say, "Given what content you liked in the past, I think you'll like this content";
·         Freemium-: I want it to be premium (first-rate), but it must be free. I don’t care if you make money by selling ads or selling upgrades, but the basic app must be free and robust;
·         Sharing Features: I want to be able to distribute links to the registry--as well as ratings, comments, and questions--via social media.
So, that is my challenge and I sincerely hope that some of you will take it on. And if you are working on other apps that are related to learning, I hope they will reflect the trends I have addressed. This is an exciting time to be in K-12 education. I am more optimistic than ever before about our ability to leverage game-changing technology to support student achievement. One reason for my optimism is the League of Innovative Schools and Digital Promise. Digital Promise is a national center created by Congress with bipartisan support. Aneesh also played a key role in getting this off the ground. The League, created as part of Digital Promise, includes leading school districts, as well as some of the world’s most foremost researchers and education technology providers. The York County School Division iss one of the charter members of the league.  I hope you will join us in the league's endeavor to use technology to transform teaching and learning.

During the Q and A session, Bert Schmidt, with encouragement from Aneesh, expressed interest in joining me in issuing this challenge. Bert Schmidt is the CEO of WHRO (our local public television station). PBS is already actively involved with the Learning Registry initiative.

Special thanks to @ccrudy and @ldonvito for brainstorming with me regarding edtech apps! Follow them on Twitter.

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