EdTech and the Future of Education

Interview with Haris Papamichael (Part II)

This is a continuation of our interview with Haris to get his take on how technology is impacting education today.

As the Director of Educational Technology at Victory, Haris oversees all the educational technology projects at Victory from concept definition through planning and release. In order to best deliver quality products to learning companies, Haris stays on top of the constantly changing technology trends.

Rebecca: Currently many states and districts have requirements for online courses. How do you think this will impact the concept of “school”?

Haris: There will certainly be greater emphasis on online learning, as each year we’ve seen an increase in the number of online learning courses. That is no longer just a trend within higher education. Teachers are growing more comfortable acting as a facilitator. This means that there will be more collaboration and independent learning programs as students are allowed to plot their academic course of study.

The traditional role of the teacher will not disappear. Although traditional teaching, or direct instruction, is still a predominant model, there are now many alternative instructional methods, such as flipped classroom, blended learning, project based, and constructive to name a few. I think technology is a big component and driver of all of these different methodologies.

Rebecca: What are your thoughts about the new initiative for technology literacy in schools?

Haris: I think it is fantastic. It’s a good example of something happening for the right reason and at the right time. When I think of technology literacy, I think of coding.

There is a big initiative now to teach coding in schools. Students, whether they are in elementary, middle, or high school have the technological knowledge to learn coding. It encourages students to be problem solvers and increasingly analytical in their thinking. These higher order thinking skills are enhanced by students’ experience with technology. The way students use technology is intuitive. It is reflected in how they approach and respond to their learning.

Learning to code is a valuable skill needed to work in today’s world where most jobs are now integrated with technology. For those students who have a passion for writing code and creating programs and games, this is a good way to establish the foundation their future professional life. While coding is not for everyone, more and more students are heading in this direction. Such skills will be an asset in the 21st century workplace.

Rebecca: Do teachers and school leadership have the tools and support they need to effectively integrate educational technology into schools and transform learning?

Haris: Teachers and administrators face limited budgets, a lack of program training, and professional development with respect to online learning programs. These issues can significantly impact the use and implementation of technology in the classroom.

Furthermore, for technology to be successful within schools, everyone has to be on board. There needs to be technology infrastructure to support the educational goals, and the appropriate professional development and training in place.

In many ways, technology creates a two-way street in learning and a switching of roles. Teachers can learn from the students how they use technology. Have the students be part of the teaching. This helps and supports the use of technology in the classroom. And in some ways it is more important when students take on the role of the teacher, when appropriate. It trains them how to share information and model learning. If all of these things are in place, technology will be integrated effectively.

Rebecca: How has EdTech changed and improved over the years?

Haris: The world of EdTech has changed and improved dramatically. I remember in 1995, I used to travel around the country doing workshops with teachers to help them implement science and math simulations into their curriculum. We started each workshop by describing the parts of the computer to teachers before we began to talk about science and math simulations. Our industry didn’t have much experience in using technology in the classroom at that time. Many teachers were uncomfortable with technology.

Future image: By ZSpace, Inc. (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Now, technology is a typical component in many classrooms. Both teachers and students are expected to have a certain level of technological knowledge and should be encouraged to explore effective digital learning tools. EdTech has come a long way and I am excited to see what EdTech trends are coming next.

The Impact of Technology on Teachers, Students, and Instruction

Interview with Haris Papamichael (Part I)

We recently sat down with Haris to get his take on how technology is impacting education today.

As the Director of Educational Technology at Victory, Haris oversees all the educational technology projects at Victory from concept definition through planning and release. In order to best deliver quality products to learning companies, Haris stays on top of the constantly changing technology trends.

Rebecca: What are the most urgent problems we face that could be solved with educational technology?

Haris: Looking at the landscape of education, I have been consistently seeing issues with overcrowded classrooms, supporting creative teaching, and keeping students engaged. Each of these is a complex issue, but the solutions all can be enhanced with educational technology.

Rebecca: Can you elaborate on the role of educational technology in addressing the issue of overcrowded classrooms?

Haris: I have visited many schools that have overcrowded classrooms. It is often difficult for teachers to be effective in such situations because they have to deal with the classroom management that a large class size requires.

Introducing technology allows teachers to have a different instructional model that can help alleviate the problem of class size. For example, a blended classroom model combines an online component with traditional direct instruction. With this model, teachers can break their classroom into groups and it allows them greater freedom to facilitate learning. It also allows for students to work both collaboratively and independently with the technology creating opportunities for both kinds of work.

When I was at Scholastic, this model was implemented into successful products. Read 180, a reading comprehension product, was a pioneer in implementing a blended classroom model. Using the blended classroom model, a teacher could easily divide the classroom into groups of students who were able to work independently (making use of online technology) and in a small-group setting. This allowed the teacher to focus on direct instruction with a small group of students.

Rebecca: Tell me more about supporting creative teaching with educational technology.

Haris: While teachers are still accountable for teaching standards and preparing students for tests, technology offers ways for teachers to be more creative with their lessons that benefits both students and teachers.

For example, software such as blinklearning allows teachers to create personalized, customized courses with minimal amount of work. The software enables a teacher to take content and create his or her own course easily. Teachers can be creative not only through developing their own course but also by refining the course as they teach it. The platform design allows teachers to get immediate feedback from students and then easily change the content.

Technology also creates teacher-learning communities where teachers can find lessons, activities, and materials to innovate and supplement their current lessons. For example, Council for Economic Education’s EconEdLink provides online lessons and activities on economics and financial literacy; a subject area that teachers often seek help with. Teachers Pay Teachers, where teachers offer lessons that are both creative and classroom-tested, is another good example of collaborative communities in education.

Rebecca: We can all see the impact of educational technology on student engagement. Can you elaborate?

Haris: Most students are digital natives. They use technology at home and school. Think of all the students who constantly use their smartphones as a tool for research and communicating with peers.

Technology as a resource has the power to give students immediate and instant gratification by showing them as successful learners. This is a unique facet of technology.

Here’s an example. FASTT Math is a research-based adaptive product that helps students with math fact fluency. Each lesson was deliberately designed to be short (about 10 minutes). At the end of the lesson, students see their daily progress – a huge motivator. Students often commented about the reasons why this program was successful: “I love this product, because everyday I know more and I can see how much more I know – and it’s fun!” This is where technology works for the student by engaging them and allowing them to see their learning growing.

Young students relate mostly to short-term goals. That is what motivates them. Technology does a fantastic job with providing students with short-term goals and immediate feedback.

Rebecca: Have we actually reached the point where students can transform their own learning through EdTech and become creators of knowledge rather than just consumers?

Haris: Though there are a lot of success stories of students creating their own knowledge experiences, I feel we have not yet reached a point of being able to scale up so it is impactful. That said, it is a fantastic trend and hopefully we will get there, but it will need a lot of support. In a student’s view, technology is entertainment but it is truly much more. Students need to realize that technology is part of their learning experience because it is part of their school life. Therefore, students will need a lot of support to be able to transform their own learning as to what they need to do and what it is that they need to learn. The students will also need support from their school administration and teachers. However, once the trend takes hold, it will mushroom quickly.

Rebecca: What are some of the issues that teachers will need to address when students create and share content?

Haris: To me, the most critical issue teachers will need to address is content accuracy and appropriateness. Students will need to be supervised in the creation and sharing of content. Also, there needs to be substance in the content they learn with clear learning objectives.

Students need to be focused and have a certain level of maturity in order to be able to put this kind of effort together. As I mentioned earlier, students need a lot of support in defining what the learning goal is, what the learning path is, and how they will achieve the goal. Of course, the beauty is that we all learn better and quicker when we are in charge of our own learning. In this scenario, teachers become facilitators and models for learning rather than direct instructors.

Rebecca: What are the challenges and rewards for using augmented and virtual reality in the classroom?

Haris: Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are very exciting technologies for students. With AR, they can actually be part of the experience. Let’s say a class has a model of the human heart. Students can interact with it. The visualizations are great and engage students in a unique and meaningful way that textbooks can’t. Students could visit ancient Rome. Think how exciting trips like this could be!

When students use this type of technology, they usually work in isolation. That’s an issue we need to solve. We need to make sure that learning is collaborative and there are opportunities for students to work as teams.

The cost of VR and AR devices is a challenge. There are less expensive options but they are not great yet. Teachers and school administrators need to be absolutely sure that the content that accompanies these technologies is good before they can justify the investment.

The good news is that the content is getting a lot better and more interesting. It is a relatively new field, and I expect to see more content in the near future, in science, math, language arts, and other subjects. 2018 will be a good year for VR and AR in the classroom.

Top 3 EdTech Trends for 2018

EdTech trends change at a rapid pace. This affects both the tools students use, how they use tools, and how educational needs are met. When you look at the ISTE timeline for the adoption of EdTech in schools, 2016 marked the transition from using technology to learn to transformative learning with technology.

How has it been going? Are we there yet? To find out, we studied our Top 3 EdTech Trends for 2017 and evaluated them for 2018:

  • Student-Centered Focus—EdTech enables students to transform their own learning.
  • Thoughtful Integration by Teachers—Teachers are a dynamic force for change when supported by ongoing professional development on technology integration.
  • Informed Decisions by Leadership—A recipe for success includes a clear, bold vision, along with investment in teams, empowerment of teachers, and effective communication to get stakeholder buy-in.

Let’s take a deeper dive on each of these key trends.

Student-Centered Focus

The EdTech trends for 2017 are all about the student, and this trend should continue into 2018. EdTech has changed in that new technology has created online tools that allow students to transform their own learning. Watch for additional tools and platforms that extend and emphasize Personalized Learning. Personalized Learning tailors instruction to each student’s unique specific needs and learning preferences through face-to-face teaching, technology assisted instruction, and collaboration.

Personalized learning coupled with a continuing focus on project-, problem-, and challenge-based learning will also foster student-centered learning and student empowerment. We will likely see continued expansion in the implementation of online tools to facilitate the student’s ability to

  • interact with other students both locally and globally,
  • work in collaborative groups, and
  • develop solutions to real-world problems.

Students will no longer be just consumers of knowledge. They will now have the tools to actually create knowledge as they direct their own learning to address real-life applications.

Thoughtful Integration by Teachers

Student centered learning can only happen if teachers are thoughtfully integrating technology into their teaching and curriculum. In 2017, we saw a growing awareness of the importance of ongoing professional development for teachers around teaching with technology and the need for coaches to help teachers with technology integration. This was an outcome of the wildly popular edchat and edcamp movements that use social media to bring together educators from around the globe to share ideas on a topic of interest. In 2018, look for new professional learning models, along with a focus on the role and responsibilities of the instructional technology coach coming to the forefront. We also expect to see:

  • more sites that provide easy access to EdTech best practices and methods for disseminating transformative ideas, and
  • more organizations that provide this type of professional development.

Technology that is likely to have the greatest impact on teaching this year is virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). A 2016 Augmented and Virtual Reality Survey report shows that even though almost 80% of teachers have access to virtual reality devices, only about 6.9% of teachers are using them. This is despite the fact that 93% of teachers from the same survey said their students would be excited to use virtual reality.

2018 could be the year for things to change. We should see a rise in the number of teachers taking a blended learning approach as they incorporate VR and AR into their traditional lesson plans. At ISTE 2017, teachers and education leaders saw how these platforms can transport students to places they could not otherwise experience, such as the Roman Colosseum or inside a water molecule. The key will be to ensure that teachers continue to first consider what their learning goals are for students, and then to design a learning experience that uses the unique capabilities of these tools to serve that goal, as laid out in the ISTE Standards.

Source: Infographic created by Virtual Reality Brief.

With students increasingly using technology in all aspects of their lives, teachers now have the added responsibility of preparing students to live, learn, and work in an interconnected digital world. Teaching students to be good Digital Citizens who “act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical,” as stated in the ISTE Student Standards, will be more important this year than ever. The use of educational technology also requires that students have a new literacy standard—a digital literacy standard that is based on coding. Coding could become the handwriting or typing of the future as students engage in activities in which it is required. It will also be an essential component for the student as knowledge creator.

Informed Decision-Making by Leadership

A key factor in how effectively teachers can transform student learning through technology is the decisions being made by school leadership. As superintendents lead a school through a digital transformation, they must be able to articulate a clear, bold vision, invest in teams, empower teacher leadership, and effectively communicate to get stakeholder buy-in. In 2018, we will see more resources being devoted to helping school leadership through this transition and dealing with such issues as digital equity and the homework gap.

Decisions made at the state level about assessment will also impact what is happening in the classroom and the EdTech that is being used. The past year saw states ramping up for a new educational reality under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which gives far greater leeway and oversight to states. In 2018 states will get their ESSA plans off the ground and make important tactical decisions. States’ approaches to assessment will prove to be key harbingers of instructional changes to come. Watch for increased focus on performance assessment throughout K–12 and for better proxies for postsecondary preparation and readiness at the high school level. The assessment instruments that states ultimately choose will offer clues as to what emerging definitions of 21st-century “success” will look like. These decisions will also have major implications for content providers and publishers in the short term.

Further Reading

Messy, Hectic, and Exciting: A Very Ambitious Statewide Personalized Learning Experiment

The Shifting Textbook Adoption Market

A recent White House report states that the textbook market is valued at about $7-8 billion, with California, Florida, and Texas being the key adoption states. However, the textbook adoption market is changing.

The Old-School Textbook Adoption Buying Pattern

In the past, publishers focused most of their textbook development efforts on two states: Texas and California. Textbooks for these two states would often become templates for textbooks sold nationally, but according to a recent EdWeek article, California and Texas no longer dictate content in textbooks. Currently, there are 19 states that adopt textbooks in a variety of curriculum areas, and publishers are finding that these individual states want customized textbooks.

What Factors are Driving Change in Textbook Adoption?

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ELL Students and the Digital Experience

Schools continue to move toward digital lessons and digital experiences for students. Most students are digital natives and are comfortable in this world. However, not all students have equal access. How does the digital revolution affect ELL students?

Some ELL students are very comfortable with technology and how it works, while others are using it for the first time. Digital lessons, however, abound in the classroom. Across content areas, culminating activities in lessons often ask students to do more research on the Internet, use graphics in their reports, cite resources, and create digital slideshows. These types of activities are designed to help students acquire and adopt skills needed for 21st-century work. And a survey by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop shows that Hispanic-Latino families want their children to have these skills.

Access Starts with the Directions

However, there are several roadblocks for ELL students. Most educational websites and software tools provide directions only in English, which poses a barrier for ELL students. If they cannot follow the directions, ELL students may struggle to complete assignments and fall behind their peers. Situations such as this can easily lead to frustration and might make ELL students reluctant to use digital devices in the classroom. So how can we scaffold learning for ELL students in digital lessons?

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To Customize or Not to Customize, That’s the Question

According to a 2016 White House report, the U.S. spends over $1.3 trillion on education expenditures. And the instructional materials market for K-12, which includes state adoptions, is over $19 billion. In large states, such as Texas, it makes sense to customize a national program. With smaller states, a calculation needs to be made: does the potential revenue justify the expense of customization? What’s the best way to customize for a specific state?

Start with Gap Analysis

The first step is a gap analysis to analyze the state standards. For example, in Texas, we would compare the TEKS to the standards the national program was aligned to, usually the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). This is a bit ironic, given that Texas never adopted CCSS. A gap analysis relative to CCSS is a tool you can use again and again as you develop plans for the many states that are moving away from CCSS or adapting it to create their own customized standards. Ultimately, the gap analysis answers important financial questions about the scope of work required for a successful customized program.

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Guided Deep Learning and the Future of Assessment

Victory’s spinoff metacog has been busy adding new features and functionalities. When companies look to incorporate metacog into their digital products, they want to know two things:

  1. How does metacog work?
  2. What can metacog help me do now that I couldn’t do before?

The answers to both questions lie in our unique approach to guided deep learning: machine learning steered by an understanding of real student outcomes.

Deep Learning

In education, deep learning is different from deeper learning, which is a pedagogical approach to instruction. In the world of Big Data, deep learning is an artificial intelligence (AI) approach that creates neural networks in which each “neuron” is a computer processor. This structure mimics how the human brain works in parallel processing.

Deep learning can be very effective, but it has a drawback: neural networks are so complex that we can’t know how they arrive at certain decisions. Continue reading

Pathways to Translation Solutions

To translate is defined as “to render or express in another language.” It also means to explain in simple language, to interpret or infer significance, and to transform or convert. A translation involves all of these aspects and more. Expert translation requires:

  • command of the source and target languages,
  • a deep understanding of the cultural context and nuances of both languages,
  • insightful knowledge of correlated idioms and etymology between the languages,
  • familiarity and experience in the subject matter, and
  • the ability to convey the same meaning expressed in the original message.

Can Machine Translation Do the Work?

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EdTech Round Up (May 2017)

By now, we know that EdTech is here to stay. Not only has “classroom” education expanded to include digital classrooms and smart technology, but pedagogical theories have found ways to embrace EdTech too. So EdTech isn’t just a trend, it’s a movement that touches just about every corner of teaching and learning. As these links from around the web show, educators and thinkers are finding new applications for technology.


Designers have rushed to align learning products with the buzzy idea of gamification, but what does gamification actually do to the learning process? While it’s important to understand more about key learning styles, engagement is likely the reason that gamification helps students process information more efficiently. And anecdotal evidence certainly points to increased student involvement and fun when games are involved.


Mobile Technology

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