Learning Barriers That Still Need To Be Addressed In Online Education

Zara Raza

By Zara Raza, marketing lead, SchoolCues.

While some students have been accustomed to homeschooling or online education from a young age, most have found themselves forced into that model since COVID struck. The abrupt switch from learning in a classroom setting to learning at their homes has been challenging. 

For starters, not all children have total or even partial access to a laptop or computer, rendering online learning especially difficult or impossible, but even for those who do have their own equipment, the conditions at home might not provide a conducive learning environment due to excessive noise or crowded households. 

That said, with regards to children who are in possession of both the equipment they need and the space to use it for optimal learning at home, they still face a series of obstacles, which, while difficult to overcome, do have solutions.

Less Social Activities Means Students Get Bored

Remote learning can be damaging to children’s mental health because of the loneliness and lack of human contact with their peers. It’s understandable: waking up and spending their entire day in front of a computer screen is unnatural and demotivating for kids. On top of that, they’re required to watch long lectures with limited interaction, and that is at the heart of the problem: not being able to connect with their classmates and teachers. 

Socializing and engagement in an online classroom are limited, especially if a teacher doesn’t take measures to ensure more interaction. During a lecture in a Zoom room, many teachers will have their students muted, expecting them to be taking copious notes and paying close attention, but students are ultimately left to their own devices without much supervision, especially if their parents aren’t around. 

Attention spans have already been shrinking due to the ever-growing use of mobile apps and video games, but with education forced online, what was already an issue has become exacerbated. One of the most important places where children can disconnect from the virtual world and enjoy genuine human interactions was suddenly taken from them.

Of course, not everything is so black and white. Online learning also has plenty of benefits, and can even be more effective if used in tandem with in-person learning that ensures socializing and interaction. More importantly, there are ways to optimize virtual classroom activities to inspire and maintain student engagement, starting with the first day of class.

An introductory activity could entail having students create a short video message introducing themselves and sharing it with the rest of the class, after which, you can quiz the students to see who remembers the most from their classmates’ presentations.

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Use Task-Based Permission To Tighten Security

Erin Werra

By Erin Werra, edtech enthusiast and writer, Skyward.

One of the core tenants of FERPA states that student records should only be available to those who have a specific need to see them. On the other side of district operations, sensitive financial information can easily become fodder for fraud if it falls into the wrong hands.

There’s a lot of data to safeguard as a system administrator.

One strategy to explore is task-based roles in your student information system or enterprise resource planning system. How does this strategy keep your data safe? Let’s explore.

Roles vs. tasks

The first step is to define the difference between roles and tasks within the software.

Roles apply to the user and carry a specific set of permissions.

Tasks are actions available to the user, including screens in different areas of the software, and different data sets the user can access.

In some systems, the default method of assigning permissions (whether view or edit permissions) is based on an individual’s role in the organization. But what if users who share a role shouldn’t necessarily share access to the same screens, tasks, and data?

Task-based permission and least privilege

Rather than automatically assign everyone in a similar role the same permissions, consider instead which screens, data, and tasks people in those roles need to view. Consider the concept of least privilege: only the minimum necessary rights should be granted to maintain the highest level of security.

Let’s say, for example, a new administrative assistant needs to access data about demographics, attendance, and create new student profiles. The system administrator can create a role using those exact permissions, and then add the role to the related security group. This might mean all administrative assistants have similar, but not identical, permissions and are all part of the same security group.

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Scale Up For Success: The Role of IT In ESSR Spending

Erin Jansson

By Eric Jansson, who leads Ed-Fi’s data standards works and manages other Ed-Fi software development efforts.

The pandemic has reshaped the school experience. From how students learn to how teachers teach, and just about everything in between, has changed in some way or another since March 2020. In the edtech space we saw massive investments in instructional systems, devices, and basic connectivity infrastructure as schools scrambled to get creative and extend instruction into remote contexts.

Those tools and process still largely remain in place, and the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSR) Fund spending promises to bring a new wave of investment in similar tools.

While educational organizations may have the right individual (read: siloed) resources, we must rethink how to use them together as systems, in order to support educators with real-time, secure data.

First, Carefully Consider Your Options

In response to the pandemic, the federal government is attempting to help schools and the larger education ecosystem recover by providing an unprecedented amount, $190 billion, of funding from multiple grants, including the American Rescue Plan. The money can be used at each districts’ discretion and in various ways, for example: providing extra health and safety options, additional staff, technology enhancements, and additional extracurricular programs.

Budget decision makers will likely be inundated with products and suggestions as edtech companies vie for their attention and partnership. As these funds start to deploy, it’s crucial for school leaders to work with their IT leaders to create a smart, tactical approach to their spending strategy and decisions.

The education system is at a critical juncture. Now is when schools can and should focus on laying a better foundation to connect our classrooms and modernize our technology infrastructure. And part of this foundation must be comprehensive strategic data visions, including strategic plans to implement data standards.

By making these considerations now, before solutions become adopted piecemeal, districts can ensure that the software platforms they invest in can work together and achieve data interoperability. The effort to create this data vision and plan won’t be small, but the results would have an enormous positive impact.

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Can Technology Lower The National Dropout Rate?

Shannon Flynn

Shannon Flynn is a freelance blogger who covers education technologies, cybersecurity and IoT topics. You can follow Shannon on Muck Rack or Medium to read more of her articles.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, high school students were dropping out less frequently than in past years — in 2005, the dropout rate was 10% and about 5% in 2018. Unfortunately, the numbers seem to be increasing as the pandemic continues to impact the education system.

With more educational institutions transitioning to hybrid learning environments, it’s become easier for students to fall behind on their assignments.

Some students, especially those at a lower income level, may have trouble accessing the technology needed to complete their work. Whether it’s missing a laptop or not having a decent internet connection, some students find the transition challenging.

As technology advances, it’s possible that it can be used in decreasing dropout rates and increasing graduation rates amongst high school students. Let’s explore some of the ways in which technology can lower the national dropout rate.

COVID-19’s Impact on Learning

It’s no secret that educators were forced to make adjustments to their traditional teaching methods in the last couple of years. Whether it was hopping on Zoom to meet with their classes or digitally assigning work, the role of technology became that much more significant.

Now, trends in education show us that an increase in absenteeism and the digital divide are contributing to a decrease in graduation rates. In addition, there are concerns regarding the national literacy crisis. The pandemic has intensified the literacy gap in high school students, but leveraging technology may be a feasible solution.

One education company trying to increase graduation rates in the country is Stride K12’s Graduation Guarantee Program. The program guarantees that eligible students enrolled in their schools will graduate with a diploma with no extra costs to their families. More programs and initiatives need to be implemented if we want to see more students graduating.

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5 Ways Access Management Can Protect K-12 Districts From Cyber Threats

Michael Webb

By Michael Webb, CTO, Identity Automation.

In K-12 school districts, one of the most challenging technology conflicts is between productivity and security. Students and staff want quick, reliable access to online resources. They’d rather not be logged off the system every 20 minutes or have to call the IT department to reset passwords. During class especially, teachers don’t want to sacrifice instructional time to troubleshoot login issues.

However, school districts have suffered 1,180 publicly disclosed cybersecurity incidents since 2016 according to the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center. These have included denial of service attacks that interrupt learning, data leaks that result in identity theft, and ransomware attacks with extortion demands reaching seven figures. When my employer surveyed 100 K-12 technology leaders earlier in 2021, 92% said they had suffered a cyberattack.

To successfully balance productivity and security, K-12 districts need a strategy for access management: the practice of serving valid users while denying access to invalid users. These five pillars of access management work together to help your district achieve that balance.

  1. Identity Management: instant access to digital resources

In many districts, IT departments manually provision accounts, meaning someone assigns digital resources, one user and one service at a time. The process is therefore time-consuming and prone to mistakes. Because deprovisioning is also manual, forgotten “ghost” accounts can become vulnerabilities. Instead, districts should use identity management for automatic account provisioning. Essentially, once a student or staff member is enrolled to a district, the identity management solution automatically provisions their account based on predetermined rules. This immediate, “zero-day access” is productive and secure. And if a student were to move or if a staff member were to quit, the identity management solution can automatically deprovision the account.

  1. Digital Stewardship: cybersecurity awareness and fundamental skills

Students and staff who learn to be good stewards of their credentials can help protect their learning environment. That starts with passwords. An analysis of 15,212,645,925 publicly leaked passwords found that “123456” is the most popular one. K-12 users must learn how to create strong (i.e., complicated) passwords that aren’t reused on other sites. Ideally, they will use one such password to access all their resources (more on that in the next section).  The second most important stewardship skill is how to recognize phishing attacks and vet links for telltale signs, like an unfamiliar domain. “Stay Safe from Phishing and Scams,” part of Google’s Digital Citizenship Course, is a great three-minute primer. Good stewardship, though important, can always use backup.

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Learnability For Learning Outcomes

Mitrankur (Mit) Majumdar

By Mitrankur (Mit) Majumdar, vice president and regional head—services, Americas, Infosys.

Gen X and older learnt a broad range of skills during their years of formal education that they applied throughout their working life. On the other hand, the millennials-and-younger employees will acquire new skills just-in-time and in short spells, repeatedly, as they change not just roles but even professions several times during their career. As the half-life of skills shrinks fast, the talent gap is widening to alarming levels: Millions of Americans remain unemployed (8.4 million in August 2021 ) even as millions of jobs go unfilled (10.1 million ).

Academic institutions, corporate trainers, and all other types of education providers have to address this issue by stepping up their learning and development (L&D) initiatives. However, simply throwing money at it is not the answer. Study after study has found that executives are disappointed with the outcomes of their company’s often substantial training investments.

I believe learnability may be the answer. Especially when nurtured alongside  a growth mindset where the learner is constantly looking to enrich their knowledge and aspire to an upward mobility in terms of skills and opportunities.

Learnability can be defined as a personal attitude based on a conscious and active focus on the permanent development of one’s own talent. It is this attitude of self-management of learning that’s different from the traditional approach of internal training, perceived as a requirement of the organization, external to the individual.

The reason why learnability works is because it empowers learners – rather than the learning providers – to manage the contours of their learning. The learners decide what to learn and at what speed, when they will learn, and through which channel. The core principle of learnability is to promote learner-centric learning; this is precisely why it produces better outcomes.

By definition, learnability requires learning to be freed from the boundaries of physical classrooms, in-person teaching, fixed timings, and linear, rigid, monolithic curriculums. The employees of today are learning lifelong, but that’s where the similarity ends.

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Education IT Trends and Its Most Pressing Challenges

Response by Amrit Ahluwalia, director of strategic insights, Modern Campus.

I’ve had conversations with hundreds of provosts and senior administrators at colleges and universities across North America, and around the world, all reflecting on how the industry is evolving, how student needs are changing, and how institutions are adapting to keep pace with those shifts. While many institutional leaders try to reflect on whether changes are flashes in the pan or meaningful disruption, the fact is that higher education has been on a consistent trajectory to make education increasingly modular and to make the student experience increasingly flexible and learner centric. 

Promising: Better Student Engagement 

We’re seeing colleges and universities invest in technologies built to support the learner in ways they haven’t before: Platforms built with the specific goal of engaging learners. Technologies that give learners direct pathways to success with clear career outcomes, that personalize the online experience or even simplify things like registration—these digital assets take the modern student from a ‘learner to earner’ in the most personalized and efficient path possible. The fact is that students enroll in higher education to get a job—58% of freshmen say this is their primary motivator for enrolling—and the industry is elevating to support those needs.  

Technologies that put the student engagement and experience first—that support the ‘learner-to-earner’ journey—must become the norm in higher education. The modern learner is savvy, they have alternatives to the traditional path to higher education and therefore colleges and universities must adapt to the needs of the modern learner.  We saw this during the pandemic: while freshman enrollment in higher education dropped 13% industry-wide, bootcamp enrollment grew 30%. The many alternatives to higher education keep pushing the status quo in how we serve modern learners. 

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How Do I Return My School To Normal As Fast As Possible?

Stuart Udell

By Stuart Udell, CEO, Achieve3000.

I was recently asked a very straight-forward question, “How do I return my school to normal as fast as possible?” My answer may surprise you.

The answer is anything but straight-forward. I don’t believe we should return our schools back to normal as soon as possible. And perhaps, we shouldn’t return them to normal at all. The COVID-19 pandemic was a seismic event in the world of education, shaking us to our very core. When delivering academic and social-emotional services to our children, it forced schools to dig deep, to be more inventive than we had ever been. More imaginative. More resourceful. More ingenious.

In the education biz, it is easy to become a creature of habit. And how much simpler it would seem just to roll back into our time-tested, comfortable world of “normal.” But rather than searching for comfort, leadership should be asking, “How can we make bold changes at this inflection point to ensure that our school is moving forward and is better than it ever was before?”

For many of us, 2020/2021 was the most challenging school year of our lives. For teachers. For administrators. For parents and students as well. We were all thrown a completely new set of circumstances with very few rules and asked to figure it out. And then, almost as if by magic, we all seemed to grasp the same two words in unison.

What if.

Of course, it helped tremendously that we were working with some very smart people. Our teachers and administrators immediately rolled up their sleeves, went to work and figured it out. Through the benefit of their hard work, their creativity, their love of the profession and their love of the children, they asked the two magic words and began to move us forward.

I have never seen a group of people work harder or smarter. Through a lot of late nights and a lot of crazy questions and even crazier answers, our nation of educators moved forward, often throwing out 150 years of precedent to find new answers based on methods that had never before been tried. It wasn’t always pretty. But it was beautiful.

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McGraw Hill Acquires Achieve3000

McGraw Hill announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Achieve3000, a recognized leader in differentiated instruction and learning acceleration for PreK-12 students in all 50 states and 49 countries.

Financial terms were not disclosed. The transaction is expected to be completed in approximately 60 days, subject to customary closing conditions.

Based in Red Bank, NJ, and founded more than 20 years ago, Achieve3000 delivers a comprehensive learning platform that significantly accelerates and deepens learning in literacy, math, science, social studies, and English language arts. Teachers in every subject and all 50 states rely on Achieve3000’s solutions to promote equity, increase engagement, and accelerate learning in their classes.

McGraw Hill is a portfolio company of Platinum Equity. Achieve3000 is McGraw Hill’s first add-on acquisition since Platinum Equity acquired the company in July 2021.

Simon Allen, CEO of McGraw Hill, said: “This is a great opportunity to further complement our core products in PreK-12 with supplemental and intervention solutions to help students of all ages and abilities, which has become even more important since the pandemic. With this acquisition, we will offer a wider array of outstanding digital learning materials that serve teachers, engage students and drive better learning outcomes.”

Sean Ryan, president of McGraw Hill’s School Group, said: “Achieve3000 and McGraw Hill are a natural fit. The combination of our people and our products will provide more effective and compelling support for classroom teachers.”

Stuart Udell, CEO of Achieve3000, said: ”Both organizations already share a common mission of accelerating learning for all students. By joining forces with McGraw Hill, we foresee a tremendous opportunity to expand our reach and jointly deliver a powerful learning experience to students, whether in a classroom, at home, or in a hybrid environment.”

Jacob Kotzubei, Partner at Platinum Equity, said: “The need for supplemental curriculum solutions is greater than ever as our educational system continues to grapple with the impact of the pandemic. The addition of Achieve3000 will further strengthen McGraw Hill’s ability to serve students, educators and administrators around the world.”

Luke Myers, managing director at Platinum Equity, said: “We are making good on our pledge to help McGraw Hill accelerate its digital transformation, which is especially important in the K-12 segment. Achieve3000 is tightly aligned with McGraw Hill’s strategic priorities, and its scale, track record and suite of digital solutions make it an ideal fit.”

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP is serving as legal advisor to Platinum Equity and McGraw Hill on the acquisition of Achieve3000 and Willkie Farr is providing financing counsel on the transaction. BofA Securities is the lead underwriter for the debt financing. Macquarie Capital is serving as financial advisor to Achieve3000.

Blockchain: Revolutionizing Education For The Future

Natalie Smolenski

By Natalie Smolenski, head of business development, Hyland.

Digital credentials, presented through a blockchain-secured format, have the power to eliminate fraud and verify students’ identities through admissions. Blockchain, a verification infrastructure used to prevent fraud, plays an increasingly important role in educational record verification, as the technology is quickly being adapted to verify educational experiences and qualifications. These include degrees, transcripts and other types of credentials.

Not only can blockchain make credential verification much faster, it is also significantly less expensive and vastly more secure. This opens the possibility of virtually eliminating records fraud, streamlining the verification of educational documents and giving control of personal data back to individuals.

Eliminate records fraud

Academic records fraud is both widespread and pervasive, as it is easy to edit and falsify information both digitally and on paper. Diploma mills are a flourishing industry – a real diploma can be purchased from a fake school and fake diplomas from real schools. Universities also regularly discover that applicant transcripts include photoshopped grades.

Blockchain can solve this problem by providing a decentralized, transnational and digital verification infrastructure to prevent and detect fraud. It achieves this by employing both advanced cryptography and timestamped digital signatures to validate both the issuer and recipient of a credential. Digital signatures and hashed data, combined with the immutable blockchain ledger, ensure that credentials have not been tampered with. Minimization of fraud increases trust, which facilitates international student mobility and safeguards the public from professionals with illegitimate credentials.

Streamline sharing and verification of educational documents

Under the current practice of applying for employment or further educational experiences, individuals must request their official academic records from their school or institution. This process is both costly and time consuming: the receiving institution is required to validate the credential either by using a software vendor’s solution or by contacting the school—or a third-party credential verification organization (CVO)—by phone or in writing.

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