ISTE round-up: 11 ed tech tools worth noting

Ed tech's best and brightest in the K-12 space were on hand at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta last week for the 2014 International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Conference. Like many attendees, you may have walked the floor all three days and still felt there wasn't enough time to take everything in. 

We've compiled the following list, in no particular order, to bring you up to speed on a few things you may have missed at this year's show. From device security solutions to robots for students with autism, these are 11 tools to keep on your radar.

1. Alma

We've written previously about Almaan LMS and SIS solution that launched in February and collects curriculum management, gradebook, report cards, student records, and data analytics functionality in a single place — and with all core features free. In the months since, the platform's user base has grown rapidly, with schools in over 22 states and four countries signed up. At ISTE, Alma announced the release of new customized report cards as part of its paid add-on options. At a cost of $2 per student, schools using Alma can now provide tailor-made report cards based on traditional or proficiency-based grading methods, with customization extending down to the ability to augment report cards with the school's colors.

Alma report card screenshot (Click to expand)
Alma
 

"The reason it was such a big undertaking for us is because, first of all, we needed to build something that actually saves teachers and administrators time, and keeps everything organized," Alma Co-Founder and CEO Andrew Herman told Education Dive at ISTE. "It's just set up for somebody to come in and really think about the student and get their assessments and thoughts down on paper ... It gets everything organized for the school so administrators can really see what stages different report cards are at, and can review them, approve them, and send them back easily."

The company, which currently serves many private and charter schools, is also planning to expand to a district-wide platform this fall.

2. Skyward

You may have heard Skyward's name before: The company's student management suite, used to monitor student information, has seen widespread adoption in Tennessee recently and is currently used for over 5 million students worldwide. It also provides many schools with finance and human resources administrative software. With over 90% of districts now using electronic data storage for student records, the company, which touts its industry-leading best practices for data protection, took the opportunity at ISTE to release new privacy and security guidelines applicable for all schools. The release focuses on everything from network access to issues in dealing with cloud providers — and it comes at a time when student data collection and use has been under heavy enough scrutiny that companies like InBloom were forced to shut down over the backlash. 

"A lot of what the paper talks about is that privacy issue," said Skyward VP of Marketing & Product Management Raymond Ackerlund. "We looked at it from our perspective. Our focus is giving a way to really protect and localize that data just to the school district. Nobody else should have access to it."

"There are times where they need to share data with other applications — maybe it's a district that has our student information system and another food service system. What we've done is build a very effective business channel partner program that really ensures that if there is data used by somebody else, they have a very well-defined reason why they're using it, how they're gonna use it, and how they're gonna protect it."

3. Airwatch

Acquired by VMware in February, Airwatch offers management solutions for mobile devices, email, applications, content, and browsers. For example, in a class with 1:1 device deployment, the company's tech allows administrators to manage the tablets or laptops by pushing apps to all devices, restricting access to certain content, locking screens or apps, and more. At ISTE, the company debuted Teacher Tools, a suite of features that allows educators in the classroom to access the same management capabilities. Among them: The device-locking "All Eyes Up Front" tool and the "Clear Passcode" function, which allows a teacher to reset a students' password in-class without having to go through an IT admin. 

 

While you may recognize the company's management tools as being those that were widely reported as being "hacked" by students in Los Angeles' massive iPad deployment, it's probably best to clear that misconception up now. Students didn't so much hack the devices as delete their security profile, and Preston Winn, Airwatch's director of business development, assures us that the company and Apple have long since corrected that security workaround.

4. Pearson

Education publishing giant Pearson had an entire room with a number of ed tech solutions on display at Atlanta's Omni Hotel. Among them: NBC Learn, Pearson Realize, Write To Learn, and Pearson System of Courses.

Powered by Pearson Online Learning Exchange, NBC Learn allows educators to mix content with NBC video to create and assign customized lessons. Over 16,000 interactive videos are available via the platform. As noted in our look at how three state education departments are embracing the future, Indiana gives its teachers a free subscription to the platform.

For a fuller LMS experience, Pearson offers Realize, which shares its code base with OLE and is currently exclusive to Texas. It will eventually be the company's flagship learning hub after first rolling out in a number of other state adoptions. It also features the teacher-curated Gooru content search tool, developed by former Google Research director of engineering Prasad Ram. 

 

The Write To Learn tool can grade essays and summaries, offering feedback on grammar, structure, plagiarism from the source passage, and even comprehension. It does this with an algorithm based on hundreds of proficient responses to given essays and summaries. Spanish and basic Chinese translations are also offered for English language learners. Teachers can assign out prompts with context in a variety of subjects, like science or history. The tool originally debuted in 2006 and a refreshed look and feel will launch in fall 2015, with beta testing beginning this fall.

Finally, Pearson had its Common Core System of Courses on display, which it touts as the first all-digital, all-tablet English language arts and math curriculum on the market. Instructional Director Don Robertson walked us through a lesson on "Romeo and Juliet," which launched with a movie-like trailer explaining the unit. Following the introductory video, the platform presents students with questions and incorporates similar stories throughout history, research on Elizabethan times, and a graphic novel version of the classic Shakespearean tale. 

5. Filament Games

Game-based learning is one of ed tech's biggest trends, and Filament Games was on hand at ISTE to show off its Next Generation Science Standards-aligned PLEx Life Science series. Standing for "play, learn, experiment," the series is heralded as the first complete collection of game-based curriculum and includes Reach For The Sun, which took home the Best Learning Game Award at the Games Learning Society Showcase.

"I think it can be challenging for educators to integrate games into the classroom without materials that help them do that, and the curriculum materials extend the learning outside of the game," said Executive Producer Dan White. "The curriculum materials are there to take what you've learned from the game and really drive those concepts home."

6. Learning.com

Offering a different kind of digital curriculum, Learning.com, which provides solutions for integrating 21st century skills into core instruction, announced enhancements to its next-generation technology pre-tests. The tests check students for digital literacy skills that are required for new online testing being rolled out nationwide in conjunction with college and career-ready standards. If necessary, the tests can recommend easy tech lessons to students based on their results.

At ISTE, the company debuted Curriculum Foundry, a searchable database containing a district's digital content alongside vetted open education resources. Additionally, the company has released new case studies, including a look at one Texas district's project-based approach to integrating tech.

7. RoboKind

RoboKind's robot for autism, Milo, is another tech tool we've written about before — but seeing him in person is another thing entirely. Dr. Pamela Rollins, who helped develop the Robots4Autism program's curriculum at the University of Texas at Dallas' Callier Center for Communication Disorders, told us how many kids on the autism spectrum have an interest in technology, and that robots have been shown to help teach those children about social communication and emotions. Naturally, we were also curious about the role the uncanny valley — the dip in comfort humans feel when it comes to human features that look and move almost exactly like the real thing — might play on the spectrum. This is actually why Milo has a more cartoonish face, though kids on the spectrum still see the robot, which has realistic-but-predictable arm and facial motion, as being "pretty real." Thus far showing promise in studies, this is definitely a tool to keep an eye on in the special education space.

8. Edmodo

The world's largest K-12 social network, Edmodo has sometimes been described as a "Facebook for education." But there's more to it than that. The 35 million teachers, administrators, students, and parents on the closed, private platform are able to collaborate, share content, and utilize educational apps. Now, thanks to a new free tool, Snapshot, announced at ISTE, teachers and administrators can deliver standards-aligned formative assessments on the platform, as well. Snapshot for Teachers generates ELA and math questions for grades 3-12 based on a teacher's curriculum and can provide real-time insight on proficiency and learning gaps. 

Edmodo Snapshot interface (Click to expand)
Edmodo
 

Additionally, Edmodo expanded its reach with the announcement of a Windows 8.1 app. It's also available via the Web, iOS, and Android.

9. Califone

With new online tests requiring students to listen to audio or use microphones for some exercises, schools will need durable hardware. That's where Califone comes in. The company has long provided schools with equipment ranging from headsets to PAs, and at ISTE, Vice President of Marketing Tim Ridgway demonstrated to us why that is. The headsets themselves feature industrial-grade wiring, connectors, and molding, making it far less likely they'll sustain damage from students swinging them around or bending them. There are even some waterproof models, so educators can easily clean and sanitize them on a regular basis.

10. zSpace

​Using augmented reality and 3D technology, zSpace creates an immersive environment that enhances STEM education. The zSpace STEM Lab workstation consists of a special monitor, an accompanying stylus, and special glasses (or clip-on lenses). An arm on the teacher's station collects an augmented reality experience for display on a projector, showing 3D objects from the teacher's workstation seemingly floating in front of them on the screen.

In K-12 classrooms, students are typically paired two to a station. In the Newton's Park application, students can test physics with a variety of simulations using a selection of ramps and objects. Franklin's Lab allows for the virtual construction and deconstruction of circuits, electromagnets, motors, and even a robot. In Cyber Science 3D, students in biology classes, for example, can virtually dissect models of frogs, tarantulas, and a variety of other animals (including dinosaurs) with all pieces annotated. One can see where, potentially, this sort of setup can save money on cadavers in middle and high school science labs.

 

With several virtual human anatomy models and presentations, the platform also has applications in higher ed for med schools.

11. LightSail

LightSail is a subscription-based reading tool for grades 2-12. The app allows students to check out books from a digital library on their devices and periodically asks multiple choice or narrative response questions to measure their understanding of the material. Feedback on student progress is available to both teachers and pupils via the app's dashboard. 

 


This story is part of our newly expanding K12 coverage. If you would like to subscribe to the Education Dive: K12 newsletter, click here. You may also want to read Education Dive's conversation with Edgenuity CEO Sari Factor at ISTE.