Dispatches from FETC

by Tom Nieman

A visit last week to the Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC) proved worthwhile on a number of fronts—a temperature upgrade for me of about 40 degrees and a preview of the new classroom technology that will be released this spring.

Like anyone who attends conferences with regularity, I typically have a few questions upon entering the exhibit hall:

  • What’s new this year?
  • How does this year’s conference compare with earlier ones?
  • What can I learn about ________ that will make this show worthwhile?

My “need to learn” list included project-based learning, Common Core curriculum, and cloud-based interactive whiteboard technologies.

1.     SMART amp and Promethean ClassFlow

The “new” part of the FETC was easy this year as both SMART and Promethean were showing new cloud-based technology for using their interactive whiteboards. In the last few months, both companies have issued press releases touting their new software, called SMART amp and ClassFlow respectively.

Both amp and ClassFlow open up the previously closed IWB systems to engage with any mobile devices in the classroom, rather than the handheld response devices sold by Smart or Promethean. (ActivEngage attempted to work with other devices but was never a successful enough solution to be in wide use.) These developments are enabled by Google Drive. Teachers open a workspace within Google and can drag resources of almost any kind onto it.

Students and teachers can interact seamlessly. The SMART amp software seems open, intuitive, and easy to use. Promethean’s ClassFlow has more assessment features built in but depends more on loading student and teacher apps onto devices. Both of these exciting new platforms are now in beta versions and will be released later this spring. Being cloud-based, they hold the promise of being “device agnostic,” so that they will work on any platform, and the days of developing on both Promethean and Smart platforms may possibly be ending.

Here’s a quick video showing SMART amp in action.

These new IWB solutions take full advantage of touch screens, allowing a teacher to magnify or minimize images just by pinching or spreading fingers. Schools opting for projector-based IWB solutions or boards from PolyVision and other vendors will find that amp and ClassFlow work, up to a point, but definitely not as well as on the latest Smart or Promethean touch-sensitive boards.

2.     Edsby 

A “find” at this year’s FETC was Edsby, a cloud-based social learning platform. When I first saw their booth, I blurted out, “This looks like another Edmodo. Who needs another one of those?”

“I can tell you why,” replied Scott Welch, the vice-president of marketing of Edsby, and he did. Edsby saves work for teachers, not adding to it like so many pieces of software, primarily because it integrates with SIS software such as PowerSchool. Currently, schools that use Edmodo as a learning management system (LMS) have to go back and load the information into PowerSchool for their reporting requirements.

By creating a bridge from PowerSchool to Edsby, the work is done. Teachers do not need to load students into the system. Students are assigned to classes. Grades are calculated and posted for students and teachers. Parents can be alerted with a broadcast email that, say, testing will be done on two days next week and that students need to get their sleep.

Edsby, in other words, appears to have the right stuff. Every question I threw at Scott Welch he answered. Plus, it has an ingenious, simple pricing scheme—a penny a day, for everyone, students and teachers: $3.65 a year. I calculated in my head what the cost would be for my school system of approximately 9,200 students before I was two booths away—around $35,000 to connect all students, teachers, parents, and administrators. It’s worth a look in this day where data management has become so supremely important for schools.

3.     HMH, Pearson, TenMarks

Mention should also be made of some Common Core curriculum at the FETC. While everyone likes to imagine teachers have time to create all of their own lessons every day, that has become more difficult as rigorous new standards roll in. HMH and Pearson displayed new literature curricula aligned to the Common Core, and TenMarks displayed its Common Core math solution. None of these solutions is free, but they do the work of aligning lessons to the Common Core for teachers.

 

Stay alert for the release of the cloud-based solutions from SMART and Promethean. They herald a new day where students and teachers in 1-to-1 classrooms will be able to interact freely—and easily—minute-by-minute. Cloud-based solutions are transforming classrooms and education as we know it.

Tom NiemanTom Nieman is president of Green Light Professional Development and Nieman Inc., a privately held company that specializes in developing curriculum materials for educational publishers.

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