Companies aim to help schools create digital learning environments

As more schools make the shift to a digital-based teaching and learning environment, a number of new products and services have emerged to help ease this transition.

From digital content collections intended to help educators personalize instruction for every student, to learning management systems that contain built-in analytics to help students succeed, here’s an overview of some of the latest offerings.

Personalizing instruction

Knovation (formerly known as netTrekker) has announced its newest product, icurio, a digital curriculum content solution for delivering personalized learning. Icurio, which includes a collection of 330,000 digital learning resources aligned with state and Common Core standards, is intended to help schools make the transition from teaching with print to digital materials. Students can build and organize content collections on their own for homework and projects, or access specific topic-based content that is organized and prepared by their teachers to address their individual learning needs.

The introduction of icurio comes on the heels of Knovation’s corporate transformation announcement, which reflects a new name and broadening vision for the company formerly known as netTrekker.

“Knovation is much more than a new name, it is a new mission,” said Joe Grieshop, president and managing officer. “This corporate transformation will allow us to build on the solid foundation of netTrekker Search and deliver breakthrough and disruptive learning solutions that focus on a fundamental shift from a one-way, one-size-fits-all approach to education to a learner-centered approach that minimizes environmental, emotional, functional, and stylistic learning barriers and is customized to the unique needs of every learner.”

Next-generation learning management

The Salt Lake City-based firm Instructure, whose open-source Canvas learning management system is available through a cloud-based model hosted by the company, has caught on in higher education, with more than 100 colleges and universities now using the software. At the Florida Educational Technology Conference in January, Instructure announced a new version of Canvas designed specifically for K-12 schools. One of its early adopters is North Carolina’s Rockingham County School District.

“Rockingham held big expectations for Canvas, and I’ve been extremely pleased with its performance and the reaction of our teachers,” said Dennis Frye, director of instructional technology and media, in a press release. “Our implementation process has been a huge success.”

Canvas K-12 saves teachers time and engages parents in their children’s education by co-enrolling parents in the software. Parents can opt for push-based notifications when their children miss an assignment or have a test scheduled. They also can log in to view their children’s grades and class participation in and to communicate with the teacher.

“With Canvas K-12, when a teacher makes a change to the calendar or to class assignments, parents are automatically notified through an eMail, a text message, or a Facebook notification,” said Brian Whitmer, Instructure co-founder. “The days of teachers having to stuff backpacks with paper are over.”

Canvas K-12 is pre-populated with state standards and Common Core objectives, so teachers can choose the relevant objectives and align them with course assessments. What’s more, it contains built-in learning analytics to help guide student success.

Another next-generation learning management tool is itslearning, which promoted its digital learning environment during the Texas Computer Education Association conference in February. Itslearning offers a range of tools to help educators plan, engage, teach, assess, reflect, and report, the company says—all with the goal of giving students a more personalized learning environment.

Unlike most other LMS programs, the software is built around students instead of courses, itslearning says. The platform includes features such as project rooms and built-in video conferencing with shared displays, where teachers can interact with their students and students can work together on projects; multimedia and Web 2.0 tools for students to create and express their ideas; ePortfolios for every student to create, manage, and share their achievements over time; and individual learning plans that include assessment data and customized content to help students set learning goals and take responsibility for achieving those goals.

Schoology debuted its online learning, classroom management, and social networking system at the Consortium for School Networking’s K-12 Technology Leadership Conference. The company discussed how its product breaks down boundaries by giving educators and students a more effective and engaging way to learn.

Schoology is cloud-based, integrates with any existing technology, and requires no special training. The content is individualized, colleagues can connect down the street or around the world, and student social networking looks extremely similar to Facebook. Using Schoology, educators can do things as simple as posting assignments, quizzes, and links to additional resources, or as sophisticated as conducting comprehensive online courses, providing one-on-one remediation, or hosting discussions.

Mobile learning

A number of companies introduced new mobile computing products at recent ed-tech trade shows. One of the products that stood out was the Eee Slate B121 from Asus, a “built for business” tablet PC offering an Intel Core i5-470UM processor, Computrace LoJack-readiness, a Bluetooth keyboard, Wacom Digitizer pen, and more. Other Asus tablets for education include the Eee Pad Transformer Prime TF201 and the Eee Pad Transformer TF101.

HP demonstrated the HP Slate with Windows 7 and touch and pen capabilities, as well as the HP Mini 3115 student notebook, which offers high-powered performance for students. The company also promoted its Teacher Experience Exchange, an online community offering free teacher resources, including lesson plans, classroom content, tutorials, and more, as well as its Print Management consultants who can evaluate a school’s printing practices and identify potential cost savings through easy changes or adjustments.

JAR Systems demonstrated the use of JAR Remote Management cart solutions, which offer “intelligent charging” and remote management via wake-on-LAN service. Notebooks can be imaged in the carts, and updates can be scheduled and automated for easy mobile device management. Pullout trays and wire management features on the carts help make notebooks more easily accessible for teachers and students, the company says.

To realize the full benefits of digital learning programs and extend their learning outside of school, it helps for students to have broadband access at home. But many students from low-income families lack home access and are at a disadvantage relative to their wealthier peers. To help alleviate this concern, Comcast has announced an expansion of its “Internet Essentials” program, which is designed to bring more families online.

The program offers broadband internet service to households with children receiving free lunches through the Nation School Lunch Program for $9.95 per month plus tax. These families also can buy a computer for $149.99 plus tax when they enroll, and they’re eligible for free digital literacy training as well. During the second quarter of 2012, households with children receiving reduced-price lunches also will be eligible for the program, Comcast said.

Other new products and announcements

eBackpack promoted its cloud-based file storage, sharing, and collaboration service, which is eligible for eRate funding. The service works on any internet-connected device and has special capabilities for an Apple iPad, eBackpack said. The system reportedly allows students to open, save, and turn in homework files without ever using a website.

eChalk, a social learning management platform, announced that it will partner with Kentucky’s Jefferson County Public Schools to help the district create school and teacher websites. The online platform will enable teachers, students, and parents in Jefferson County schools to connect, communicate, and collaborate anytime, anywhere, to support effective, personalized learning, eChalk said.

eGenio promoted its Integrated Learning Environment, a digital learning platform that integrates easily with a district’s existing technology tools, resources, and curriculum, the company said. It features a single point of access for administrators, teachers, and students, and it offers differentiation tools, standards alignment, and a variety of content.

eInstruction debuted its Insight 360 system, a “formative instruction” system designed to simplify and enhance the practice of formative instruction in conjunction with interactive teaching. Insight 360 enables educators to obtain instant feedback on student learning through an easy-to-use suite of mobile devices, software, and instructional material that is interoperable with existing technology and systems, the company said.

The suite includes the Mobi 360 mobile interactive whiteboard, which allows educators to move around the classroom and interact with students during lessons, as well as Pulse 360 and Spark 360 student response pads.

ePals, a safe online social network for schools, promoted a ONE DROP project on the ePals community. The project invites primary and secondary school students to take part in fun, educational, and inspirational activities on water-related issues. Learning tools designed by ONE DROP will be available free of charge to students and teachers who are ePals users. As teachers often use the ePals network to help their students learn a second language, ONE DROP will be offering activities in French, English, and Spanish.

Gaggle, which provides safe online learning tools for K-12 schools, announced that beginning July 1, it will include its Human Monitoring Service (HMS) as a part of its subscription service to better protect students and allow educators to focus on teaching. The Human Monitoring Service puts the monitoring of blocked messages in Gaggle’s hands, eliminating the need for teachers to review questionable communications so they can concentrate on classroom instruction.

Gaggle’s HMS team has uncovered bullying, drug use, threats of school violence, teen depression, suicidal intentions, and abusive domestic situations within students’ online communications, the company says—and detecting these issues early “allows parents and educators to intervene positively on behalf of students.”

NetSupport has launched NetSupport School 11, the latest update to its classroom-management software. Version 11 introduces a new and unique “Question and Answer” module that takes classroom collaboration and continual assessment of learning to a new level, NetSupport says. Another highlight of the new version is the Teacher Assistant feature, for use on Apple iPads. And, with version 11, NetSupport School is supported on Google Chromebooks as well. What’s more, the Technician’s Console has been significantly expanded to provide a range of additional system and policy management tools.

Spoon.net, a developer of application virtualization technology that lets students and staff access their files from anywhere they have internet access, announced a major update to its Browser Sandbox, which allows multiple versions of browsers to run simultaneously with no installs. The new version of the Browser Sandbox adds support for the latest versions of all major web browsers, including Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, and Opera. In addition, Spoon.net now supports testing of mobile browsers such as Firefox Mobile and Opera Mobile, as well as pre-release browsers such as Firefox 10 Beta, Firefox Aurora, and Chrome 17.

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