The Top 10 Digital/Edu Stories of 2013

I took over this blog in March 2013 and it’s been an incredibly enjoyable–and educational!–experience so far. Thanks to all of you who have read, linked, and commented on the blog. I hope you’ll stay with us into 2014!

At the suggestion of my editors at the Hechinger Report, I’ve compiled a list of the top ten most popular stories of the year. This list gives me a couple of great reminders about what to focus on. Readers love breaking news, as I did with the iPad in LA and Comcast Internet Essentials stories. (Both of these stories came from chance encounters–don’t hesitate to email me at diyubook at gmail dot com with any tips!) You also love counterintuitive or critical takes on the role of technology in education, perhaps as an antidote to all the hype that’s constantly flowing out there. And–this is human nature–you love lists.
So I hope you like this one! I’ve added any updates or additional insights that have come since I first posted these stories earlier in the year.

1) iPads: the Ugly

This September post quoted two Los Angeles Unified School District contractors giving their insights about what went wrong with the district’s high-profile iPad rollout–ranging from the rushed timeline, to a lack of professional development. Due to the growing controversy and negative feedback, the LA school board is currently wrestling over implementing the next phase of the technology project in time for standardized testing in the spring.

2) iPads: the Good

iPads are the dominant tablet in education, with 94 percent of the market, so it’s little surprise that posts about them draw a lot of attention. This was an interview with Neil Virani, a middle school special ed teacher in the LA Unified School district, about his creative and inspiring use of iPads to help unleash the capabilities of his students.

“In at least one case, a $500 iPad, with its intuitive swipe interface and pop-up onscreen keyboard, is replacing a $15,000 assistive technology setup for a student with control over only one finger. ‘He had a special chair so he can hold his arm in a certain position–a custom chair that cost a fortune. It’s useless now. He’d try to type on the keyboard, get the cursor in the right place, and he’d have an involuntary muscle movement and erase it all. He’d cry, he was so frustrated. In one hour from opening the iPad, he wrote his name [for the first time].'”

3) inBloom & student data

One of my first posts, about the attempt of Gates Foundation-backed nonprofit startup inBloom to create a shared data collaborative for student information systems in different states, was also the most popular, touching a huge chord with educators and others worried about the impact of “big data” on student privacy.

This issue has not gone away. Over the rest of the year several states left inBloom due to political concerns. Most recently 75% of school board members in New York State expressed opposition to the company’s data collection practices; it was defeated in Colorado, and Chicago Public Schools decided against using it.

4) One educator’s conversion story. 

This post was based on an interview with Eric Sheninger, principal of New Milford High School in Bergen County, NJ. He talked about how technology and innovation had opened his school to the world, led to a highly engaged workforce, and even helped improve the culture of the school by raising awareness of issues like cyberbullying.

Sheninger is representative of a generation of educators who are getting connected on social media, especially Twitter, and forming networks to advance best practices for student-centered, innovative learning with technology. I spent the year talking to folks like these–like Brendan Campbell, in Detroit and Jennie Magiera in Chicago.

5) 5 Myths of educational innovators


What’s so great about disruptive innovation, anyway? Did you know there’s zero scientific evidence to support the idea of “learning styles”? And behind that “digital natives” characterization lies a generation that uses the Internet in simple, passive ways without direct instruction. It’s important to apply critical thinking to the buzzwords that surround us; More recently, I took on the ideas of right vs. left brains, grit, and neuroplasticity.

6) 5 Most Important Trends of 2013

Data. Games and adaptive learning. MOOCs. Makers. Back to the classroom. Most of these trends will continue into 2014, while others, notably MOOCs, may be fading. And new ones are coming too–to find out more, tune in next week for my two-part post on 2014 predictions.

7) Comcast Internet Essentials

A tip from a reader alerted me that Comcast, which has signed up 250,000 families for its $9.95 a month Internet program, doesn’t support wi-fi. This week, Comcast announced a marketing partnership with Khan Academy to further tout this program and burnish its image as a partner for families. Will they take the necessary steps to allow families to support multiple and mobile devices?

8) Technology for Education/Technology for Learners

This blog is about best practices for technology in education–not innovation for its own sake or merely to make education more efficient, but technology that supports creative and student-centered learning. This post expands on that distinction. 

9) What technology can and can’t do

A recurring theme in this blog is how the exciting new prospects of things like blended learning intersect with the very real and enduring social problems of poverty and lack of resources that our schools face every day.  One of the most controversial questions is whether schools can actually find ways to use their limited resources more effectively with technology. I plan to delve into this question even more in the year to come.

10) Can online learning make teaching more human?

One of the delightful ironies that I’m finding as I report for this blog, as well as research my new book on the future of assessment, is that science and technology are leading us toward a concept of education that takes in all the social and emotional aspects of being human. In this vision teachers use technology and data to maximize the individualized attention and interaction time they get with each student. 






POSTED BY Anya Kamenetz ON December 19, 2013

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