What’s New in EdTech

A selection of the latest education technology for teachers of language and literacy

The 2015 International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference in Philadelphia was filled with the latest education technology designed to help students achieve learning success. As electronic devices become increasingly prevalent in daily life, fluency in their usage becomes an ever more important part of education. Educators and educational publishers are constantly thinking of ways to optimize and implement new technologies for a learning environment. According to recent surveys sponsored by ISTE, PBS, Common Sense Media, and others, 91% of administrators say that effective use of edtech is critical to their mission of high student achievement, and 89% of teachers agree that technology improves student outcomes. We have selected some of the highlights most suitable for language and literacy educators.


Skills Navigator
Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) announced its new skills-mastery assessment system, Skills Navigator, which was honored with an ISTE Best of Show award. NWEA worked closely with educators to design an in-classroom tool to help teachers close achievement gaps, use data to guide instruction, and support kids with diverse needs—including supporting Tier II response to intervention (RTI) progress monitoring. Designed to cover grade K–8 skills that are foundational to college and career readiness, Skills Navigator helps teachers easily accomplish four key tasks: identify the skills students are ready to learn, check evidence of skill mastery, monitor student progress toward mastery, and provide instructional resources to meet students’ specific needs. This cross-grade design means that it can support learning for every student, including high achievers and those needing remediation. The system assesses skills in four subjects: vocabulary, mathematics, language usage, and reading comprehension. Skills Navigator provides direct links to thousands of curated online educational resources for every skill measured. It stands alone as a crucial classroom tool for teachers but also integrates with NWEA’s flagship interim assessment, Measures of Academic Progress (MAP).

Developmental Reading Assessment, (DRA2+) iPad App
Pearson’s new app guides teachers through the formative reading assessment as they observe, record, and evaluate changes in reading performances of K–8 students. With the ability to identify independent reading levels and provide a focus for instruction, teachers are empowered to meet each student’s individual needs. The DRA2+ also includes a word-analysis component to observe and assess foundational skills, as well as the progress-monitoring assessment to monitor student progress and inform instruction through multiple, brief passages in both fiction and nonfiction. In the personalized environment of a tablet, teachers can quickly and easily score student reading performance by recording them reading aloud for on-demand playback. With the app, available in both English and Spanish, teachers can diagnose reading proficiency and determine students’ DRA2 independent reading levels, monitoring the progress of struggling readers. Data from the assessments delivered using the app can be uploaded to the DRA Dashboard Management System, allowing teachers and administrators instant access to student-, class-, school-, and district-level results to guide data-driven decisions.

Pearson TELL (Test of English Language Learning) is a tablet-based assessment developed to support schools as they ensure the growing population of English language learners (ELL) builds English language skills and stays on track to meet today’s rigorous academic standards. Covering all four foundational language skills—listening, speaking, reading and writing—the assessments are aligned to state standards. TELL is an interactive assessment experience in which students watch video clips and interact with pictures and words and then answer questions out loud. They listen, write, read, and speak—all with no mark-ups or grading by teachers. TELL screens, diagnoses, and monitors each ELL student’s progress throughout the school year. Student responses—written and spoken—are automatically scored by Pearson’s automated scoring technologies, providing teachers with access to accurate results to inform instruction within minutes. Over the past 15 years, Pearson’s spoken and written language-assessment technologies have scored millions of responses and are supported by research studies that demonstrate that they score as accurately as an expert human grader. Developed in response to the specific needs of educators working with ELL students, TELL leverages the power of technology to provide a digital solution for assessing progress in a fun and engaging tablet environment.

SuccessMaker8 uses advanced adaptive technology for intensive, personalized intervention. The program targets Tier II math and reading for grades K–8. Its adaptive technology continuously adjusts instruction based on each student’s responses and performance. An initial placement fine-tunes the courseware to approximate each student’s precise learning level. This minimizes learner frustration and fatigue. Every click, every swipe, and every student response adapts the lesson. The app software offers practice and tutorials until the student gains mastery. SuccessMaker8 doesn’t replace teachers—it supports core instruction, and the adaptive engine allows struggling learners to work independently while teachers manage their classrooms. When learners struggle, the program redirects them to prerequisite skills and practice. Teachers can intervene, redirect learning, and provide personal support at any time. Prescriptive analysis helps teachers understand the amount of time each student needs to be successful on high-stakes tests. The newly updated version can be used with any mobile device or tablet. It includes new content for K–2 phonological awareness and phonics and new math content that connects practices and standards. New alignment to WIDA English-language-proficiency standards complements alignments to College and Career Readiness Standards, Common Core State Standards, and state-specific standards.

zSpace for Education
zSpace Inc. introduced a hardware and software solution that allows students to manipulate virtual 3D objects ranging from human hearts to helicopters to learn concepts such as math, physics, engineering, and biology. The all-in-one virtual-reality desktop is easy to use, natural, and intuitive. Previously, the system consisted of a virtual-reality monitor and a separate computer.

OpenEd’s Educational Resource Library
OpenEd showcased its new API, which allows the company to make its library of standards-aligned resources available real time, including its learning-management system (LMS), test-prep app, and assessment solutions, so it can provide standards-aligned content for personalizing learning to the educators it serves. The company also showcased its K–12 educational resource library, which is free to educators, parents, and students. It offers over a million assessments, homework assignments, videos, games, and lesson plans for every Common Core math and English/language arts standard as well as the Next Generation Science Standards. OpenEd lets teachers assign quizzes and homework to their students and automatically grades them, recommending videos and assignments in real-time and personalized based on each student’s progress in learning each standard.

Promethean: Modern Classroom Solution
Promethean’s Modern Classroom Solution is designed to support teachers, schools, and districts in achieving learning experiences exciting. At the core of the program is ClassFlow, an interactive lesson delivery system. Winning an ISTE 2015 Best of Show Award, ClassFlow is designed to increase the depth of student and teacher engagement by enabling the collaborative use of classroom devices, digital curriculum, and assessments for learning. The program supports project-based, blended, and flipped learning initiatives, and teachers can measure each student’s comprehension in the moment of learning and instantly differentiate instruction to groups and individual students based on the way students respond.

Nexed: Answerables
Nexed’s Answerables is a game-based learning system aimed at developing digital citizens. Due to the gamification of education, the system is designed for high levels of student engagement and provides instructional methods, games, lesson plans, and professional-development resources for educators. Online tutoring and homework help are also available. Answerables is a multiplayer game set in Proxima, a distant planet inhabited by Ansibles. Students can customize their own learning by accessing teacher-created course content and websites, exploring learning simulations, and collaborating with educators and peers in real time. Answerables has a collaborative web browser, which means students have access to web content that they can share in real time. It is free for students to use, and additional services can be purchased to supplement student learning. Answerables uses a credits system to provide educators with a dynamic way to set an extended learning plan that works for them by registering for homework help, courses, seminars, webcasts, or other live events.

Education Resources: EdRedi Application
To help make tablets more classroom ready, Education Resources created its EdRedi application, which allows classroom teachers to intuitively supervise and control their students’ devices. Launched at the conference, the new software is equal parts device, content, and instructional management combined into a single application designed for one-to-one learning environments. “Tablets are the perfect size device for education,” said Chris Klein, head of community and engagement at Educational Resources. “However, while these devices have the power to greatly enhance the teaching and learning processes, to date they have not included the management tools to make them suitable for classroom use. The new EdRedi application helps ensure that students use the devices in an instructionally safe environment, one in which teachers can easily supervise use and control content in order to individualize instruction.”

One More Story
One More Story is a web and mobile application consisting of a library of the best of children’s classic and contemporary picture books for pre-readers, early readers, and English language learners. Pre-readers can choose a book, see the illustrations, and have the book read to them. For emerging readers, it offers the “I Can Read It” mode, which gives support to children reading stories on their own. One More Story empowers pre-readers and early readers to independently engage in and enjoy literature before they are fully effective readers. Given the support they need, pre-readers learn key reading concepts like left-to-right directionality, end-of-line return, and the relationship between the spoken and written word. Through technology-based support, early readers increase their vocabulary and improve their comprehension and fluency. One More Story’s goal is to foster in children a love of language and literature at the earliest age possible and to help create a generation of lifelong readers.

Pearson: Connections Learning
Connections Learning helps school leaders provide K–12 online academic solutions to their communities by offering a range of programs that can be customized to fit individual students’ needs as well as limited school resources. By combining an award-winning curriculum, the latest instructional tools, and certified teachers skilled in online instruction within a vibrant virtual classroom, the system helps educators find online academic solutions. In addition, it offers a complete online school-management system and more than 1,000 proven, standards-aligned courses taught by certified, licensed teachers. Its online courses are public school tested through Connections Academy.

Copia Class
Copia Class is a digital education platform that allows students and teachers to access all of their course materials, regardless of publisher or source, in a single environment. Furthermore, the course-centric platform provides users with a suite of tools that promote engagement with other users directly inside the course content. Textbooks (from major and smaller publishers), novels, study guides, open education resources, and custom materials can all easily be enhanced with assessments, live discussions, multimedia, and more. Web- and app-based activities can be accessed through single-sign-on integration. Copia Class’s performance-data reports help educators track student performance, assessment effectiveness, and content quality and can be used to implement district- or even state-wide curriculum adjustments.

Letters Alive
Letters Alive by Alive Studios is a supplemental reading-learning kit that incorporates research-based best practices to teach early literacy skills. The goal is to provide teachers with cool technology that helps early learners become proficient in reading and math by the third grade. It’s a full-year, early-education, supplemental curriculum that uses augmented-reality technology. The lessons and activities are presented utilizing kinesthetic, visual, and auditory modalities, which apply to a broad range of learning styles and abilities. The kit includes a curriculum aligned to the Kindergarten Common Core with 26 alphabet cards and 94 sight-word cards that spring to life in 3D. The alphabet cards feature animals that correspond to each letter in the alphabet. These animals seem intelligent as they respond to the questions and sentences that students build.

Flocabulary creates standards-aligned hip-hop videos, interactive activities, and auto-graded assessments for students in grades K–12. Since last fall, new subject areas and nearly 100 new videos have been added. One new subject area, Life Skills, includes a twelve-unit series on financial literacy for middle and high school students, plus a growing collection of units on social and emotional learning. Based on popular demand from educators, the company is also developing a suite of geography resources as a subset of social-studies offerings. In the months ahead, Flocabulary will also debut “The Week in Rap Jr,” a weekly resource that uses stories from the news to teach elementary students about the world while reinforcing core academic skills.

World Languages

Flipgrid is a social network for collaborative discussion via video. “I use Flipgrid with my students during genius hour. After students learn about a different topic or they make something out of it, I ask them to give me a 90-second interview (without a script) about what they learned, and then I tweet out those interviews to their families and friends,” said Kristina Holzweiss, a presenter at this year’s ISTE conference. Michael J. Shehane, a language-and-culture instructional designer and teacher, recently posted an article on LinkedIn titled “Five Strategies for Using Flipgrid in the Language Learning Classroom.” In the article Shehane says, “I believe the students get more out of class discussion after being primed on the topic via Flipgrid. For homework, they post to the Flipgrid platform 90-second videos of themselves commenting on designated topics. And they watch each others’, too. While many of my colleagues say that their students would be too embarrassed to record themselves speaking English, in my experience the students take to it like bears to honey. And while many of my colleagues say that it will kill classroom discussion, in my experience it has allowed us to dig deeper into the discussion.”

Professional Development

Redbird Professional Learning Platform
Redbird Advanced Learning unveiled the Redbird Professional Learning Platform during ISTE 2015. This approach to teacher training integrates project-based, social learning into a virtual environment. The design, based on research conducted under the leadership of Arnetha Ball, PhD, professor of education in curriculum studies, teacher education and education linguistics at Stanford, found that simulations have a powerful impact on professional practice and measurable outcomes, coaching has a strong positive impact as a professional development method and professional development programs that are longer in duration and distributed over time have proven more consistently effective, carefully designed professional development can be equally effective whether delivered “in person” or largely over the Internet. As a result, the platform includes professional development delivered in 20- to 30-minute segments; simulations of practice, exercises, and activities; coaching and interactivity that is ongoing, iterative, and collaborative. It is technology-enhanced so that teachers can learn anytime, anywhere.

EDTRAININGCENTER and observe4success
At ISTE, EDTRAININGCENTER and observe4success announced a partnership. For several years observe4success’ mobile observation and walkthrough tool has been used by schools to identify teacher strengths and areas needing improvement, giving immediate, targeted feedback for continual growth. Now, in addition to feedback, the principal or observer will also be able to search the massive EDTRAININGCENTER library of professional development courses and immediately enroll a teacher into appropriate courses from within the observe4success application. Not only is this efficient, it allows the observer to take action the moment that a need is identified, rather than scribbling down notes that may be forgotten or misplaced and never acted upon. Instead, professional development is provided just in time and on demand. Traditionally professional development has not been very targeted to the individual teacher. Workshops and conferences cover broad topics and teachers rarely have choice. With this solution, targeted professional development can be delivered to the person who needs it, at exactly the time it’s needed. In an industry that expects ever more from teachers and administrators, collaborative technology solutions like this can make differentiated professional development a reality.

Edchat Interactive
Mitch Weisburgh cofounded Edchat Inter­active in late 2014 as a way for educators to share and spread best practices in a live and engaging format. Like webinars, it uses live video, but instead of a long presentation, the event is a live video discussion. The leader will present a basic concept in the first 5-10 minutes of the event, then participants will break into small video chat groups to discuss the practicalities of the concept. After small group discussion, representative of various groups discuss their findings with the event leader(s) while the entire group watches and listens. This more interactive format incorporates social learning and reflection into the learning process, which facilitates deep learning, and greater engagement.

Games4Ed (G4E) was founded to facilitate collaborations between educators, researchers, game developers, publishers, and policy makers to further the use of games and other immersive strategies in schools. Games are a unique learning vehicle, combining high student engagement, learning of both content and 21st-century skills, and assessment. There is now a body of research that indicates students are very engaged when playing games, that when they are engaged in games they are operating at a much higher cognitive level, and that they are willing to expend more time and effort. All games are tracking what the players are doing, assessing their abilities, providing feedback, and suggesting next actions.

In traditional teaching, we teach, we practice, and then we test. Surveys show that over 70% of teachers use games, but they also show that by far the majority of game use is supplemental to learning, often as a reward or as sugar coated drill and practice exercises.


Califone: Mobile Peripheral Pack
Califone’s new Mobile Peripheral Pack includes a 3068AV headphone, the KB4 Bluetooth Wireless keyboard, and the TPT tablet and smartphone stand. The headphone provides immersive sound, delivering clear audio to students. The wireless keyboard offers the freedom to type whenever and wherever learning needs to take place so ESL and ELL can practice language skills. The stand displays students’ tablets at an angle that is most convenient for them, limiting distractions like glare. The company also showcased its line of E3 Ear Buds, a cost effective way to deliver a personal audio connection to ESL and ELL students. The ear buds are designed with flat cords that reduce the risk of tangling, meaning students can get plugged in and learning quicker. These tools are key as more districts use mobile learning and 1:1 device initiatives to support students with all language abilities. Today’s students are mobile, regardless of whether they are ELL or not. By providing tools that enhance their devices, students receive clear instruction that can help improve language comprehension and overall learning outcomes.

Mitch Weisburgh cofounded Edchat Interactive in late 2014 as a way for educators to share and spread best practices in a live and engaging format. His cofounders are Tom Whitby and Steve Anderson. Like webinars, Edchat Interactive uses live video, but with an Edchat Interactive, instead of a long presentation, the event is a live video discussion. The leader will present a basic concept in the first five to ten minutes of the event, then participants will break into small video chat groups to discuss the practicalities of the concept. After this time of small group discussion, representative of various groups will discuss their findings with the event leader(s) while the entire group watches and listens. This more interactive format incorporates social learning and reflection into the learning process, which facilitates deep learning, and greater engagement.