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How Edtech Entrepreneurs Can Make College More Accessible To All Students

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In November 2018, Michael R. Bloomberg announced a donation of $1.8 billion to Johns Hopkins University to create a fund that would help low and moderate-income group students complete their college degrees. Without a doubt, this is an incredibly meaningful initiative. However, it led me to start wondering if monetary support alone is enough for students with special accessibility needs or students who come from a variety of marginalized backgrounds.

When we think of college, the first question that often comes to mind is affordability. But affordability is not the only factor. Most educational institutions provide financial support to a few selected students in the form of scholarships and loans. However, students require much more than just financial support to survive four years of college and develop the skills and confidence they need to begin successful careers.

How Edtech Entrepreneurs Can Make College More Accessible To All Students

Most colleges fall short here. There are far more inequalities and biases embedded in the fibers of our society than what financial aid for tuition can bridge. I believe that real college access should open doors for students irrespective of race, gender, immigrant status, family income or physical mobility. A recent study revealed that at some of the best colleges across the United States, more students were from the top 1% than from the bottom 60% of income groups. 

Entrepreneurs building companies of the future should be concerned. The workforce, comprising of millennials driven by intellectual curiosity, moral obligation and exposure to humanitarian causes, is inquisitive about freedom, equality and inclusivity. An employer is judged by its commitment to society and causes. Especially in tech startups, graduating students have begun to consider the brand image of a future employer before saying yes to an offer. Therefore, it will be increasingly beneficial for entrepreneurs if they build brands that nurture an ecosystem where students are provided opportunities based on their merit and not simply their elite pedigree.

As part of their measures to diversify their student bodies, colleges often claim to support students by providing them with tuition fee waivers. But free tuition is helpful only when one is able to get an offer of admission. Moreover, there are indirect costs beyond tuition fee that financial aid doesn’t cover, such as food, housing, and supplementary course material. This forces many students to earn money during the time that they should be studying. Some incur large personal debt, others skip classes to work odd jobs, while a few succumb to financial stress and drop out.

The problem becomes even more complex when dealing with learners from diverse backgrounds who have special needs such as students who require accessibility considerations and students with learning disabilities.

 

Having worked closely with various state public schools with students from mid- to low-income families as well as accessibility services at various colleges, I’ve observed that students require a lot of support beyond classroom lectures. Unlike students from affluent families who get mentoring and support right from the start, less privileged students struggle to balance classes with part-time jobs. That’s where edtech entrepreneurs such as myself come in, by building systems that enable students to have access to higher education and study materials. Here’s how we can provide support beyond financial aid.

1. Increased Accessibility To Higher Education Even Before College

Tech entrepreneurs are in a position to influence change at the grassroots level. The pyramid leading to success in college is built on the cornerstone of early education in high school. Edtech entrepreneurs can help in two ways:

• Provide technology training for teachers in low-income neighborhoods. According to the Education Week Research Center, teachers in under-funded schools are less likely to receive technological training for teaching when compared to their counterparts in wealthier schools. Edtech companies can provide skills training for teachers on their platforms.

• Provide high school students with summer jobs/internships that give them access to an environment with technology and give them an opportunity to work in the tech-startup landscape once they graduate.

2. Corporate Network Support Circles

College is where the blueprint of the business world is laid down, and it’s important to inculcate diversity at this grassroots level. Change doesn’t start from top-down leadership; it happens from the bottom up. Currently, about 72% of CEO’s in top Fortune 500 companies are white males, and less than 1% are African-American females.

One of the key hindrances in diversity at the top level is that people tend to hire or favor candidates similar to themselves -- usually from the same schools. Students with special learning needs bear the brunt of this even more. Even if they manage to steer through their financial constraints, it is incredibly difficult to break through the glass ceiling without a supporting network.

Colleges should aid in creating corporate networks where diverse groups of students can get the right introductions. Tech entrepreneurs can help further by promoting diversity initiatives in their organizations that call for meritorious students from lower socioeconomic standing. Such initiatives should begin at the high-school level. Entrepreneurs can also support non-Ivey, state schools and community colleges that hold job fairs and employment drives.

3. Subsidized, Affordable Textbooks And Study Materials

The rising costs of textbooks add a significant burden on students who struggle to make ends meet on their limited financial aid. Even though there are a lot of services that provide secondhand books or online books, a college student still ends up spending over $1,200 on average, according to the College Board. Edtech entrepreneurs and colleges should join forces to provide subsidized books and online notes for a nominal fee. 

It’s easy to get access to reading lists of various subjects and provide materials to students accordingly in the form of study guides, notes, homework help, etc. In fact, many startups, including my own, are already doing that.

Edtech companies currently exist in their bubbles -- creating products that are redefining education. However, it is becoming increasingly important that policymakers and entrepreneurs work together to steer the discourse of higher education. It surely will be a long journey to effect change, but it will be worth starting today. 

posted Feb 11 by Khean

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1. Alternative input devices. These tools are designed to allow students with disabilities to use computers and related technology easily. Some alternative input devices include touch screens, modified keyboards, and joysticks that direct a cursor through use of body parts like chins, hands, or feet. Some up-and-coming technology in this area is sip-and-puff systems, developed by companies like Microsoft, to perform computer functions through the simple process of inhaling and exhaling. On-screen keyboards are another area of input technology that is providing K-12 learners with disabilities better use of computers and mobile devices for learning.​

2. Speech-to-text options. This technology is making mainstream waves through its use in popular cell phones like the Android-platform Razr M. While it is a convenience tool for people without disabilities, speech-to-text provides a learning advantage for students who have mobility or dexterity problems, or those who are blind. It allows students to speak their thoughts without typing and even navigate the Internet. speech-to-text options can also “talk back” to students and let them know about potential errors in their work.

3. LAMP. Language Acquisition through Motor Planning, or LAMP, connects neurological and motor learning in a way that makes communication easier for students with autism and related disorders. These principles have proven especially helpful for students who do not speak or have very limited verbal skills. Paired with technology, LAMP principles empower a growing student population with autism to effectively communicate and reach higher academic achievements. LAMP is present in technology – from specially made computers to learning apps.

4. Sensory enhancers. Depending on developmental patterns, children may need to learn differently than their peers. Instead of ABCs and numbers first, a child with language delays may benefit from bright pictures or colors to learn new concepts. Sensory enhancers may include voice analyzers, augmentative communication tools, or speech synthesizers. With the rapid growth of technology in the classroom, these basic tools of assistive technology are seeing great strides.

5. Screen readers. This technology is slightly different from text-to-speech. It simply informs students of what is on a screen. A student who is blind or visually impaired can benefit from the audio interface screen readers provide. Students who otherwise struggle to glean information from a computer screen can learn more easily through technology meant to inform them.

6. Mobile learning. Tablets and smartphones in the classroom are no longer a matter of “if,” but “when, and how quickly?” Administrators and educators can tap into the convenience of mobile technology in the classroom and the potential for student learning adaptation. Over half of school administrators say there is some form of mobile technology in their classrooms and that they plan to implement more when it is financially feasible. School districts should keep in mind that the purchase of mobile devices for K-12 use is only one piece in the learning puzzle. There must be funding for teacher training and maintenance of the devices too.

7. Learning analytics. This evolving concept in K-12 classrooms is different from educational data mining. It focuses on individual students, teachers, and schools without direct implications to the government. Learning analytics are the education industry’s response to “big data” that is used in the business world for improvements and redirection of focus. Learning analytics show students what they have achieved and how their achievements match up with their peers. If implemented correctly, this technology has the potential to warn teachers early of academic issues while keeping students more accountable. Using the mobile and online technology already in place, students can better track and tailor their academic experiences.

8. Open content. The rise of MOOCs, or massive open online courses, has trickled down from college learning to K-12 education. Increasingly, K-12 educators are also coming to believe that all information on any given topic already exists. In effect, a growing number of people believe that content does not need to be re-created or purchased, and the idea has gained steam among K-12 educators specifically. Within the next three years, expect more shared content available to teachers and to students. Open textbooks, resources, and curricula are not the only benefit of an open content push; shared experiences and insights are also valuable teaching tools.

9. 3D printing. Also known as prototyping, 3D printing will allow K-12 students to create tangible models for their ideas. Many fields, like manufacturing, already make use of this technology to determine the effectiveness of ideas on a smaller, printable scale. In education, this technology will bolster creativity and innovation, along with science and math applications. The STEM Academy has already partnered with Stratasys, a leading 3D printing company, to start integration of the technology in programming classes.

10. Outdoor/environmental learning. In short, more schools are looking for ways to get students and teachers outside. We are in an era of experiential learning, so environmental education fits the bill for many students. Lessons in this field teach children an appreciation of the earth and of its resources that the human population is quickly depleting. A better, hands-on understanding of nature also helps with science comprehension and gives students practical learning experiences.

Research has also found that teaching outside, even for short stints, improves student attitudes, attendance, and overall health. In many schools, teachers have always had the freedom to take students outside if they deemed it lesson-appropriate. Look for more official outdoor-teaching policies in the coming year, though, that encourage teachers to incorporate outdoor and environmental learning in all subjects.

As you can tell, many of these technologies have the power to change dramatically the learning experiences of students with learning disabilities, impairments, and other challenges that traditional learning methods have been less able to address. It is likely that we will see more use of these ten technologies and concepts in the next few years. In another article, I will focus on five more of these technology concepts every teacher must know.

in EdTech
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Earning a degree takes a lot of hard work and focus, but getting through college in one piece is all about finding shortcuts to maximize and manage one’s time effectively. Edtech life hacks let clever applications and websites do the technical work, allowing students more time for learning and studying.

From scheduling and reminders, to study and presentation tools, there’s an edtech solution to almost any college assignment. To start your school year off smart, here are ten tools you just have to use to make your life easier.

10 Edtech Life Hacks for College Students

1. Quizlet

This site makes cramming for midterms and finals easier, with millions of searchable study guides, flashcards and games. If you can’t find a topic you need, you can customize your own study tools. Quizlet is also a great resource for teachers and can be an engaging alternative to paper study guides.

2. Google Voice Typing

Regardless of your major, every college student can use a reliable voice typing app. From drafting an essay to outlining notes, letting a computer do the typing can alleviate carpal-tunnel-inducing assignments. There are a lot of expensive and flawed transcription and voice recognition services online, but Google’s voice typing function within Google Documents is perhaps the most accurate one you can access for free. To use it, you must open a Google Document in the Chrome web browser. Then, you’ll find “voice typing” under the “tools” drop-down menu.

3. If This Then That(IFTTT)

Have you ever wished you had a genie who could schedule an event, remind you to do your laundry, or organize your email with one command? IFTTT connects multiple devices and applications through a free command, or “recipe,” service. For example, if your FitBit records a sleepless night, Google Calendar will remind you to go to bed earlier. Other recipes connect social media accounts, update you on news alerts, and track online sales.

4. Canva

Unless you’re in art school, the design is probably not your forte. But that doesn’t mean your class presentations and Facebook event invites have to be drab. Canva gives you all the graphic materials you need to create appealing visuals, including free stock photos, filters, icons, fonts, and layouts.

5. Doodle

Between-group assignments, student government meetings, work shifts, volunteer hours and coffee breaks with friends, college students have a knack for filling up their agendas. Doodle is a handy website that helps you find the best time for everyone and schedule meetings without conflicts. It also easily integrates with Google Calendar so all of your appointments are coordinated in one schedule.

6. Top Documentary Films

When studying notes doesn’t seem to sink deep enough into your brain, watching educational documentaries can be an effective method to prepare for an exam. This blog-turned-community houses over 3,000 documentaries to watch for free, most available in full-length. With 25 categories to browse, this can also be a useful site to search if your professor assigns a documentary for homework.

7. Flipboard

Switching tabs between the news, social media and academic articles take up a lot of time. Not to mention, it slows your computer down. Flipboard simplifies your media consumption, so you can quickly access your favourite outlets and save stories for later.

8. ZoomNotes

If you prefer taking notes on your tablet or laptop, ZoomNotes is a great application that’s full of comprehensive tools. Sketch with eight different pens and draw diagrams with unlimited zoom capability. You can import and write over PDFs, photos, videos and other documents.

9. Import.io

This site collects data quickly for easy spreadsheets and charts. Simply copy and paste a URL that contains a data set (search results and Wikipedia charts work well) and Import.io will turn it into an organized table. You can then export the table as a CSV file, saving hours of pasting and rearranging figures into your own spreadsheet.

10. Kiosko

View the front pages and headlines on major international newspapers dating as far back as 1945. Use this historical archive as a starting point for research and fact checking or download the images for more creative projects and presentations.

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As educators, we constantly strive to prepare our students for the ‘real world’ that exists around them. We teach them how to read, write, and calculate. Then, of course, there are the less tangible skills we teach; such as how to work in a team, think critically, and be curious about the things they encounter each day.

We want to prepare them to lead productive and successful lives once they leave us and enter into the realm of adulthood. But what lies ahead for our students in the future? Did educators of twenty years ago know that so much of our world would be based on computers and technology now? Could they have known what skills would be needed in the job market today? Unlikely, but yet they had to do their best to prepare their students for this world anyhow. Nowadays, educators are still charged with the same complicated task – preparing students for the unknown.

Tony Wagner of Harvard University worked to uncover the 7 survival skills required for the 21st century. To accomplish this, hundreds of CEOs in business, non-profits and educational institutions were interviewed. A list of seven skills that people will need to survive and thrive in the 21st century was compiled from their answers.

We may not know exactly what lies ahead for our students in the future, but we have the advantage of knowing what skills they will need once they get there. Here are the 7 survival skills of the 21st century, along with how they may look being purposefully applied in a classroom.

Skills #1: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

Preparation: Students will need to develop their skills at seeing problems from different angles and formulating their own solutions. Regardless of the field they choose to enter for their careers, the ability to think and act quickly is an indispensable tool for the future. To practice this, teachers should present students with situations in which they need to figure things out for themselves – where skills that they have already developed can be drawn upon and applied to help them figure out a problem.

The problem should ideally lend itself to multiple solutions, as we do not want to teach students that there is only one answer available, but instead that problem-solving can be a creative and personal experience. Situational problems in mathematics provide a good example of these skills at work.

Skill #2: Collaboration Across Networks and Leading by Influence

Preparation: Understanding that not every person is born a natural leader.

However, the ability to lead others can definitely help a person to advance and become successful in their chosen career. Also, finding a job where you don’t need to be able to work closely and harmoniously with others can be quite a difficult task. To best prepare students in this area, more than just the typical teamwork is required. Instead of simply getting into a group and splitting the tasks with each other, students should instead be encouraged to take on different roles within their group for each task within the project.

Sometimes they can be the ‘manager’ and at other times they can be an ‘organizer’ or a ‘graphic designer’. There are many different roles that students can fill during a project with their peers that allows them to work with others in a more collaborative way than just breaking apart a project and then putting it back together in the end.

Skill #3: Agility and Adaptability

Preparation: If we look back at the last twenty years we can see how much has changed in the workplace and the world

Our students need to be comfortable with the idea of change and be willing to adapt to the changes around them. Teachers can create a very dynamic environment within the classroom that can help to prepare students for the future. Varying the teaching strategies we use, the setup of the classroom, the ways that learning is demonstrated by students, and even the guidelines for group work or homework can help students learn to adapt.

Have students create a storyline, for example, then surprise them with a mandatory element to incorporate, or even have them switch work and complete a task based on the preparations of another. They might grumble at first, but the skills will serve them well!

Skill #4: Initiative and Entrepreneurship

Preparation: Students need to be able to take initiative and contribute to the world. We should encourage these skills within our classrooms and our communities. Our students can be incredibly creative and interested in shaping their experience in the classroom, so we can ask them for much more than a list of classroom rules and consequences.

Let them know that you are available and willing to listen to any of their ideas about improving the classroom or school. Help them organize their ideas and put them into practice – even if an idea may fail. It can be a valuable lesson about how to analyze what went wrong and consider how to improve the idea. Students should never be afraid of trying because they are afraid of failure.

Skill #5: Effective Oral and Written Communication

Preparation: Despite advances in technology, these skills never diminish in importance. Think of a boss or manager sending you an email full of grammatical errors or presenting a new business plan while speaking too low and reading the entire presentation off a sheet of paper. What would you honestly think? Consider some of the best communicators you have seen – what makes them rise above the rest? We need to teach our students how to speak confidently and clearly.

This doesn’t come naturally, but with practice; enunciation, speed, volume, gestures, and eye-contact can all be taught and learned. The same skills that help in drama can help in oral communication. Take a moment one day to begin teaching a lesson in a very ineffective way and see how long it takes your students to ask what you’re doing… they should be able to tell you exactly what’s ‘wrong’ with your communication skills!

As for written communication, we need to continue to emphasize the rules while also teaching students how to use the technology available to them to help check their writing. The difference between formal and informal writing is quite important for students to learn and start applying.

Skill #6: Accessing and Analyzing Information

Preparation: Students have access to unimaginable amounts of information today. The Internet provides an incredible research tool that can be their best friend or worst enemy. Accessing information is easy, but accessing good information tends to be more complicated. Students need to be taught how to sift through the millions of web pages available on a topic and find what they need (and be able to trust what they find). They need to learn the difference between factual information and factual-sounding opinions.

Many students today will check ‘answer’ websites to gather information, not really thinking about how the information was written by a person who may or may not be correct or truly knowledgeable in a subject area. In the same way, a teacher can ‘think-aloud’ reading strategies, we can think-aloud Internet searching strategies. Project your screen on the board and learn about a topic with your students. Show them how to search, and how to use those ‘answer’ sites without being misled!

Skill #7: Curiosity and Imagination

Preparation: Our students come to us naturally curious about their world and wanting to explore it. Their imaginations are vast and untamed, creating endless amounts of practical and impractical things. Our task as educators has less to do with teaching them how to be curious and imaginative, and more to do with not taking that away from them. We need to continue to encourage them to develop these skills, as well as teach them how to apply them creatively and purposefully. Imagine the little boy who loves soldiers and robots, but dislikes princesses.

How do you react when he shows you his freshly-drawn picture of a soldier using a robot-inspired weapon to destroy a princess? Do you celebrate his creativity in the same way you celebrate the world-saving-robot drawn by the student next to him? Is his picture hung on the wall?

We don’t all like and appreciate the same things, so an educator must be very careful about how they nurture and develop their students’ creativity and imagination. We can teach them which things are appropriate in which situations without making them feel like their ideas are wrong or bad.

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