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- So a lot of schools want to always know, "How do I pick the best software "for my blended learning model?" And the problem with that question is it's just not as simple as just recommending you a Thai restaurant or the best steak joint where I know we have similar tastes, and therefore it'll work out. Reality is that in different circumstances different software works better. And it just depends on what you're trying to do and with what students. So, what we thought we would do instead is share with you really the process that the blended learning schools that we've observed are using to pick that software. And therefore, you won't be at the mercy of just another recommendation when you're trying to pick out software in the future. Instead, you can go through this process to navigate your way to something that really works for you. - And then secondly, we're gonna refer you to the Yelps or the Consumer Reports of the Ed-Tech space, some new companies that are coming along to provide some resources to help you in evaluating software. - When I see teachers getting started I say, "What do you already have?" School, school districts, are notorious for already having subscriptions to all sorts of softwares or web-based programs, and so I encourage folks to do some digging. Find out what you already have, find out what problem that company says that program solves, you know what do they say it's supposed to do for you, and if you have that problem, try their solution, 'cause you're already probably paying for it anyway. If it doesn't work, that's fine, we can move on to the next thing, but start with what you already have. And most schools are not a blank slate. - So Greg's advice is clearly good advice. Figure out what is free out there, what you already have, and you're going to incorporate those things, but you're also likely gonna want to do more than that. You're probably going to wanna purchase some software to make your program sing. And, as you do this, our best advice is to create a process first for how you're going to evaluate software. Figure out within that process, what are your priorities, and then, as you look at software packages, start to evaluate them against each other about how they line up on that rubric. - When we're picking software that's gonna be a real learning tool for our students, we take into account primarily the student experience. For us the student experience is more than just a flashy screen. It actually needs to be something that puts the data immediately back into the hands of the student, 'cause without that, they can't direct their own learning. When choosing partners, whether it's through software or other technology, the Summit Public Schools Information Team meets with folks to find teams who are aligned with our values. We've been successful in co-developing with a number of companies where we can let our students' needs drive the development of new software. - I think the most important thing that we look for in our software programs is that there's actionable data from the program. The second one would be, is it adaptive? Are the students able to go as fast as they can, or does it back up if they need it. The third thing would be is it efficient with the student's time? Are they running into wasting time looking at animations that are not at all educational in value. We also look at how engaging is the software program. Is the student engaged the whole time? And, additionally, we look at research. There's some programs out there have been proven nationwide to work extremely well. Finally, we've gotten to the point now in our world, where we want a Cloud-based option. Students can work at home, students can log-in to any device on our school and hit their account. - Rocketship Education, which is one of the premiere blended learning organizations in this country, has a particular process that they use to evaluate software choices that they make. The first thing that they're really interest in is whether it's software is adaptive. It has to be adaptive, meaning that it speeds up or slows down based on the actual performance of the students, such that it's not just some pre-canned sequence of content, but it's really adapting to their needs. - The second area they look at is whether the software is aligned to the Common Core, and this is a US-specific requirement. And, as you may know, in America, we're shifting to generally a new curriculum that's asking students to go a little deeper and apply their knowledge rather than just doing factual recall. And all of the vendors are in the process of trying to make their software Common Core aligned. Now this is where you need to push a little bit, 'cause it's easy to say, "Oh, we're aligned "to the Common Core," and that might mean that we've just drawn a map from the current stuff we have and shown you how it fits. What's really interesting is the vendors who are using Common Core as a chance to really change their software, and do go after some of these deeper skills. So just be aware, and think about it, but for Rocketship, this is essential, because if it's not aligned to what your state or country asks to be assessed, it's a lot harder to make the software a core part of your teaching program. - And that's an important part, which is, wherever you are, you probably have standards or a curriculum that you want to see taught, so you can make this criteria a key part of your evaluation process. The third thing that they really focus on in Rocketship, is whether the content is assignable. What that means is that teachers can go into the software and actually pick out specific modules and assign it to students based on their evaluation of where students need more work. So, the Khan Academy, for example, used to just be a big array of videos, what they've been doing is adding these features that teachers can actually pick and choose what modules they want students to dive deep in on, based on what they're seeing out of student performance. - Now one area to be careful is, this is an area where a lot of teachers say they want this assignable feature, and I think it's easy for us to imagine that we're gonna be going home every night and looking at all the data and making the next set of recommendations for every student, but the reality of our lives as teachers, every day in classrooms, doesn't always make this a practical reality. So, in my book, I'd rather have the software have a really good internal adaptability, that it can do some of that work for you, rather than banking on the hopes that I could always go in and create a customized playlist for every student every day. - And, on the topic of teachers being able to assign content, another feature that Rocketship thinks is really important for its model, is the ability to sync what's happening in the on-line environment with what's happening elsewhere in the classroom in the off-line environment. Now this goes back to one of our basic definitions behind blended learning, which is that the content on-line has to sync with other activities that are occurring in class. - And, on this point, Rocketship feels like it is really important to integrate whatever software they buy with their existing systems. And, we also made this point early on, if the data is coming in many different formats and they don't talk well to each other, it can be overwhelming for a school to use any new piece of software. So being deliberate about what systems you have in place and making sure what you're purchasing integrates well with that, is essential, and different companies make it easier or harder for the software to "play nice" with each other. - So one more point, which is that Rocketship really looks to make sure that the content that they select is actually engaging for students. Now this may seem obvious, but there's a lot of content out there that's not all that engaging. And what Rocketship has found is that if students are not into that, then they're not going to do their work. Now we also can't mistake engagement and making it fun, for actual real learning. And sometimes those things aren't in concert with each other, but if it's not actually motivating you're probably not going to get to learning either. - I ask the kids, "What do you like?" and "What you don't like?" In my class, and I've told you this story before, you know I had testers of on-line programs, and I would kinda stagger them every other kid, and I'd be like, " OK. Time to go to your testing. "We're piloting this program, go ahead log-in." And so the first, third, fifth, seventh, and ninth kid would log-in to program A, and the second, fourth, six, eighth and tenth kids would log-in to program B. Except, all the A kids were sitting there watching the B kids do the program. And to me that's like a clear winner, on the kids speak obviously that one program's better than the other. Now, kids don't always know what's right for them. They don't always want to eat their vegetables. So, you know I didn't just give up right there, but it's a pretty clear indicator from jump which programs are gonna work for kids. The last thing I want to do in a blended classroom is force kids to use a tool that their not excited about. Because, generally speaking, particularly if you're using web-based software, you've got a lot of options, and there's no reason why kids can't find somthing that works for them. - What I liked about the iPad Mini is that you could play a game called GiGi and kids play it and expect it to be fun and they don't even know that they're learning about it. That they're learning new things. - My favorite site to go on is called BrainPop. It's a link that some of the PLP playlists go to. And it has educational videos, educational games, and there's a lot of information, but it makes learning fun. That's why I like it. - So with these considerations in mind, Brian and I have a few pieces of advice as you navigate this world. The first is that as you start to select your software, today a lot of the software providers are still not really integrating with other software providers, and they're still trying to own their own data. And we think that schools actually ought to own their own data, and not relinquish this control. So as you're picking your software, be ruthless about asking that question. And make sure that you can get the data that you need from these programs to operate your model successfully. - And one piece of that is what we would call having OpenEpis, but even that doesn't solve it. And while we're talking about technical things, we think it'd be great to have all your software allow you to easily create new student log-ins and passwords kinda seamlessly. The jargon for this would be called "provisioning." But the big idea is that when a student arrives and you enter them once into your student information system, the hope is that that then automatically creates all the log-ins for each of the subsequent classes and software that they're gonna use across your system. And when you're thinking about software, think about software that allows you to do "single sign-on" meaning kids can enter one password that logs them into all their software, versus asking poor little seven-year-olds to remember five different passwords and five different processes to log in to each of the pieces of software that they're using. - A few other questions to ask in this vein, one is know how many hours of instructional content these programs actually have. If you're running a program where you need a full year of content, and lots of hours, if you jump in with an app that only has an hour or two of content, you're gonna be disappointed. The second thing is that some of these programs, while they have lots of content, they also require you to use the program for a certain number of hours to actually see the efficacy bumps. Make sure that your model, that your program model is able to accommodate that number of hours, otherwise it may not be a good fit. Which is really the overriding point, at the end of the day, understand your model and make sure you're matching those needs to the software that's out there. Don't assume that there's a one-size-fits-all software, because it just isn't true. - And it's OK to use a suite of options. No one piece of software will accomplish all your things. And, if you put this really rigorous analysis on every piece of software, they're all gonna fail at some point, so use these pieces of advice as guiding principles and then really have a system on your end to make the evaluation and then choose the best option amongst your choices.