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Yellowdig: Transforming the learning experience through conversations

Shaunak Roy, Founder & CEO , Yellowdig

Yellowdig: Transforming the learning experience through conversations

Shaunak is the founder and CEO of Yellowdig. Yellowdig is a community-driven active learning platform adopted by over 130 colleges and universities, K12 schools, and corporate training clients. Yellowdig’s mission is to transform every classroom into an active, social, and experiential learning community. Shaunak graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from IIT Bombay and completed his graduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Prior to founding Yellowdig, Shaunak spent a decade advising global companies on technology, strategy, and growth.  Excerpts:

Conception of Yellowdig

Shaunak’s idea of starting Yellowdig was to improve the  student experience by creating a platform that combines academically relevant content with features they are familiar with from Facebook and Twitter. He laments, “We identified that students are not building relationships and connections in their learning environments. Learning has often looked like a solo endeavour, even when there are elements like discussion boards where instructors assign students to post once and comment twice because they are writing mini-essays to their instructor not actually conversing. Real connections to peers and instructors are vital to improving student success and retention.”

Shaunak calls it a “social and experiential learning platform” — focused on active learning. “We are living in a world of networks where people naturally connect with one another based on their interests and passions. That’s basically what Yellowdig is doing. You can see the evolution of those networks in courses.”

Yellowdig’s Strategy

To stay on top consistently, EdTech companies should ensure the products they are creating are adaptable and enable their users to be adaptable. For example, Yellowdig can enable users to wade through the uncertainty of modality switching because Yellowdig communities created a point of consistency for all class modalities.

Platform to foster meaningful interactions

Yellowdig has been touted as a platform between students and their teachers—in-person, blended, and online courses alike. It’s Engage platform has an easy-to-use interface that brings the best of social media, leaving the worst behind. There is virtually no learning curve, as it is a modern and intuitive experience. It is used across all modalities because no matter if students are meeting in-person or online to learn, class time is limited and Yellowdig enables asynchronous connections. The way the feed works is that recent discussions come to the top, like being in the front of the class at your own ease – enabling all students to shine. “The true secret is the gameful approach that makes learning fun and rewarding, without having the teacher constantly having to encourage participation. Our patented point system encourages discussions that are relevant – based on actual student interest, rather than being forced down. Questions, articles, blogs, videos, can all be easily shared in the community.”

A Passionate Leader

“I’m most passionate about improving education globally. I want to create as big of an impact as possible, helping students everywhere get the most out of their education and make it to graduation so that they can go on to achieve their dreams and goals.”

Leadership Traits

Though he looks at the big picture, he loves the details. “I’m always open to talking to any member of the company and I’m excited about new and fresh ideas. I aim to lead by example, always working diligently to improve Yellowdig.” He opines that leaders can overcome the fear of failure by accepting that they are going to fail. “For example, the first product we launched when I was an excited new entrepreneur, did not get the engagement we expected.”

Edtech Start-ups – Future Beyond

He urges the edtech companies to be aware of the tightening budgets that colleges and universities will have as students stop to enroll in the typical four-year higher education institutions. “They need to be aware that the typical student is more dissatisfied now than ever before. If you’re not providing a product or service that is addressing the underlying issues that institutions and students are facing, then you are likely going to be left behind as an edtech of the past.”

Success Mantras

Shaunak asks entrepreneurs to keep striving to do their best and try to find meaning in the work they do, no matter how small or large, or how difficult the situation is. “It’s easier to be motivated, grow, and be recognized for your contributions if you are motivated by the impact you create.’’

Company: Yellowdig

Website: www.yellowdig.co

Management:  Shaunak Roy, Founder & CEO

Founded Year: 2015

Headquarters: Philadelphia, PA

Description: Yellowdig is an online learning experience driven by peer collaboration, gamification, and data science.

EDUTECH

The Two Sides of the IT Street in Education & the Important Role of Edtech Leaders

Eileen Belastock, CTO, Mount Greylock Regional School District

By Eileen Belastock, CETL Director of Academic Technology,CTO at Mount Greylock Regional School District

The Two Sides of the IT Street in Education and the Important Role of Edtech Leaders

Informational and instructional technology has felt like two sides of a busy street.  The traffic flow of students and teachers whizzing by and pulling up to whichever side provided the needed support and resources. If students and teachers needed instructional technology tools and strategies, they pulled up to the instructional team, and if they needed assistance with peripherals, devices or connectivity, they pulled up to the informational team. However, times have changed, and both sides of the street are now working together like a pedestrian-only walkway. Tech terminology like networks, firewalls, access point, bandwidth, servers, and phone systems now include terms such as student data privacy, accessibility tools, digital equity, cybersecurity, 1:1 initiative, and BYOD. Our students are growing up in a world where learning doesn’t just happen within the brick and mortar walls of schools. Resources such as hardcover textbooks, scantron sheets, poster boards, index cards, and worksheets are being replaced organically with content management systems, collaborative documents, videos, podcasts, and educational software.  Teachers and students are personalizing learning experiences thru blogs, virtual field trips, multimedia presentations, robotics, and artificial intelligence.

In the Driver’s Seat

It is an exciting time to be an edtech leader! Influential, effective edtech leaders can impact education on a large scale. The responsibilities put upon edtech leaders guaranteeing robust infrastructures and comprehensive instruction technology integration ensure that school districts are providing students with opportunities to personalize their own learning 24/7 in a global community. Edtech leaders are part of the bigger conversation around educating the whole child, and this is evident when they can be seen observing classes, collaborating with curriculum directors, attending STEM fairs, and participating in school councils and PTO meetings. Their expertise and experiences in both sides of IT street ensure that students and teachers have access to connectivity, devices, software, and curriculum they need for researching, collaboration, connections, reflections and learning personal skills like empathy and self-awareness.

Pot Holes

However exciting the position, there are new challenges such as student data privacy and digital equity that edtech leaders must address with all stakeholders. Ask a room of classroom teachers if all educational software and apps are safe to use in classrooms and you may be shocked to hear the answer of yes. Who could blame them for their response? We, as district technology leaders, have been the driving force with technology integration in classrooms.  We put devices in students’ hands, opened up our networks for personal devices, provided professional development training on the latest and greatest educational software and send teachers to conferences to see shiny new technologies. When talking to district and building administrators about student data privacy and the policies procedures and training are in place in the district, it is not uncommon for them to look at you like a deer in the headlights. With all they have going on in their buildings and district, data privacy may not be on the top of their to-do pile. Another stakeholder group, parents, are excited that their children are using Chromebooks, laptops, and iPads in classroom instruction and appreciate the parent web-based access to student grades, communications, and digital school forms. However, they are usually confused and concerned when asked whether they know if the apps and software their students are accessing are sharing data with third-party vendors. So edtech leaders are faced with a dilemma: how to secure personally identifiable information (PII) while at the same time allowing students and teachers to access the integrated curriculum and rich content software available today. The solution to this dilemma is education. They (students, parents, teachers admin staff, district, and building administrators) don’t know what they don’t know, and they look to edtech leaders for guidance and support. It is the edtech leader’s responsibility to involve all school community stakeholders in the process of developing data privacy professional development, procedures for vetting and procurement of district-owned software, and district and building level policies so that student and teacher data is monitored and protected.

The second challenge, digital equity, is the elephant in the room. The first day of school is an exciting time for students as they meet their teachers and classmates and are assigned textbooks and workbooks that they would use for their learning during the upcoming school year. In the last five years, we have seen these same textbooks and workbooks either replaced or supplemented with the school issues devices such as Chromebooks, laptops, and iPads. These devices have been game changer in the educational realm. Students have access to technology in and out of school resulting in them learning digital literacy skills that will benefit them now and in the future, as well as expanding their world to include different ideas, cultures, and interests. However, what happens when the library /media specialist tries to give a student a shiny new Chromebook and they refuse to take it home because they cannot access the internet from home? Up pops that large grey mammal of digital equity. According to the 2019 CoSN Digital Toolkit, “students without home access to high-quality broadband connectivity are at a disadvantage, unable to realize the full power of learning. definition of digital equity.” Edtech leaders understand that even one student without access to technology outside of school is one student too many.  There is a solution to this problem. By assessing student connectivity needs, exploring funding opportunities including outreach to local service providers, and creating long term goals, all students can have access to the technology no matter their socioeconomic or geographical situations. Whether the district is urban or rural, large or small, a low or high percentage of mostly free and reduced lunch students, or has a high minority or white population, if digital equity is not part of the initial thought process when introducing technology into a classroom or district, we are failing all of our students.

Eileen Belastock, CETL, is an educational leader who is fueled by the belief that learning anytime anywhere is critical for both our students and educators. In her experiences as a district administrator, a building administrator, and a high school math teacher, she has been instrumental in providing students with equitable learning environments through multiple 1:1 programs and online educational environments. Throughout her career in both the corporate and educational environments, Eileen Belastock has encouraged and supported both adult and student learners to challenge themselves to find their passions, be lifelong learners and be contributing citizens in the 21st global environment.

Eileen models what she believes through her involvement on two Massachusetts edtech organizations, as a board director, whose missions are to educate and engage classroom teachers. She believes in supporting and highlighting educators and administrators as they work to ensure digital equity and student safety through her published articles in publications such as Tech & Learning, eSchool News, and EdScoop.

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EDUTECH

Technology for the education sector – how to include students in Digital Transformation

Helen Norris, CIO, Chapman University

By Helen Norris, CIO at Chapman University

Technology for the education sector – how to include students in Digital Transformation

Higher Ed is a highly collaborative work environment.  Governance of universities is shared between the administration and the faculty, and even beyond that, all voices have a voice in governing the institution.  This has real consequences for CIOs and other technical professionals working in Higher Ed.  How does transformation happen in this environment?  The only way that CIOs can effect change in this environment is to know the mission.   In corporations, it’s important that IT know the *business* and partner with colleagues on the business side.  A university is mission-driven, so that’s where Higher Ed CIOs must focus.  Obviously, the mission focuses on teaching and learning, but universities, particularly public universities, also serve the public good.  Additionally, universities also often have a mission around research.  Engaging in the mission of the university means working with a broad set of stakeholders, not just faculty, staff and administration, but students.  Working with students can present unique challenges for engagement.

In many ways, students are like both customers and employees in a traditional business environment. When they interact with us in an administrative way, they are more like customers, making payments, filling up their “shopping carts” with the classes they want to take and so forth.  However, they are similar to employees in that the institution provides the tools they need to use to do their work of learning.  This includes our learning management systems, our classroom systems and our collaboration systems.  We tend to think of this as interacting with us as a member of the academy, much like our faculty and staff.   So how do CIOs do the work of engaging students in both of these roles, and ensuring that we are meeting their expectations as we transform these systems?

In the customer role, we can leverage some of the same approaches that corporate CIOs take, through traditional customer outreach, such as surveys.  Additionally, this outreach often extends beyond the student to a family member, often a parent, who is also often interacting with the institution on behalf of the student.  However, in the role of member of the academy, that interaction is much trickier.  It’s not enough to engage students through those traditional customer methods, rather we need to engage them as we do our staff and faculty when we design these systems that they use on a daily basis.  This is tricky as students are transitory (hopefully only here for four years!).  Sometimes they will work with us on systems that are actually being designed for the next generation of students.  Additionally, they will sometimes approach this work through the lens of their more customer-like role with the university.  Finally, students are here to learn, not to spend their time with us designing systems for them to use, so we have to be even more respectful of their time and commitments than we do with our faculty and staff.

What are some ways that we can approach these obstacles?  First, as with any stakeholder, building relationships is key.  This can be done through the official student government organization, which can provide a formal voice into these processes.  However, there are many less formal ways to do this.  On my campus, we have an active Woman in Science and Technology student group.  This overlaps with my personal passion of increasing the number of women working in technology.  I have engaged with this group on that topic, but it also gives me an opportunity to hear a student voice around issues related to services we provide and how to transform them.  Secondly, we can support students that we want to engage in these processes through internships.  Many Higher Ed IT departments employ a significant number of students, sometimes in formal internships.  Having a student employee participate in a Digital Transformation project offers wonderful experience to them, while simultaneously gathering that student input that we need.  Finally, it’s important to treat this feedback differently than the feedback we receive from a student/customer.  The student participating in a digital transformation initiative is a full team member; not a survey respondent.  Their input to the process will help shape how the university fulfils its mission for years to come; long after the student has graduated and moved on.   This is deep input on processes and needs and will expose the student to the processes of the university.  This underscores the value of the experience to both the student and the institution.   Hearing directly and in great detail from students as to how and why they use our systems as they do will ultimately result in a better experience for all future users.  The student gets the great experience of working in a team environment on a transformative initiative.

Eileen Belastock, CETL, is an educational leader who is fueled by the belief that learning anytime anywhere is critical for both our students and educators. In her experiences as a district administrator, a building administrator, and a high school math teacher, she has been instrumental in providing students with equitable learning environments through multiple 1:1 programs and online educational environments. Throughout her career in both the corporate and educational environments, Eileen Belastock has encouraged and supported both adult and student learners to challenge themselves to find their passions, be lifelong learners and be contributing citizens in the 21st global environment.

Eileen models what she believes through her involvement on two Massachusetts edtech organizations, as a board director, whose missions are to educate and engage classroom teachers. She believes in supporting and highlighting educators and administrators as they work to ensure digital equity and student safety through her published articles in publications such as Tech & Learning, eSchool News, and EdScoop.

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Streamable Learning: A New Path for Live Video in the Classroom

Douglas Ashton, CEO & Co-Founder, Streamable Learning

Streamable Learning: A New Path for Live Video in the Classroom

A provider of live and interactive streaming content to the K-12 market.

The view that video resources will play an important role in the classroom of the future is not something many would argue. For starters, video-based content is being used to support many of the educational initiatives that schools and districts are implementing in classrooms today. Video is a multifunctional resource and it can be effectively used to supplement existing lesson plans, and bring subject matter expertise and content context into classrooms in ways no other technology can replicate. Also, video is a flexible resource and can be presented in a number of formats: recorded video, video conferencing and most recently, live-streaming.

The format creating the buzz today is live and interactive streaming. A derivation of live-streaming that allows for real time interaction through chats. It promotes classroom engagement and ultimately, improved learning outcomes. Charleston, SC based Streamable Learning was founded to put live and interactive streaming at the forefront of video learning the classroom. Historically, live video in the classroom was predominantly offered through video conferencing, a transactional model whereby supply and demand was basically driven by one-to-one contact. In such a service, each session is scheduled, purchased, and supported individually. Streamable Learning takes a different approach and builds a calendar of hundreds of supplemental curriculum-based events offered to schools and districts through a subscription model.

“We believe live and interactive streaming should slide in front of videoconferencing as the more prevalent service as it offers scalability and equalizes access across a district for a fraction of the price,” notes Ashton. As more teachers experience the value of live and interactive streaming video, they are more likely to seek out and value video conference experiences. In addition, recorded video remains valuable but from a vendor standpoint significantly harder to monetize and thus keep current and sustain. “It is our view that recorded video in the K-12 market is best married with a live and interactive model and not separately monetized.” Streamable Learning has shown that live and interactive streaming can crossover into new market segments and new content segments within existing markets. For instance, through a second platform called The Live Living Network, they offer a calendar of live and interactive streams to the senior adult market. Their latest service, StreamableU, will use live and interactive streaming to enhance student contact with college admissions departments, college planning and test prep.

From a scalability and sustainability perspective, “we believe the K-12 market needs a centralized platform that can create a monetization and exposure opportunity for our content partners but still be affordable and equally accessible in our schools and districts. We are always aiming at the same three things in creating our content—that it is comprehensive, cost-effective, and convenient to access. As with anything, we try to build off of the innovations happening around us, whether cost effective video transmission platforms, mobile video capture technologies, higher speed networks, or improved video editing platforms. Lastly, we enjoy growing our content partner community of leading museums, aquariums, art and historical organizations, zoos, science centers, authors, health and wellness centers, and other qualified educational organizations.” The company’s customer traction in K-12 is both a US and Canadian phenomenon and has now transferred to senior centers and other older adult communities. “What we are encouraged by is that our services work well in groups with differing demographics, whether large and inner-city, small and rural or suburb.

According to Ashton, the keys in education technology is to demonstrate to the market one has staying power and the ability to effectively showcase successes. “When you are a content company, you have to keep adding more content and applicability across grades and subjects. Your content calendars and catalogs have to keep growing and getting better.” For Streamable Learning, this is in fact true as they are focused on continued growth in the amount of content partners they showcase in their calendars. Going forward, they will continue to serve any community that wants to enhance viewer interaction beyond traditional video.

Company: Streamable Learning

Website: www.streamablelearning.com

Management: Douglas Ashton, CEO & Co-Founder

Founded Year: 2015

Headquarters: Charleston, SC

Description: A provider of live and interactive streaming content to the K-12 market

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