Interview: Teaching Trauma-Informed Practices with Bethlehem Area School District

At Pear Deck, a source of inspiration is seeing what innovative classroom teachers and school leaders are sharing on social media. This tweet from Bethlehem Area SD Chief Academic Officer Dr. Jack Silva caught our collective eyes a few months ago:

Dr. Silva and Supervisor of Professional Learning and Technology Integration Mark James agreed to sit down with Pear Deck Marketing Director Danielle Stebel to discuss their efforts with building a learner- centered district environment and more.

Let’s start with some background. What led you both to choosing education as a career?

MJ “If I was to go back in time and tell my 17-year-old self I was a teacher, I wouldn’t have believed it. I received my Bachelor’s in Business from Miami University, and worked in the industrial railroad industry as an Account Executive before going to Culinary School. After a stint in food service I became Director of Catering for a school, and was asked to create a training program for undergraduate students.”

Creating the training program planted a seed, which grew into a Masters degree in Education with secondary certification in Math. As a passionate devotee of math and math instruction, James focused on changing, improving, and innovating his math instruction. After 17 years of classroom instruction, at the request of Dr. Silva, he applied for and was promoted to an administrative position focusing on staff development and instructional technology. Mark has been a Pear Deck user for so long that he was even in the original beta test group for Pear Deck back in 2014!

Dr. Silva — “Aside from working a drive-in movie theatre in my teen years, [education] is the only industry I’ve ever worked. I got a teaching job right out of college teaching Middle and High School Social Studies, and since then have tried everything from teacher to Department Chair, Principal, and Director of Secondary Educator. After 33 years in education, you start to lose track.”

With a “first and lasting interest” in educational programs, Dr. Silva jumped on a 2010 opportunity to come to his hometown of Bethlehem where he has been serving as Assistant Superintendent for Education and Chief Academic Officer.

Let’s discuss the tweet that led us to this conversation. Where were you that day?

Dr. S — “The tweet that I made happened after walking through a school who have been taking lead in Trauma-Informed work in the district. I saw that image on a few different doors and wasn’t sure what it was at first. Our first T/I implementation baseline was giving students a paper with pencil and having them mark [a self assessment] on the upper righthand corner with a scale to clue us in. The principal, faced with limitations of paper collection, advocated for a tool to allow for ease of access to the same information. Taking it just a few steps further with Pear Deck, the teachers are able to collect actionable data to allow for informed adjustments in the moment. This is a great example of independent application of formative assessment that shows independent thinking, which happens when they deeply understand a tool.”

Which leads us to your the implementation of Trauma-Informed Practices. How are you seeing the practices implemented, and what is the path forward?

Dr. S — “What we realize as we look ahead to our work with understanding trauma is there are different approaches that work with various school sites. We’ve got Pear Deck in schools with principals who saw the potential to take the Classroom Climate add-on to check in with their students. Some schools use a color system for self assessment of emotional readiness to learn that day. Another middle school is trying a different approach, and took the idea of mood check and decided what we wanted to know deeper insights. They use a two slide Student-Paced deck every morning for students to respond with how they’re feeling. The first is the four faces slide, and the second slide is a text response to ‘tell me more.’ The teachers drove that process, and we’re interested to see how it develops over time.”

MJ — “Understanding what type and how prevalent trauma is for our students. We want to create a clear path to becoming successful learners, and if you’ve got students walking into a classroom experiencing trauma, they can’t engage with their lessons.”

Have you met any resistance along your path of implementation of new practices or tools?

MJ — “Teaching is such a complex profession, and can unfortunately be lonely. Unless you have the good fortune of having a co-teacher, being the only adult in a room can be a lonely endeavor.

It can become isolating, and when you learn to live in that way, that is at the heart of resistance to change. This is not just in education, everyone is resistant to change in some way. When you start saying ‘everyone must or will’ — that’s when resistance comes in. We overcome that by leading by example, by checking in that we’ve provided adequate support, training, and time.”

Dr. S — “Principals are our secret sauce — they model and reinforce through supervision. We’ve come together in a universe where you walk the talk with the tools you’re using and competencies you’re developing.”

What does success look like for your work to come?

MJ — “Adjusting the trajectory of classroom conversation. I’m looking forward to seeing Pear Deck used in a way that becomes really high-level formative assessment in real time. I have a goal of having a mindshift for our teachers to have their students leading for more of a two way socialized learning environment.”

Dr. S — “In the short term, teachers applying and using tools in a unique way, to solve problems in school. Ultimately when our Principals see teachers happy with the tools at their disposal, and when teachers see students command technology to better their learning, then we’ve successfully connected all the dots.”

Our most sincere thanks to Dr. Silva and Mark James for taking time to share the incredible work they’re doing within their district!

This week’s blog post was written by Pear Deck Marketing Director Danielle Stebel.

Schoology: Google Assignment App

Is Google a Verb?

Teacher Setup and Use

Student Use

The Echolocation of Design: What Bats & Product Have in Common

Here’s how it translates:

Gaming is Learning – VR in Science Education

Earlier this spring, I got to try out a demonstration of VR physics lessons from Genius51, so I was very glad for a chance to talk with Alvin Lee, CEO of Genius51, to hear more about what he is hoping to do for physics education through VR.

Before Genius51, Alvin’s most recent role was with Coursera, a leading provider of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) where students can register for distance/online courses and learn alongside other students around the world going through the same material at the same time. Now, he hopes to improve access to education for schools in China through the new possibilities of VR.

So, what is Genius51?

“You can think of [Genius51 lessons] like a ‘virtual lab’,” Alvin explained. “Some experiments are not able to be shown in a classroom, so they can be done virtually.”

Whereas in the past students might have been able to watch a video about a concept, now they can experience or even interact with a model in VR. Whether because of costs, safety, or the difficulty of building models that accurately represent abstract concepts, virtual physics labs could become a reality for schools in China and abroad.

“Virtual reality is very useful for education in specific contexts,” said Alvin, “We make virtual reality that helps physics teachers explain abstract concepts.”

Genius51 has chosen to focus specifically on how VR environments can aid the teaching of complex topics that rely on students’ spatial awareness skills.

Genius51 is a subsidiary of 51VR, a major VR contact company in China. 51VR has a presence in many other cities within China, but Genius51 is one of Shanghai’s own. It was established at the beginning of 2017, and has been collaborating with schools and physics teachers to create educational content.

In a VR environment, it’s much easier to visualize abstract concepts by using interactive 3-D models. Genius51 and the teachers they work with are expecting that this will allow students to understand and internalize concepts that are often too complicated (or too expensive) to demonstrate in a typical classroom environment.

If you’ve ever struggled with science lessons about the physics of gravity or friction, then you might appreciate the Genius51 VR lessons where teachers can take their students on virtual field trips to places like frictionless planes or space, which were previously only possible on the popular kids’ science TV series The Magic School Bus.

“We co-create with teachers, and they tell us what they need help in. We never come at it from the point of view of ‘what would this be like without a teacher’,” said Alvin, explaining how his team goes into schools to learn from the teachers there. “We figure out what their ‘pain points’ are, and what they find hard to teach,” he explained, and emphasized that the goals of Genius51 are to provide material that should support rather than replace teachers

“I don’t think that VR is going to replace teachers in the foreseeable future,” he said. “Not AI, not AR, not VR. We work with teachers. VR is a medium for representing things, but it’s not so good for facilitation, interaction, and other things that teachers do.”

Alvin explained the focus of Genius51 saying, “Right now, it’s K-12, and only concepts that are better in VR. For instance, electricity is safer in VR.” Because the costs of VR for schools is still relatively high, Genius51 chooses its topics carefully to provide the most benefit to teachers.

He explained that in one of their partner schools, there is a teacher who will teach her physics lesson as normal, and then use the VR lesson to allow students to further experience and explore the concepts.

“A physics teacher actually told us that the concept of friction is hard to explain, and it’s an important concept. So, we made some VR that simulates a frictionless world, and it helps [students] understand or feel what they couldn’t before. You push a box and it goes on forever with constant velocity.”

So what is it like?

After fitting your head inside of one of the HTC Vive headsets, you may suddenly find yourself in a vast lecture hall, where you can observe and interact with an experiment that simulates the effects of gravity. Another experience takes you to a frictionless ice rink where you can observe laws of action and reaction in an ideal environment, complete with woolly mammoths. Besides simply observing it, you experience it when you push an object and find yourself sliding infinitely away at a constant rate.

Science nerds out there will join me in hoping to finally visit a room filled with massless springs.

Alvin describes some of Genius51’s ‘secret sauce’, “We have a good animation team that makes the characters feel more lively. It feels like you are in an animated picture”.

When it comes to VR hardware, the lessons currently come packaged with HTC Vive, but Alvin plans to expand Genius51 lessons to work with any VR hardware, including the Pico Neo or anticipated standalone Vive Focus that will be available in China before the end of 2017. Both are mobile headsets that do not require a connected computer.

A school using these lessons would also receive VR hardware and direct consultation from the Genius51 team to help teachers set up the equipment and incorporate the lessons in a way that fits their curriculum. Genius51 staff and Alvin himself are very involved in making sure that that schools, teachers, and students are happy with the experience.

“I think that when kids enjoy the process of learning, they will want to explore more.”

When it comes to educational goals and values, the Genius51 motto is “Gaming is Learning” and they take their fun quite seriously.

“There are a lot of games in VR that are fun. What we are trying to do is something that is fun, and that achieves educational goals,” said Alvin, adding that they specifically try to build lessons around concepts that can only be demonstrated in VR.

“Gaming is Learning” is a concept that Alvin tries to encourage within the Genius51 office as well, saying, “There are many companies you could build, so I’m trying to build one that is playful and imaginative.”

Alvin expects that providing students with a wider variety of ways to interact or engage with concepts will improve their attitude towards learning. “I think VR inspires you to want to learn more, because it opens up your perspective”, said Alvin, explaining his hopes for how VR can change the classroom environment for students. “I think that when kids enjoy the process of learning, they will want to explore more.”

He hopes this will help teachers provide students with much more interesting, memorable, and even joyful learning experiences.

Besides just providing quality physics experiences for students and helpful VR materials for teachers, Alvin has another goal for Genius51.

“Another thing I’m trying to do is bring a bit of joy into the classroom,” he said. “It’s a pretty tough life to be a Chinese student.”

There are two ways in which these “virtual labs” are especially well-suited to classrooms in China. First, Chinese schools tend to have less time for labs or for hands-on practice, so the efficiency of a virtual lab improve this. Second, Chinese kids are feel a lot of pressure to study hard in a hyper-competitive environment. Especially in “cram schools”, Alvin feels that the kind of lessons that Genius51 has to offer is much more appreciated than it would be in schools outside of China.

Life is tough for Chinese kids in school, so we also try to make it a bit more fun for them. And, they love VR,” he said, recalling a demo at a school where the students gave the VR lesson a perfect ’10 out of 10′. I could tell that Alvin was very encouraged and inspired by this positive review from the students themselves, but still humbly focuses on improving and on the long road ahead.

“No one else is doing what we’re doing, which is good and bad!” Alvin explained, “It’s good because I think it’s an opportunity; but it’s very hard. That’s probably why no one else is doing it!”

Regarding VR and education in general, Alvin keeps his expectations practical. He doesn’t expect any kind of “miracle cure” for education to emerge from the VR industry, but he is optimistic that little by little, the way we teach and learn will continue to change for the better.

“I’m just a small part of that process of helping kids to learn better,” he said. “We are at the beginning of VR in the education world. These things take a while to filter into the education system.”

When it comes to specific technology, he is ‘agnostic’ about any particular kind. He reflected on how there is a lot of misunderstanding about what different technologies can or can’t be used for.

The important thing is not what type of technology is used, but whether it can improve education.

Here is where the opportunities for VR innovation in education are especially inspiring. At Genius51, VR is not just as another kind of classroom, but a new way of allowing teachers and students to create their own understanding of the world.

Alvin described the ‘bigger picture’ of his hopes for VR in education,

“Ideally, education should be about creating your own world, your own representation of phenomena, I think VR is a good representation of that creation process.”

Isn’t that combination of perceiving the world and creating one’s own understanding what critical thinking and real education are all about? They are important skills that don’t often get space to breathe in the walls of a traditional classroom.

So what’s next for Genius51? “We are experimenting with all different kinds of media for delivering educational content,” said Alvin, “VR happens to be the first one. So … stay tuned!”

Alvin invites any schools or teachers interested in Genius51 VR lessons to contact him via email or LinkedIn.

To anyone who is interested in learning more about VR in general, Alvin personally suggests:

  • Find a place to try out Google Tiltbrush, since that’s what got him hooked. There are a growing number of VR Arcades such as HIVE in Shanghai, China where you can try different VR experiences.
  • Check VEER for examples of other VR content; it’s a platform similar to YouTube or Youku, but specifically for hosting 360 and VR videos. You might even try uploading some of your own!
  • Download the YouTube VR app and explore higher-rated content in the educational space

And of course, check out the possibilities of Genius51:

Alvin Lee is CEO at Genius51, Partner at 51VR, and China Venture Partner at 1823 Ventures. He was formerly China Market Lead for Coursera, a leading Massive Online Open Course (MOOC).

Alvin graduated with honors from Yale University, with a double major in political science and international studies. He has spent time on projects with the Singapore government, Finance and Trade Ministries, and National University of Singapore. He was part of the core team organizing the APEC meetings in Singapore, and has been a speechwriter for the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, and Trade Minister of Singapore.

His love of education and edtech has led him to his current work on Genius51.

Originally published at on October 19, 2017.

The Incredible Apps Developed by Students

University is a great time to learn new skills and team up with other entrepreneurs. With startups seemingly appearing out of thin air, it’s only normal for students to jump on board and show what they can do!

Here are some of the best apps created by students, that really took the tech world by storm:

Winter Survival Kit — developed by two business and engineering students at North Dakota State University

This app might not be a big earner, but it has the potential to help people who really need it! Apps that serve a function or fill a specific gap are likely to catch the eyes of potential employers and investors.

Description: “Winter Survival Kit will help you find your current location and help you notify your friends and family. Winter Survival Kit also provides NDSU Extension Service information on how to put together a physical winter survival kit, how to prepare your vehicle for winter driving, and how to stay safe when stranded in a winter storm.”

UinDosh — built by students from Manchester Metropolitan University and Nottingham Trent University

Named one of the top 200 EU startups by Webit festival Europe, this app aims to connect students who wish to buy and sell objects and services, including dog walking, CV writing, and music lessons.

Pulse — developed by Stanford University students majoring in Computer Science and Political Science

This app, developed with the US in mind, aims to bring voters closer to their elected member of Congress. The idea is that they can give their opinions on legislation in an easy way, making their voices heard. Voters of any age and background are invited to create accounts and connect on important issues.

Prelinks — launched in Newcastle by two UK graduates

According to its description on the Google Play store: “Prelinks is the app that sorts your uni night out, start to finish. We show you a list of the best events coming up in your city every week. Pick your favourite club night, gig, or one-off event to see who else is going and how popular it’s going to be.”

If you haven’t developed your own app yet, that doesn’t mean you can’t go digital. Here at Kortext, we’ve done the work for you! Download our app and carry your textbooks wherever you go, view online or offline, make annotations, and share notes, to start your digital university experience.

3 Ideas for Creating a Wonder League Robotics Competition Gridded Mat

Buy It, Print It, Make It!

The WLRC has launched — and we mean literally, as this year’s theme takes Dash and Dot to space! In order to set the stage for all three missions back down here on Earth, your teams will need a 5 x 8 square grid with the following specifications:

  • sized 150 cm x 240 cm (think landscape format)

This year, we at Wonder Workshop are not selling a mat for the Wonder League Robotics Competition. If you purchased a mat for last year’s competition, you can use the same mat again — the dimensions are the same, and the theme is applicable.

For those of you in need of a grid, here are three basic options:

OPTION 1: BUY ONE: The producer of last year’s mats is selling a mat to this year’s competition’s specifications. You can find out more details on Just note: is an independent party; we are not responsible for any issues with the design, quality, or shipping. is also selling a mat with a chroma-key green background — can you say green screen?!? This clever idea came from #WLRC coach, Mrs. Eckstein. Robotmats responded and created this video for coaches to check out the idea. Thanks, Mrs. Eckstein and Robotmats!

OPTION 2: PRINT ONE: This year, we’ve provided a digital image of the mat on Edmodo, and we created it in two colors: black or white. If you want to print this file, you will need to find a sign or banner printer — check out retailers like Staples, Office Depot, FedEx/Kinko’s,, or, which has a self-print option. You’ll need to tell them that you have:

  • a black and white “.eps file”
Your choice! Both digital .eps files are available in the FOLDERS section on Edmodo

We recommend printing on 13 oz. vinyl — it will lie flat but can be rolled for storage. Other options for materials include 24 lb. paper (but do consider longevity needs) or foam board (but do consider space constraints). Find the eps file in the Wonder League Coaches Folders tab on Edmodo.

OPTION 3: MAKE ONE: We are big fans of this option! And we have seen so many do-it-yourself (DIY) ideas. If you have the space, you can use painter’s tape and create a grid on the floor or on a rug. Done!

We recently heard that one classroom teacher took her small 5 x 8 area rug, flipped it over, and created a grid on the back with painter’s tape. She created a two-in-one: a rug for class time and a grid for robot time!

Painters tape on the underside of an area rug!

Many, though, want something that they can move because of lack of space. Options for a portable gridded mat include making one on a piece of vinyl, a plastic tarp, a drop cloth, or a shower curtain.

Image shared in our Coaches’ Cohort by WLRC Coach Cristina Mota

The total size of the grid should be 150 cm x 240 cm, which includes grid lines. So you can use a paint pen, Sharpie, or thin painter’s tape for the lines. If you’re using tape, just center it on the measurement hash marks. It’s up to you to decide if you want a border or not.

Used a yard stick (in cm), paint pen, and plastic tarp, and first created a squared-off border since the tarp wasn’t quite even on the edges. Then added hash marks to mark 30 cm horizontally and vertically as guides for the grid lines. Last, added A-E on y-axis and 1–8 label on x-axis (A1 in lower left-hand corner).
If you want to use painter’s tape for your grid lines, center the tape over any guiding lines or hashmarks. Then you’re still guaranteed to have 30-cm squares.

Coach Natalie Oberbeck recently shared this back-saving method for making a grid on a felt-backed tablecloth. She made a transparency out of the white mat image, and then projected it on the wall using an overhead projector. She then used a yard stick to trace straight lines on the tablecloth she taped to the wall (Natalie recommends getting a piece larger than the grid size to allow for “fudging”!)

Thanks for the clever idea, Natalie Oberbeck!

We also found this tutorial online from a U.K. coach:

And don’t forget to get creative with this year’s outer space theme. We find that the more the teams are into the theme and the story, the more holistic the learning experience becomes. As Mission One Logbook details, your teams are helping Dash explore a newly discovered Space Island in the hopes of building a cosmic community. Consider having your teams get clever in customizing their gridded mat. Here are some ideas:

  • Ask your team to brainstorm about outer space. First, they could paint planets, stars, etc., all over the mat. Then, they could layer tape or paint grid lines on top of the space backdrop.
Check out our Pinterest board for artistic inspiration!

Check out the PINTEREST BOARD we created for the WLRC:

Have fun embarking on this interstellar journey with your teams and with Dash & Dot! And share your photos within the Coaches’ Cohorts on

If you haven’t registered already, it’s not too late! Registration closes Dec. 31, and you have until Feb. 16 to finish all the challenges in Mission One, Mission Two, and Mission Three. Join us!

Why We Invested:

By Ashley Beckner, Investment Principal, Omidyar Network and Isabelle Hau, US Education Lead and Venture Partner, Omidyar Network

Image Credit:

We believe there are few better paths to opportunity and a bright future than a good education, and that an education that begins early in a child’s life sets the tone for everything that follows.

In the US today, our efforts are focused on increasing kindergarten readiness. The need for that is clear. Study after study has demonstrated the importance of early childhood education in preparing children for success in school and success in life. At the same time, more investment in this area is needed, as teachers struggle to connect their early learners with the resources they need, including technology.

So we were thrilled in April when one of our longest-standing education investees,, extended its crowdfunding platform to support the nation’s 10,000 Head Start teachers. Now they, along with their PK-12 counterparts in the nation’s public schools, can use the platform to seek crowdfunding for everything from classroom needs to technology for learning projects to reach students before kindergarten.

That’s also why we have extended our investment in to support a unique “Innovation Challenge” designed to uncover and fund the most creative ideas from those teachers for using technology in their classrooms. First announced at the Early Childhood Innovation Summit, the goal of the challenge is not only to develop hundreds of new technology-based projects in early childhood classrooms all over the country, but also to provide exposure to those innovative ideas so they can be shared across classrooms and communities.

To participate in the challenge, early childhood teachers will submit their most innovative technology request to Omidyar Network’s $500,000 grant will be used to match donations to those projects, and, at the conclusion of the challenge, will provide the five teachers who submit the most innovative projects with another $10,000 in materials for their school. Additional funds will go to teachers who adapt the winning ideas to their own classrooms to encourage the best ideas to spread to schools across the country.

Why technology? According to a survey, a majority of early learning teachers are eager to innovate with technology, and 93 percent want to use technology to further other innovations. Teachers love technology in part because it enables them to offer differentiated and personalized learning; 84 percent of teachers reported they use technology to help students who are struggling, and 75 percent of teachers use it to supplement learning for students more advanced than their peers. Teachers are already using the platform to make technology requests — from tools that give our youngest learners their first exposure to robotics to digital cameras that can help young students bring their classroom stories to life — and we want to unleash more of that teacher energy.

We support because we share with them a strong conviction that the people closest to a problem are often in the best position to come up with an innovative solution. When it comes to education, it’s often classroom teachers who know best what their students need, and they are always generating great ideas on how to meet those needs. gives those teachers and those ideas a national platform they otherwise wouldn’t have had, and the chance to connect with individual philanthropists who support those ideas.

It’s a great example of how to create impact at scale with technology, and it has been an unqualified success for in public PK-12 classrooms around the country. To date, has raised more than $552 million in donations from individuals and companies, supporting 934,000 teacher-created projects that have reached 23 million students. To understand how important opening the platform to Head Start teachers has been, consider that more than 1,000 new Head Start projects have already made their way onto in less than four months.

That’s impact, and that’s what we’re about at Omidyar Network. Great ideas are beginning to spread from just one teacher to a public platform that reaches thousands of colleagues working with the country’s youngest learners. With the Innovation Challenge providing even more exposure for great ideas, our support for continues to accelerate the impact of those ideas far beyond the individual classrooms where they originate.

Why Blame Indian Education System for our own misplaced aspirations and hypocritical behaviour ?

Whenever I discuss ideas about education platforms, about ed-tech companies or anything related to education sector in India, the foremost thing that is mentioned by everyone is “Dude !!! Indian education system sucks …” . So, like all other tech guys, a couple of years back, my natural tech instinct poked me to google “Problems with Indian Education System” (Go ahead, you can google it now also.. nothing much will change )

And OMG !! the next 20 pages of google search results were full of articles talking about it. It’s been discussed so many times, I thought there must be something really problematic with this system. Rote Learning, Outdated Curriculum, Bad Quality of teachers, education becoming a business and all other types of issues get listed under the Buzzfeed style article headline “10 problems with…”.

This article is my interpretation of the problem in its own way. To have some real findings, I researched what people really expect from the Indian education system and how they want to use it in their real life.

To figure this out, from Feb 2016 — April 2017,

I am telling the above to let you know that I believe in data and I gathered data to arrive at a conclusion. Yes, Data is just numbers and this is “my” interpretation of the numbers gathered.

Comparing Finland with India — Apples and Oranges

Indian education system has problems and there is no denying the fact. Not only the infrastructural issues, even the teaching methodology needs attention. But then, comparing it with Finland education system is like comparing apples with oranges.

The root of the problem is “Comparison”. That’s the problem every Indian loves to lives with and creates a “rat race” using the phrase “sharma ji ka beta”

Look at the following numbers.

If you compare, the data points are not even comparable. Finland, due to lower population does not face the same issues as India. When a significant population of India struggles for food, clothing and shelter, Finland provides every unemployed person, a significant monthly stipend. Schools are free in Finland. Teaching methodology is different and even, the food is provided for free. Teachers have to go through a rigorous training and need to have certifications to teach students. Even parents trust the school and teacher and play their role in the education of the child by being able to provide the necessary environment of learning.

In India, the enormous size of population, religious and cultural diversity, low per capita income, high inflation, and ever increasing rich and poor divide makes it impossible for people to even make ends meet. Children can study when there is a conducive environment. And that’s what governments need to work on. That’s the problem politicians need to solve. Once the bottom most layer of Maslow’s law is addressed, then only you can see drastic changes in teaching methodologies.

But then, there is one stark difference in these numbers. Observe the number of standalone institutions in both countries. Standalone institutions are the ones that provide vocational or skill oriented education/training. Finland, even being a small country has more number of standalone institutions compared to number of colleges. Where India has almost one-third of the standalone institutions with respect to colleges.

Is it because Finland puts more emphasis on life skills than the usual basic education ? Is it because people in Finland are okay even if they are NOT engineers, doctors or lawyers but ARE mechanics or masons ? India can definitely have more number of vocational institutions but why are these vocational institutions are so less in number ?

May be. but Indians are definitely not okay if they don’t become engineers or doctors or lawyers ? Even artists in India are not a respected lot.

But before generalizing, Let’s consider this. Finland is even less than the size of Bangalore. Even Bangalore population is > 8 million with approximately 1 million IT Professionals working in this city. So, If we wish to imitate or adopt Finland education system, we can try changing Bangalore ecosystem.

But why is it not possible ? May be the next section will clarify that.

From Taxila to Delhi Public School ( The Theory … )

Don’t worry, I am not giving history lecture. I am just using a metaphoric expression. From the ancient times, Indians are known for their pedigree , their intellect, their knowledge of the world and universe. Whenever an Indian reaches a top position across the world, even if she is not a citizen of India by citizenship status, we celebrate. Taxila was famous for education in medicine, engineering, philosophy, political science and all other streams. Apart from gaining all that knowledge, students in Taxila also learnt about warfare, business or skills that can help them earn a living.

Cut to the present world, all of us want our kids to study in reputed schools like Delhi Public School. Why DPS ? Because we believe that DPS can provide the education or knowledge of similar kind while making sure that children also learn the skills so that they earn a living for themselves and have a better life.

But the problem starts here and it is called expectation mismatch. During ancient times, parents respected teachers and sent their children far away from themselves to enable learning. They supported their children and even taught lessons of life at home. But in the DPS generation, parents pay for the tuition and now, it’s the responsibility of the schools to build the all round character of the child.

My kid has all the freedom to make a choice of whatever she wants. But I think she’ll go for engineering as it is a safe career.

The above quote is a real statement made by a parent in Bangalore who works as an senior manager in a well known product company. He is an “ IIT graduate” who has travelled the world and is a self declared “open-minded” person. and he is not only one parent, but this is the same feeling held by almost all of the parents in India.

So, in a well educated and well settled society, kids go to all kinds of classes (swimming, dance, tennis, singing, cricket, football, and now, badminton too… ) till the time they are in 6th class. Come 7th standard, and the number of extra classes decrease. By 9th Class, the extra classes are Physics, Chemistry and Maths. Because the race starts to get into engineering or medicine. There is a social status associated with these two career options. Only if the child is not able to make into these streams that she gets to make a choice of 3rd option available. if no option is available, only then the child gets to do what she actually wanted to do. And that happens, because the parents give up the hope of “success”.

How many people in Bangalore or India who belong to upper middle class and above think of their children becoming teachers?? The answer is “ None !!!! .. “

Because inherently, we do not respect the teaching profession. In India, a large number of teachers exist because they could not get any other mainstream job.

Let’s look at some of the data related to teachers

Out of these numbers, about 65% of the teachers are working in private schools. For Govt. schools, there is a criteria to become a teacher by clearing B.Ed. or D.Ed. exams. But private schools, there is no such criteria. As per govt. reports, approximately 40% of the private school teachers are untrained and 60% of private school teaching staff is not even on permanent rolls.

Another drastic statistics is that 85% of teaching staff in private schools is female. whereas, only 35% of the total teaching staff in government schools is female. This simple number can tell you that teaching job in govt. schools being permanent in nature is preferred by males. but in private schools, teaching staff is mostly female, many of them are on contracts as part time teachers who are teaching because they cannot join the mainstream job scenario.

And, still, the well educated people rush towards private schools for admissions even by paying bribes and capitation fees. Because, the only thing they understand is that by paying money, they buy accountability and get rid of their own responsibilities. When parents should be assisting their children in discovering their career interests, they get rid of their responsibility by forcing the children to go for safe bets like engineering and medicine and put the onus of success on the untrained private schools teachers.

when the results don’t happen, the blame is shifted swiftly to the Indian education system and how adopting Finland education system mechanism can change things.

Let’s look at another data sheet.

This data sheet shows the enrolment percentage for major streams in India at the under-graduate level. Surprisingly, a significant size of population studies arts, humanities and social sciences. Engineering comes as a distant 4th in the list and medicine comes distant 7th.

But as per news reports by intellectuals and educationists, this country has a mad rush towards Engineering and Medicine. isn’t it ?

Let’s read the next section to understand it a bit more…

The Poor Need Education, The Rich Need Safety Net

There are two kinds of India.

First One : the well educated, well earning, living in Tier 1/2 cities , India.

Second One : the poor or lower middle class, waiting for month end salary, living Tier 3/4 cities and towns, paying for education through the nose, India.

The first one, the well educated, well earning one is the one creating a rat race. They already have a good life. They can afford to experiment with life and try learning the skills they wish to pursue. But they choose the rat race for engineering and doctor. Because they fear of losing out. They fear of falling the levels in the ladder of Maslow’s law. For them, Engineering and doctor becomes a safe option and thus, creates a safety net of “guaranteed” survival.

The second one wants the education and goes to the government or public schools. For this second one, education is the only means to get a good life. For them, a good life means having a regular stable income to be able to provide for family and jump up the ladder in the Maslow’s law. For them, the regular education is a boon because by studying the regular maths, physics, chemistry , botany, social sciences or english, they’ll be able to join the vocational courses. They’ll be able to become nurses, teachers, lab technicians, mechanics, clerks, and all the other jobs that can get them a decent lifestyle.

when the poor enrol for education in same Indian education system, they become creators, innovators, get their own ideas to work, follow what they are good at, do not depend on others, fight their own battle and finally, are a happy lot.

But then, many a times, looking at the first one, by the law of aspiration and comparison, the upper cadre of second kind becomes the aspirational ones and join the rat race on the basis of various kinds of roles.

Because of this mad rush, the number of vocational institutes remain low. Vocational training is not considered by choice, but because there is nothing else left as an option. The people whom you see joining the arts, humanities and sciences, mostly are the ones who tried for Engineering and Medicine but could not make it. Only a small insignificant population joins the alternative streams by choice.

The only difference is the way people define education. For one, it is the means to maintain a status in society. For second, it is the means to a good life.

Both the types of people complain about Indian Education System. but the poor complains about access to schools and infrastructure and the rich complains about all round development program.

The First type is the one who creates the hype of problem in Indian education system. Where as the second type is busy in learning as much as they can and use the education to uncover their hidden talents of life.

You can decide, what should we blame the Indian education system for ?

that the government is not changing the system or that we are not ready to change ourselves ?

To Be Continued with some significant data, facts and figure…

Coming Up Soon : The Saga of Ed-”Tech” Startups in India

Reference Reports & Websites :

  1. Report of the High-Powered Commission on Teacher Education Constituted by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India
  2. All India Survey on Higher Education (2015–2016)
  3. Education Statistics at a glance
  4. Indian standard classification of education
  5. Statement indicating public expenditure on education
  6. Open Government Data (OGD) Platform, India

Rekindling Your Love for Point 2 View (P2V)

It has been a little more than seven years since we launched the Point 2 View (P2V) document camera for sale. Seven years is a long time, we know, and many things can happen during those seven years that make you love or hate that simple, basic little guy which you had your eyes fixed on when you both first met. Just as couples do fight or quarrel, we totally understand it if both of you are in the downs of your relationship. However, looking at the sales numbers, we’re glad to know that you’re still loving him and not ditching him anytime yet. But, it’s also about time to spice up your relationship! Let’s see what help you can get from our latest version of Presenter software:

1. Video Recording
 This incredibly useful feature was only added to version 3 (Mac) and version 4 (Windows) of Presenter. It opened up a whole new possibility of interactive teaching and learning ranging from creating flipped classroom videos to v-blogs.

2. Time-lapse shooting for archiving materials
 This feature allows you to automate a shooting schedule for taking snapshots. It’s ideal and effort saving when you need to archive materials.

3. Split Image for managing digitalized materials
 Do more for less with this newly added feature. It allows you to manage your digitalized materials by splitting 2-pages-in-1 images into two pages respectively and then saving all of them into a neat, single PDF file all at once.

4. Text-To-Speech (multi-language support)
 Text-To-Speech converts text images into editable text and then read the text aloud. It’s a fantastic way for learning through audio and helping users with reading challenges and/or dyslexia.

5. Video filters for helping visually impaired users
 With the added video filters, P2V is immediately turned into a visually impaired friendly doc cam that allows VI users to view their materials far more easily and clearly.

6. Have fun scanning QR Codes and sharing your images
 “Scan QR Code” and “Share” are two features that we’ve included to add on to the fun of using P2V. You can now set up QR stations for self-directed learning and instantly share any images taken with P2V to your favorite social media within a few clicks.

7. Scan documents effortlessly
Besides showing live stream and taking snapshots, you can also now scan documents, photos, business cards and more effortlessly with P2V by using the newly added “Auto-Crop” feature. We’ve even made this feature so intuitive that one click is just what it takes to auto-detect, auto-crop and straighten up your document before saving it as a jpg image. You can then export the resultant image as a PDF file for further archiving.

We are thankful for your continuous love and support for our little guy throughout these years. In return, we are presenting you an exclusive deal on Amazon that features our little guy and IPEVO Notebook as a bundle. You’ll receive the little guy and a pack of our IPEVO Notebook all at a price of $69. Plus, free standard shipping is provided! So do catch this deal while it’s still available and enjoy your rekindled romance!

Catch this exclusive deal on Amazon!

Understanding Accreditation: Innovation and Edtech

Photo by bruce mars from Pexels

In a December 2018 announcement, Secretary DeVos stated her agenda will promote “innovation” in higher education, including evaluating the current accreditation process. Some skeptics suggest this strategic phrasing may be code for reducing or eliminating federal oversight in postsecondary education. Regardless of DeVos’ intentions, many education policy professionals recognize the need to update accreditation standards to meet the demands of 21st Century students and a changing job market.

This announcement is well timed considering Congress’ commitment to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, the law that gives accreditation its status in American postsecondary education, by the end of this year. The political climate is ripe for reform, and students may stand to benefit from an emphasis on innovation and a critical review of how quality is measured in colleges and universities.

But, can policy makers actually innovate accreditation? If so, what can students, institutions, and accrediting agencies expect to change?

Barring the removal of federal regulation or oversight, accreditation innovation for traditional colleges and universities will probably resemble reform more than advancement. Colleges and universities may anticipate a shift in focus: from measuring institutional inputs to assessing student outcomes such as graduation and student loan default rates. Doing so will promote accountability as an output of accreditation, and underwrite the relationship between accreditation and student financial aid.

DeVos is open to signing off on new forms of education and credentialing, including alternative platforms; however, it is unclear what accreditation offers these companies. The carrot and stick incentive baked into accreditation is having access to federal student aid. Since they currently do not qualify for accreditation and therefore cannot receive federal funds, the majority of alternative platforms currently on the market have developed business plans focused on offering lower-cost credentials, membership-based programs, and income share agreements (ISAs) to generate revenue. In fact, many of the platforms market themselves as the better or practical alternative to an overpriced degree.

So far these platforms have primarily attracted professionals looking for a career change or income boost. These students may not necessarily need federal funds to pay for such a program. However, accrediting alternative platforms will open up these less expensive education options to individuals who want to use GI Bill money or Pell Grants, and thereby simultaneously diversifying the tech industry and creating new revenue streams for these platforms.

But, accepting federal student aid means agreeing to comply with federal regulations. Title IV funding comes with FERPA, Title IX, and a handful of other requirements. Doing so may inhibit alternative platforms’ agility or undermine their business model.

In addition to access to federal student aid, accreditation offers legitimacy, or at least the signaling thereof. Some alternative platforms, namely MOOCs, struggle to perform due to skepticism of the utility of their credentials in the job market. Without an external quality control assessor deeming these platforms a valid educational option, they may only continue to flounder. However, boot camps with ISAs like General Assembly and Holberton are incentivized to produce employable alumni. Since these platforms are unable to collect on their ISAs until their outgoing students find employment, they must continually review and revise their programs to meet the needs of the job market. Thus, industry functions as the accreditor, offering both utility in the boot camp credential for students and quality assurance for the platform.

In the event alternative platforms elect to comply with the current accreditation model, designed specifically for traditional postsecondary institutions, revisions to the their business practices or programming models may be necessary. The Educational Quality through Innovative Partnerships (EQUIP) experiment, an Obama-era initiative, gives alternative platforms access to federal student aid via partnerships with an accredited university. In this program alternative platforms function as an extension of their partner university, forcing platforms to amend their operations to resemble that of an accredited institution. Unfortunately, EQUIP participants report experiencing challenges with meeting the most basic accreditation requirements. Of the eight original participating partnerships, three have dropped out of the program and four are still awaiting approval from their quality assurance agency. The only successful partnership to-date, the joint venture between Dallas County Community College District and StraighterLine, has received approval from the U.S. Department of Education to offer an associate’s degree.

Accreditation by proxy thus far has not proven successful. That said, there is no reason why a separate accrediting process cannot be developed to exclusively address the needs of alternative platforms. Make School, a San Francisco based boot camp, is now seeking WASC accreditation through an “incubation” relationship with Dominican University of California. This partnership enables Dominican to utilize Make School’s expertise in developing a minor in computer science and allows Make School to expand their course offerings into areas outside of computer science, which will be necessary for an accredited bachelor’s degree. Under the agreement with WASC, both organizations are required to remain in the partnership until both needs are met and self-sustainable. This model proposes a methodology that allows alternative platforms to seek accreditation without first having to conform to accreditation agency standards.

Conversely, alternative platforms can follow the precedent set by traditional colleges and universities by establishing their own accrediting agencies rather than attempting to conform to the current system. Growth in this market indicates students will continue to pursue higher education through alternative platforms. As of 2018, 95 boot camps in the U.S. and Canada graduated over 20,000 students, a 173% increase over the previous year. There is enough demand in this field to develop a cohort of schools that can establish industry best practices, certify curriculums, and vet student payment agreements.

Still, without direction from the DeVos administration, the idea of innovation in the context of accreditation may be too nebulous to forecast outcomes for both postsecondary institutions and alternative platforms. If alternative platforms want access to federal funds or to be considered major players in the higher education ecosystem, then they must act now while Congress is in the process of reauthorizing HEA. Otherwise, they may have to wait 10+ years for the next reauthorization. . . when it may be too late.