There have been a wide variety of reports out recently indicating that American students are not getting what they need in schools and from society to become successful adults. One presented at a recent Capitol Hill briefing discussed how a lack of skills and preparedness is perceived by employers.
I might be the outlier in the education technology community, but I greeted the US Department of Education’s “Effectiveness of Reading and Mathematics Software Products” research study prepared for Congress as a great success for the technology community. It might also be the case that as a former working journalist and a TV news producer that I know what is necessary to generate a headline and to stir up a bit of controversy.
The US Department of Education contracted with two great organizations (Mathematica Research Policy, Inc and SRI International) to study 33 districts, totaling 132 schools, and 439 teachers. They ultimately ended up with a student sample of 9424 students to test 16 reading and math products (1st and 4th grade reading; 6th grade math, and Algebra). What they learned was that statistically there was very little difference between classroom instruction and the products tested. Bravo!
“Scholar? What’s that?" you say. While you were finishing up holiday shopping, Scholar, the first property from the Blackboard Beyond Initiative, went live in open beta. Scholar is a social bookmarking service, customized for education, and integrated with Blackboard Learning System. We launched quietly as most folks were on holidays. We’ve got some plans to make more noise about it later this month, but, as you might expect, attentive bloggers like Scott Leslie at EdTechPost noticed it and started writing about it.
Like Scott, you can check Scholar out at http://www.scholar.com for a little hands-on exploration, and even subscribe to RSS feeds of various bookmark views. But a lot of the cool stuff that’s the "customized for education" part requires a Blackboard Building Block or PowerLink to be installed on your Blackboard Learning System. So since you can’t see it all from the public site, I’ll describe it a bit here.
About a month ago, we convened the Product Development Partners for the first development project of the Blackboard Beyond Initiative. We’ve already covered a lot really useful ground in a relatively short amount of time, including some high level discussions like product strategy and design reviews, right down to individual feature names and other more detailed topics. But some of the most interesting conversations that we’ve had seem to come to the same conclusion of, "we’re not in Kansas anymore". What I mean is that the web properties coming out of the Beyond Initiative are really going to be quite different from prior Blackboard product adoption experiences, and it seems that we don’t fully realize how deeply ingrained expectations may be based on some of those past experiences.
Here’s one example of what I’m talking about.
Like Jan said, I too have always found the fun of Educause to be in catching up with old friends and colleagues. And of course this year was no exception on that front. But what made this year’s conference special for me was that I was finally able to start talking with folks about our plans for the first property coming out of the Beyond Initiative. While we were at the show we unveiled our plans for a social bookmarking service, customized for education, and integrated with all of Blackboard Learning System products. It’s an exciting new way for students, faculty, and staff to find educationally valuable resources on the web.