Today’s teachers have access to technology and teaching tools that were mostly absent from classrooms just a few years ago. Although well versed in pedagogy and learning modalities, many may not be so familiar with certain media that have recently begun to revolutionize digital learning. Third-party instructional designers have long helped provide lesson plans and assessments to teachers, and recently some of the same companies have begun to bridge old teaching styles, rigorously tested pedagogy, and emerging technologies.
But for so many others, the creation of these paths and modernized educational supplements proved irreconcilable with the bottom line. In its latest annual report, Pearson, the UK-based education giant, announced: “We have completed the strategic review of our K12 courseware business in the US and have classified the business as view of the sale”.
As CEO John Fallon told the evening standard, talking about the instructional design division of his company, “It’s one of the least profitable parts of the business, it’s run by textbooks and far less advanced than other parts of Pearson. It doesn’t fit with our digital transformation strategy.
TenMarks, a digital learning designer specializing in elementary math and writing, was acquired by Amazon a little over a year ago and closed a few months later, almost overnight. The move was so sudden, in fact, that many districts that had signed up for TenMarks services had trained their teachers to use it the same day it was announced. Additionally, the company’s products were considered popular and effective by the teachers who used them.
On the other end of the spectrum, Nearpod focuses entirely on additional instructional design. They have successfully garnered support from teachers across the country and recently signed a partnership with the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), which creates what many consider to be the definitive teaching standards when it’s about combining education with technology. Premium Nearpod features are now available to ISTE members. As of the 2017-2018 school year, Nearpod lessons have been used in some capacity in 60% of US school districts.
The company also partners with publishers such as education.com, PhET and ReadWorks to create digital learning supplements and lesson plans. Using a range of tools, teachers can choose from their library of over 6,500 teaching aids and edit and modify them to suit their needs.
The company also recently launched compatibilities with the most popular learning management systems (LMS), such as Canvas, Blackboard and Schoology.
Additionally, adoption in the teaching community has increased dramatically. “We have over 4,000 teachers in our PioNear Certified Nearpod Educator program,” said Jennie Kristofferson, vice president of content strategy. “They are actively within their social media groups to share their best practices and discuss how they can be advocates within their schools and districts. But also, if you just look at Twitter, we have over 40,000 followers and you’re going to see a lot of sharing there as well.
The company’s practices show how a fine line must be toed when it comes to successfully designing additional instruction. Nearpod brings together a team of in-house instructional designers who work with publishers to develop ink and paper lesson plans into a learning experience infused with new technology.
To begin with, digital learning designers must work within mandates set by federal and state learning standards, which tend to change regularly. Following No Child Left Behind, the Every Student Succeeds Act, “began to provide flexibility to states regarding specific NCLB requirements in exchange for rigorous and comprehensive state-developed plans designed to close achievement gaps, increase equity, improve the quality of education and increase outcomes for all students,” according to the Department of Education. With the rollout of ESSA taking full effect this school year, learning standards have become increasingly a state-by-state issue.
“I have worked in the education industry for 20 years, starting as a teacher. I became a district-level math coordinator and then worked for big publishers like Pearson and Amplify,” Kristofferson said. “The idea of content standards in its various forms, from the national to the state level, has persisted over time. We all believed that Common Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) would solve our problem of have a set of standards to build to, but [negotiating changing standards] has been around since I was in the education industry and long before me. If you’ve been in this industry, that’s part of the job.
But Kristofferson says working with the standards produces an improved end product.
“What’s great is that there are many vendors out there who can help find common touchpoints across states as well as national standards so we can really build smart. It helps from the process itself. There are common themes and shared concepts that exist in standards that are evolving. If we look at the ESSA standards, in order to be college and career ready, and that’s the ultimate goal of these standards, you’re going to see a common theme of citing evidence across multiple texts. We look at these core competencies that cover national and state priorities so that we can meet with as many end users as possible. »
From there, Nearpod turns to teaching methods and lesson frameworks proven to be effective by teams of researchers. Often these teaching styles were developed for a 20th century classroom and not applied to digital learning.
“We’re always on the lookout for best-in-class content that could become a complete lesson plan or just rich media resources that teachers can benefit from,” Kristofferson said. “We start with a teacher’s root content, then we layer the design of the learning experience through our course format. We’re going to take it and ask ourselves, “What research-based teaching model can we use?” If you think of a science teacher, they will often use something like the 5E instructional model. We take this model and see what kind of simulations and media we can use with it.
Kristofferson sees the role of Nearpod as that of a translator, bringing proven methods and modalities from one medium to another. It may seem simple for some to provide digital educational supplements. But often it marks a radical transformation of education.
“A lot of times when I’ve observed teachers trying to go 1-to-1 with digital learning, they throw everything they know about best practices out the window,” Kristofferson said. “Because it’s a new tool that’s unfamiliar. I’m a former math coordinator and would introduce new math manipulations, things like pattern blocks or algebra tiles to the classroom. Because it was again, you would often see teachers a little stuck on how they should teach.
“I find that technology is nothing different. I put an iPad or a Chromebook in front of the teachers and it’s a new tool. They then focus on the new tool rather than the instructional design. They try to understand how to bring it in. Nearpod, through this learning experience design, incorporates this research-based pedagogical model so that they use what they know and are familiar with. things like text transformation models like the SAMR model or the Technology Integration Matrix for what the ISTE standards are, that’s really at the heart of it all.
Images courtesy of Nearpod.