We welcome Alexis Hope, MIT Media Lab, as today’s guest blogger, as she gives us a peek at a new publishing platform that incorporates many types of multimedia into your text copy. Alexis and a panel of MIT Media Lab students will be speaking at the WCET Annual Meeting, Oct. 12-14 in Minneapolis. Join us to hear more about innovation, cultivating entrepreneurial spirit, and design. — Megan Raymond and Russ Poulin, WCET
For the past year, I’ve been developing an open-source multimedia publishing platform called FOLD. FOLD grew out of my thesis work at the MIT Media Lab, where I worked in the Center for Civic Media led by Ethan Zuckerman. The platform was originally created to help journalists supplement news with context to support novice news readers, but we opened it up to the public when we launched. Now, alongside use by journalists and independent writers, FOLD has begun to see wide use in the classroom by teachers looking to help students build media literacy and learn how to write for public audiences.
Being “Playful” with Design
In our research, we’re investigating how being playful with design can give students the space and freedom to find their unique voice and writing style. We’ve found that students of all ages are motivated by being able to incorporate the kinds of media they interact with on a daily basis into an assignment, and older students in particular are proud of a polished and professional final product that helps elevate their work.
On FOLD, stories are composed of text and media cards. Text cards form the backbone of the story, and media cards branch out to the side of each text card. Writers can annotate their text with these media cards to create an interactive story. Media cards can be created by searching through user-generated content sites like YouTube, Flickr, Soundcloud, and more from inside the text editor. Blending research tools with a writing environment, FOLD allows writers to easily find source material and references to support their words.
It’s been a joy to see the creativity and expressiveness of student writers; FOLD has been used to create how-to’s, science explainers, photo essays, project portfolios, and history reports, but outside of formal assignments, students are creating fiction and poetry, game tutorials, movie reviews, and more experimental pieces. Giving students opportunities to connect learning goals with outside interests can be incredibly rewarding and gives them the chance to create a portfolio piece of which they can be proud.
Prior to joining the MIT Media Lab, I worked to re-design extremely complicated medical device interfaces. I’m motivated by design challenges that center on making complex systems understandable and accessible to wide audiences. I’m also inspired by playfulness, and believe that when possible, our interfaces should add some fun to our day. In an educational context, infusing technology with joy is especially important when so many other technologies are competing for students’ attention.
I love creating moments of joy for the people who interact with what could otherwise be just another boring tool. FOLD’s moments of joy are created by bright colors, playful language, bold iconography, and support for a wide variety of multimedia. We’ve also incorporated the ability to find and “follow” other authors on the platform, an aspect of social networking platforms with which many students are familiar.
FOLD Helps Connect the Fragments of Information Across Media
Visual design is important, but thoughtful design goes beyond the surface. I’m fascinated by the way that the Web has transformed how people think, write, and learn. There are many writing tools available to students, but few that speak to the changing nature of how we learn and how we interact with information. Increasingly, we experience content in discrete fragments—a YouTube tutorial, a photo of a protest, a humorous Tweet, or a link to the viral article everyone in our Facebook circle is talking about. But sometimes it feels like all of this information doesn’t really amount to much. On FOLD, students are able to bring together the fragments of the Web into a cohesive whole, so they can turn that one YouTube video into something much more substantial.
As technology users we have come to expect beautiful and thoughtful design in many of the products we use every day, and educational technology should be no different. I’m inspired by many other technologies I see being developed with joy and play in mind, such as:
- LittleBits, whose electronics kits are so engaging you can’t help but invent something;
- the Amino, which has crafted a beautiful experience around teaching complex bioengineering concepts; and
- Codecademy, a website that helps people learn programming with a fun, interactive editor.
When design and engineering sit side-by-side and are attentive to the needs of the people at the center of complex systems, our technologies can be beautiful, fun, and useful in equal measures.
Creative Director at FOLD
Every spring, as March Madness heats up, it’s not just basketball brackets bringing on the fever pitch of competition. In many high schools, March Madness is about college acceptances; who’s gotten them, and who hasn’t. Information about the “have’s” and the “have not’s” in the ever-increasing race to be branded a “success,” travels instantly along the hallways and social media highways.
For first generation college students, this annual “race to nowhere”, as a recent documentary termed it, often ends before it even begins unless someone outside of their nuclear family guides them through the college application process. In many public schools, overwhelming caseloads leave school counselors without the time and resources necessary to provide students with adequate career and college guidance. Administrators must rely on teachers and other staff, or specific college preparatory programs like AVID, to help prepare students for a variety of 2 and 4-year college options, and other post-high school pathways.
In this year, my seventeenth as a school counselor and third as a Career & College Counselor specifically, I saw an increased number of our first generation college students pass through the college application gauntlet. They emerged more self-confident and ready to embrace the challenges inherent in stepping out on their own.
Why so many this year? It was teamwork.
Olympia High School is in its sixth year as an AVID school. The curriculum certainly helps to prepare our students for college, but it is the close, almost familial relationship between the AVID teacher – the head coach – and students that truly accelerates our students’ academic and personal growth. I work as part of the AVID team, providing extra academic guidance, personal support and college application assistance. Sometimes, that’s all it takes – a second or third caring adult to encourage a student to strive for more, and suddenly they begin to believe they can.
Such was the case with one of our AVID seniors who I recently discovered had chosen to attend our local community college out of the fear of being rejected by a 4-year college. When I heard about her plan, I once again assured her, “You can do this”! As the AVID assistant coach, I was an additional voice of encouragement that gave her that last little push to complete the application. Two weeks later she was accepted and is now on her way to becoming a Central Washington University Wildcat!
Teachers, counselors, administrators and other adults can be the champions that every student needs to realize their dreams. Any staff member and any school can choose to prioritize meaningful student-teacher relationships. The research supports this approach as a key factor in student achievement, and these kinds of success stories can happen in any school.
Kim Reykdal is a Career & College Counselor, Lead AVID Counselor and the Senior Class Advisor at Olympia High School in Olympia, Washington.
Cross-posted from the Let’s Move! Blog.
It’s that time of year again – we’re inviting kids across the country to create healthy lunch recipes for a chance to win a trip to Washington, D.C., and the opportunity to attend the Kids’ “State Dinner” at the White House!
Check out a special message from First Lady Michelle Obama announcing the fifth annual Healthy Lunchtime Challenge:
The First Lady is once again teaming up with PBS flagship station WGBH Boston, the U.S. Department of Education, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to host the fifth annual Healthy Lunchtime Challenge to promote cooking and healthy eating among young people across the nation.
The challenge invites kids ages 8-12, in collaboration with a parent or guardian, to create an original recipe that is healthy, affordable, and delicious. One winner from each U.S. state, territory, and the District of Columbia will win the opportunity to be flown to Washington, DC and the opportunity to attend the 2016 Kids’ “State Dinner” here at the White House, where a selection of the winning recipes will be served. Kids will also have the opportunity to learn from television personality and member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition Rachael Ray.
Check out USDA’s MyPlate to ensure your child’s recipe meets the nutrition guidelines by representing each of the food groups, either in one dish or as parts of a lunch meal, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy. In addition, in celebration of the MyPlate, MyState initiative, the 2016 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge is putting a spotlight on homegrown pride across the country and encouraging entries to include local ingredients grown in your family’s state, territory, or community.
We can’t wait to see what kids create this year – so good luck and get cooking! Don’t forget to submit by April 4!
- Visit pbs.org/lunchtimechallenge for more details on this year’s Healthy Lunchtime Challenge.
- Check out last year’s winning recipes for inspiration and to try them at home.
- Take a look at our favorite moments from the 2015 Kids’ “State Dinner.”
Kelly Miterko is Deputy Director of Let’s Move!
Generally, the first step in applying for financial aid is completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The schools you listed on the FAFSA will take that information and use it to calculate the financial aid you’re eligible for. Your financial aid awards may vary from school to school based on a number of factors including: your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), the number of credits you will take each term, your cost of attendance (COA) at each school, your eligibility for state and institutional aid at each school, and your year in school. Keep in mind that many schools have a priority deadline, so the sooner you apply each year, the better. Here are 5 things that will help you better understand how financial aid is awarded:1. States, colleges, and outside agencies may require additional applications.
Beyond federal financial aid, which is determined by completing the FAFSA, some states and colleges may require additional applications to determine your eligibility for state or institutional (college) financial aid. Check with the financial aid office at each college you are applying to and ask whether they require additional applications. (Also ask about deadlines!) These applications may include consideration for state or institutional grants, scholarships, work-study, and loans.
TIP: Don’t forget about outside scholarships, which may require separate applications as well.2. The FAFSA confirmation page is not your financial aid award.
After you complete the FAFSA online, you’ll receive a confirmation page.
This page includes a lot of helpful information, so you should read it carefully. However, there is often confusion surrounding two sections on this page:
- Expected Family Contribution (EFC) (bottom left): The information you report on your FAFSA is used to calculate your EFC. It’s very important to note that the EFC, in most cases, is not the amount of money your family will have to pay for college. Therefore, if your EFC is zero, that does not mean you will have zero out of pocket expenses. Instead, the EFC is an index number used by financial aid offices to calculate how much financial aid you would receive if you were to attend their school.
- Federal Aid Estimates (bottom right): The FAFSA confirmation page provides federal aid estimates based on the information you provided on your FAFSA. It’s important to know that these figures are truly estimates and assume the information you provided on the FAFSA is correct. To calculate the actual amount of aid you’re eligible for, your school will take into account other factors, such as the cost to attend the school. Additionally, these estimates only take into account federal aid and not outside scholarships or state and institutional financial assistance you may also be eligible for.
Cost of attendance (COA) minus Expected Family Contribution (EFC) equals financial need. This formula is the starting point to calculating your financial aid package. COA is an estimate of what it will cost you to go to school, in most cases for two semesters or three quarters. COA is more than just tuition & fees, it includes room and board, books and supplies, transportation, and miscellaneous personal expenses.
The financial aid office at your school will determine how much financial aid you are eligible to receive.
Schools will first award need-based aid, such as grants and subsidized loans, before awarding non-need-based aid, such as unsubsidized loans. The total amount of aid you will be awarded, in almost all cases, cannot exceed your COA.
Tip: Often times a student’s financial need is higher than the need-based awards a student is eligible to receive. Therefore, just because a student has high need, does not mean they will only be awarded need-based aid. Other factors must be taken into account, such as cost of attendance.4. Financial aid award letters are school specific.
There is not a standard award letter, so while some letters you receive may look similar, others may look completely different. Certain schools may send you a paper letter or award packet, while others may provide the information electronically. Many schools may also send you a Shopping Sheet, which is a standardized format letter that provides personalized information on financial aid and net costs, as well as general information on institutional outcomes, such as graduation rates and loan default rates.
Because these letters/notifications may look different, you should be careful when comparing them. You may be awarded the same amount of federal aid from school to school, but it would not be uncommon to see varying award packages depending on the schools you are applying to. Here are some tips to help you compare.
Tip: Keywords to look for are: grant or scholarship (both are financial aid that doesn’t have to be repaid), work-study (earned through working), and loan (needs to be repaid).5. FAFSA information doesn’t always accurately reflect a family’s financial situation.
We understand that the FAFSA does not always accurately reflect your family’s current financial situation and that your situation can change. While schools are not required to consider special circumstances, many schools do. There are a number of factors schools may consider, such as: loss of a job or a reduction in income as compared to what was reported on the FAFSA. It’s important to know that even if your current situation has changed considerably, it may still have little or no impact to your overall financial aid award. Discuss your circumstances with a financial aid counselor/advisor at the school before collecting and sending in all the required documents.
Tip: Check with the financial aid office to find out if they consider special circumstances and if so, how you go about submitting a petition for reconsideration of your financial aid eligibility.
Mark Diestler is the Senior Associate Director of Financial Aid and Scholarships at the University of Oregon.
As I wrote back in February, accreditation plays a critical role in protecting students and taxpayers. Students and families trust that approval from an accrediting agency means that a school or program prepares its graduates for work and life. The federal government also relies on accreditation to affirm that the education provided by that institution or program is a worthy investment of taxpayer dollars. Unfortunately, in recent years, we’ve seen far too many schools maintain their institutional accreditation even while defrauding and misleading students, providing poor quality education, or closing without recourse for students. This is inexcusable. Accreditation can and must be the mark of quality that the public expects.
That’s why the Department has been working to strengthen the accreditation system. We have published information about accreditors’ standards and the student outcomes at the institutions and programs they have approved. We are taking steps to increase transparency around accreditors’ reviews of institutions and resulting actions. We will soon publish guidance to encourage accreditors to use the flexibility they have in order to target their resources to problematic and poorly performing institutions and programs. And we are increasing our focus on outcomes in our own process of recognizing accreditors.
A sharpened focus on outcomes is particularly important for accreditors whose institutions have consistently shown below-average outcomes and more than their share of student complaints, investigations, and other indicators of concern. For instance, despite a history of significant and deeply concerning problems, the accreditation status of the now-defunct Corinthian Colleges, Inc. institutions was maintained or renewed by multiple accreditors. And those schools are just one example of the institutions that have maintained their accreditation while putting students, borrowers, and taxpayers at risk.
The Department is committed to strengthening its monitoring and review of agencies that have accredited such institutions. Specifically, we are increasing the rigor of our fact-finding process with the accreditors coming up for review this summer, as well as in other review and recognition processes going forward. This process includes requiring responses to questions about how the accreditor’s standards, policies, and practices allowed such poor and problematic performance to develop and continue; the specific actions an accreditor took and when; and how the accreditor plans to changes its practices to prevent those same situations from arising with similar institutions. This information will inform the Department’s decisions regarding recognition for accrediting agencies.
We encourage public comment to help inform these reviews of accrediting agency recognition. About three months before each meeting of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI), which makes recommendations to the Department on accrediting agency recognition, the list of agencies scheduled for review is posted in the Federal Register. The agenda for the June 2016 meeting and specific instructions for submitting public comment can be found here. Public comments on those agencies are due by April 8.
While we continue to explore every option the Department has to strengthen its own processes, we need Congress to step up, too. The Department’s authority to conduct oversight of and take action with accreditors is narrowly limited by statute. In our November 2015 announcement, we described the executive actions we were taking to strengthen transparency and accountability—and we also called on Congress to take up a series of legislative proposals. Those proposals would allow greater action to ensure quality and protect students. We hope that Congress heeds this call, and we look forward to working together to ensure greater accountability for accrediting agencies, and to protect students, families, and taxpayers.
The world that we’re preparing our kids for is diverse—our workplaces and our society reflect an enormous range of backgrounds and experiences. Succeeding in that world requires having had the experience of diversity in its many forms, particularly socioeconomic diversity. Mounting evidence shows that diversity is a clear path to better outcomes in school and in life. Exposure to other students from a wide array of backgrounds can boost empathy, reduce bias and increase group problem-solving skills. In short, it helps prepare students – regardless of their backgrounds – for the world in which they will live and work.
Socioeconomically diverse schools are especially powerful for students from low-income families, who historically have not had equal access to the resources they need to succeed. For example, in Montgomery County, Maryland, children in public housing who attended the district’s most advantaged elementary schools performed better over time than those attending higher-poverty schools, despite additional per-student funding provided at higher-poverty schools.
Given what we know about the benefits of diversity, we are interested in exploring how the School Improvement Grants (SIG) program can be used to promote voluntary, community-supported efforts to expand socioeconomic diversity in schools and improve student outcomes. These grants are awarded to states that then make competitive subgrants to school districts that demonstrate the greatest need for the funds and the strongest commitment to raising student achievement in their lowest-performing schools.
Join the conversation
We welcome your input on how we can support school districts or consortia of districts, with support from their states and local communities, to use SIG funds to implement socioeconomic diversity strategies.
We are interested in your thoughts on the use of SIG funds, including your views on the following:
- The use of SIG funds to support district-wide socioeconomic diversity strategies aimed at increasing academic outcomes for students in lowest performing schools.
- Current SIG requirements for states and districts that may restrict the use SIG funds to increase the socioeconomic diversity of schools, if any.
- Other policies or conditions (e.g., high concentrations of students in poverty, strong community and stakeholder engagement, written assurances from effected districts and schools) that need to be in place for districts to successfully implement a comprehensive socioeconomic diversity plan that increase academic outcomes for students in its lowest performing schools.
- Methods and measures states and districts could use to demonstrate progress in implementing a comprehensive socioeconomic diversity plan.
We welcome your input until April 12. If you have any comments please send them via email to SIG.StrongerTogether@ed.gov.