EdSurge: You Oughta Be In Pictures

Putting the power of online video into the hands of teachers.

The right picture may be worth a thousand words; an inappropriate one, by contrast, can disrupt a class of fidgety students for hours. That's only one of the reasons that schools have long been chary about introducing that amazing time sink, YouTube, into class. Ask most public school teachers in the U.S. and they're likely to tell you: YouTube is blocked in most schools.

Video surely has a place in class, however—whether it's segments of documentaries that peek into new territories or lectures by expert practitioners or teachers. That need has led to a host of school-related video projects including SchoolTube, TeacherTube, a fresh-off-the server new site, Currix, The Teaching Channel and so on—various ways to put teachers in command of video. (And here's a fresh beta release: LearnZillion just this week is making its Common Core aligned math and literacy videos available.)

Now YouTube is climbing into the picture, too, with YouTube for teachers. YouTube education has in the past had content for universities. But back in July, YouTube convened a group of 17 educators and asked for their help in creating materials that would show teachers how to create, curate and use YouTube content in education. Today YouTube puts that content up on the web, encouraging teachers to create YouTube channels of content they make or curate and then share those channels with their classes.

But wait. There's more!

Although YouTube managers are resolutely mum on the subject, word is that the video giant will be wading more deeply into the K-12 environs. "But most K-12 schools block YouTube," you'll say. (We sure did.) Yeah, they know. But as Mind/Shift's Tina Barseghian points out here, schools don't have to block YouTube just to comply with the Children's Internet Protection Act. YouTube's education division might be a bit separate from the rest of YouTube's content. "And how about those ads?" we asked. Yeah, well, ads pay the bills; they get to stay. With all those zillions of videos comes strength: YouTube works on every imaginable device. Definitely stay tuned.

TAKIN' CARE OF BUSINESS: Here's a smart way to serve a social need and not go broke in the process. EverFi—started three and a half years ago to address “unfunded mandates” like financial and digital literacy, alcohol awareness, and digital citizenship—has what it calls a "public/private partnership," delivering its products for free to public schools, branded—and paid for—by companies. For instance, banks and their affiliated foundations can underwrite games about financial literacy, and nonprofit organizations (like the Boys and Girls Clubs) or universities can private-label and distribute other content. All this, while keeping a firewall between the sponsors and the content, which remains in EverFi’s hands, says executive VP Tammy Wincup. Everfi's numbers look sweet: 3 million students so far have completed EverFi programs. A year ago, they raised $11 million from investors including New Enterprise Associates, Allen and Company and Tomorrow Ventures. Sounds like a win-win-win, no?

PROMISES, PROMISES: Lovely event at that birthday cake-like building (formerly called the Old Executive Office Building) last Friday with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the blue-ribbon board of directors of Digital Promise. By now you've likely heard about this nonprofit that has been appointed by Congress, given a modest dowry, and sent off into the world to support efforts to get great—and appropriate—digital technology into classrooms. (If not, see here or here for details).

Seventh grader Josniel Martinez traveled to our nation's capital from East Harlem. He gave an engaging account of how it took a digital village to get him back on the academic success track—and then smoothly introduced Sec. Duncan. The idea for Digital Promise was originally conceived around the same time as Josniel. Literally. Even so, the need for a steward of digital education technology has never been clearer.

The projects Digital Promise will foster are still getting hammered out. Among them: the second annual national STEM video competition for students. (Here are last year's winners.) A project called the "League of Innovative Schools," aimed at encouraging schools and districts to share their edtech needs, wants and experiences—and so nudge industry in helpful directions; $15 million in NSF "cyberlearning" grants, and other projects that aim to assess the effectiveness of digital learning tools and then share that information with all interested parties.

At the event, the President's Council of Economic Advisors released a short paper investigating why edtech has been a slow market to emerge. The economists pinpointed two long-time challenges for the edtech business that are no surprise: School districts are devilishly hard to sell to, and what they delicately call "the effectiveness challenge, arising from the lack of credible evaluations of most educational technology products." Translation: It's hard to know what edtech products are any good. That's another imbalance that Digital Promise hopes to right.

[Image: Flickr user Extra Ketchup]

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