Sunday, March 27, 2016

Forget about the grades, find students’ interest and help them succeed

By Priya Mohan and Jaroslav Mašek

Priya Mohan had been working for an investment bank in India but was itching to start something of her own. She was interested in education and wished to devote her future career in this field. She felt like being suitable for it. But she did not want to influence just one class or school but all students in her country and in the whole world. Moreover, there has also been another area which Priya Mohan was enthralled by and it was data. In business she learned about its power and effect on any domain. She discovered that data can help people be successful if it is collected and interpreted in a right way. And so she decided to quit being an investment banker and together with her colleague, Navin Balan found a startup called Vidyartha. 

Introducing Vidyartha 

Vidyartha is primarily focused on empowering direct and indirect consumers of learning products and services with highly validated data to directly impact decision making. It is a data driven company that tries to showcase how students and parents can use the well-organized data points to make decisions in learning. It is aimed to be the single window learning platform that acts as an independent advisor to parents and students in identifying student's learning gaps and seamlessly linking those learning gaps to applicable services and products (paid or free) that best address the student's gaps. But more importantly, Vidyartha becomes a personalized learning environment and platform for schools, students and parents through discovery of individual student's learning data, style and interests. It targets on students between Grade 8 and 12 who are confronted with many learning-based decisions related to their professional skills and future career.

Vidyartha has the rich experience of working with schools across boards in India such as The Doon School or Utpal Sanghvi School. It is also the only company to have designed and implemented the assessment and student data intelligence system for the country's largest Board across more than 2,500 schools and 180,000 students around the world. Heretofore, Vidyartha has on-boarded and created learning profiles of over 300,000 students. Using the learning, Vidyartha 2.0, a new data engine was launched a few months ago with live insights, relative ranking and automated recommendations with over 10,000 students involved. The company is also administering a 7-school chain order in Saudi Arabia and is now (March 2016) working towards an international expansion. 

Context, Challenges and Dilemmas

Before Grade 11 students in India need to choose a specialization with a fixed subjects. For instance Science with Maths have 2 options: Physics, Chemistry, Maths, Biology, or Physics, Chemistry, Maths and Computer Science. Some schools do not even offer subjects like Economics or other. And this choice becomes a critical benchmark for most of the Indian students’ credit and future profession. And when the students decide not to take Science (Physics or Chemistry) in Grade 11, they can hardly change their mind later and can only opt for non-science courses after graduated from the school. 

In this rigid system the general tendency is to push students to take Science and Maths because these are considered to be the secure subjects so that no one could go wrong taking these combinations as it may open up more options. In such a system three essential challenges and dilemmas arise. 

First, when students are not interested in these subjects or, though very interested, they are unable to score well in these subjects or when the students are clear that they do not want Science or Maths and would like to try other subject fields.

Second, when the students have chosen a set of subjects which may or may not be suitable for them and correspond with their interest and long term learning goals, and in Grade 12 are thoroughly confused about the after school options or how they should prioritize them.

And finally, the eternal dilemma is when students across classes from Grade 8 to 12 are even unable to prioritize their learning, often asking questions such as what is my subject strength, should I invest more in my strengths or weaknesses, how do I improve my overall scores across subjects, or where do I put in more time. 

Like with other industries, optimizing effort is very important for students as well. How does one create an optimized learning plan has been the fundamental question. Vidyartha aims to solve these challenges and dilemmas through systematic compiling of data, analyzing it and converting it into meaningful information, and finally delivering authentic and real data based on the recommendations.

Data driven recommendations or how Vidyartha works

With a data engine platform tuned to the needs of K8 - 12 students, Vidyartha concentrates on 2 basic things: 
  • collecting, mining and analyzing validated student performance data to different Boards (CBSE, ICSE, State Boards & IB, IGCSE etc.) 
  • offering predictive analyses and recommendations to students on:
    • subject-wise live and relative ranking (region-wise, school-wise and country-wise), 
    • which group to choose in Grade 11, 
    • most suited courses that tie up each student's interest, aptitude, academic outcome etc. 
This recommendation logic has been repeatedly fine tuned after 3 years of working with thousands of students.

Every student’s unique learning profile and recommendation is created with his or her own data, the subsequent analysis and also in context of peer data such as demographic data, academic grades and trends, and results of Vidyartha’s administered assessments capturing student’s interests, learning style, personality traits and aptitudes.
The strength of the system is in understanding of collecting the data and in the challenges involved in this process. In Vidyartha they currently cater for both schools and individual students and the data comes in bulk from schools as well as from individual students. Part of the data is supplied by the schools (on academic performance and demographic) or by the students, and the rest is discovered through Vidyartha’s own proprietary assessments.

On the one hand, by showing a typical student his or her learning needs, exactly where they stand among their peers and hence where they need to get, right down to subject-wise scores, the platform points out the gaps and seamlessly addresses this gap by connecting the students to service providers with directly impacting outcomes. 
On the other hand, for those high spending education service and product companies currently spending so much money to acquire and sustain student users in their own areas of expertise, the Vidyartha main effort is to significantly reduce the cost of acquisition (being increased by companies that struggle to reach the right students) of the students and improve targeting on students.
As Priya Mohan finally adds: “Vidyartha is a student focussed company that builds a detailed student learning profile and knows which student to connect to which service or product, based on their needs and not on compulsion. By matching the right learning buyer with the appropriate service provider, costs and efforts on both sides are reduced.”

The best way to understand how Vidyartha collects, assimilates and analyses the data for students is explained in the following video.

Vidyartha as a standard platform (Conclusion) 

Vidyartha is a sanskrit word. It is also a blend. Vidya means education and Artha stands for meaning. For Priya Mohan and her team the meaning of education is not the grades, standardization or uniformity but a meaningful process that creates the best environment and conditions for students and which is based on their personality, interest, passion, school approach and decisions through rightly interpreted data that helps them do what they are suitable for to be happy and successful. 

From the moment Sir Ken Robinson presented his ideas about bringing on the learning revolution on TED we have been continuously discussing the possible ways of revealing students’ talent. We could be much closer to this mission if we are able to integrate Vidyartha into our educational systems and make it as a new standard platform. 

During the conversation with Priya Mohan, she confirmed that Vidyartha could tailor their program to our educational environment and also implement it to the curriculum as they have done in other parts of the world. Then we will be able to provide it for our schools and specially for the students to help them be successful in future. This is a huge opportunity and a unique chance we should not miss.

Saturday, March 26, 2016


Bořivoj Brdička



Why do I Teach? This is a question I ask myself every single day. Why am I still at school and not anywhere else? Maybe it is because I am not tire of it yet, because it still moves me somewhere, forces me to do new things. And when the students see the purpose, when they are successful and make good progress, it is a pleasure to be there. However, sometimes pleasure is replaced by sadness. Then one seeks a motivation and support anyplace. And the biggest one is often found in their colleagues, teachers.

On Twitter I have recently found a project #WhyITeach administered by community Teacher2Teacher. It is about teachers presenting their reasons why they teach. Inside the community you can share interesting resources, learn from others, together solve important issues that you are not able to resolve alone, or join various discussions. One of the person that collaborates with Teachers2Teachers is Sarah Brown Wessling. At the community website she is presented by her quote:
I learned the difference between teaching writing and teaching writers. 
Sarah Brown Wessling

The community uses hashtag #T2T on Twitter. Tweets with this hashtag include a question that people ask to find an answer. So you can reply and help others or send the message on (as a retweet) and at the same time also add your own questions. In this way you can take part in a discussion and gain useful tips and advices. In the community there are many leading teachers so a chance that you get an erudite answer is quite considerable. Besides Twitter you find the T2T community also on Facebook.

I have been thinking about how I would respond to the question. What is the main reason why I am still a teacher and not let’s say a bank clerk? Finally, my answer was short but apt: To inspire and be inspired. I retweeted it to the T2T community and it launched a series of subsequent actions.


By using a retweet I did not only publish my answer but also shared the original tweet by Emily Clare (on the picture above) thanks to which I had learned about the #WhyITeach project at the beginning. Emily is the principal of Avonworth High School in Pittsburgh whose school I visited recently under the IVLP program and with whom I am still in contact. Afterwards she sent me a #WhyITeach Storytelling Toolkit.

After being familiar with the toolkit instructions I have been following the whole event on Twitter and reading through the answers of other teachers and also how they share those answers within their schools or communities. And then I have got an idea. We need to involve Czech teachers and schools in this project. So I have shared the toolkit with my PEPOUŠ friends from group GEG Učte s námi and together we have been thinking about the ways of dealing and implementing the project in a Czech manner. Without mentioning it to my friends, my first thoughts led me not to a paper form but to an electronic one. Not only that they had the same thoughts, they have been able to go even further.

Petra Boháčková created electronic noticeboards, one in Czech and one in English and on them we have started posting our bubbles communicating the reasons why we teach. Someone used an application for creating comics, someone even added a Green Screen app to it, some used Skitch to fill in the bubbles on a tablet and others used something else. How people worked and what they used was not that important. More important was the content.

We have decided to share our online activity further, not only in the Czech community of teachers but also in the world. Thanks to Twitter we have been noticed by Teacher2Teacher group and they published our stories at their selection on Storify.

Don’t you want to join in and tell your colleagues, students and their parents about why you teach and what leads you to do this job? It would be great if there were more teachers sharing their stories with the others.

You can download this bubble here.

What would be in your bubble? And how would you make it? Would you try it without a paper? Please, share it with us.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Iridescent or Tara Chklovski’s model of Education

After Tara Chklovski graduated at the university she suddenly realized that what she had studied there was not quite the field she wanted to devote her life to. She had felt that it was education that would form the future and that she needed to be part of it. Therefore she decided to set up Iridescent, an organization that creates and delivers powerful science, engineering and technology education to help underprivileged children and youth develop.

She knew that it is not just the content that shapes good education but also curiosity, creativity and persistence. These three attributes have become the key attributes of the model of education she with her team provides.

In this non-profit educational project they mediate and arrange to train professional engineers, scientists, and parents to deliver STEM education to underserved girls, children and their families.

Their two flagship programs - Curiosity Machine & Technovation have different approaches, but share the same core objectives: problem solving & innovation, parent involvement and STEM mentorship.
For more look at the presentations about Iridescent STEM Model and Club Model.

Let’s have a look at both programs in more detail.
Curiosity Machine is an original, hands-on, engineering design curriculum for girls and boys aged 5-13 years (Grades K-8) and their families. Trained engineers and scientists develop and teach unique hands-on projects based on current research and mentor. 
Parents are engaged as learners which is a key ingredient for lasting impact not addressed by other STEM educational programs. They build hands on engineering design challenges along with their children. Not only are they helping their children, they are also actively involved in the process. They learn science and engineering concepts and practice helping their children troubleshoot and solve problems. This video is a great example of what it looks like and you can find the research evaluation results here.
More about Curiosity Machine in the video below or at YouTube channel.

Technovation is a technology entrepreneurship program for teams of middle and high school girls. During this 12 week program, girls learn to brainstorm and research ideas, develop a business plan and pitch, and create a mobile APP, to address a local issue in their community.
Moreover, they offer Scientists and Engineers’ Outreach, multiple ways for professional scientists and engineers to get involved with their programs. Opportunities include learning how to translate academic and professional work into an open-ended design challenge; becoming an online mentor for children building those challenges; teaching a full family science course; and telling your story in a video. (1)
For more look at the Technovation curriculum and YouTube channel.

So, if you are a competing 19-or-under girl and want to join this program to launch a new start-up, start thinking about a team between three to five members, about a teacher to be your team coach and also about a mentor, a professional in technology or business to consult  particular issues during the project. After you, your team-mates, the teacher and the mentor register, you can create a team in the system and then be connected as a group. The team will submit its app idea and deliverables for the competition through the team page.
Teachers can also become regional Technovation ambassadors.


When Tara Chklovski’s presentation finished I had a long chat with Allie Holmes, one of Tara’s colleagues and we had a very interesting and inspiring conversation that confirmed my opinion about this amazing team of people and the great job they do here.


Sunday, February 28, 2016

Education in the Digital Age under the IVLP Program

At the turn of January and February I took part in an international project named Education in the Digital Age under the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) sponsored by United States Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and Institute of International Education. There were 18 representatives from 16 different countries nominated for this program - two from South Africa and India, one from Afghanistan, Argentina, Bangladesh, Czech Republic, El Salvador, Iraq, Maroco, Mexico, Palestinian Territories, Russia, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. 
All the participants were connected to education in a different way. They were teachers, lecturers, education specialists, school principals, directors and deputy directors, co-owners and founders, IT researchers, associate deans, professors and assistant professors, vice presidents, entrepreneurs, developers, promotion video makers or people dealing with online education.

The IVLP program set four project objectives:
  • Provide an overview of current technological trends in education;
  • Assess how new technologies impact student learning, including the advantages and disadvantages;
  • Examine partnerships between educational institutions and private business or philanthropic organizations;
  • Explain teacher training and continuing education on how to work with new technologies and its integration into existing curriculum.

The program included the visit of 6 cities - Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and San Francisco. For each city there were main topics and a program consisting of meetings at various educational institutions from primary, secondary and high schools to colleges and universities, educational centers, networkings with people from the education field and also many cultural events. 
More about the program and topics in each cities you can find here.

A collage of my pictures from the US stay created by Fotor.

I do not want to expand here on all visited places or projects that I have found interesting during the three weeks, which either have come from the United States or my colleagues from the other countries that attended the IVLP program. The most interesting ones will be prepared in separate articles and published as a series. I would rather focus on how this program can help evolve collaboration between schools and institutions concerning the integration of technology in education.

At the school visit I have discovered that when it comes to implementing technology in education, many American schools are very similar to ours. They also face challenges of Wi-Fi network infrastructure, they address which technology is favorable and affordable as well as we do. Schools often use Chromebooks in a 1:1 model which we can see in our schools too. A blended model using LMS has been a standard at every visited educational institutions. Primary, secondary, and high schools use systems such as Google Classroom, Edmodo or Schoology, at the universities it is Blackboard, Moodle or Versal.

We discovered an application of many contemporary ICT trends, namely 3D printing, integrating drones in education, virtual reality, programming, the Green Screen technology and other. An implementation of Web 2.0 services based on Google Apps is very common. Some schools also integrate Office 365. It is obvious that there are not big differences here.

Universities concentrate much more on designing online courses in which students are closer to their teachers unlike today’s so popular MOOC courses where due to the massiveness a personal contact disappears. Some universities, such as Georgia Tech or Carnegie Mellon (CMU) are engaged in developing their own systems and designing online courses tailored for other universities based on materials and data provided by their clients. It results in efficiency improvement of the course preparation and the percentage of the successful participants. It is not unusual nowadays to graduate from university entirely online even including the final exams and gaining the iMBA degree.

Many universities (e.g. already mentioned Georgia Tech or Pittsburgh University) try to provide their students an environment that is available in companies and business sectors today, e.g. classrooms connected with videoconferencing systems, continuous whiteboards on the walls, an open space with movable furniture with great variability of its arrangement etc. The main reason behind is to offer their students the facilities that enable them to accomplish project and cooperative work.

During all the visits and conversations with the educators and employees I have been thinking about the ways of connecting the particular institutions with our schools and finding an appropriate topic and areas of interest. I have been asking myself what are the projects that the Czech and American students could work on together. 
I do not have answers to all these questions yet but one thing I know for sure. A willingness to cooperate is obvious and significant on the American side. I believe and I am convinced that it is also on ours.