A Digital Future: K-12 Technology by 2018

Rapidly changing technology continues to make its mark on K-12 learning. The recently-released New Media Consortium Horizon Report details six up-and-coming technologies in the next five years for K-12 classrooms. Let’s take a closer loo

Horizon #1: In the next year, or less.

Mobile learning. Tablets and smartphones in the classroom are no longer a matter of “if,” but “when, and how quickly?” Administrators and educators can tap into the convenience of mobile technology in the classroom and the potential for student learning adaptation. Over half of school administrators say there is some form of mobile technology in their classrooms and that they plan to implement more when it is financially feasible. School districts should keep in mind that the purchase of mobile devices for K-12 use is only one piece in the learning puzzle. There must be funding for teacher training and maintenance of the devices too.

Cloud computing. When it comes to greater educational collaboration, cloud computing has unlimited potential. This is true for teacher-to-teacher, teacher-to-parent and teacher-to-student applications. By using a common location, academic expectations can be better accessed, along with actual student work. Instructors can also share learning materials and experiences through the remote opportunities that cloud computing provides.

Horizon #2: Within two to three years.

Learning analytics. This evolving concept in K-12 classrooms is different from educational data mining in that it focuses on individual students, teachers and schools without direct implications to the government. Learning analytics is the education industry’s response to “big data” that is used in the business world for improvements and redirection of focus. Learning analytics essentially show students what they have achieved and how those goals match up with their peers. If implemented correctly, this technology has the potential to warn teachers early of academic issues while keeping students more accountable. Using the mobile and online technology already in place, students can better track and tailor their academic experiences.

Open content. The rise of MOOCs, or massive open online courses, in terms of college learning is having a trickle-down effect on K-12 education. The idea that all the information that exists on any given topic already exists, and does not need to be re-created or purchased, is gaining steam among K-12 educators. Within the next three years, expect more shared content available to teachers and to students. Open textbooks, resources and curricula are not the only benefit of an open content push; shared experiences and insights are also valuable teaching tools.

Horizon #3: Within four to five years.

3D printing. Also known as prototyping, this technology will allow K-12 students to create tangible models for their ideas. Many fields, like manufacturing, already make use of this technology to determine the effectiveness of ideas on a smaller, printable scale. In education, this technology will bolster creativity and innovation, along with science and math applications. The STEM Academy has already partnered with Stratasys, a leading 3D printing company, to start integration of the technology in programming classes.

Virtual laboratories. These Web applications give students the chance to perform physical science experiments over and over, from anywhere with Internet access. As in a physical lab, the performance of the student will determine the results of the experiment. While not a replacement for all in-lab exercises, the virtual version can provide extra practice and guidance. There is no pressure to “get it right” on the first run, and mistakes are allowable because the technology lends itself to no-cost repetition. It also may prove a smart solution to rekindling the American public’s interest in the scientific.

In coming posts, I will take a closer look at each of these technologies and their implications on K-12 learners. Which do you think will have the greatest impact?


 Read all of our posts about EdTech and Innovation by clicking here. 

The Edvocate’s List of 20 Must-Follow Higher Education Twitter Feeds

*The Edvocate is pleased to produce its “Best of the Best” resource lists. These lists provide our readers with rankings for education-related blogs, twitter accounts, influencers, products, etc. These lists are meant to be fluid, and for that reason, they are regularly updated to provide up to the moment information.*

Twitter is often waved off by academics as a way to pass the time when you have nothing better to do. However, there are some who understand just how useful Twitter can be a tool for reaching the younger generations. If you want to spread the word about higher education policies, critiques, or ideas, Twitter is a brilliant way to share ideas. And sometimes some individuals are so entrenched in higher education that they understand what people really need is a good laugh about the whole thing.

The following 20 accounts provide insight not only into the world of academia but into the right way to manage a Twitter account. Some of the accounts are run by individuals who have a lot to say about higher education, the cost, the lifestyle, and the pains, while other focus on making people laugh. All of them can help you keep things in perspective while teaching you a thing or two about how to wield Twitter in a way that is beneficial, entertaining, or both.

Our list has been compiled with the following four key qualities in mind:

  1. Activity. The account sends out tweets regularly to disseminate the very latest news and trends in higher education.
  2. Originality. The tweets add value with content that’s different from all the other higher education focused Twitter accounts out there.
  3. Helpfulness. A good higher education Twitter account should teach you something new, direct you to a useful resource, or at least get you to think in a new way about something.
  4. Authority. The author/authors have the authority and credentials to tweet about the topic of higher education.
  1. @AcademicsSay

This blog can help you keep things in perspective when you are frustrated or tired after a long day in the higher education realm. Constantly poking fun at some of the absurdities and taking a new perspective on the things that get under your skin, this feed can make you laugh despite everything else happening. It reminds you to take things less seriously because sometimes the things that seem normal in the academic world are shown to be just as silly or complicated as you thought they were.

  1. @thesiswhisperer

Managed by Dr. Mewburn of the Australian national University, this Twitter feed takes a look at many different aspects of dealing with that final thesis. It covers the basics, such as font and spacing, and more complicated and difficult questions, such as getting the right flow. No field is off limits either, making it a great feed if you are writing or deal with a thesis on a regular basis. There is nothing quite like feeling like someone understands your pain.

  1. @studentactivism

Written and managed by Angus Johnston, this blog will keep you updated on the latest news and events in the student activism realm. There are few places where activism has so much passion and dedication. This feed can help you understand the latest movements and events that matter to students.

  1. @TheLitCritGuy

This is not a feed for just English and Literature. Every field has their own literary needs and rules. The Lit Crit guy helps professors get a grasp on all of the complaints and problems with dealing with student work. It also manages to sympathize with students when it comes to meeting hard deadlines and keeping an open mind when it comes to criticism.

  1. @dynarski

One of the biggest criticisms (and complaints) about higher education in the US is the cost and access for the vast majority of students. Due Dynarski covers many of the commercial areas of the industry, although her feed is not limited to it. There is a good bit of politics and academic stories mixed into the feed as both can affect numerous aspects of higher education.

  1. @hashtagoras

Managed by Joseph a Howley, this feed is full of humor and academic/nerdy references that can help you laugh on the roughest of days. Naturally, there is no particular field or area of focus. It is free.

  1. @Chemjobber

If you are in chemistry (or any science field), this particular Twitter feed can be incredibly helpful in keeping current with changes and news. Naturally, there is a bit of humor cooked into the feed as well.

  1. @OED

While not technically a blog just for higher education, it is certainly a Twitter feed that everyone in academia should be following. The Oxford English Dictionary feed provides a daily look at the language one word at a time. They also celebrate certain events, such as the birthdate of a famous person who helped change the field (J.R.R. Tolkien was honored on January 3 with the word he created, Orchish), as well as taking a look at the world through the words chosen.

  1. @AcademiaObscura

You can get a look at some of the most obscure and bizarre things in the academic world by following this Twitter feed. For example, if you can check out the most often googled ideas by entering “Why are professors” or “Why are academics” into Goggle. It can help you see just what people think of the profession. Many of the posts are funny, largely because of how much you will identify with them.

  1. @raulpacheco

This feed is for those who are in the academic world for the long haul. It details what it is like living the life of an academic, especially the amount of writing required to stay in the field. It covers a wide range of topics, from school and government politics to policy to the daily grind.

  1. @academicpain

If you prefer a visual, every post on this feed contains a GIF. That makes it easy to process each point without having to engage your brain too much. A quick look at the page will help you destress and laugh when things just aren’t going the way you planned. The posts are usually generic, so you are almost guaranteed to find something familiar from a new (and more interesting) light.

  1. @Jessifer

Jesse Stommel manages this feed, and it is the ultimate place for pedagogy on a different level. The feeds often remind you that no matter how far you make it, there is always some way to improve. It is a great reminder that everyone can do better, so never sit back and be complacent.

  1. @AlexUsherHESA

This particular Twitter feed focuses on higher education in Toronto, but many of the points are absolutely universal. Through the healthy dose of policies and politics, you can find things that are similar to what you have to deal with regularly.

  1. @bonstewart

Managed by Bonnie Stewart, this feed looks at many of the different issues with being an educator in higher education. She offers advice and anecdotes on class methodology and dealing with online classes.

  1. @ubcprez

The only feed to make the list run by a higher education president, this feed goes beyond the usual college feed. Santa J. Ono offers students information about the school, as well as providing information on a wide range of areas, such as dealing with Twitter and the problems that are universal on any campus.

  1. @saragoldrickrab

This is another Twitter feed that provides details on being an activist in academia. It is not limited to being just a student activists either so that anyone who wants to start making a difference can find ways to join or assist in the areas that matter to them.

  1. @chronicle

Chronicle is based in Washington, DC and it focuses on many of the different aspects of higher education. It publishes news stories from around the US about policies, reports, and findings related to higher education. It also posts information that will help students with college life and the transition into a career.

  1. @GdnHigherEd

The Higher Education Twitter account was created to give everyone within the higher education arena a place to find news, post ideas and opinions, and to hold professional debates. It is a part of The Guardian, a UK news agency, but many of the posts are relevant regardless of where you live.

  1. @rkelchen

Whenever a big story breaks about higher education, you are likely to find information on it here. Managed by Robert Kelchen, this feed posts congratulations, information, news, and trends happening in the US.

  1. @MalindaSmith

Malinda Smith works at the University of Alberta as a professor in political science. Her Twitter feed is full of information and news about equality, civil rights, diversity, and bias within higher education. Nor are her posts restricted to the news in Canada, as there are about as many posts on US higher education as on Canadian news.


It is easy to think of Twitter as a shallow method of communicating when used right; Twitter can actually be a highly effective way of reaching thousands or millions of people. For those in higher education, it is a boon to ensure that you are keeping current with all of the latest changes, trends, and information. It also provides the perfect outlet to step back and laugh.

10 techniques to ensure that your lessons are as dull as dish water

**The Edvocate is pleased to publish guest posts as way to fuel important conversations surrounding P-20 education in America. The opinions contained within guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of The Edvocate or Dr. Matthew Lynch.**

By Kelly Walsh

Seriously, it’s our Job to Inspire Learning?

We’ve all heard of or witnessed so many of these tired old approaches to delivering lessons. If you do happen to witness other educators sucking the will to learn out of students, please don’t just sit idly by. Weep openly, gnash your teeth, moan and shake our head, or maybe even wail loudly and pound your fists against the wall.

Here are some of the many unfortunate ways in which students everywhere are being disenchanted, disaffected, discouraged, disavowed, disarmed, disturbed, disgruntled and disingenuously served by some of our colleagues, who apparently feel that it is simply not their job to inspire learning or motivate students …

  1. Frequently lecture endlessly throughout the entire class session, expecting students to learn by scribbling notes as fast as they can.
  2. Don’t provide any activities that allow students to get up and move (a particularly heinous act for younger students).
  3. Have students read or work on problems alone in their chairs for the entire class session (as one of my elementary teachers used to say, “Read, Damn it, Read!” Good times.).
  4. Create online video lessons that basically just repeat what’s in the text book.
  5. Never give any group lessons or collaborative assignments.
  6. Create “digital lessons” in the form of narrated PowerPoint slides, reading verbatim from the text in the slides.
  7. Avoid all forms of formative assessment.
  8. Let Teacher’s Assistants give the bulk of the lectures, during which they frequently just rewrite content from the text on the board and attempt to explain it (not to mention the occasional indiscernible accent, which may not be ‘PC’ to say, but is nevertheless simply not fair to students).
  9. Rarely encourage interaction and dialogue (those *&^# students really should just sit there and listen!).
  10. Never taking a moment to recognize your students as individuals and reward them with gratitude, appreciation, and recognition of effort.

If you do come across this unfortunate situation, you might consider printing this article out and slipping it under that colleague’s door or in their mail box. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll check out some of these resources to try to change their ways (we can all dream can’t we?):

This post originally appeared on Emerging EdTech, and was republished with permission.

Read all of our posts about EdTech and Innovation by clicking here. 


Kelly Walsh is Chief Information Officer at The College of Westchester, in White Plains, NY, where he also teaches. In 2009, Walsh founded As an education and instructional technology advocate, he frequently delivers presentations on a variety of related topics at schools and conferences across the U.S. Walsh is also an author, and online educator, regularly running Flipped Class Workshops online. His eBook, the Flipped Classroom Workshop-in-a-Book is available here. Kelly also writes, records, and performs original music … stop by and have a listen!

Should teachers pay for apps?

**The Edvocate is pleased to publish guest posts as way to fuel important conversations surrounding P-20 education in America. The opinions contained within guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of The Edvocate or Dr. Matthew Lynch.**

A guest post by Maria Constantides

I very often talk to teachers about online apps and great new tools and the standard question always is: “Is it free?’”

And of course it’s natural for teachers – who are amongst the world’s worst paid people for the amount and quality of the work they have to do – to look for free apps and tools.


On a UK pay scale, a colleague recently told me that they make 23 pounds an hour. In Athens, if you  have training and experience, you will be lucky if you make 9 or 10 euros – the average is 6 per hour while the official hourly rate is 4,5 euros per hour  for only 8 months a year; in the summer you can live off the sun and the sea and unemployment benefit of 300 euros per month  (for some people, not even that).

So if most of my better paid colleagues look for free apps, why would the low-paid colleague do anything different? Teachers look for freebies because

  • Their school won’t pay
  • They can’t afford to pay themselves
  • If it’s free, why pay?

So we all flock to the free options and use them, create accounts, create materials, until one day, the company goes bust and we lose everything!

Of course, the paying users lose even more!

A typical example was one of my favourite online animation tools Xtranormal  I loved this app and used the free version along with thousands of other teachers, then started paying to buy more scenes and more characters and to have the option to download and save my videos!  Suddenly the company announced they were closing and loads and loads of teachers lost all their work.

This is what you can now read on their website, written by a team of people trying to resurrect the service: xtranormal

No more losing the movie maker

No more losing the characters that some of you had bought

No more losing the movies that you had made

So what are the going rates?

On the flipside of this, you have your average startup company which creates a great product or serivce and they offer a free plan for a limited range of presentations and one or two templates.

Pricing Slidebean

I believe most start ups think in terms of ‘Well, what’ 29 dollars a month? It’s not that much money!’  Or 19 dollars a month!!!

Well, I tell you that at the end of the day, if you pay for a few services like we do as a school, the bill at the end of each month is quite steep!!!!

Compare this to the infinitely more versatile and original Prezi pricing plan and you will note the difference.

Of the two services, this is the one I would be more likely to pay for for this, and of course, other reasons, such as the versatility of the presentation templates, the desktop variation of a presentation which can be downloaded and played on one’s pc or laptop…

Pricing Prezi

Up to a couple of years ago, I used to pay a 29 euros per month subscription to Survey Monkey – when I calculated the cost of each survey I did using their services, it has cost me more than 300 or 400 euros!!!!

Google does it for free!!!!

One more example – my favourite screencast software – the famous Jing

TechSmith online video sharing Plans and PricingCompare it with my OTHER favourite screencasting software, Screen-cast-0-matic

Go Pro Screencast O Matic Free online screen recorder for instant screen capture video sharing.

Compare two great screencast apps – Jing at about 100 dollars a year and Screen-cast-o-matic for 15 or under 10 if you go for the 3 year discount!


By contrast, most tablet  apps are much lower in price; for example, purchasing Microsoft Powerpoint for my iPad costs nothing, where you would have to pay almost 80 dollars US for the PC version. Keynote is now free but if you purchase an iPhone or iPad and even if you need to buy it is less than 20 dollars US – compare to powerpoint above!


Make the price right!

Make the price right, people! You can’t jump from nothing to 30 dollars a month – bring your prices down and you might get a lot more people paying!

You  let me have dropbox for free but if I want to pay, you ask me for 100 euros per month! 

Why would I pay that when Amazon asks for 70 a year for unlimited storage space!!!! Get real!!!! And OneDrive gives me 50 GB for free – Plus free online use of the latest versions of the Office Suite! 

This has happened to me time and again! I am willing to pay to keep my content safe but prices are too high – so I will keep going for the free versions for as long as I can.


P.S. Just like governments would make more money if they lowered their taxes – but greedy so and so’s that they are, they keep losing more and more money every year!!!!!

This post originally appeared on, and was republished with permission.


Marisa Constantinides runs CELT Athens, a Teacher Development centre based in the capital of Greece, and is a Course Supervisor for all courses, including the DELTA Cambridge/RSA Diploma, the Institute of Linguists Diploma in Translation and off-site seminars and workshops on a variety of topics.

Ed Tech Companies That I Really Love: Part III

Read the entire series of Ed Tech companies that I love here.

By Matthew Lynch

This is the third installment in my series on ed tech companies that I really love. I’m interested to hear your thoughts on these ed tech companies and the wonderful work that they are doing.


EduSkills offers ELL data portfolio software (AccountabELL) that helps educators better manage the often fragmented school system data for ELLs. By streamlining the management side of ELL initiatives and documentation, the AcountabELL system makes it possible for all educational stakeholders to make informed decisions about ELL instruction and progress.

A few of the features of the program include scanning and uploading capabilities that help track the Home Language Survey and other ELL forms, calculations of immigrant/bilingual/ELL students across a chosen selection, and support of Title III requirements like language instruction education plans, parent notification and reporting. All of these specific tasks centralize ELL tasks and give educators easier ways to look at the data sets, and apply what it all means to real-time classroom activities. The software makes it easier for communication between all of the important people in a student’s career: current teachers, future teachers, administrators and parents.

Unlike other edtech companies that often see the technical side of their projects before seeing the students and educators they will impact, EduSkills has worked backward. By pinpointing exactly what is needed to make ELL classrooms more impactful, then building the software to support it, EduSkills has been able to create a truly effective tool for ELLs and their educators. The company also has program evaluation software that helps schools assess their effectiveness as a whole and personnel to help implement any needed changes – extending its ELL focus to the overall management of schools.

Brainzy: Smart Learning for the Youngest Students

I’m always interested in the ways in which companies are combining technology with learning initiatives, and I recently got the chance to check out Brainzy, a new math and reading program from that focuses on 30 foundational academic skills for ages 3 to 7. The site was developed based on data from the 20 million worksheets or modules downloaded by educators from every year (to put this in perspective, one-quarter of U.S. teachers have accessed materials from

Brainzy eliminates the foundational learning guesswork on the part of parents, and teachers, by aligning with Common Core Standards on subjects like reading and math for pre-k, kindergarten and first grade students. Along with hundreds of academically-themed games, there are 50 educational songs and 50 read-along stories. For parents and educators who want to give the site a test drive, Brainzy offers a 7-day free trial. After that the monthly cost for families and teachers is less than a trip or two to the coffee shop and provides unlimited access to the resources on the site.

Instead of a “pick and choose” layout where students just decide what they want to complete randomly, Brainzy sets up user accounts for individuals based on their grade level and guides them through activities. A family, for example, could set up a different user account for each child and pick that profile when that particular student logs in. This provides a distinct learning track for individual students, as opposed to the majority of education sites that must be searched and navigated to track down the right material. The same goes for school accounts. Teachers can sign up to have individual accounts for the students in their classrooms, allowing them customized learning paths within the program.

The way these learning tracks are determined is also pretty innovative. Brainzy is built from data gathered from users on the already well-established The site does not have to guess what materials parents and teachers will come looking for based on grade level—it is crafted into its own learning program in advance. A lot of research time is eliminated and then redirected to actual learning time for students.

What I like the most about Brainzy is that it focuses on a specific age set and uses interactive methods to get messages across. Fun and friendly characters accompany the lessons, aligning the Brainzy experience with what kids already enjoy doing at that age—singing songs, using their imaginations and learning through creative play. I look forward to seeing more from this learning program as it gains more followers and is sure to expand on its already vast collection of resources.


ParentSquare is a simple to use, private communication platform that streamlines communication via web, email, text or mobile app. The easy-to-use interface offers two-way messaging, file and photo sharing, event and volunteer sign-up and more. With tabs for messages, events, people, photos, files and other options, parents can log into one system and have all the information they need. In short, ParentSquare makes school-to-home messaging simple, empowering parents to take a more active role in the academic success of their kids. Some of the standout features of ParentSquare include:

  • Two-way messaging
  • Text, email, web and mobile apps ensure schools reach every parent
  • Collaboration tools
  • Safe place to store photos – Unlimited photo upload and parents can see and download the full resolution pictures
  • Family-friendly features – easy to sign up to volunteer/bring classroom supply, ask a question, share photos and calendar
  • In addition to classroom communication, Parents can join and interact with school groups like fundraising committees or ELAC.
  • An instant Spanish translation option, removing this language barrier in homes where it may otherwise prevent parents from being completely in the know regarding their kids’ academics.
  • A people directory that gives contact information for important figures at the school and allows for messaging them within the platform
  • Statistics – A dashboard that shows who receives, reads and engages in the messages.

Read all of our posts about EdTech and Innovation by clicking here. 

Trends in Tech: How Schools Can Access the Future, Now

Technology has been changing the way teachers instruct and the way classes are held. It will introduce some interesting changes in the future of education. What does the future hold? Consider some up-and-coming possibilities:


Holography was just science fiction a few years ago, but it’s now becoming a reality in some fields, such as medicine. This imaging technique, which allows one to see a 3-D view of an image, has yet to become a part of everyday classroom activities. Holography introduced in classroom activities would change entirely how some subjects are taught. Biology, physics, astronomy, and chemistry could be taught on an entirely different level.
Virtual Reality

Experiential education has been used as an instructional method for years. Field trips have always been a way to introduce students to real-world issues, and to experience what they have learned and studied from books. Technology using virtual reality has introduced new levels of experiential education. Virtual 3-D worlds allow students and teachers to visit places that would have been impossible to visit without it. They can go to space, deserts, or foreign countries without physically traveling there.

Bring Your Own Device

Bring your own device (BYOD) initiatives represent a reversal from schools’ original stance on mobile devices. Instead of asking students to put smartphones or tablets away during class time, teachers and administrators are starting to encourage those devices in public school settings. Integrating the technology that students already own and use is an affordable approach to digital forms of learning. Of course, not every student has access to a personal mobile device, but this change of mindset shifts learning control from school officials to the hands of the student user.

Natural User Interfaces

In its simplest definition, a natural user interface (NUI) uses the body’s movements to provide outcomes. In the consumer market, examples of NUIs include the Nintendo® WiiTM, Xbox KinectTM, and the iPhone virtual assistant, Siri. The potential in the field of K–12 education is still being realized but will certainly lead to developments in the next half-decade. Students who are blind, deaf, or have physical disabilities or autism can better learn through use of this still-evolving technology.

Personal Learning Environments

With a focus on allowing students to choose resources, often through electronic formats, personal learning environments (PLEs) provide individual learning that fits students’ own style and pace. If implemented correctly, students will be empowered to create their own learning futures and reflect on the way these tools impact academic and life success. For public schools to completely embrace this philosophy, cloud computing and mobile device technology needs to be in place. PLEs need to be portable and easily accessed to really provide an academic advantage.

The Internet seems to have changed the preeminence of the printed page. When doing a research project, students rarely use a book to look for information. It’s more difficult and takes more time than using Internet tools, where you can go to a specialized Web site using a search engine and read only what’s relevant to your search. All of the books needed for school can be carried virtually, using a tablet computer, an e-reader, or similar reading device, or using smartphones. The advantages of carrying hundreds of pages in your pocket (with instant access to millions more) instead of carrying a heavy bag full of books are evident.

Cloud Computing

When it comes to greater educational collaboration, cloud computing has unlimited potential. This is true for teacher-to-teacher, teacher-to-parent, and teacher-to-student applications. By using a common location, academic expectations can be better accessed, along with actual student work. Instructors can also share learning materials and experiences through the remote opportunities that cloud computing provides.

Learning Analytics

An evolving concept in K–12 classrooms, learning analytics essentially show students what they have achieved and how those goals match up with their peers. If implemented correctly, this technology has the potential to warn teachers early of academic issues while keeping students more accountable. Using the mobile and online technology already in place, students can better track and tailor their academic experiences.

3-D Printing

Also known as prototyping, 3-D printing technology will allow K–12 students to create tangible models for their ideas. Many fields, like manufacturing, already make use of this technology to determine the effectiveness of ideas on a smaller, printable scale. In education, this technology will bolster creativity and innovation, along with science and math applications.

Virtual Laboratories

These Web applications give students the chance to perform physical science experiments over and over, from anywhere with Internet access. As in a physical lab, the performance of the student will determine the results of the experiment. While not a replacement for all in-lab exercises, the virtual version can provide extra practice and guidance. There is no pressure to “get it right” on the first run, and mistakes are allowable because the technology lends itself to no-cost repetition. It also may prove a smart solution to rekindling the American public’s interest in the scientific.

While some of these technologies are still in the realm of the hypothetical, several of them are available now. Check out local science groups, maker-fairs, and other tech-savvy gatherings for ideas and inspiration on bringing the future to your students, now.

If we really want an ideas boom, we need more women at the top tiers of science

Emma Johnston, UNSW Australia; Nalini Joshi, University of Sydney, and Tanya Monro, University of South Australia

On Wednesday March 30, Emma Johnston, Nalini Joshi and Tanya Monro spoke at the National Press Club for a special Women Of Science event. Here they outline their views on how to promote greater participation by women at the top levels of science.

Few of us would imagine accepting that our daughters have fewer options than our sons. And yet that is exactly the situation we allow to persist in Australian science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) today.

The 2016 woman scientist’s story starts well enough, particularly when you compare it with her 1960s counterpart.

Fifty-six per cent of undergraduates and half of PhD students are female. Even better, almost 60% of junior science lecturers are female.

These bright, talented people are eager to find cures for all cancers, explain dark energy, invent faster mobile phones, design robots, become astronauts and prove the Riemann hypothesis, a millennial open problem in mathematics.

But towards the top end, things are very different. In STEM, women comprise about 16% of top-level professors. That figure rises to 23% if you include medicine.

Our own personal stories reflect this: when Tanya Monro arrived at Adelaide University in 2005 she was its first female professor of physics, even though there had been physics professors there since the 1880s.

In 2002, Nalini Joshi was appointed the first woman professor of mathematics at the University of Sydney, Australia’s oldest university.

In this respect, Australia is frozen in time. We are throwing away our opportunity to harness the huge intelligence and prodigious drive of the females already in the research workforce. How is this so different to the 1950s when talented women like Ruby Payne-Scott, one of the inventors of radio astronomy, when she was required to resign as soon as she was married?

The push now is often subtler, embedded in principles, conventions and bias that is rarely visible. Modern science is still conducted within organisational cultures that resemble a feudal monastery; information is power and it is tightly held, it is difficult to find anything unless you know the right person to ask, survival rests on competition to be noticed by a “nobility”.

Unconscious, subjective conventions have evolved in response and that impacts everyone, both men and women.

As a nation, by forcing half our potential innovators to work much harder to reach the same seniority as the other half, we are doing ourselves a grave disservice.

Buried bias

The standard of living for future Australians depends on how effectively we can bring innovation into our businesses. We know that 75% of jobs in the fastest-growing industries require STEM skilled workers, and since last year’s announcement of the National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA), it appears we’re in an ideas boom.

NISA proposes “encouraging our best and brightest minds to work together to find solutions to real world problems and to create jobs and growth”.

We agree. And we propose that the single most powerful response Australia could mount to this challenge would be to transform the relationship between women and science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Australia is at, or near the bottom, of the OECD rankings in a range of critical innovation measures. The reasons for this are complex and multi-faceted, but a big one surely has to be that a huge proportion of our great thinkers – our potential science and innovation leaders – are being subtly and pervasively pushed out of STEM. Not based on their merit but based on gender.

A 2014 study found that without any information other than a candidate’s appearance (making gender clear), both males and females are twice as likely to hire a man than a woman to complete a mathematical task.

A study published earlier this year found that both male and female undergraduates were more likely to explain a woman’s science-related setbacks by mentioning factors about her, such as “she was let go because she messed up an experiment”. Whereas a man’s setbacks are more likely to be explained by contextual factors, such as “he was let go because there were budget cuts”.

Then there’s the “motherhood penalty”, with negative effects on income, career advancement, and perceived competence relative to both fathers and women without children.

Australia must pursue change. The benefits of that change will clearly go beyond gender, beyond sexual identity, race and ethnicity. That change will make our society become more creative, abundant, and innovative.

There’s no doubt that improved female engagement in STEM will drive all areas of science and innovation, and achieve aspirations articulated across the whole NISA agenda.


There’s no single solution or silver bullet, but the prize is big enough that it’s critical that we tackle every facet of this issue.

We need to challenge the assumptions: the first and biggest is that it’s just a career pipeline issue. It isn’t, and we can’t just wait for the passing of time to solve it.

Next we need to re-think what a good research track record looks like. When Tanya Monro secured her Federation Fellowship in 2008, she had three children and had moved across the world to set up a lab from scratch in the five years over which track record is traditionally assessed. At the time, the application process provided no mechanism for extending the time window over which her productivity was assessed.

We need to re-think the language we use to describe women and their behaviour. Men are often called “assertive” where women are called “aggressive”. Male researchers who have children are more often described as “scientists”; female researchers who have children are often described as “mothers”. We can be both feminine and assertive. We can be both outstanding research scientists and loving mothers.

And we need to work on shifting the conscious and unconscious bias that many of us don’t want to admit exists. Science goes to great lengths to remove bias from observations and experiments, yet many in science fail to adequately recognise and respond to our own biases.

One of the most powerful ways to combat this bias is via the relentless promotion of role models – as NISA suggest – we should “highlight the amazing stories of Australia’s successful female innovators and entrepreneurs”. However, the media consistently under-represent women in science. One only needs to think of television science celebrities, and even in the social media, to find that 92% of the most successful Twitter scientists are male. And when female scientists are mentioned, they tend to focus on our appearance or parental status.

All three of us have done our bit to increase the representation of women in the media, taking every opportunity to speak in public and on radio and television – through news, Q&A, the National Press Club this week, Coast Australia, Catalyst, and other radio, TV and social media.

Be bold

The good news is that we know how to enact change. Some of it is as simple as structural and regulatory changes to increase early career job security, provide parental care that can be accessed by both parents, create flexibility in the workplace, enable career breaks with guaranteed re-entry, move towards anonymous grant and journal review processes, allocate teaching and administrative tasks in transparent manner and value those tasks.

We need to push against that “motherhood penalty”, and there have been some real gains in recent years. For example, changes to the Australian Research Council criteria, which now allows for the selection criterion of Research Opportunity and Performance Evidence (ROPE) to replace the concept of “track record”.

We must also embrace our national character: our diverse community, relatively flat hierarchy and willingness to challenge and take risks.

We must be willing to implement quotas or targets. You only have to look at the consistent success the Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE) has had in bringing in significant numbers of stellar female Fellows over the last decade, and the recent pleasing developments at the Australian Academy of Science (AAS).

We need to remind ourselves that whenever we see a space where there isn’t a diverse workforce we don’t have the best possible people for the task.

Part of the solution has already been underway in the United Kingdom for more than ten years. The Athena SWAN program requires participating organisations to look internally, find out where the holes in their own career pipelines are and propose action plan to address these holes. The charter then rates organisations based on these policies and practices, rewarding them with gold, silver or bronze awards.

The AAS and ATSE have joined together to mount a pilot of the Athena SWAN program as part of the Science in Australia Gender Equity (or SAGE) initiative. Thirty-two enthusiastic organisations have already signed up to participate in the pilot.

Even the first step, – data collection and analysis – will be a challenge for most pilot participants. Of course they know how many women work there and how many may be promoted there, but they have probably not considered questions like how many are in the eligible pool for the next promotion or how long a period qualified female staff have waited before being promoted.

The Athena SWAN evaluations in the UK tell us that the outcomes will encourage and improve the working life of everyone, whether they are men or women.

Australia stands today with an unparalleled opportunity to engage the next generation of potential scientists. We simply cannot afford to lose so many of the talented people that we produce. So many great ideas that go elsewhere.

Imagine if we could encourage and keep these talented people. Imagine the great ideas doubling our Nobel Prize winners. Imagine being in a room full of female STEM professors.

Imagine the ideas boom then.

The Conversation

Emma Johnston, Professor of Marine Ecology and Ecotoxicology, Director Sydney Harbour Research Program, UNSW Australia; Nalini Joshi, Professor of Mathematics, University of Sydney, and Tanya Monro, Deputy Vice Chancellor Research & Innovation, University of South Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How to keep more women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)

Merryn McKinnon, Australian National University

There have been myriad promises made by the major political parties over the years focused on funding programs aimed at increasing the number of women pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Although some of the policies do target disciplines where women are underrepresented, there seems to be very little acknowledgement of the bigger problem.

Attracting women to STEM careers is one issue, retaining them is another. And that does not seem to get the same level of attention.

Simply trying to get more women into STEM without addressing broader systemic issues will achieve nothing except more loss through a leaky pipeline.

Higher Education Research Data from 2014 shows more females than males were being awarded undergraduate degrees in STEM fields. Early career researchers, classified as level A and B academics, are equally represented in the genders.

Gender disparity in STEM fields at the higher academic levels (C-E) based on Higher Education Research Data, 2014. Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE)

At senior levels, though, the gender disparity plainly manifests – males comprise almost 80% of the most senior positions.

A biological and financial conundrum

Studies in the United States found that women having children within five to ten years of completing their PhD are less likely to have tenured or tenure-track positions, and are more likely to earn less than their male or childless female colleagues.

Angela (name changed) is a single parent and a PhD student in the sciences. She told me she is determined to forge a career for herself in academia, despite the bureaucratic and financial hurdles she has to overcome.

Finding ways to get enough money to afford childcare […] jumping through bureaucratic hoops […] It was ridiculous and at times I wondered if it was all worth it.

It may be just one reason for women leaving STEM, especially those with children, and doubly so for single parent women.

Women tend to be the primary caregivers for children, and are more likely to work part time, so perhaps this could explain the financial disparity. But according to the latest report from the Office of the Chief Scientist on Australia’s STEM workforce, men who also work part time consistently earn more, irrespective of their level of qualification.

Percentage of doctorate level STEM graduates working part time who earned more than $104 000 annually, by age group and gender.Australia’s STEM Workforce March 2016 report from the Office of the Australian Chief Scientist., CC BY-NC-SA

The same report also shows that women who do not have children tend to earn more than women who do, but both groups still earn less than men.

Perhaps children do play a part in earning capacity, but the pay disparities or part-time employment do not seem to fully explain why women leave STEM.

Visible role models

The absence of senior females in STEM removes a source of visible role models for existing and aspiring women scientists. This is a problem for attracting and retaining female scientists.

Having female role models in STEM helps younger women envision STEM careers as potential pathways they can take, and mentors can provide vital support.

Yet even with mentoring, women in STEM still have higher attrition rates than their male colleagues.

So what else can we do?

There are many programs and initiatives that are already in place to attract and support women in STEM, including the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) pilot, based on the United Kingdom’s Athena SWAN charter.

But women’s voices are still absent from leadership tables to our detriment.

Homeward Bound

This absence is especially noticeable in STEM and policy making arenas, and was the impetus for Australian leadership expert, Fabian Dattner, in collaboration with Dr Jess Melbourne-Thomas from the Australian Antarctic Division, to create Homeward Bound.

Dattner says she believes the absence of women from leadership “possibly, if not probably, places us at greatest peril”.

To address this, Homeward Bound is aimed at developing the leadership, strategic and scientific capabilities of female scientists to enhance their impact in influencing policy and decisions affecting the sustainability of the planet.

Initially, it will involve 77 women scientists from around the world. But this is only the first year of the program, and it heralds the beginning of a global collaboration of 1,000 women over ten years.

These women are investing heavily – financially, emotionally and professionally – and it is clearly not an option for everyone.

Flexible approaches

There are other simple ways to support women in STEM, which anyone can do.

Simply introducing genuinely flexible work arrangements could do a lot towards alleviating the pressure as Angela shows:

My supervisor made sure that we never had meetings outside of childcare hours […] or I could Skype her from home once my child was in bed. They really went above and beyond to make sure that I was not disadvantaged.

We have already attracted some of the best and brightest female minds to STEM.

If keeping them there means providing support, publicly celebrating high-achieving women, and being flexible in how meetings are held, surely that’s an investment we can all make.

The Conversation

Merryn McKinnon, Lecturer, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Want to inspire kids to learn STEM? Get them to build a robot

Heather Handley

The music is pumping, the crowd is cheering and people are dancing. This is science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), but not as you know it.

I’m at the Sydney Olympic Park Sports Centre as an invited judge for the 2016 Australia Regional FIRST (For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition.

The competition is for students aged around 14-18 who, with the help of mentors and teachers, have six weeks (or significantly less in several cases) to design, build and program a robot for a designated challenge. This would be a difficult task even for seasoned engineers.

Forty-three teams from all around Australia, China, India, Singapore, Taiwan and the USA are here to take part, and the atmosphere is electric.

This year’s challenge is a medieval quest, with the arena designed as a castle and the challenge is to break through their opponent’s defences, weaken their tower with boulders (sponge balls) and try to capture it.

The teams have to work in an alliance with two other teams and develop a strategy together to beat the opposite alliance. Things can go wrong, and when something fails it’s back to the pit to problem solve and fix things under intense time pressure, all with the additional stress of the judges pestering them with questions.

The task for the robots is to knock down a castle wall. Paul Wright, Author provided

Robots across the nation

Every team I spoke to had an incredible story to tell. The perseverance and dedication of the students in both building their robots and getting here is overwhelming, and for some teams both have been a major struggle.

A Chinese team from Lanzhou travelled here on their own without their mentor and had to ask companies and universities in China if they could borrow equipment and space in their laboratories to build their robot.

The Narooma High School team, from New South Wales, raised funds by selling 300 cupcakes and ran a RoboCamp to help 8-11 year olds learn the basics of robotics and computing to also generate money.

Another team is Thunder Down Under, which was established at Macquarie University and brings together mentors with students from schools across Sydney. It’s the first Australian FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team, and helped bring the competition to Australia.

One of the members of Thunder Down Under working on the team’s robot. Chris Stacey, Author provided

Since starting up in 2009, Thunder Down Under has brought robotics to rural and remote communities in Australia. It has provided no-interest loans to teams for robotics kits so that teams can run RoboCamps and become self-sustaining. It’s partnered with another team to create FIRST ladies, a network for girls in FIRST globally. It has helped start up teams in China and also helped develop an underwater robot and lego-robotics-style water safety game to utilise technology to help save lives.

At the inspiring FIRST ladies’ breakfast on Friday morning, I spoke to Louise from the Kan-Bot Crew, a rookie team from Kaniva, a small Victorian farming town located about half way between Adelaide and Melbourne.

Kaniva College has around 100 students of secondary age and about 17% of the students are taking part in the team, an accomplishment in itself. The team was supported though Robots in the Outback, a Macquarie University and Google initiative.

The Kan-Bot Crew had just two and a half weeks to put their robot together and just one day with a mentor. They had difficulty finding local sponsorship due to a major drought last year, which placed financial stress on the small farming town.

They were unable to bring their two programmers to Sydney and so three other teams from Wollongong, Narooma and Ulladulla, have been lending them their programmers and other technical assistance in order to keep them up and running. For the Kaniva students this has been an extremely valuable opportunity to mix with like minded peers.

The winning alliance and their machines: Barker Redbacks (red shirts); House of Ulladulla, Game of Drones (green shirts); and Thunder Down Under (yellow shirts). Author provided

Education first

What really surprised me is that FIRST Robotics is not just about STEM. The students learn lifelong skills in leadership, entrepreneurship and communication as well as gaining confidence and meeting like minded peers from around the world.

There is a real emphasis on teamwork and assisting those around you, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen such generosity of time and resources in the heat of intense competition. Teams go out of their way to assist each other through “gracious professionalism”, part of the ethos of FIRST.

The Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop stopped by to see the action. Chris Stacey, Author provided

Judging the competition was tough. We spent hours behind closed doors trying to narrow teams down to worthy award winners. All decisions needed to be unanimous and eventually we reached consensus, wrote the award scripts and headed out to the arena just in time to catch the semifinal and finals.

It is heart breaking that some teams – especially the rookie teams – do not know how close they came to getting an award and how long we agonised over the decisions. All teams were deserving of awards and should be proud of their efforts at the competition. But in the end, the winning alliance was made up of the Barker Redbacks, House of Ulladulla, Game of Drones and Thunder Down Under.

As a judge, I’m also an ambassador for FIRST Robotics with a hope to inspire students by communicating my love of science, especially my passion for volcanoes, to show them what is possible through STEM.

However, at the end of the tournament, I am the one feeling truly inspired and uplifted after meeting such an ambitious, motivated, and brilliant set of young people.

The Conversation

Heather Handley, Senior Lecturer in Geochemistry and Volcanology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Beyond the shine : Finding the technology in the standard

**The Edvocate is pleased to publish guest posts as way to fuel important conversations surrounding P-20 education in America. The opinions contained within guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of The Edvocate or Dr. Matthew Lynch.**

A guest post by Mike Gorman

I remember when I first started using digital  technology in the classroom. I was in awe of the amazing Apple Classic and programs such as Claris Works and Hyper Card. In fact, I tried to find anyway I could to make this new technology fit the curriculum. Students were so engaged with programs such as Oregon Trail and Lemonade Stand that teachers found ways to make them fit, regardless of the standards. It was 1980 something and computers had finally entered the classroom. Many times it was one computer and thirty-five students, and everyone was being mesmerized by the shine of new technology. I may have forgotten a standard or two, possible even over taught the technology at the expense of some content. It may have even been science class, but somehow we were all on the Oregon Trail… after all there must have been some wildflowers along the way!  The lure and brightness of the Apple Classic  Computer was just to captivating. I was caught in the shine of an amazing new device.

Fast forward to 2015 and one will find many schools replacing their analog tools of the past with a new digital device. Many times this takes on the focus of a “one to one” program. Visions are acquired and missions are written describing how this amazing new device will change the classroom. There is always a great deal of focus on the programs and applications that will change learning. An image is created of students learning and engaging with this new technology throughout the school day. The excitement grows and the shine becomes brighter until it is soon discovered that this amazing new tool is really only… a device. What comes next? Perhaps the most exciting stage, exploring the real possibilities that technology can bring to learning. Let’s call it the pedagogy, or process that allows classrooms to go beyond the shine.

In this post I would like to investigate how examining the curricular standards helps teachers investigate ways to integrate technology in order to facilitate student understanding of curricular content. It all really begins with something that has been around for quite awhile. You probably know them as the curriculum standards.

A portion or foundation of a curriculum is the standards. Standards make up the general knowledge of what educators want students to know. Standards are a great starting point and through careful examination, exact content and skills can be aligned with technology integration. Simply stated, examining or unpacking a standard allows a teacher to see what a child will know and be able to do. It can also help educators determine what digital resources may work best to help support learning. Now, the phrase “unpacking the standards’ may not bring out the smile you want from teachers. For this reason I will refer to it as finding the technology in the standard. Let’s take a look!

Finding the Technology in the Standard

I have actually broken it down into five tasks or steps. You may even wish to practice by applying each step below  using a standard from your curriculum.  As you go through the process it is important to keep focused on the task of “finding the technology and examining” … there will be ample opportunity later to think about specific lessons, activities, and resources.

Five Tasks (steps)… 

  1. Identify the standard (sometimes referred to as a Power Standard which would be broken down to specific grade level)
  2. Reflect on the standard… if possible collaborate with others (What does the standards mean, why are we teaching this, what should students know, what should students be able to do, how does it apply to students at my grade level, where might it stand on a Depth of Knowledge Chart or Bloom’s Taxonomy)
  3. Determine the content by reviewing the standard and circling the appropriate nouns.(This will help you determine content and allow you to determine what is appropriate for your level of students. Later we will examine digital resources that will align with these nouns or content.)
  4. Investigate the skills by reviewing the standard and circling the appropriate verbs. (This will allow you to determine the appropriate skills  to be practiced by students. This can be aligned to Depth of Knowledge, Blooms, and/or 21st century 4 C’s. Later we will be able to explore interactive technology that will help students learn and also demonstrate knowledge as seen in these verbs.)
  5. Create Learning Targets demonstrating what students will be able to do. (This is done through reflection and listing of verbs and nouns. The nouns allow us to state what students will know, and the verbs allow us to see what students will be able to perform or do. Digital applications and resources will blend together wonderful classroom opportunities that use these nouns and verbs to reveal the standards.)

Let me provide an example below…. note the standards

  • Students will be able to research and record key facts involving the planets of the solar system.
  • Students will explain orbit, gravity, and gravitational pull.
  • Students will be able to collaborate on a presentation that provides what they have learned in their own words

Relevant Nouns –  research,  planets, solar system. orbit, gravity, and gravitational pull

Relevant Verbs – explain , collaborate , presentation

Learning Targets for students:

  • I can research and explain my findings on planets and their relationship to the solar system
  • I can collaborate with others to create a presentation
  • I can present with others to demonstrate our our learning and understanding

At this stage it is important to look at the nouns, verbs, and learning targets in order to determine where the technology aligns. The nouns could point to numerous OER (Open Educational Resource) sites available on the internet. The verbs may point to numerous Web 2.0 tools and apps. Looking at the standards and applying this “find the tech” filter allows technology to integrate with the expected learning, rather than possibly just shine right through the learning. In the upcoming articles in this series I will focus on wonderful internet content resource sites that you should to get to know as you identify and apply the nouns. I will also  point out collections of apps and Web 2.0 tools that help support the verbs. You will also discover great lesson plans collections that can be used to accomplish some of those learning targets. I do hope this provides you a reason to return and be part of the 21centuryedtech Learning Community.  Please remember that the best way to avoid the technology shine is to focus on standards while you put students, not devices, at the center of learning. As you emphasize standards and students you will find there are so many amazing opportunities for learning….  beyond the Oregon Trail!

This post originally appeared on 21st Century Educational Technology and Learning and was republished with permission.

Read all of our posts about EdTech and Innovation by clicking here. 


This is one of a series of posts that are dedicated to going beyond the shine of technology by examining ways to use digital tools to engage students in real learning. You can read the rest on Mike’s website, You can also follow him on Twitter: @mjgormans. Please give this post a retweet and pass it on. Have a great week – Michael Gorman (21centuryedtech)