The digital educational landscape is without a doubt changing. I attended college only a few years back and, at the time, schools were just “testing out” tablets and ebook readers to see how well they worked as formal academic tools. It seems the testing stages are over and most schools are now trying to figure out pragmatic and economical ways to introduce these new technologies into the classroom.
The New York City Department of Education too has been trying to figure out a proper digital implementation plan. Over the last few months it has released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a streamlined ebook platform. Now platforms are scrambling to create a proper interface tailored for the NYC DOE and write persuasive proposals. One contender is the New York-based ereader platform, Copia.
Copia’s platform is pretty straightforward. It can be used on tablets, laptops, and smartphones and provides students with both materials for classes, as well as ways to interact with the materials. This includes highlighting features, note-taking in the margin, teacher comments and questions, integrated quizzes, etc. In addition it also organizes the material in a home page to make accessing and understanding syllabi easier for students. In essence, it’s just a digitized syllabus that aims to get students to better absorb the material by adding numerous social features.
Copia believes that this, along with its partnerships with various academic publishers, make it a prime candidate for New York’s RFP.
The city is banking on contracting a company who is able to not only have an easy interface for students and teachers alike, but also have relationships with myriad publishers. According to the city’s request, it is looking for something that will “allow for central procurement, distributing, and management of electronic content across a variety of ereaders, tablets, and other devices in multiple locations.”
This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, given the changing tide in the national curricula with the recent implementation of new national curriculum standards known as Common Core. These new rigorous standards span all academic subjects and are meant to better prepare American students for university. In addition, each student will begin to be evaluated every year by a new set of exhaustive standardized tests.
Common core isn’t without its controversy. Many academic advocates have begun criticizing the program for its complete overhaul of state-by-state educational regulations. Questions of its implementation have also been posited, as standardized testing on a national scale could undercut more individualized learning models.
At the same time, children’s familiarity with mobile devices as well as parents’ outlooks on their children using these devices is statistically rising. According to a series of surveys performed by Grunwald Associates, 51 percent of the parents participating say their child uses a portable computer at least once a day. In addition, 76 percent of the parents believes that children’s use of mobile apps and content promote curiosity. In addition, the survey says that parents generally believe required device use at schools promotes a positive and useful educational environment.
With statistics like these, companies like Copia see their product as a helpful adaptation in public education. Executive Vice-President Ben Lowinger believes that by creating a device-agnostic program that allows students to have their work directly in front of them as well as connect with teachers, it can “create copious social community.” This is because Copia’s platform allows for direct dialogue between teachers and students, as well as lets students class wide topic notes. Lowinger cites Copia’s very successful pilot program at schools in the Los Angeles public school system, as well as abroad in countries like Australia and Brazil, in support of this.
New York has yet to accept Copia’s proposal. The RFP is open until September 17. But even if the city doesn’t choose Copia, Lowinger explained to me that many schools and programs are interested in it, including some university-level programs. Of course, if Copia goes down this route, it would be competing with a slew of other college-level platforms like Moodle and Blackboard.
If Copia does get adopted by the DOE, we’ll begin to see how successful these new tech-based educational programs can be. Lowinger, however, is confident these new platforms are the best way to engage students. According to him, this entire project is to figure out “what digital should mean in the classroom.”
That is definitely a big question; hopefully the DOE’s decision in September will help answer it.