Wow! Ed: Newsletter from the Center for Educational Improvment
21st Century Technology Use:
Gamification and More
June 2015
In This Issue

Take the Helm at the NAESP Conference Long Beach, CA,
June 30 - July 2

Implementing 21st Century Solutions in the Classroom

Tuesday, June 30
8-9:45 AM

Join the Center for Educational Improvement (CEI) for a panel discussion focusing on innovations in the classroom.

Featured panelists are listed and described in the second article to the right.

Confirm your registration via email by June 20 and reserve your copy of our Technology Use Guidelines for Principals.

          ~    ~    ~   ~

Pew Research on Technology in Developing Countries

(Go to link at bottom to see larger version of graphic.)
Five takeaways about the use of technology in 32 countries are summarized here.
Dear Educators,

As you consider ways to update your schools' 21st Century profile, where does "technology" fit? 
  • Do you remember a few years back when most reading was from textbooks, when schools felt that their outdated books and small library were major obstacles to student learning?  And look at us now. 
  • However, even as the world has advanced, what about your schools and classrooms?

In this issue of Wow! we focus on blended learning, gamification, CEI's Technology Use Guidelines, and even a visit to a small country in the Western Hemisphere, to reflect on its technology use. With a new group of interns, this month's CEI provides some signposts for navigating your way to better, more integrated and functional technology use.

Blended Learning

By Joe Crowley,  Executive Director of the Rhode Island Association of School Principals  


Blended Learning as We See It


We are a professional organization for principals, doing our best to provide professional development.  Our principals have been bombarded with new initiatives over the last several years including Common Core, PARCC testing, new educator evaluations systems, and technology, to name a few.

In the middle of this comes a new concept -- blended learning.  At its inception, the initiative was intended to promote more effective use of the technology. Initially it crept into classrooms. But, for many, it soon had the impact of a flood: classrooms full of technology and teachers not really sure how to incorporate it into the teaching process.

As teachers were inundated, at the same time principals were also grappling with the classroom technology issues. And at our Rhode Island Association of School Principals (RIASP), we  wrestled with how to provide professional development to principals whose needs ranged over a large band of topics, with principals at competency levels ranging from neophyte to expert in the various topics. It did not take us long to figure out that this was not much different than what goes on in many classrooms where students with varying interests and various levels of previous learning all work together.

Providing professional development for principals is difficult. Principals are tied to their schools; they want to be there before the staff arrives and to be there for the buses as they arrive. They want to be in their buildings throughout the school day to visit classrooms, oversee the cafeteria, meet with teachers and parents, address student issues as they arise, see the buses leave and then get to the paperwork the school district requires.

Using Blended Learning, the Innovation, as the Professional Development Tool


Our solution at RIASP was to create professional development tools using technology to expand accessibility so that professional development would be available to principals at any time. We were also of the belief, if one is addressing a new methodology, that one should use the new methodology. Our goal was to develop a blended learning training module using a blended learning methodology.

Now, one might be asking, "What exactly is blended learning?"  In our definition, blended learning is the optimal combination of teacher talents combined with technological functionality to maximize student learning. Remember that word -- learning.

Traditional classrooms are focused on teaching. A blended learning classroom is focused on learning. This does not sound like much of a difference, since many equate teaching with learning. In fact, it is a colossal change. Teachers do not have to teach for students to learn. (One study by the Wallace Foundation suggested 40% of student learning variables come from outside the school.)

Modular Classes. A blended learning classroom is modular. No more twenty-five students reading the same passage, listening to the same lecture, or taking the same quiz -- although those things might periodically happen. Students might be found working independently or in groups on computers; others might be involved in projects that might or might not require technology. Still others might be working with the teacher, although the teacher would be monitoring all of the activity. As blended learning evolves, students might not be confined to the classroom or even the school. These options will create great new opportunities but also great new logistical issues for schools, issues such as equitable transportation for all students, student safety, and issues which we may not yet fathom.

Accessing Stores of Knowledge. For a blended learning classroom to be successful, for it to support student learning, students need the ability to access vast stores of knowledge. Teachers also need the    ability to monitor these vast stores because many, as we all know, may not be appropriate to children at various ages. Blended learning resources, appropriate to each grade and subject, are yet to be collected into the equivalent of a textbook since blended learning is a nascent methodology.  As such, the onus is currently on teachers to gather the resources they want available to their students for various learning objectives.    


This brings us back to professional development for principals using a blended learning methodology. A training module was developed and made available to all, on our website. Since "blended" implied using more than one resource, principals entering the module were connected to others using the module so as to use each other as resources. On opening the module, a pre-test was provided so principals knew what their learning objectives were. The pre-test also addressed the issue, also applicable in the classroom, of a non-linear approach to the learning process. Some principals were already familiar with some aspects of blended learning and did not use every resource available in the module but only those they needed.

21st Century Blended Learning. For visionaries, blended learning speaks to a future where learning looks much more like what happens to children from birth to five, where children are learning, rather than what happens from age five on where they are being taught. The advent of technology provides a whole new world.  

21st Century Technology Use Guidelines for Principals

By Christine Mason, CEI Executive Director  


Alleta Baltes, Principal of the Ashgrove School in Riverton, Wyoming, Instructor of Computer Assisted Instruction at the University of Wyoming, and winner of CEI's Technology competition in January 2015, explains how principals need to be engaged in setting the tone and climate for technology use in their schools:

"In this ever-changing climate in the world of education, technology is an imperative part of principals' lives. Principals need to lead by example in their use of technology. Principals should be as current as any business person who uses technology to collaborate, communicate, and design great learning experiences for our students. Technology needs to be used wisely and prudently, with sound educational principles and good pedagogy. Envisioning high quality educational experiences for our students, technology must be a part. The priority needs to be creating, empowering, and educating our students. Technology is critical to create work-place ready students, starting in kindergarten, through all the grades K-12, to have the best public schools possible in our country."

Working with a team of principals and CEI interns, Ms. Baltes has chaired a group to recommend improvements to the CEI's 21st Century Technology Use in Schools: Guidelines for Principals.  The guidelines include 7 domains and use a 5-point rating scale.  The domains are: 

  •    Knowledge
  •    General Use
  •    Policies
  •    Professional Growth
  •    Equipment/Connections
  •    21st Century Climate
  •    Evaluation

With the guidelines, principals rate their own knowledge of apps, new technologies, social media, gamification, and blended learning environments. They also evaluate school policies for access, legal and ethical behaviors, mobile apps, and use of student devices. The 21st Century Climate domain includes items related to STEM projects, collaboration and staff sharing, adaptive technology, and technology infusion.  

To receive the early release version of the CEI Technology Guidelines, register by June 20 for the CEI session to be held Tuesday, June 30 from 8-9:45 am at the NAESP Annual Conference in Long Beach.  Send an email here for registration or to ask questions. If you are interested in innovations, already implementing an innovation, or considering a particular innovative path, we invite you to share with our team. Join us for a cup of coffee and conversation! During our interactive 95 minute session, we  will both share our programs and progress and reflect with the audience on where promising practices could be heading.


CEI at NAESP conference: CEI and NAESP leaders will discuss leadership in Implementing 21st Century Solutions in the Classroom. 


 Dr. Mason will describe CEI's work this year with STEM/STEAM and  neuroscience and Heart Centered implementation in schools, including our development work with  Yale and Palo Alto Universities, the Telego Center for Educational Improvement, and the National Urban Alliance. Dr. Mason will also update attendees on the revised CEI Technology Use Guidelines 

 Dr. Melissa Patsche, NAESP Board Member and Principal of Upper Providence School in Royersville, PA, will explore practical classroom and building-wide strategies for "Encouraging Trusting Relationships Among Learning Stakeholders," including how modeling inner strength and flexibility in leadership can contribute to a system-wide, intentional, resilient school community.  

 Paul Liabenow (MEMSPA Executive Director) will describe implementation and results with three of 20 school districts in Michigan that have introduced Neuroplasticity and Education United.  

 Dr. Nancy Phenis-Bourke will describe NAESP's Principal Mentor Certification Program, which builds mentoring skills for veteran principals through a network of experienced mentor coaches and Professional Learning Communities.  

 Dr. Kathleen Sciarappa will update attendees on the  NAESP Rigor Rubric and its focus on student metacognition, goal setting, and developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills.  

 Joe Crowley, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Association of School Principals, will discuss the influence of poverty on student well-being and learning, including 21st Century solutions. 

 Heather Smith, Principal, Lilja Elementary School, Natick, Massachusetts, will discuss how she helps teachers in her school integrate "Understanding and Integrating Core Findings from Cognitive Neuroscience" into instructional planning, school-wide planning, and family engagement.   

 Jillayne Flanders, Principal of Plains Elementary School, South Hadley, Massachusetts, will discuss Early Education at her Pre-k-1 school, including a heart centered song and program, KindMinds, developed at her schools.

CEI thanks Greg Egnor, Principal of Stewart Elementary and director of Special Education for the Burrell School District in western Pennsylvania, and Lauren Hamilton and Victoria Zelvin, CEI Interns, for their assistance in developing the technology guidelines.  

Gamification in Education: How a Classroom Might Be Better as a Video Game

By Joshua Hassell, CEI Intern


The history of education is marked by alterations to the traditional classroom dynamic, from experiential learning to more recent forays into heart-centered education, but none has been as shockingly revisionist as the idea of gamification. Gamification is the idea of using video games both pre-existing and specially developed, or video game mechanics, in a classroom setting as a tool to instruct students. However, gamification and games differ in a variety of areas:
  • Games have defined rules and objectives while gamification may just be a collection of points with a promised reward.
  • In games, there is a possibility of losing, while in gamification, losing may not be possible, as the goal is to motivate students -- not to allow them to fail.
  • Games are hard and expensive to build while gamification can be significantly cheaper and easier to conduct.
  • Games are more holistic in that mechanics can affect their content, while in gamification, game-like features can be added without making too many changes to the content.        

Despite these differences, gamification is still capable of engaging students in a way much more similar to that of a video game than that of a typical classroom environment.

"Leveling Up."  One way a gamified classroom helps students in a different way than a more traditional learning set-up is through a system called "leveling up" where:  Students start with zero experience points at the beginning of the year. They can gain experience and move their way up until the end of the year. I also have a leaderboard, so students can see how they are doing against others in the class. This is my most used resource: Kids are constantly logging in to this to see how they are doing compared with others (Anderson, 2012).


This system helps in destigmatizing failure for individual students and increasing the likelihood that students will be more willing to try again and less likely to become stuck in a state of perpetual failure. The idea of marking answers as correct as opposed to incorrect also allows for a more friendly form of competition as students' perception is changed from the idea that they got something wrong to the idea that they got something right.

Choosing a Quest.  Gamifying a classroom can also encourage students to pursue learning for their own reasons, as opposed to a system that dictates what a student must do to receive a certain grade.   

Professor Lee Sheldon of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute demonstrates this aspect of gamification through his course syllabus, which does not state a required list of assignments, but rather requires

a number of experience points. These experience points could be acquired in various ways, including: 
  •  "Questing," which involves individual or group research projects
  • "Fighting monsters," which involves taking tests or quizzes
  • "Crafting," which involves writing papers or analysis.

Exactly what path the student chooses to gain the experience points necessary for an "A" is left up to the student. This culture encourages student choice, experimentation, and, to some degree, failure that is not apparent in more traditional education.   


Increasing the Fun Factor. Gamifying a classroom has its most noticeable effects on student engagement and participation. In more simple terms, it makes learning and the education process "fun."  A study sponsored by Peter Vesterbacka and Sanna Lukander of Rovio entertainment and the Finnish Ministry of Education and Science (CIO, 2014), found that, "Most of the teachers estimated that engagement with Angry Birds Playground [a partially gamified classroom] was higher than in ordinary classroom activities. Some children found the Angry Birds materials too easy and therefore the engagement weakened towards the end of the test period."  


This increased engagement illustrates that intentionally planning for "fun" may increase student interest in classroom activities -- results that were further validated through Kaplan University's expanding gamification of both its School of Information Technologies and its Business School. After Kaplan added newly gamified mechanics into its traditional classroom setting, the failure rate of one trial course dropped by over 16 percent, students spent 9-10 percent more time in class, and the response rate on school-sponsored forums and discussion boards pertaining to the class increased by 2.5 times (CIO, 2014). In both of these cases gamifying the classroom led to increased attention and contribution from the students.  


Promising, Yet More Research is Needed. Gamification, though promising, is still vastly untested. What about the students who prefer the traditional method, or the students who are less motivated to succeed? Gamification still needs to be tested with students who are resistant to the idea of technology. Another issue concerns its accessibility to students from countries with less technological literacy. Gamification, however,  has a high ceiling and may be just what students and education need to "level-up."


Anderson, P. (2012, March). Classroom game design TEDxBozeman.  

Sheldon, L (2010).  Syllabus: Multiplayer game design.

Spotlight on digital media and learning. (2010, April 7). Gaming the Classroom.

CIO (2014, June 6). How gamification improved student engagement for Kaplan University.  

Rubin, C.M. (2014, March 9).  The global search for education: Fun and learning.  CIO (2014, June 6). 

The Benefits of Technology for the Younger Haitian Generation

By Anne Quinn, CEI Intern


It can be typical of a third-world country, such as Haiti, to completely skip earlier stages of the technological "boom" and advance straight to the cheaper, modern amenities. For example, land line telephones never have been present in rural Haitian towns. However, now there are cellphone towers, providing a signal for thousands of unsophisticated, prepaid cellphones, even in the more secluded mountain villages.  

Since the cell company Digicel came to Haiti in 2006, the average price of a phone has dropped from $300-$400 to only $20, for a prepaid phone. This recent affordability provides the average Haitian the means for calling and texting, which previously were unavailable. 

Accessibility to prepaid cellphones has invited a rather underdeveloped nation to participate in the Information Age. In addition to the phones offering basic calling features, smartphones with either full Internet access or just social network access, are becoming increasingly popular. In particular, more and more Haitians have access to Facebook.

How Facebook is Beneficial to Education in Haiti
The access to technology is having a significant influence on how Haiti interacts with the rest of the world. Not only are they able to connect with family and friends across their own country, but Haitians have a new opportunity to interact with people of cultures vastly different from their own. It is difficult for an American to realize the largeness of the Facebook phenomenon for a country like Haiti. Even before we had access to the world at our fingertips, our nation was one rich in diversity. But for a kid in an isolated village on a mountainside in Haiti, it's a very rare opportunity to learn about different cultures. With their new capability to participate in the Facebook world, Haitians can now virtually experience new cultures and lifestyles of their peers in America and other countries.

Breaking Isolation. The impact of 21st century technology can be seen in the curious and open-minded attitudes of the younger Haitian generation. Much like modern day America, the youngest generation is growing up understanding and accepting technology much more readily than the previous generation. In Haiti's past there was essentially no interaction with people who thought differently. This isolation has had a tendency to cultivate a culture of suspicion of new ideas or people, still prevalent among the older Haitian generation.

However, younger Haitians are hungry for interaction with different cultures, and highly motivated to learn to speak English, French and Spanish so as to engage with people their own age in different cultures.   


One example of the younger generation's more open-minded attitude is their approach to physical illness. Much of the older Haitian generation points to voodoo spirits as the cause for certain childhood diseases, such as Kwashiorkor, which actually stems from malnutrition. A parent without resources or education will not seek medical treatment for his/her child, resulting in thousands of preventable deaths of children in the mountains. However, becoming more connected with the rest of the world, the younger generation is learning that many diseases can, after all, be cured by doctors.   


Reimagine Haiti, an organization working to cure and prevent malnutrition in the southeast mountains, posts before and after pictures on its Facebook page. Many Haitians who follow the group on Facebook are beginning to learn and understand how doctors and nurses can help prevent and cure these diseases, and in turn they are educating other members of their community. This is a small but tangible example of how access to technology provides Haitians with education that will help to improve their communities.
Although technology has not yet been introduced into most classrooms in the poorer mountain areas, it is still having a positive effect on education:

  • Students can use Facebook to see their family and friends become nurses, teachers and community leaders.  
  • Students can virtually follow their role models and visualize concrete goals for themselves.  
  • English language learners can keep in contact with English speaking visitors, practicing English through Facebook messaging.  (I personally keep in contact with several students, and even do lessons with a few through Facebook messaging.)

The most visible effect of recent technology in Haiti is seen simply in the increasing ambition and motivation of Haitian students to learn. Information about a world outside of their own has created a new incentive for furthering their own education.  And the already positive impact of technology on Haitian education is an indicator of future success of the young Haitian generation.

Next Steps. So, what are the next steps for these rural Haitian villages? One of the most attractive benefits of educational technology is its sustainability. Unlike paper and pencils, which must constantly be replenished, instructive videos can be used and shared again and again. This is especially helpful for students in a town where other resources are extremely limited. Many videos from Khan Academy, for example, are now available in French. "It helps me to watch the videos about Physics, to help me study for my Philo exam," says Daphnee Larame, a participant in the work study program with Reimagine Haiti. Larame also noted, "I like to watch the Chemistry videos in English, because a lot of words are similar and it helps me with my vocabulary."  

Dencia Pierre, an English student with Reimagine Haiti, downloads English songs onto her phone, and learns the lyrics to help her speak English and expand her vocabulary. Most importantly, videos and music can be shared with friends and fellow students, spreading a new technology-driven education across Haitian villages with otherwise limited resources.   

Thanks to Dencia for providing original photos of Daphnee using a Digicel phone for this article. 


Charles, C. (2015, March). "Haiti teacher among 10 finalists for $1M prize." Miami Herald
Todd, D. (2013, October).  Technology education in Haiti become a priority despite disasters. Pittsburgh Post Gazette.  

Smart Schools

To keep planning for technology, close your eyes and dream. Can you imagine "smart" schools, which like "smart homes" might help provide some climate control?  Perhaps a "gamification corner" in each classroom, computer screens embedded in desks, and portable portals to help students collaborate with others in their classroom, their school, and around the globe? 

In my dream, bandwidth issues would disappear, and some of the casual texting and tweeting which consume so much energy would be replaced by Tweeting 5.0. The 5.0 version could take a variety of shapes and forms. One version would serve a "higher purpose"-- perhaps to help us uplift ourselves and others. A slice of my dream, a utopian version, would automate "quality over quantity." For example, addictive features, which sometimes get in the way of human interactions, would be reduced or eliminated. With this dream, students would not be online 'til 3 in the morning, but rather technology would have an important place without overshadowing the rest of life. 

So where are you heading? What is your 5.0 vision for the Fall of 2015?

Christine Mason
Center for Educational Improvement