A few last cool stories to say goodbye

A chance to say goodbye and highlight a few last stories/products/companies worth a closer look.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

As many regular readers have noticed, my posts here and in Googling Google have slowed to a trickle (ok, barely a drip). This will, in fact, be my last post on ZDNet as I move in a couple of other directions professionally. It's a bittersweet parting, since ZDNet has been my home for almost eight years to ramble on about educational technology, review some very cool products with real potential to change teaching and learning, and follow Google from slick search engine to enterprise powerhouse. However, when every story I want to cover ends up being a potential conflict of interest with a job I'm after or a consulting gig I'm starting, it's time to move on.

Before I do, though, I need to tie up a few loose ends. First, I want to thank the readers who have commented, shared, emailed, and engaged with me over the years. I've learned a lot from many of you and appreciate you making my soapbox possible.

Second, I want to thank the companies and PR folks who have reached out time and again to share new stories and interesting tidbits. I've had the luxury of working with some of the best in the industry, many of whom are just as passionate about education as I am, albeit working from a different perspective to make things better. There are lots of PR hacks out there who pitch every Tom, Dick, and Harry with a blog about their latest widget, gadget, or gizmo whether it's relevant to the blogger's beat or not. Fortunately, most of my PR contacts have been consummate professionals, helping me build working relationships with great companies, both big and small.

I also want to thank the editors, staff, and my fellow bloggers at ZDNet/CBS Interactive. You've taught me a great deal, shared huge volumes of knowledge and experience, and given me countless opportunities. So thank you!

Finally, there are a few stories about companies and products that I haven't had a chance to fully flesh out that I'd like to highlight before I sign off for good. You'll find them below. After that, I'm off to new contracts, a relaunched K12 consulting/speaking/training/professional development business, and maybe even a real job with an actual salary and benefits (although that also comes with occasionally putting on something other than jeans and a ripped t-shirt, so we'll see). Thanks again, everyone!

Anthro Technology Furniture

A while back, Anthro Technology Furniture sent me one of their new tablet charging cabinets. They aren't the only ones on the market (Kensington has an interesting take on the cabinet idea) and they're certainly not the only charge/sync solution for tablets. However, Anthro's cabinets are particularly slick. They're built like tanks, they can be mounted on a wall (to save space) or bolted to a desk (for security), and can hold and charge any type of tablet, even in a bulky protective case. They also separate the power/cable management from the tablets behind different locking doors, leaving one side for IT and the other for easy student access.

The cabinets feature a cubby for storing and charging an instructional or syncing laptop and can even hold netbooks. I'm loathe to send my test unit back since it's seen a lot of hard use in a house that has far too many tablets for its own good. It's proven to be an eminently practical, rugged storage solution for all of them, as well as two Chromebooks and an old Lenovo netbook.

If your school is still relying on COW-type solutions for tablets, these are definitely worth a look.


When I review educational apps, I always prefer cross-platform  software. Android, iOS, and now Windows 8 are all great platforms with mature tablet offerings and deserve equal developer attention. So when I come across apps that are iOS-only, it gives me pause. Kidaptive, however, gets a get-out-of-jail-free card, in this respect, despite being available exclusively on the iPad. Why? Because this is the real deal. This is true adaptive learning, completely suitable for preschoolers that develops pre-reading and early literacy skills, along with a body of knowledge in history, math, and science. 

Kidaptive is flexible and clearly brings an extensible framework for adaptive learning to the table. It combines cutting-edge research in early childhood education with great storytelling and animation (the company was founded by a Stanford researcher and an award-winning animator) and the company recently released a parent dashboard app that provides direct feedback to parents on their children's progress. The feedback is clear and detailed with specific suggestions. If a child is struggling with descriptive words and decoding sentences, for example, the "Parents' Pad" app may suggest that parents switch from referring to a "red car" to a "car that is red", since recent research indicates that this helps children focus on the subject and the adjective.

Ultimately, the data that gets fed back to parents now could become an early portfolio of data for schools and teachers and simply be a component of student data frameworks that are emerging from organizatios like InBloom. Look for really awesome things to come out of these guys.


Desire2Learn has always been interesting as an LMS (although the company tends to eschew the term as too limiting). It has always been fairly elegant and user-friendly and has loyal users from K12, higher ed, and the corporate training world. This year, though, the company has made several announcements that push them much farther into the realm of thought leadership around what an LMS-like service can and should be.

Desire2Learn Insights, for example, brings predictive analytics right to the instructor, as well as to administrators and counselors. Look past the marketing speak here and the company lays out the capabilities very well:

With the ability to harness the big data available in your learning environment, Insights’ dynamic, outcomes-based reports enable key stakeholders to establish, track, measure and assess achievement across course, program or institution-level.

While your focus for improvement might be accreditation support, program design and delivery, or mentoring at-risk learners - whatever the need - Desire2Learn Insights expertly transforms your learning environment data into actionable insights...

I've seen it in action, which is why I say to look past the marketing speak. It's an incredible set of analytics tools that individual educators can use very effectively.

Desire2Learn also introduced it's DegreeCompass product recently that leverages this analytics platform to provide course recommendations to college students. More than just a series of algorithms and predefined course pre- and co-requisites, DegreeCompass actually uses student data to predict those courses in which students will be most successful, thereby improving retention, graduation rates, and overall student success.

Further exploration of the platform makes it clear that Desire2Learn is quickly becoming the LMS (for lack of a better term) to beat. This isn't to say that companies like Instructure, Blackboard, and even Moodle aren't innovating in this space (yes, even Blackboard is doing some very compelling things lately), but D2L is pushing the envelope in some very important ways.


Finally, Pathbrite is getting an extra shout out. I've covered the company before and use their online portfolio platform myself because I think it's the best one on the market. Pathbrite made its way to my final roundup, though, because the company has made one announcement after another in 2012 and 2013, ranging from major rounds of financing to platform enhancements to powerful new tools for educators and institutions to use with their students.

Online electronic portfolios are all well and good, but, like the folks at Kidaptive, Pathbrite's CEO, Heather Hiles, really "gets it." While she and the company are working hard to deliver great free and subscription services around portfolios, her real focus is on the value of reflection, self-study, and personal advocacy that portfolios enable. If you haven't checked out Pathbrite yet, whether for yourself, your students, or your courses, take some time this summer and get acquainted with its powerful and rapidly growing capabilities.

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