Five Questions With: Shawn Rubin

Shawn Rubin, CEO of Metryx and Director of Technology Integration at the Highlander Institute talks to PBN about the upcoming Blended Learning & Technology conference, mobile apps for students and the integration of technology in schools. More

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Five Questions With: Shawn Rubin

COURTESY JOHN LAVALL
"NEW APP-BASED and cloud-supported technologies are able to accomplish many of the time consuming and challenging tasks that support effective differentiation
Posted 5/9/12

Shawn Rubin is the CEO of Metryx, a startup mobile software company that is building flexible assessment tools for teachers to use on tablets and smartphones, and serves as the Director of Technology Integration at the Highlander Institute.

In this role, Shawn oversees the Institute’s new touch technology professional development programs throughout New England. Shawn began his education career as a founding faculty member of the Highlander Charter School, in Providence. Also the co-founder of an international non-profit called Longitude, Shawn lives in Providence with his wife and two sons.

The Blended Learning & Technology Conference takes place on Saturday, May 19, 2012 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

PBN: What do you think students have to gain from integrating online learning into the classroom?

RUBIN: For far too long students have suffered under a one size fits all approach to education. The major barrier preventing systemic reform efforts has been the inordinate amount of time teachers must spend assessing, analyzing and then differentiating instruction to meet the needs of a wide range of student learning profiles.

The fallout is that “advanced” or “remedial” students are forced to sit through lessons that are either too easy or too hard – or they are pulled from the classroom to get the instruction they need. Previous attempts at differentiating instruction inside the classroom have not been economical or sustainable.

However, new app-based and cloud-supported technologies are able to accomplish many of the time consuming and challenging tasks that support effective differentiation. Tools like adaptive assessment, automated grading, classroom polling, and game based learning are aligned to national common core standards and allow students to interact with skills in an engaging format at exactly the level of challenge that they need. Not to mention that many of these programs are incredibly engaging and fun – students are naturally drawn to them and enjoy the time they spend learning online.

PBN: Have you faced any sort of criticism from people who stand by more traditional teaching methods?

RUBIN: Most teachers, administrators and parents who participate in Highlander Institute workshops, trainings, and conferences are eager to learn more about these new methods of teaching. Technology has been in classrooms for years but has never been leveraged well. I believe that parents and educators are sensing the shift that is aligning new technologies, rigorous standards and personalized learning. We need to consider, teachers and students are using technology in their everyday lives just like anyone else. They have iPads, smart phones, and all kinds of gadgets. Bringing these technologies into the classroom is not only inevitable, but necessary to maximize education in today’s world.

Yet, the deal-breaker for effectively integrating and using new technologies is the amount of professional development that accompanies the purchase of each new technology. Its here we see reluctance. Shifting from teacher centered to student centered instruction requires transformative changes in practice. This is truly a paradigm shift in education. And to get there, teachers need training to use and manage these new tools, and also support to understand what each tool represents in this new way of learning.

PBN: Does Internet-based learning work better for some age groups than others?

RUBIN: There are definitely different online approaches that are targeted towards the developmental needs of various age levels, but all students can benefit from current advances in education technology.

Consider, for example, iCreatetoEducate, an innovative stop-animation software that empowers students to create their own animated movies. The software is free to download and test, and so easy to use that this software transcends age. First graders can use it to explain the life-cycle of a frog and 10th graders can use it to retell “Romeo and Juliet.”

Personalization in learning is important no matter the age. There is not a classroom or group of students that would not benefit from a more focused and targeted learning experience. For this education technology can be extremely useful.

PBN: What sort of things are you going to be teaching educators attending the conference?

RUBIN: Our overarching goal for the Blended Learning & Technology Conference is to encourage more teachers from southern New England to explore, experiment and engage in blended learning. Too often teachers have no opportunity to tinker and explore with the latest and greatest tools either because they are not available at their schools or there is just not enough time in the day.

The Conference will expose teachers to incredible hardware and software directly through the edtech entrepreneurs who are building them. We are living in the age of free beta testing in which teachers can gain access to incredible products free of charge, communicate with developers, and inspire the creation of the tool of their dreams. By bringing teachers and developers together, tools become more practical and students ultimately benefit.

While we are at the very beginning stages of an edtech explosion, there are teachers right here in Rhode Island who are pioneers with these technologies. We are bringing these pioneers to the Conference as well to talk about their experiences and to encourage more teachers to take the plunge.

The Blended Learning & Technology Conference will provide easy access for educators to begin the process by learning hands-on themselves from with the people that are developing the tools or already using them.

PBN: What do you think the biggest challenges are facing the wide-spread adoption of this sort of technology in schools?

RUBIN: Equity and professional development are the two biggest challenges. So much of the software that is available today is free or incredibly cheap to use, but without the hardware on which to run it and/or without the proper training to use it, then ultimately we are creating an even bigger achievement gap between the districts that have and the districts that don't.

Grants will continue to pop up that will bestow designated public schools and charters the resources they need to enter the digital world, but will it ever be enough? Can urban schools properly implement a flipped classroom when families don't have internet access or computers at home? Can urban districts with decaying infrastructure and large concrete buildings figure out a way to wire their classrooms so they can leverage free Web 2.0 tools?

I have no doubt that these technologies will drastically increase learning for students, but it will take serious commitment from our education and political leaders to make sure that this edtech boom doesn't exacerbate the already expansive achievement gap between the rich and poor.

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