Personalized Learning

Innovation-Fueled School System Expands Use of Digital Platform

One of the best funded, most technology-infused private school systems in the country will shortly begin expanding use of its digital platform in additional private schools to test its educational approach within three different pedagogical approaches.

AltSchool announced that it has added three "partner" schools — one in Virginia and two others in Florida — to test out the use of AltSchool Open, a digital platform that supports personalized learning. It also issued a call to educators and schools interested in becoming part of a 2018 cohort.

The AltSchool platform combines tools and services under two product lines — Portrait and Playlist. Portrait is a set of programs that record a student's progress across academic and non-academic areas, such as how often he or she has practiced a skill or worked on given content. It also tracks competency through assessments, teacher "narratives" and samples of the student's work.

Playlist is where the teacher and the student manage what the child is working on to personalize learning goals. The educator can create, order and remix curriculum units to develop a curated playlist of lessons for each student where he or she can view assignments, communicate with the teacher and submit work. The teachers work in teams to review student work and give feedback and assessments that then keep Portrait updated and the student's progress current.

The three schools are Berthold Academy in Reston, VA, which offers Montessori education in grades 1 through 8; The Greene School in West Palm Beach, which follows no specific educational philosophy but targets "high-performing students" in grades pre-K through 8; and Temple Beth Sholom in Miami, which adheres to the Reggio Emilia and constructivist approaches and will be integrating use of AltSchool into its new Jewish Day School.

These will join AltSchool's existing network of tuition-funded pre-K through 8 schools in San Francisco, New York and, shortly, Chicago, all of which outfit students with tablets and fill their malleable days with individual and group activities via their playlists. AltSchool uses tracking software, cameras and wearable devices to collect data, which continually feed into the automation of education tasks, such as planning and testing, in order to leave more time for teachers to focus on instruction.

"For this first year, we're focused on testing the platform's ability to work in school environments outside our own," said Coddy Johnson, COO of AltSchool, in a prepared statement. "This is step one of a multi-year roadmap that was intentionally designed to address the historical challenges of introducing technology into educational environments. We will 'road test' the platform, explore how best to collaborate and co-design with our partners and create the foundation for much broader growth."

Set up as a public benefit company, the network was created by two former employees of Google, the head of personalization at the search company, Max Ventilla, and Distinguished Engineer Bharat Mediratta. Funding comes from deep pockets, including Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan's Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Founders Fund and Mark Andreessen, among others.

Although the current emphasis is on private schools, the company expects to find adoption within public and charter schools over the next five years. AltSchool is also seeking new schools to join a 2018 cohort and continue the expansion of its program. More information can be found on its website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.