These are no ordinary times! The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the US — in day-to-day life, government, and business. Education is by no means exempt. This period is colored by complete disruption of US Education and School District operations starting as far back as January 2020, and culminating in the historic shutdown in March. There is currently, across the country, a chaotic and highly politicized uncertainty about “when” and “how” to return to physical schools, universities and organizations, and about when and how to continue remotely. The time of COVID-19 has been a testing time for administrators, teachers, parents and students around just how to provide effective continuous learning.
The pandemic has been a testing time for the materials, tools and technologies that educators currently have at their disposal. The impact of technology in education has traditionally been a hot debate. The urgency of the COVID-19-induced push to remote learning has forced Educators and Service Providers to examine what is really needed and what really works. Traditional technologies have proven not enough!
At SRG Technology, we have been working during this time with our Educators, to assist them with the services needed to remotely manage the new demands for care of teachers and education of students. As we watch for threads to connect the traditional education requirements to the new conditions, several things have emerged that represent distinct opportunities for Blender.
There is a new recognition of the need for proficiency in online learning, for both teachers and students. It is clear that a hybrid online/at-home learning is here to stay.
There is a real scramble accompanied by high demand for adequate content, resources and tools to meet both on site and online requirements to manage classes.
There is a need to be able to connect teachers, students, parents, administrators — educations’s stakeholders — in what are otherwise isolated times.
There is a need for new ways for Districts to keep parents and students successfully engaged in the process of continuous learning.
Desire among Districts to actively share and collaborate – a Holy Grail in public education.
SRG’s Blender platform has effectively helped to solve a number of these issues on a District-by-District basis. Our Blender platform has proved very effective in these times in Palm Beach County Schools FL and Cobb County School District GA, to name a couple of examples.
Finally, the urgency of these times is a powerful impetus for SRGT to move forward with a new and much broader Blender offering. Introducing The Blender Exchange — targeted at the heightened awareness of the need for effective technologies, and a sharpened appetite for education and learning in all of its forms.
WHAT IS THE BLENDER EXCHANGE? The BLENDER EXCHANGE (“Exchange”) is the ultimate “One-Stop Shop” for Education. It will be an exciting new Destination for Educators and Learners, owned and operated by SRG Technology, LLC. We will position the Exchange as the industry’s richest collection of high-quality content, Next/Best-practice lesson plans and resources, Professional Development, Blender Tools, Communities, Collaboration, and Events. Knowing what we know of the industry, the possibilities for the Exchange seem limitless!
Foundational to The Blender Exchange is enabling collaboration and sharing among US Districts and among Educators at large. The dynamic of sharing resources, lessons, and best practices is a much talked about Holy Grail in Education. It has not been easy to achieve in the industry. Indeed there are sites where teacher materials are available. What sets the Blender Exchange apart is, 1) our approach to Districts as partners, 2) our ability to both consolidate and curate vetted content, and 3) the hosting of the much desired collaboration among Districts. The Blender Exchange will host both the content and the tools.
The Blender Exchange is based on the configuration of the Blender platform already operating successfully in SRG customer sites. It is based on our Content Management, Learner Profile, Learning Management, and Parent Portal applications. And because of the existing SRG Technology customer base, we will launch with the endorsement and participation of some key US School Districts, already customers. All Educators will be invited to participate.
BACKGROUND The BLENDER EXCHANGE was founded to create a large and rich library of FREE K-12 best-practice lesson plans and resources. This bold initiative was made possible through a truly unique partnership and the assistance of our charter member, Palm Beach County Public Schools FL, who will still serve as an “anchor” provider, and with the plans for innovative member districts to follow PBC. Cobb County School District, GA was the first Blender Exchange “customer.” The Exchange will foster and enable collaboration between participating K-12 school districts, schools and teachers, for all around sharing of best-practices, lesson plans and resources. The goal is to provide all members — of small, medium and large Districts — with access to more high-quality resources than they could create or duplicate on their own. The quality and the volume of curated lesson plans and resources for many Districts has been budget-constrained and time-limited. Larger, well-funded school districts are often better positioned with the staff to develop and manage a higher quality and higher volume of best- practice resources. Individual teachers or smaller school districts may have developed very unique best- practice resources in particular areas in which they excel. With the Exchange, every member can both contribute and benefit. As conceived, the Blender Exchange will receive all of its content from submitting members. All members can contribute as much, or as little, content as they determine. The content is vetted and aligned by the submitting members with state standards, with publisher materials when applicable and with owner/licensor details.
MARKET & EVOLUTION Since the founding of the Exchange, there has been a significant shift in the education industry. Certain industry and market drivers have endured and the Blender Exchange can leverage these to expand and evolve. These include:
Increase in access to technology and technical savvy for everyone, including educators
Competitive Open Education Resources (OER) accepted and along with traditional Publishers
Increased understanding of Personalized Learning
Emergence of Social Emotional Learning
Blurring of high school, higher ed and workplace requirements for education
More competitive marketplace for Dashboards and LMS
More Online Learning requiring Digital Resources
Increased desire and need for meaningful connection & collaboration within educational organizations and with like-minded organizations
These new and persistent demands on Educators, in turn have Educators seeking assistance, content, best- practices and inspiration where they can find it. There are thousands of data returns for any Educator’s search on the Internet. Much of the material retrieved is unvetted, requires significant cleanup, or is costly. The Blender Exchange has the opportunity to be better because the content and resources will be contributed, vetted and curated by seasoned content and resource providers.
As the Blender Exchange has evolved, its goals and objectives have broadened. While originally conceived as a repository for resources for K-12 public schools, the newly-designed website will support the provision and sharing of content, resources, services and activities among US School Districts, but also all educators, ranging across:
Higher Ed - University, College and Community College
United States and Global
A Blender SaaS Offering In addition to being a repository for sharing and accessing content across Districts, Organizations and Educators, the Blender Exchange will also serve as SRGT’s first Blender SaaS offering, with the full Blender application suite available. —This is important because it introduces our ability to economically service the many small Districts in the US. A large District is considered to be larger than 10,000 students. As a matter of statistics, with close to 15,000 Districts counted in the US, approximately 12,600 Districts have fewer than 10,000 students. About 2,710 Districts have fewer than 300 students. Yet they all have the same requirements for curriculum, resources and services. The Blender Exchange allows us to configure those Districts with access to high quality resources from publishers and other Districts, and the ability to work with Educators from those Districts.
PROSPECTIVE CONTENT & SERVICE PROVIDERS As the concept for the Blender Exchange has evolved, Content, resources and services will be solicited from a growing number of sources — K-12 Districts, Digital Resource Providers and Publishers, Gamers, and so on. We will host the Content, and a fee for hosting and a resale commission will be extracted from the backend of any sales. For example, very early conversations about the Exchange have garnered interest from the following companies, who have content, resources and services to provide.
Palm Beach County — already contributing over 50,000 resources, we have an addition of a video lesson library
ScholarPath — career guidance and resources
Analytic Orange — Social Studies in print and online
IBM — Watson AI and Virtual Assistant technologies, and Tech Training Courses for all ages
ClassEase — Live classroom service
QBS — Full and General content providers, with Math curriculum specialization
Other categories of Content and Service providers will include:
Tutoring & Mentoring Services
COVID-19 Special Services
Educational Game Producers
BLENDER EXCHANGE — THE LOOK & FEEL The Exchange is based on the current Blender platform — its full suite of applications and tools. The core applications include Content Management, Learner Profiles, Learning Management, and Parent Portal. The Exchange will launch with Blender’s newest User Interface (UI). For Virtual Learning, educators and learners must achieve a continuous learning experience — one that carries forward in a remote learning configuration with as many of the best practices of Districts and Teachers as can be achieved. This means access to curriculum and resources, robust tools, unifying events and practices, and continual engagement. The Blender Exchange scores in three areas key to Educators.
1. The BlenderLearn Content Management System (CMS) solves one of the biggest challenges — easy access to well-organized curriculum and resources for teachers in all subject areas and grade levels. Teachers need a One-stop Shop for the content and tools to prepare effective lessons for teaching — in the classroom or online. Blender’s CMS does the following critical functions very well: 1) Import of a wide range of content and data types — content and data agnostic
2) Both Course catalog and Learning Object Repository organization of content
3) Flexible and unlimited meta tagging – enabling “fine gauge” searching 4) Easy download of materials into Google Classroom and other LMS applications
5) Blender has a native LMS within its CMS
2. Blender Learner Profiles are available to help build the missing Connection for Teachers, Students and Parents. Learner Profiles serve as Blender’s Dashboards, and provide a tool to consolidate and make available in one place all of the information that a Teacher needs to guide and track activity. It encourages networking and collaboration among Teachers, Students and Parents.
Learner Profiles “resemble” dashboards, but they are uniquely data-rich. In one Profile the Student, Teacher and Parent can share: 1. Demographics 2. Contact information 3. Schedules and extracurricular activities 4. Learner interests and learning styles 5. Goals and Activities 6. Portfolios — the digital collection of work completed
7. Assessments and test results, and Certifications
The breadth and detail of information in the Learner Profiles solves at least three important challenges that are completely exacerbated by COVID-19: 1. Better knowledge and understanding of the learners provide the basis for stronger
connection between Teacher and Student. It can’t replace face-to-face relationships, but it
provides a unique alternative.
2. Detail provided in the Profile helps a Teacher to tailor a “classroom experience,” the
learning, to the needs of the Student — what we call personalized learning
3.Connections for Students, Parents and Teachers — a trifecta that has been hard to achieve
in brick-and-mortar education, but is a glaring need in remote or home learning
3. Blender Communities provide a unique construct and workspace within Blender for Collaboration and Engagement. They allow for a unique pairing and alignment of Instructional Content with functions such as Forums, Professional Development, Content Management and Social Interaction.
They are generally member-based, and span all subject and interest areas. They are used extensively for Professional Learning for teachers. Communities are a direct antidote to the isolation experienced in COVID-19
1) Teachers can work together, still in teams — within and across Districts
2) Teachers share Virtual Learning Best Practices and Lessons Learned
3) Professional Development continues
4) Teachers stay connected in the District in productive ways
Communities are a unifier, when isolation makes unity seem next to impossible.
BLENDER EXCHANGE SITE MAP — FEATURES & FUNCTIONS
The following is a summary of the main features anticipated for the Blender Exchange.
New Blender Exchange Interface — We will deploy our new graphic look, similar to what we have been using as our BlenderLearn prototype.
Home Page — The Blender Exchange starts with a Home Page, intended as a Welcome and Marketing Page. This page will tell the user about the Exchange, promote available features and resources, offer a selection of FREE resources, and point the user to Registration and Sign-up.
Registration and Login — Users will self Register and Sign up for a trials or membership from the Home Page. Self-registration, group registration, and organization registration (ex. District) will be offered. Members will Login from the Home Page.
Dashboards & Learner Profiles — On Blender, Dashboards are built on the data-rich Learner Profiles. As soon as a user becomes a member, that member gets a Profile to be filled out with sign-in information, and with additional input from that member as he begins to use the Exchange. Dashboards provide a Menu Bar, providing access to the full Blender application suite, which will be part of the Exchange. Learner Profile functionality will feature in these, including activity feeds to alert members to available features, etc.
Menu Bar — This is a key feature of the Blender interface and should be part of the Exchange navigation interface.
Access to Blender Exchange Resources and Tools from the Menu Bar
Professional Learning Center
Reports (for organizations)
Communication & Collaboration Tools
Discussions, Forums, etc.
Surveys,Pulse Checks, etc.
Registration Events, etc.
Purchase of Content
Branded Organizational Structure for Small Districts, Organizations, Groups