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With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing many schools to re-think what K-12 education will look like this fall and beyond, Iowa-City based ACT hopes the tools it provides will lessen the burden on teachers and parents.
'Teachers who don't have technology are going to be extra challenged,' said Kacy Webster, lead business strategist at ACT.
The company, best known for its standardized ACT test, has spent the last several years focused on providing innovative classroom solutions. Their timing couldn't be better.
For example, ACT developed ScootPad, an adaptive learning platform for Grades K-8. The program allows students to learn at their own pace using 'scaffolding,' a term used to describe the flexible options it offers students. Using the tool, if a student gets an answer wrong, they can select options like 'teach me' or 'give me a clue.' This allows students to continue to learn. And perhaps just as Importantly, the program includes a portal where teachers can see how each student is doing. It can be used in-person, but it might be particularly helpful for teachers keeping tabs on students virtually.
ACT also offers social and emotional learning assessments and educational activities that might be especially helpful this year, when regular social interactions are limited. The assessment, called ACT Tessera, shows students (and their teachers) areas of strength and weaknesses in conscientiousness, agreeableness, emotional stability, openness and extraversion.
Webster said these products were already in the works before the pandemic due to the changing landscape of education. They were created to meet the needs of a generation of students who've had close contact with technology their entire lives.
'From a young age, they've had technology in their hands,' she said. 'What makes us think they're going to want to sit and listen to a lecture?'
Although products like ScootPad and ACT Tessera might improve the digital learning experience, Webster said she has concerns about equitable access to technology, such as laptops and iPads, given the suddenness of the shift to online learning. ACT, as a whole, places a strong emphasis on equity. In 2016, the company established the ACT Center for Equity in Learning, which focuses on closing opportunity gaps for underserved learners. 'We're way more than just a test. We want to empower every individual and give them the opportunities they deserve,' she said.
To help meet the learning challenges presented by COVID-19, ACT is offering free resources, including products for teachers and for parents. 'We're all being tested. Now is our moment to rise and help everyone recognize that we need to build a future for everyone and all learners,' Webster said.
The list of available resources can be found at act.org/covid19.