Feynman Lectures on Ponder

Flip More of Your Class With Ponder

Typically, the flipped class involves a video of a lecture, often with a screencast illustrating the content of the lecture. There are some great tools out there to embed assessments into these videos. Yet, important aspects of the classroom experience are not replicated. Students control the pace of the lecture, but to what extent is their interaction with the material scaffolded? What are students thinking about? What would you like them to be thinking about? Are they making connections between ideas? Can they infer what’s left out of the lecture? In short, what questions are they asking as they watch? Or are flip video lectures like most video content, consigned to remaining a passive watching experience?

We believe, if you can’t already tell, that a great deal of learning happens from questioning and asking questions of learning material. So, we’ve decided that students shouldn’t have to save their questions for the next day.

With Ponder, students can ask questions as they watch video by annotating the video with micro-responses, a scaffolded approach to critical thinking adapted from micro-reading responses which were originally developed for text. Instead of answering basic assessment questions, students engage in a conversation with the content aided by a set of nuanced “sentiment” tags that guide them through the kinds of questions you’d like them to be asking as they watch.

Their responses are timestamped and shared with their classmates. They can even respond to their classmates’ responses, generating a live discussion of nuanced expressions of understanding, evaluation, and emotion. Requiring students to process the content of the video, consider the sentiment they’d like to react with, and engage their classmates’ ideas offers an essential scaffold to their learning.

We’ve been conducting research at NYU-ITP on flip-video interactions. You can read about it here and here.


In other words, with Ponder, you can flip more than your teaching. You can flip students’ learning, too.

Hey, Teachers: We’re Listening!

Teachers created Ponder. Sure, our engineers, design team, and business interests inform the product. But the feedback we’ve gotten from teachers since before Ponder was born have turned it into the powerful tool it is today. Exciting events like EdSurge’s Tech for Schools Summit in Silicon Valley confirm for us that we’re on the right track. They also, fortunately, offer us an opportunity to get more feedback from teachers to inform our future growth. EdSurge posted the feedback we received there, and we wanted to take this opportunity to respond to this invaluable information.

Firefox, Chrome and iOS

First, we heard from some of you that you weren’t sure whether Ponder would work on your school’s platforms. Guess what? It will! So long as you have Chrome or Firefox browsers on your computers or you have iPads, you’ll be good to go.

Since November, we’ve actually already addressed some of the suggestions these teachers brought to our attention. Most notably, we’ve increased the types of resources on which students can Ponder, now including video and ePubs, which we hope will be helpful to Danielle and others interested in incorporating a variety of resources into their curriculum. We also built “elaborations” into the Ponder box, addressing Gabe’s request to allow students to comment on their reading in a more open-ended way.

Click the pencil to write

Click the pencil to elaborate!

Gabe had another great suggestion: build Ponder to work with more languages. We’re working on it! Some of our beloved bilingual teachers have been hard at work helping us translate the sentiments into other languages. We expect to be piloting Ponder in Spanish this semester, in fact.

Ponder Sentimientos

Ponder Sentimientos!

Other suggestions, such as from a 4th grade ELL teacher, suggested making Ponder more developmentally appropriate for elementary students. Ever since this summer when we had conversations with teachers at Lonnie B. Nelson elementary school in South Carolina this past summer, we’ve been working to make Ponder a powerful critical reading tool for younger readers. This is an area where we especially could use the help of seasoned experts who know these learners better than anyone.

Feedback from teachers motivated us to build Ponder to work with video, eBooks, and in other languages, as well as to add features like elaborations. We asked teachers for guidance throughout the process, and we are now piloting each feature in order to evolve them further. And as much as we love our teachers, we could always use more help! If you are especially interested in video, eBooks, or foreign language, or you just want to play a key role in developing a new technology, we’d love to hear from you. Without teachers like you, we wouldn’t be where we are today.


Introducing Ponder’s Project for the Humanities

At Ponder, we always have a lot of irons in the fire, whether troubleshooting technology problems for our pilot schools, thinking about big data issues, or just trying to build the best educational technology for you that we can. But one project we are especially excited about is our Humanities Project.

At Ponder, we believe that technology can be used to enhance the study of the humanities, but we are an exception. Much of educational technology is focused on STEM. It’s no surprise, then, that over the past few years, popular opinion has maintained that technology and an increasingly high tech economy threaten the future of the humanities. Yet, we know, as you do, that the humanities are as important as ever, if not more so, as we enter this uncertain, complex future.

With this in mind, we are working to bring together teachers, thought leaders, journalists, engineers, businesspeople, and others to make the case for the humanities in a high-tech forum, pitched to a high-tech audience. Occasionally, we will feature some of our favorite professors, friends in the tech world, and others who wish to discuss what the humanities mean to them. If you want to participate, please let us know!

For one of our first interviews, we had the pleasure of chatting with Roosevelt Montas, Director of Columbia University’s Center for the Core Curriculum and professor of American literature. He is a great champion of the liberal arts and also a great friend of Ponder. See our conversation below for a fascinating take on the future of technology in humanities education.

As you watch, take note of Columbia Teachers College EdLab’s Vialogues platform, which we’re using to host the videos. Comment on the conversation as you watch; it’s awesome.

Ponder at Columbia Teachers College

At the end of the summer, we had the pleasure of presenting at Columbia Teachers College’s EdLab. TC professors, students, and staff as well as fellow entrepreneurs listened to us explain our vision for Ponder and our guiding philosophies. Audience members embraced the opportunity to test out Ponder on their own, and they asked us terrific questions. As much as we love interacting with all of our Ponder users nationwide via Skype, email, and phone calls, there’s nothing like working them in person. We wish we could do the same for all of you! In the meantime, we hope watching this presentation will give you a clearer picture of who we are, why we work so hard building this tool, and where we hope to see Ponder go in the future. Check out the video below, and test out EdLab’s awesome Vialogues video commenting platform as you do!

Unobtrusive EdTech: Avoiding More CueCats in Education

Karen Cantor writes, “Technology will not replace teachers. There, I said it. And with these words, I am jumping with both feet into a debate that has alternately raged and simmered since computers first began appearing in schools in the 1980s.”

With all due respect to Ms. Cantor, who we admired greatly for her contributions on a recent NYT panel, does anyone actually think technology will replace teachers? (Our robot teacher overlords better be ready for parent-teacher conferences, too!) At the risk of sounding Clintonesque, this vacillating debate seems to revolve around the meaning of “teach”. First, people thought computers could replace teachers because teaching was imagined by edtech enthusiasts to be a binary endeavor, characterized by a lot of text with a bunch of questions with right-or-wrong answers interspersed. Computers, then and now, are great number crunching machines and could hold tons of information. “But wait!” we cried. “Teaching is more dynamic than that!”

Then, to gloss over several decades of debate (remember the CueCat?), we discovered the great MOOC, which leveraged the newly prized power of technology to connect us, along with the bandwidth to share media across those connections. The great lecture can be brought online! Technology and a handful of teachers will replace the rest! But, again, we forgot that teaching and learning involves a great deal more than an engaging monologue. A good class cannot be replicated through a lecture and digital discussion.

Whatever’s next – perhaps wearable computing? – someone will decide teaching is over because Google Glass immediately tells you anything you need to know. And again, they’ll be wrong. Pundits will overestimate technology yet again.

The technology is not to blame, however. The people are. Looking to technology to “replace” any aspect of education is a mistake. Technology is at its best when it is used to enhance teaching and learning. In Ponder’s case, technology helps teachers know what their students are thinking while they read, how much and what they’re reading, and how to start the discussion when class begins the next day. Once in class, teachers use what they’ve learned from students’ use of Ponder along with their understanding of their subject, of their students, and of teaching to form a web that connects otherwise moving targets: a student’s interests, abilities, and prior knowledge, and certain content and skills. This is not a binary process. It is not even quantifiable.

Technology cannot supplant this web, much less form it. But it can fill in gaps, help teachers capture some of those targets, and introduce new connections that are otherwise unattainable. Teachers, you better than anyone can identify these gaps. Entrepreneurs can then try to fill them for you. That’s our job – helping you do what you do best. It is a tool – a really useful and powerful one. At its best, technology seamlessly enhances teaching and learning. At its worst, it interrupts the important activities of a classroom because its proponents overreach. It will never replace teachers. If edtech enthusiasts remember that, perhaps they can moderate their ambitions and, only then, create technology that truly enhances teaching and learning.