Get Certified and Get Blogging

FinLitMonthApril is Financial Literacy Month and we here at EverFi are incredibly excited about what’s going to be one of the busiest months we’ve ever had.  We’re working through final planning for a national roadshow that features over 50 events at schools in 20 states.   In collaboration with our sponsors, we’ll be helping schools kick off their financial literacy education programs and hosting ceremonies to issue diplomas to thousands of recently certified students.  From San Francisco to Washington, DC and many points in between, we’ll be on the road recognizing how so many communities are investing in the financial futures of their students.

Throughout April, we’re expecting 20,000 students across the country will complete their certifications.  And that’s in addition to the tens of thousands of middle and high school students that have already attained their certifications.

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Every time we engage with students, we hear incredible stories about what they’ve learned, how their outlook has changed and the steps they’re taking to be better prepared for their financial futures.  All these great stories got us thinking over here at the ‘Fi and we decided to launch a national challenge to capture what’s on the mind of students.

As part of the EverFi Student Blog Challenge, we’re asking K-12 students across the country to put their creativity to work by writing a short blog post that shares their biggest takeaway and how they think completing a financial literacy certification will alter their future financial behavior.  Having looked at some of the early entries, I can attest to how fantastic many of these stories are.  We can’t wait to share these more broadly.

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Because every good challenge requires some recognition, we’ll be publishing the entries of four national winners on the EverFi Blog.  The student winners will also earn a $250 award and a $500 grant for their school.  Whether these student winners work with their schools to use to the school award to sponsor a pizza party or allocate the money to class projects or technology, we’re pretty confident that they’ll be heroes in the classroom.

All submissions are due by Friday, April 26, so all you students out there, get your certifications completed and get blogging.  We’re excited to capture your feedback and share your wisdom.

Happy Financial Literacy Month!

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5 Keys to Successful Edtech Product Design

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Edtech-design

There’s a lot of talk, time, and money going into education technology these days. New startups appear every day, each hoping to provide a needed disruption through new and innovative products. There are no magic bullets in education. It is a famously complex, perennially underfunded, and politically charged sector. These factors yield serious challenges that everyone in the field must confront.

For the past 4 years, EverFi has faced these and many other obstacles. We’ve learned a lot in the process. We wanted to share some of the guiding principles that have come out of our experiences, our growth and our collaborations. This is by no means an exhaustive manifesto on edtech entrepreneurship and innovation, but it is a pretty good picture of how we approach product design.

Don’t cut pedagogical corners

An architect must have an understanding of the engineering behind the building designs she drafts. Ignoring this critical consideration puts the structure at risk of failing to uphold one of its most fundamental functions: not falling down.

The same goes for edtech products. Their most fundamental purpose is to facilitate learning. If they fail at this, whatever other value they may have is lost. Every edtech product team should include talented, creative, knowledgeable learning designers. If you can’t afford to hire one, at least find a talented consultant.

For a useful guide on questions to ask a potential learning designer, see “The Audrey Test”.

Utilize the student voice

Today’s students expect a place at the table when it comes to creating learning content, and rightly so. Facebook and Twitter have created platforms for them to contribute content, and brands spend millions of dollars developing campaigns that utilize the “customer voice.” Students’ favorite bands ask them to take pictures and videos of their concerts and post them online; professional sports franchises, television and film studios, and fashion companies invite young people into conversations that ultimately contribute to the success or failure of their brands. This is a big part of how these companies personalize their products, services, and brands for their customers, and provides the education world with plenty of interesting and useful examples.

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The education community has come to grasp, at least in theory, that learning involves more than simply consuming information and proving understanding through tests and exams. The edtech movement provides an exciting opportunity to bring that theory into reality in a greater way. Students have a lot to offer each other, in terms of shared knowledge, constructive peer feedback, creative inspiration, and more. Relying exclusively on subject matter experts to generate all of the content in a learning platform ignores the value that student users bring to the table. Bringing students into the conversation can help give them a sense of ownership and investment in the learning environment that is hard to accomplish otherwise.

Invested students are engaged students, and engaged students learn more.

Use the best technology

This can be a tough one, because schools tend to be late adopters of emerging technology. For web-based products, the big kicker is often browser compatibility. Many schools are using archaic browsers (IE7 and older, I’m looking at you…) that don’t support most of today’s web technology, and that’s the unfortunate reality of working with cash-strapped and inertia-bound institutions.

That being said, there is a degree to which edtech companies can increase the pressure on schools to upgrade their technology, because their students are missing out on learning tools that simply won’t work on the hardware and software they currently have.

And let’s be honest here. There is very little in this world that is more important than our students’ learning, and students will only benefit from better technology in their schools. This means infrastructure and systems that can keep up, but it also means high-caliber content that leverages that infrastructure in ways that enhance and deepen student learning. We have to push the ball further in this area, and we can do so in part by creating learning tools that are too good for schools to resist.

“Design” is more than making it look slick

assymbly_login_pageGood design fixates single-mindedly on the goal it sets out to reach. In education, this goal is always learning, and is never simply to look good. I’ll be the first to say that it matters greatly how a product looks, and to admit that edtech products seemingly by tradition look pretty awful. But the reason this is a problem is not because slick aesthetics are inherently important; it’s a problem because overly childish, or cluttered, or simply tasteless design distracts students and interferes with learning.

And, as this section title suggests, I’m talking about more than how a product looks. Great thought should go into every aspect of the user experience, and designers should have their proverbial razor blades at the ready to remove or reshape any design element, graphic, typography, color choice, layout, animation, or menu that doesn’t promote student engagement and learning.

Bring your users into the development process

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Good UX designers, learning designers, and engineers will do a great deal to help your product in these areas. But the best designer will tell you that an untested design is an uncertain design. The only way you’ll know if your interface is intuitive, your learning activities are both engaging and effective, or if your learning analytics reflect actual student understanding, is to test your design with actual students and teachers, and get their feedback. For an example of how this can work from outside the edtech world, see this article from the folks at Asana.

It’s all too common in the product design world, and particularly in the edtech world, to delay user testing of a new product so long that it’s too late for the results of testing to inform design and development. If possible, bring teachers, and maybe even students, into your earliest brainstorming meetings. Prototype early, collect user feedback often, iterate quickly, and repeat this cycle as many times as possible.

A Day in the Life…EverFi Schools Team

We feel pretty lucky to have a network of caring, forward-thinking and hardworking teachers sharing our mission to empower students with critical life skills. When we see a new classroom sign on to our platform, we know the initiative and leadership that a teacher has undertaken. We are able to see beyond the software.

We know this because we are there alongside these teachers. We have grown a team of passionate education-minded experts that spend their time thinking about how they can support our teachers. Their goal is to make teachers lives easier.

Working with thousands of teachers in classrooms all across the country results for some amazing stories about the energy, effort and enthusiasm that goes into educating our future generation. We are inspired by these stories everyday at EverFi and we’re always looking for ways to share these stories.

Sarah Serota, one of our champion Schools Team members, shares a visit at Poly High School in Riverside, CA with program sponsor, Pacific Mercantile Bank .

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EverFi Celebrates National Digital Literacy Day

Last month, the House of Representatives introduced a new resolution designating today, March 21, as National Digital Literacy Day. Sponsored by Representative Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and eight other co-sponsors, the resolution is intended to promote digital literacy, broadband access, and broadband adoption in the United States, citing that one in five adults have no digital literacy skills.

digital_literacy_handshakeThe resolution affirms “leaders in the public and private sectors have worked together and should continue to collaborate and partner to bring the benefits of the Internet to Americans of all ages.” Here at EverFi, we are taking that one step further, creating public-private partnerships to educate students and empower them with the skillset to leverage this technology safely and effectively.

We have partnered with companies across the US that care deeply about this issue to bring innovative digital literacy education to more than 450  middle and high schools in the past year alone.

Neustar, Inc., a trusted, neutral provider of real-time information and analysis to the Internet, telecommunications, entertainment industries, has sponsored EverFi’s digital literacy learning platform across California, Virginia, and Kentucky. Other partners include Comcast Corporation, the Entertainment Software Association, and Amplify. Together, we have certified nearly 100,000 students in digital citizenship.

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Students need to learn how to use technology responsibly so that they can they positively leverage their understanding of these tools to conduct research, apply to college, network with friends, and pursue careers in technology. Our learning platform informs students on both “nuts and bolts” on how technology works, while also placing them in virtual environments to tackle issues including privacy, security, cyberbullying, digital relationships, and digital footprint. Four out of five students who completed this online curriculum in Fall 2012 felt that ALL students should have to take this course.

So on this Digital Literacy Day, we encourage the private sector to get involved and find innovative ways to help students understand the risks and rewards that technology can bring to their lives.

Is information enough? Preparing students to navigate finances in college.

At EverFi, we recently conducted a study set out to determine the most significant predictors of finance-related outcomes for incoming college students. Is it a college student’s ability to calculate compound interest? Maybe their readiness to rattle off the definition of an APR?

The answer is – yes.

Knowledge of finance-related topics make us better at managing our finances. But does this suggest knowledge-based education is enough for students to make it through college unscathed?

Too often, I have seen educators, researchers and policy-makers stop at level of knowledge-based education, pat themselves on their backs for figuring it all out, and moving on without a second thought.

Teen's Attitude on Debt

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Our investigation, which was conducted in collaboration with our colleagues at HigherOne, suggests that there is much more to the story (see full report here). We surveyed over 40,000 incoming college freshmen across the U.S. on a variety of financial topics such as banking, savings, credit cards and student loans. We discovered that there are a variety of student attitudes, behaviors and even planned behaviors that appear to also have a significant impact on (ir)responsible financial outcomes.

For example, one of the more troubling findings is that almost 80 percent of young adults reported worrying about debt and are experiencing debt-related stress. When this is paired with the finding that many students also acknowledged risky financial behaviors (e.g. having high levels of credit card debt, participating in risky loan behaviors – credit card cash advances / payday lending), we can see that these feelings of stress and risky behaviors create a sort of feedback loop where many students are getting themselves into a high risk cycle just as they’re starting out on their own.

A more in-depth component of the investigation found that student’s reported behaviors and attitudes consistently clustered up into meaningful groups, or factors. The seven factors were

  1. Cautious Financial Attitudes
  2. Indulgence for Status and Social Gain
  3. Utilitarian Financial Behavior
  4. Debt as a Necessity
  5. Possessions Providing Happiness
  6. Spending Compulsion
  7. Aversion to Debt

We then wanted to see if these factors could help us better identify and assist students at risk. To do this, the factors were analyzed to determine their level of impact on key financial outcomes.

  • Being late on credit card payments;
  • Following a budget;
  • Structured savings;
  • Likelihood to withdraw from college;
  • High-risk debt behavior (credit card cash advances, payday lenders, etc.);
  • Paying student loan on time;
  • Paying student loans in full;
  • Having a checking account; and
  • Frequency of bank contact (visiting a bank branch or website).
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The analysis revealed that most of student attitudes/behavior factors played a significant predictive role with at least one
 of these key outcomes. However, a few of
the factors appear to be more robust in their ability to predict across many of the key outcomes. For example, the factor Cautious Financial Attitudes was found to predict an increased likelihood to follow a budget, decreased likelihood to withdraw from college, decreased likelihood to participate in high-risk debt behavior, and increased likelihood to have a checking account. On the other side of things, the Debt as Necessity factor had a significant negative impact on positive financial behaviors— having a checking account, paying student loans on time and in full, saving, and budgeting—and positive impact on negative financial behaviors—high-risk debt behaviors, withdrawal from college, and being late on credit card payment. Finally, the most significant predictor was Spending Compulsion, which most strongly predicted the very high-risk outcomes—not being affiliated with a bank, not paying loans on time and in full, high-risk debt (going to a payday lender or getting a credit card cash advance), and being late on credit card bills.

It is clear that since the economic downturn, educators, policy makers and researchers have brought financial literacy to the forefront of the discussion around our recovery. However, as already noted, much of this discussion revolves around knowledge-based programming, whereas this investigation suggests that’s only part of the story. We found that specific student attitudes and planned behaviors also play a significant predictive role on student finance-related outcomes. Consequently, if there is hope to scaffold future generations forward in terms of financial literacy, it is necessary to consider integrating attitudes and behaviors pertaining to responsible financial behavior, debt as necessity, and spending compulsion into financial literacy curriculum.

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What do internet safety and pulled pork have in common?

Not too much, besides the fact that they were both the two most important things going on at the King George County Internet Safety Night. Both middle and high school students in King George County use the My Digital Life program to gain a greater grasp on both the incredible potential that positive technology usage holds in their lives and the risks that come from poor decision making such as cyber-bullying or sexting.

KGCS Cyber SecurityI was given the chance to share some our most recent findings from our Insight Report: Digital Citizenship and Young Teens at King George Middle School. What did we find out from our study of over 5,500 13-17 year olds? A few things:

• Kids are gaining more and more access. Over 90 percent of the students surveyed said they have access to the internet at home.
• Some kids spend a lot of time online, some don’t. While 31 percent of our sample said they spend less than an hour online a day, 13 percent reported spending more than five hours each day online.
• The more time kids spend online, the more likely they will say that mom or dad do not know what they are doing.
• The small group of kids who spend a lot of unsupervised time online are more likely to engage in poor decision making online.
• Only half of the young teens in this same sample would stop an online conversation and report it to an adult if it become too personal or troubling.

students_on_vaultThe biggest takeaway: we need to equip kids with a more comprehensive skill set to safely navigate their digital worlds. Their personal and professional lives depend upon their ability to make good decisions both online and off.

A big thank you and tip of the hat to King George County for putting on a fantastic evening filled with great food and engaged community members supporting their kids in developing these critical digital life skills.

Youth and Online Exposure

Students viewing technology

I recently had the opportunity to attend Family Online Safety Institute’s seminar on Youth, Gender, and Online Exposure, which featured several researchers in the field of online behavior and safety for younger generations. Three of the four investigators were from Scandinavia, which provided a unique, international perspective on the digital safety of teens. While many of the research findings complemented those in the general literature and those we find in Everfi’s own data on teens and navigating the digital landscape, several insights were surprising.

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Stephen Balkam, CEO of FOSI, opened the event by emphasizing that “creating a culture of safety for teens online is the joint responsibility of all stakeholders”, including parents, children, educators, and policy-makers in the promotion of digital literacy and digital citizenship using a social norms approach. Following, Helmer Larsen, associate professor of psychology at the University of Copenhagen presented his research on teens and risky online behaviors. While he found no differences between male and female digital behavior, he also found no effect of behavior campaigns designed to increase healthy online habits. He also stated that 60% of his sample met someone offline that they had only interacted with on the Internet and that, surprisingly, most of the relationships were non-sexual and the teens reported primarily positive experiences.

Maria Nyman from the Swedish National Board of Youth Affairs found that while almost 50% of teen girls receive unwanted sexual contact online, they are able to successfully ignore and deflect these advances. The small minority that do expose themselves online tend to experience personal, academic, and social problems, which highlights the need for increased awareness and targeted interventions that are not based on fear or guilt/shame. Kaja Haegg, from Save the Children in Norway reported very similar data, including the finding that a teen’s relationship with their parents was the best predictor of risky online behavior. She posited that talking to kids about relationships (not just online) and their personal responsibilities for their digital lives is imperative.

From the University of New Hampshire, Janis Wolak’s research corroborated that of her Scandanavian colleagues. She also emphasized that sex offenders rarely use the Internet or coercion to exploit children and are much more likely to focus on minors they know in person, using technology mainly for grooming and communication. Because there are more protective factors online than offline, we need to move away from scare tactics and talk openly and frankly with teens about which behaviors will help them to avoid negative consequences online.

During the panel discussion, all of the presenters agreed that the media has a habit of sensationalizing topics like this and while sex offenses have actually been declining since the 90’s, most people tend to believe that sexual abuse has skyrocketed since the onset of the Internet and that online strangers are the most frequent perpetrators. Pairing this with the number of healthy relationships being established through digital interactions, the panel suggested that it is time to stop advising younger generations to “never meet someone offline who you only know online”.

I was able to ask the discussants what they believed was the most important resource we could provide to young teens, as information alone is not sufficient to drive real behavior change. Overwhelmingly, they agreed that discourse with adults about all the facets of their lives (online/offline, sexual and romantic relationships) was the best way to embolden teens to take responsibility for their digital footprints and make sound, healthy decisions about their online interactions.

At Everfi, we really couldn’t agree more. All course content and research in the digital citizenship field endorses inspiring younger generations to take responsibility for their digital footprints and giving them the tool to successfully develop and navigate their digital lives.

EverFi-Public-Private Partnership Model – A Case Study

EverFi is fortunate to work with over 1,000 customers throughout the country, many of which sponsor EverFi platforms for k-12 schools.  Sponsors are a key aspect of our business model – it’s how we bring our cutting edge technology to students, at no cost to schools, districts, or taxpayers.

Bruce Rauner speaks with a Waukegan student about her future career plans.

Bruce Rauner speaks with a Waukegan student about her future career plans.

We work with 69 of the largest school districts in the country, but also work with some of the smallest, including a few schools with 30-40 students.  We cherish all of these partners, large and small.  At EverFi (a.k.a the Fi), we work with and bring together, leading corporations, and foundations to support schools. This defines our public-private sponsorship model.   We are on a mission – make sure students have access to the best digital learning resources that focus on teaching, assessing, and certifying students in critical life skills…and better yet, our model delivers these platforms free to sponsored schools.

Our unique private-public partnership model benefits schools in more ways than just funding.  Often unnoticed, many dedicate time in the classroom to share their experiences with students, host certification and launch events, and fund scholarships.  For example, The Rauner Family Foundation is the Illinois statewide sponsor for EverFi-Financial Literacy .  We also have many great local sponsors throughout Illinois, including JPMorgan Chase, who sponsors our learning platforms in Chicago.

After a successful career in finance and venture capital, Bruce Rauner supports many philanthropic initiatives, with a major focus on education.  His passion for education led him to partner with EverFi to help thousands of students across the state become financially literate citizens.

Bruce Rauner observes students working on the Rauner Family Foundation Financial Scholars program.

Bruce Rauner observes students working on the Rauner Family Foundation Financial Scholars program.

In addition to sponsoring the program, Mr. Rauner recently dedicated many hours completing a multi-city tour visiting schools and students.  During this tour he shared his expertise and dedication to the issue of financial literacy.  The events took different forms:

  • Certification Ceremonies – recognizing students for completing the platform
  • Launch Events – exciting students who are just getting started
  • Game Competition – allowing students to set a budget and compete in an online simulation earning points for financially sound decisions

While the events were different, Mr. Rauner’s message remained consistent: financial literacy is of utmost importance, and I want you to be prepared.  At each event, Mr. Rauner spoke to students, and engaged them in a dialogue around key financial topics. Equally as important, students were recognized and shared their views, including even a few brave student speakers.

A Thornwood student speaks to the audience about her takeaways from the EverFi-Financial Literacy program at a recent certification event.

A Thornwood student speaks to the audience about her takeaways from the EverFi-Financial Literacy program at a recent certification event.

Mr. Rauner is not the only sponsor to be involved with the program outside of funding. Our sponsors are active across the nation, working with schools to create a truly meaningful experience for students. This is what makes the public-private partnership so special. These professionals can become role models for young students.  In turn, the private-public partnership provides schools not only with critical content presented in an engaging way, but also with a point of contact to add even more value and inspiration to the student experience.

On the eve of Financial Literacy Month in April, we hope you plan an event in your market to celebrate along with students, to recognize them and to inspire them.  Our sponsors have provided students with a life-changing resource. The students will benefit greatly from the sponsors rationale behind financing the program. The students will also appreciate the inspiration to become lifelong learners of such critical skills from the leaders in their community.

 

Students at Thornwood High School celebrate certification in the Rauner Family Foundation Financial Scholars Program.

Students at Thornwood High School celebrate certification in the Rauner Family Foundation Financial Scholars Program.

 

 

Violence Against Women: A Men’s Issue

“From this day forward I promise to be part of the solution in ending violence against women.”

This simple pledge – a mere 17 words – represents a bold call to action.  Indeed, over 17 million women in the United States have experienced attempted or completed rape and countless more have been physically, sexually, and emotionally abused in their relationships.  This pledge raises the voices of a growing population who have a huge role and a key responsibility in ending violence against women: Men.

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White Ribbon Day in Massachusetts is an annual campaign taking place Thursday March 7 at the State House in Boston.  Organized by the Men’s Initiative of Jane Doe, Inc. (the MA Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence), White Ribbon Day is part of an international movement to engage men as active parts of the solution to the global pandemic of violence against women.  But why the focus on men, you may ask?

Because violence against women is a men’s issue.  Men commit violence, men experience violence, men respond to violence, and masculinity can perpetuate violence.  The vast majority of violence against women is most appropriately described as men’s violence against women.  This is not to say that all men commit violence (in fact, most men do not), but most cases of violence against women are perpetrated by men.  While victims of sexual and relationship violence are often women, men and children are hugely impacted by men’s violence as well.  In addition, men have close personal relationships with women (and other men) who have experienced sexual violence or abuse.

The social construction of masculinity often idealizes being tough, strong, aggressive, in control, and sexually experienced.  These traits, while not intrinsically negative, can create a masculine culture that fosters male authority, unhealthy relationships, and abundant violence.  While many men do not actively endorse violence, the White Ribbon campaign creates a platform for all men to become actively involved in ending it.  The campaign promotes positive masculinity, safety and respect, and accountability among men to “raise the bar” as fathers, sons, brothers, friends, classmates, colleagues, partners, and global citizens.

So this Thursday – and every day – wear your white ribbon by taking the pledge, sparking a conversation, speaking out against violence, and leading by example.  To learn more about the White Ribbon campaign worldwide, and other ways to be part of the solution, please visit www.whiteribbon.com.


The issue of sexual violence is particularly relevant to college campuses.  It is estimated that 20-25% of college females will experience attempted or completed rape during their time on campus.  At EverFi, we are deeply committed to addressing this critical threat to student wellness and success. Through population-level prevention platforms and research on high-impact programs and policies, EverFi is working with our campus partners to help create safe, healthy, and positive learning environments for students.

Casino Tactics for Sticky Education?

Pumped in air, patterned carpets, hidden exits, all you can eat buffets. Where do all of these exist? In casinos from Atlantic City, to Indian Reservations, to the bright lights of Vegas, these types of tactics are used to make sitting at the black jack table all night inviting, and well, sticky. So when I was recently in Vegas, trying to find my way out, I wondered: What if we could find these same tactics to make learning critical skills sticky?

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I am bullish that education technology and blended learning is a critical part of the answer. Not as a replacement or substitute for great schools and teachers, but as a vehicle to connect with our students who are already digital natives outside of the classroom walls. While the emerging industry of education technology will show efficacy, let’s not lose sight of the opportunity we have today to connect with
students from all backgrounds though blended learning and education technology, especially as we strive to close the achievement gap.

True personalized learning isn’t impatient. The digital learning platform never says “Wrong, and I have to move on.” Instead it keeps serving up different types of pitches until it connects with each student. In a world where students are often told “not good enough,” we can use education technology to reinforce and support the different learning styles of our students. As Digital Learning Now points out in their great infographic, selecting stimulating content that aligns with learning objectives is at the center of blended learning implementation. EverFi agrees.

While we should not hide the exits at schools, and all you can eat buffets aren’t in the budget, we can certainly make learning sticky.

I would double down on that.