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At the beginning of this process, a lot of thought was put into the VLDS structure, how it would work and who would benefit. It became clear that a robust system that would assist and benefit everyone from students to researchers to administrators and legislators would need to include data from several agencies.  Four agencies (Virginia Department of Education, State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, Virginia Community College System and Virginia Employment Commission) came together, with support from Center for Innovative Technology, to create a pioneering system.  Their vision was, within a privacy-protected platform, to allow a clear picture of the industry landscape in the coming years; to be able to project workforce needs and align educational systems with these projections; to create a robust research environment for the research community; to measure the efficacy of programs and policies; to provide decision makers accurate information; and, finally, to improve student outcomes so that Virginia students could compete in a global economy.  These were some of the underlying principles that governed the development of VLDS.

On Monday, September 9, 2013, VLDS was named the winner of the the Governor’s Technology Awards Program, Cross Boundary Collaboration on IT Initiatives Award. For 16 years, the prestigious Governor's Technology Awards (GTA) program has recognized the success of public sector information technology (IT) projects that improve government service delivery and efficiency. For a description of all winners and finalists, visit the  COVITS Awards page.   Read the press release from the office of Governor Bob McDonnell here.

VLDS complies with or exceeds state and federal privacy laws and guidelines.


 
 
Two nationally recognized keynote speakers will be featured at the June 25 VLDS Insights Conference.  Elise Miller, Senior Program Officer, Postsecondary Data, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Kathleen Styles, Chief Privacy Officer, U.S. Department of Education.  
Elise Miller will offer a national perspective on the role data (like that available from VLDS) plays in ensuring that the U.S. higher education system acts as an engine of social mobility and economic development, fueling the nations competitiveness in a global economy and making it possible for all the people in the united states to live healthy and productive lives.
Kathleen Styles will address privacy and security concerns and review the history of privacy and state longitudinal data systems,privacy initiatives at the U.S. Department of Education. She will review of the history of privacy and state longitudinal data systems, privacy initiatives at the U.S. Department of Education, and make some suggestions for the future.  There will be ample time for discussion.
 
 
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There are only a short 19 days standing between you and the VLDS Insights Conference on June 25th, and spots are filling up quickly!  This one day conference, featuring 16 different intriguing sessions, will celebrate and highlight the power of Virginia’s Longitudinal Data System (VLDS) and its future.  Nevertheless, some of you may still be wondering, “Why should I attend the VLDS Insights Conference?” Prepare to be enlightened.

First, we need to explain VLDS.  VLDS is a large data system with a single point of access to educational and workforce information derived from multiple, independent sources.  In short, VLDS securely and confidentially tracks educational outcomes and career results of students from K-12, during college and after entering the workforce.  The reason this is so important is because of its immense power to provide information, and the far-reaching benefits that can come from that. The VLDS Insights Conference will celebrate the many possibilities VLDS brings us, explore its wide range of benefits, and address privacy concerns by sharing more about Virginia’s very tough privacy laws, all the while providing a dynamic and stimulating atmosphere that will inspire and connect both data users and data providers.

The Insights Conference will be relevant to many! Researchers, entrepreneurs, developers, data providers, educators, workforce professionals, preschool experts, citizens, and the like all will come together to celebrate and inspire new ways to use VLDS.  More than 50 different speakers will share information on topics as diverse as privacy and security, how VLDS can assist in college and career readiness, revelations on early career outcomes, and the results of some dynamic research. We'll talk about what has been accomplished so far and how to pave the way for a future that will transform lives through data! You won’t want to miss the VLDS Insights Conference- Click here to register now while the early bird registration fee is still available!


 
 
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How often are you asked your opinion?
How often do you get a chance to pick the winner in a contest?
Wouldn't it be fun to get the public involved in picking a winner?


In planning this program, we asked ourselves these questions, so we decided to give you a vote!  Why?  We are very interested in your ideas and your input, so we launched a new, but very different kind of competition.  

Apps4VA's Vote 4 Your Fav isn’t necessarily about choosing the most technically advanced or the most marketable app, it’s about a fun way to spread the word about the VLDS and a chance for you, the public, to pick a winner.  You can vote for the one you think holds the most promise or the one you just like the best. You choose.  The winner will win a cash prize.

Who can vote?  Anyone!   When can you vote?  Right now.  You can vote from now until June 25.
If you share the link with others, your pick has a greater chance of winning. What if your pick doesn't win the top prize?  Not to worry.  There will be an honorable mention prize.

When will the winner be announced?  June 25 at the VLDS Insights Conference. Attendees will be the first to hear the announcement!  (You can register right now at the early bird rate.)



                                                Ensure your pick wins. Click here to vote for your fav! 
                                                             (And don't forget to share the link!)


 
 
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Scott Starsman is a Senior IT Architect and Technical Executive who specializes in, among other things, IT systems, Autonomous Vehicles, Robotics and Open Source Software.  Originally from northern Virginia, Starsman served in the US Navy for 20 years and currently resides in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia.  He learned about the Apps4VA Open Competition via the Center for Innovative Technology mailing list. Because of his long-standing interest in both Virginia’s public education system and in complex information visualization, Starsman felt the competition was “a great fit.”

According to Starsman, “One of the most important decisions families make is choosing a residence near schools that meet their needs.“  Based on the available data and his experience as a parent of children in Virginia’s public education system, he envisioned building an application that would aid parents in making better decisions about their schools.  In particular, he decided that the application should be aware of the user’s location or that it would allow the user to enter a location around which to search.  Since the primary data set did not include location information, the first (and most challenging) task was to combine the provided data with location information on each of the schools. During this process, Starsman realized he had ideas for more than one app and decided he would build and enter two – one that would allow residents or potential residents to evaluate and compare public schools in a given area and another that uses a novel approach to displaying statistical information. 

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Starsman is very interested in statistics.  Once he decided on the target audience and what his apps would do, he searched for the best way to display the information. Traditional methods of displaying statistics employ graphics such as bar and line graphs and pie charts.  Starsman reasoned that if a symbol could represent more than one element, it would be easier to compare and to interpret the data.  For the app he named Virginia Education Geospatial Analysis System (VEGAS), he decided that shapes could be employed for identification and classification and that each element of these shapes could represent differences.  

For example, a rectangle could be employed to represent a high school:  
   -  The size of the symbol would indicate the size of the student population 
   -  The rectangle's height would represent teacher to student ratio.  
   -  The color of the shape could indicate relative SOL scores
   -  The size of the center cutout could represent the school’s dropout rate (a larger cutout would indicate 
      a higher dropout rate and a smaller cutout would indicate a lower dropout rate).   

Starsman also decided to include a geospatial element, since this is his specialty, so that all the schools in a particular division could be viewed and compared on one screen. He explained, “The actual app development was the easy part.  The most tedious process was assessing the datasets to make sure they were aligned properly.”  Both of Starsman’s apps placed in the top 3 of the Apps4VA Open Competition.  He observed, “So much can be done with automation.  I hope these apps will lead to better tools.”

You can meet Scott and learn more about his award winning apps at the June 25 VLDS Insights Conference


 
 
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Photo Credit: Reginald Fox
Apps4VA sponsored a Codeathon held by the York County School Division to encourage student interest in STEM.  Gabriel Bradley and Patrick Crawford, both of Virginia Commonwealth University conducted a game coding session on our behalf. 

Featured Guest Blog
by Gabriel Bradley, Network Technician and Information Systems Major at Virginia Commonwealth University

Recently, Patrick Crawford and I had the distinct pleasure of attending the first Codeathon held by the York County School Division. The event was organized by Reggie Fox, Coordinator for Online Learning at YCSD, with the intent of bringing high school students together for a few hours of game design and development.

We’ve been associated with Apps4VA through a couple of their Hackathon competitions and have kept in contact since. After the Open Competition, we were asked by the Apps4VA team if we would be willing to present a session on the principles of game design to high school students.  While both of us were relatively new to the principles of game design, Patrick and I were very familiar with software design aspects and, as such, took advantage of the opportunity. 

Coding, in general, is incredibly important in the development of our youth, especially as technology continues to grow at such a tremendous rate. By using game development as the platform for teaching kids software design, teachers can elicit much more involvement from the students. I’ll explain in further detail a little later on how we illustrated in one of our exercises that coding doesn’t just build programmers, it creates critical thinkers. 

It was truly remarkable to see students volunteer their Saturday to learn about game design; throughout our presentations, Patrick and I were greeted with absolute openness and creativity. The kids were brilliant, especially later when they gave their game ideas. To really connect with them on coding, we initially talked about a few of the great games that defined a particular aspect of game design: Skyrim (Artificial Intelligence), Final Fantasy VII (Story), Tetris (Graphics) and Mario Kart64 (gameplay). After the breakdown of the games, we brought up the concept of problem deconstruction - examining a difficult scenario methodically and creating a solution. This is where everyone had the most fun.
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Photo Credit: Reginald Fox
Patrick and I took turns following instructions that students shouted out to create a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. As the students quickly learned, computers only take the most basic of instructions; 'Open the jar" would have to be translated to "place one hand on the lid, and place other hand on the base…" While it seems simple, it goes back to the idea of critical thinking.  If we fully understand a problem, we can create a better solution. 

At the event, students had a chance to see presentations from Microsoft, Hampton University and others.  Since a single day would not allow enough time for students to create a game, they created game concepts and gave illustrations of an idea focused on plate tectonics. The ideas were innovation at its finest - getting these kids together really brought out all of their talents and ingenuity. All of the presenters in attendance enjoyed the designs displayed by the students. Each one deserved an award. 

The first official YCSD Codeathon was a great event (and I hope they do another one next year), not only because it furthered the enlightenment of the students, but also because it gave them an outlet to be together with their like-minded, creative peers. 

Author Bio: Gabriel Bradley, is a network technician at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and expects to graduate this spring from VCU's Information Systems program.  According to Bradley, "I’ve been working in various positions in Information Technology ever since I was in high school; starting at York County School Division (three years), completing a summer internship with The Boeing Company during my junior year and working part time in the Information Systems department at VCU since my transfer during sophomore year. I’ve lived most of my life in Yorktown, but have spent the last two and a half years in Richmond. Upon my graduation from VCU, I will be going to work full time for The Boeing Company in St. Louis, MO in June."

                               Gabe and Patrick were awesome!  They were able to capture the attention of the students 
                                   with their relaxed style of presentation – what a wealth of gaming content they presented.  
                                   Also, they were able to relate using their experiences from college and the Apps4VA contest 
                                  to encourage the students.  We are still getting positive comments from such a great day.

                                  - York County School Division Codeathon Organizer
 
 
 
 
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What happens when you combine curriculum requirements, a mentoring relationship and a chance to apply what you’ve learned to real world needs?  Magic. 

Marcus Rakentine is a high school senior with a keen interest in programming…and baseball.  A Gloucester High School student who attends the New Horizons Regional Education Center (The Governor’s School for Science and Technology), Marcus participates in the Scientific Programming Strand.  One of Marcus’ requirements this year is to work on a project under the supervision of a mentor to gain valuable experience. When the school asked Daniel Holloway, Coordinator of Software Development at Gloucester County Public Schools, to be Marcus’ mentor, he readily accepted. 

Marcus had no difficulty deciding on what type of project he would pursue. You see, Marcus loves baseball and, he reasoned, what better way would there be to complete his senior project than to do something on a subject he loves. So, he decided that he would create a baseball application (“app”), but he needed to increase his knowledge on JavaServer Faces (JSF), web applications, and databases.

Enter Apps4VA.  During the senior project planning process, Mr. Holloway saw an email about the Apps4VA competitions.  According to Holloway, “I thought, ‘This would be a great opportunity for Marcus to become familiar with the technology and tools we will be using for creating his baseball application.’”  So, after some discussion, Marcus decided that rather than entering an idea for a theoretical app, he would build an actual working prototype.  Since the Apps4VA competition required that submissions be based on the Virginia Department of Education’s (VDOE) VLDS data, Marcus decided to create a tool to help parents and school administrators analyze indicators of college and career readiness.  He named his app Path to Success (P2S).

During the weeks that followed, under the guidance of Mr. Holloway, Marcus learned the skills he needed to create a working prototype.  In so doing, he also gained the skills he would need to create his baseball application, but he also gained something else. In late February, Marcus and Mr. Holloway were thrilled to learn that, in fact, P2S won first prize in the Apps4VA High School Competition.  It was a great experience for both of them. But, the Apps4VA experience won’t end there. 

Marcus and Mr. Holloway agreed that P2S would be a great project for other students.  So, Mr. Holloway will continue to use and expand the app with future students.   You can see a video of P2S at https://dps.gc.k12.va.us:8443/Apps4VATutorial/(Requires most recent Safari, Firefox, IE 9)


 
 
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Apps4VA is about engaging and linking communities – data providers with data consumers, educators with technologists, “bureaucrats” with entrepreneurs. To date, many partnerships have been formed and these partnerships are responsible for the development of more than 50 apps based on VLDS data. Pretty amazing.

Clinton Sower, winner of the Apps4VA Open Competition, understands the needs and perspectives of all of these communities.  Currently a data specialist for one of Virginia’s largest school divisions, Clinton has worn all these hats - data provider, data consumer, educator, technologist, entrepreneur and “bureaucrat.” His many roles and experiences surely aided the creation of an app that appeals to parents, educators and developers.

VDOEopensource.org provides access to school performance data released from the state in PDF and Excel exports. According to Sower, “the app streamlines the data distribution pipeline at no cost to the school system.”  As a web-based application, VDOEopensource.org works on phones, tablets, PCs, Macs, Linux, and most platforms that can connect to the Internet. Sower describes it as "...more of a user-friendly interface to inspire the creation of even more apps." 

Sower recalls a scenario from years past where education data was reported via an enormous ream of paper.  “I remember getting our SOL data from the state … My sixth grade team literally received a ream of paper.  Our assignment was to match areas of need indicated in the data with modifications to our teaching methods.  It was a tall order that has never gone away.”  Even though reports have become more manageable, there is still a challenge to connect historical data to current data and to translate that into improvement. The VLDS, says Sower, alleviates this problem by connecting the data from the bottom-up with good timing. It puts information in a pipeline that works so teachers can do something with it.

Sower was encouraged to participate in Apps4VA, even though his app may be most powerful in smaller school divisions. He plans to continue to build on VDOEOpenSource.org, which provides many lenses on the data. A next step will include adding data elements that tell a deeper story so that the focus will be on intervention and school collaboration. Sower believes that some may see education data as golden eggs – something to restrict for a select few and not to be shared, but Virginia is shattering these myths by opening the door to innovation and providing top-down data to school divisions. The VLDS is one tool to show citizens and educators that data is not scary, that technology can be safe, and that the information it reveals can be used to plan, to evaluate and to promote growth.   Most importantly, its creation will generate even more innovation.

 
 
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What is our favorite weekend pastime?  Startup Weekend EDU!!  We were in Charlottesville this past weekend to root on the teams as they competed to be named top education-focused business idea! Over the course of the weekend, we had a chance to watch the magic of ideas developing and evolving, teams coming together and seeing the amazing final presentations!  We had a great time coaching the teams and witnessing the creative process first-hand.  

In the end, three teams took the top slots: SpedPortal, a digital special education portfolio service won first place, followed by Tech Girls, a service that encourages girls to become involved in STEM programs.  Third place winner, Eye Key, is a reading diagnostic service.  We had a wonderful experience and were impressed by the teams' innovation and dedication to improving education.  Interested in pics from the event? Visit Charlottesville Startup Weekend EDU or check out our tweets @apps4va