Declara offers a platform that organizations can use for social networking and delivering online learning. However, rather than relying on individuals to build all the connections or find content, the Declara platform proposes connections and content to its users, based on the way they interact and engage with others on the platform.
The Declara platform allows users to collaborate with one another, to access shared resources, user generated content and Open Education Resources (OER) on the platform, and to create groups with other users. Declara begins to assess the needs of each user through user profiles. Additionally, the platform tracks user identity by looking at who each user is collaborating with, the nature and intent of each collaboration, and networks the user engages with. The tool is able track this by analyzing the words a user uses to search for content and engaging with people, the resources they end up choosing and the time they spend looking at that content.
It patterns each user’s behaviors against other users with similar behaviors. By linking the patterns in this data, or employing semantic search and predictive analytics, Declara is able to make personalized recommendations of resources (including people and content) to each user.
The platform can be used in a variety of settings, and the way it works is unique to each client type (Ex: biotech company vs. K-12 educators). Declara has a collection of features that can be configured to meet the needs of various clients based on how they wish to deliver learning. Features include course creation, collaborative networks with synchronous video and chat capability, and trend reporting. Each instance of Declara looks the same on the back end, and has the same learning algorithms, but the content and features vary for each client.
Declara’s platform offers teachers two main activities - sharing and learning. On the backend, there are two components that make all the magic behind custom recommendations happen: analytics and search. Some of the features most commonly used by clients in the K-12 space are course creation, social integration with LinkedIn, collaborative networks, trend reporting and peer-to-peer tutoring or mentoring.
Declara allows users to do ordinary things like collaborate, access shared resources and create groups with other users: it separates itself from the pack through its recommendations for social connections and content based on the users behavior on the platform. The platform’s recommendation engine enables teachers to discover content to learn and peers to learn with.
Declara can support (suck in and deliver) a wide span of content including resources that an organization owns, Open Educational Resources (OERs) and user generated content.
The peer-to-peer tutoring/mentoring feature allows learners to be paired with an expert tutor for a particular course or a longer-term mentor. The trend reporting feature makes it possible for Declara to take the data tracked across large groups of teachers and provide districts and governments with information on trends and patterns.
Who is Using It?
As of summer 2014, Declara is being used by adult learners including continuing education students and professionals in the workforce. Declara is also used by K-12 teachers for professional development in countries such as Australia, Mexico, Chile and Brazil and they plan to expand to the US K-12 market in 2014-2015.
As of summer 2014, in Mexico, Declara has 35,000 registered users, and 30,000 active daily users. As of fall 2014, the tool is actively used in Australia by 17,000 users.
How It Works
The Declara platform is unique to each client type. The major distinguishing factor for each user is the content that is delivered through the platform and the framework that is used to tag it. For a business, the content might be their company’s training materials and a database of articles related to the field. The framework for a business might be the organization’s Key Performance Indicators. For a K-12 organization, the content might be a combination of teacher PD materials designed by the district and Open Education Resources (OER) that Declara has tagged and indexed. The framework for a K-12 client would typically be the standards for a particular school, district, state or even country. Declara is framework agnostic, so a K-12 client can provide any framework or set of standards that is used by their teachers and Declara can plug it into their system.
Once the content has been imported, Declara is able to automatically suggests tags related to a specific framework so that it is easily discoverable (Ex: by subject area, grade level, skill, etc.) The tool does this by looking at any existing tags or data associated with the content. Then it can do a linguistic analysis to recognize key words. Based on this analysis it is able to recommend which part of the framework it closely aligns to.
As users add content on their own, they can choose to manually tag it, or the system can automatically suggest tags to the user. Tagging content helps Declara make relevant recommendations to each user.
When a new client comes on board, they must decide what type of content they want to provide to their users, how social they want the platform to be and what framework they are interested in using for tagging content. Once these decisions are made, Declara can work with the client to figure out how to configure the features to meet their needs.
Onboarding and Recommendations
During the onboarding process, Declara gathers user information that it can use to make recommendations for the types of content to learn and peers to interact with right from the start. The information is gathered through a user profile, which includes a set of standard fields but is fully customizable, so the client can decide what information they would like to collect on users. Declara can also integrate with a district’s existing system to pre-populate basic information for each teacher. Additionally, the user can decide if they’d like to import their career history from their LinkedIn profile. The users also decide if they’d like to pull in or share content out to their Twitter and Facebook accounts through a downloadable plug in.
As a teacher uses Declara, the platform tracks behaviors such as how the user responds to recommendations, what kinds of terms the user searches for and what resources he/she responds well to (Ex: feed, blog posts at a particular length, etc.) Declara uses this data to recommend relevant resources for each user. Recommendations can include individuals to connect with, groups to join or content to learn. The content (articles, blogs, courses) can be user generated content, proprietary content, RSS Feeds or OERs that Declara has tagged and indexed.
When a teacher logs in, there is a dashboard on the homepage that shows actions they need to take to complete their work, alerts related to their learning activities, networks or communities they are engaging in, and a set of personalized recommendations for content, individuals to learn with, and groups to join. On the dashboard, there is a graphic that displays a visual representation of the user’s ongoing learning activities. This graphic is like a shortcut for viewing a summary of their workload.
On the dashboard, a teacher can see the amount of time they have dedicated to each activity and their progress towards completion. For example, if a K-12 organization is using Declara to deliver coursework, the graphic may show that a teacher is currently taking four courses and has dedicated four hours a week to each course. Declara refers to this graphic as the user’s “workplan.”
Declara’s platform offers teachers two main activities - sharing and learning. The platform has a set of social features that help Declara connect users to each other through feeds, networks and discussion tools. Teachers can engage in formal and informal learning by accessing content that can be proprietary resources (from their school, district, state or even country), Open Education Resources (OERs) or user generated content (content that is created by teachers).
On the backend, there are two components that make the customized recommendations happen: analytics and search. Analytics is the component of the platform that connects all parts of the platform and provides data. The search feature is the search and recommendations engine that takes the content and makes it discoverable for the right users.
Some of the features most commonly used with K-12 educators are: course creation, collaborative networks, and peer-to-peer tutoring/mentoring. Here is how these features work for K-12 organizations:
Users can create groups and networks on their own, or join groups curated by an administrator. They can use these groups for 1:1 communications with peers or for an entire group. Administrators can also promote and recommend groups to specific teachers. Users can make groups both public and private, and make specific invitations to other users.
Groups each have their own discussion board for asynchronous communication. They also have a media library specific to the group where they can share files, documents, videos and links. Group members can also use the video chat feature, which is an embedded version of Google Hangouts, allowing them to call each other in real time. They can also schedule video chats for the group and share the invite on each other’s calendars.
A district, school administrator or an instructional designer can create courses on the Declara platform. An author of a course can embed text, images and video using Declara’s course creation feature, which looks similar to a blog editor. When creating a course, an author can assign tags for categories such as grade level(s), subject area and standards. These tags will help students find the course when they are browsing the course catalogue. The author can also decide whether to make tutors available for the course (read more about the tutor feature below).
There is a navigation bar where the author can view the course summary, the course, assessments and the media library (where authors can keep large files for the course like images and videos). The author can add content (Ex: text, video, images) and assessments to the course (including multiple choice and open response questions). Assessments can include videos, images and hints from the author for specific questions. Assessments can have an attached rubric in case a tutor is grading the work.
A course author can also invite collaborators to co-write the course and can add a discussion thread just for the collaborators. They can also have real time discussions while they create the course through the embedded Google Hangouts.
Additionally, Declara can import courses from other sources. This coursework can be viewed within the Declara platform.
A student can browse the course catalogue or can search by filters such as grade level, subject, etc. Once they find a course they are interested in, the student can preview a course summary before enrolling in the course. Students can share about the courses they are taking on Facebook and Twitter. Once a student is enrolled in a course, he/she has a navigation bar showing progress through the course, assessments and feedback. It is also possible to enter a network of all people who have ever taken the course to engage in discussion or ask questions.
Learners can be partnered with a tutor for a specific course or with a mentor for a long-term partnership. In both cases, tutors, mentors and learners can engage in synchronous video chat through an embedded Google Hangout and asynchronous communication through messaging. They can share resources using the platform’s communication tools.
The tutoring feature can be customized in a few ways. A district can set the feature so that tutors are mandatory for every course, or so that a course author can choose whether to enable tutoring when he/she publishes the course. Administrators also assign the right for specific users to be tutors.
The platform can automatically match a learner with an expert mentor/tutor for a specific course he/she is taking. In this case, the administrators must first go into the system and assign specific users the role of tutor. They can set characteristics for matching such as interests or expertise. Then the system will automatically match users based on the characteristics set by the administrator. The platform can also be set so that administrators can assign tutors manually. There is also a setting for students to be able to choose their own tutor from a few recommendations.
The platform provides tools to track tutoring hours, to set parameters around the number of student each tutor can support and how much time they spend on each relationship. The platform can also track performance of tutors by tracking whether tutors are engaging with their mentees, and also allows mentees to rate tutors.
There are typically four types of content that Declara’s clients use the platform to deliver. In all four of these instances, Declara imports the content and makes it easily discoverable for the right people.
- Closed Content: This is content that is given to Declara by the client, for example official government content or content that a client owns proprietary rights to.
- User Generated Content: This is content created by teachers.
- Open Educational Resources (OER): Declara is constantly searching, analyzing and pulling in open content that is relevant to users.
- Rich Site Summary (RSS) Feeds: Administrators can subscribe to various RSS feeds from other website and have that content automatically integrated into the Content Repository.
For clients looking to use Declara to support formal learning, there are a few ways to deliver coursework. Administrators or instructional designers can publish courses using the course creation feature on the Declara platform.
Under the Hood
The CognitiveGraph™ is at the core of Declara, powering the back end of the platform. It is Declara’s way of understanding learning profiles, learning styles, interests and goals so that the platform can deliver a personalized learning path to each user. The CognitiveGraph™ maps a variety of interactions within the platform, and is able to suck in relevant teacher data from Learning Management Systems and Content Management Systems used by a school or district, as well as social networks used by the teachers.
The interactions it tracks include informational data such as websites read and courses taken, as well as social data such as collaboration with peers, tweets and posts. The platform will use all of that information to learn about that teacher and make relevant recommendations based on the data it pulls in.
All data lives within Declara’s server and is presented in the form of live data feeds. The CognitiveGraph™ can be analyzed at the level of the individual, a team of learners or an entire organization. The way the data is presented will differ based on the unique needs of the client. For example, if a client is using Declara to support professional development for K-12 teachers, the administrators may want access to data that shows what each teacher is interacting with, or how many courses a teacher has completed, etc. The data reporting can be customized to meet the needs of each client.
How It Is Used
K-12 clients use Declara in a few different ways. Some clients use Declara to provide professional development (informal and formal learning) for their teachers, others use the platform to support teachers in preparing for certification or exams and others use it mainly for its collaborative functionalities.
Education Services Australia (ESA)
In 2013, Education Services Australia created a national platform, called Scootle Community, for teacher collaboration using Declara. The platform maps and supports informal learning and collaboration amongst teachers so that they can help each other problem solve around implementing their new, rigorous standards. In this instance, the client uses collaborative features that support PLCs and the recommendation engine suggests relevant content, networks and peers to each teacher.
The platform provides a combination of closed content that was provided by the Australian government and OERs that have been tagged and indexed by Declara. Users can also generate their own content on the platform. Teachers also use the 1:1 mentoring feature and have crowdsourced advice in the PLCs.
Public and private school teachers were invited to use the platform on a voluntary basis. The country’s education leaders hoped Declara would support teacher training as the country’s standards shifted, integrating Aboriginal standards for learning mathematics along with Asian standards for learning science. By fall 2014, about a year into the project, more than 17,000 Australian teachers (out of 320,000 teachers) spend more than one hour a day on Declara, the company reports. As of August 2014, there are 620 learning communities on the platform and there are 15,000 daily users.
Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (SNTE)
SNTE is the largest teacher union in Mexico and Latin America, with over 1.6 million members. SNTE uses Declara to help teachers level up advanced pedagogical competencies as they prepare for new national assessments instituted by the Peña Nieto Administration. To support collaborative learning among the country’s teachers, SNTE deployed SINADEP, a social learning platform developed by Declara to enable gradual roll-out of support based on these new standards.
SNTE was mostly interested in leveraging Declara’s peer-to-peer tutoring feature to support teachers in preparing for a national test. In this particular instance, Declara was able to provide matches and offer a variety of data reports on the level of engagement, helping the client better understand what makes an effective tutor. It was able to build a profile for what an engaged tutor looked like and use the profile and the data reports to find and train lower performing tutors.
Declara’s platform can also be used by businesses across a variety of industries to support training and collaboration in the workforce. Declara is being used by Genentech, a large pharmaceutical firm, to connect professionals to each other and to the content they need with the goal of redesigning the process of bringing a clinical trial to market.
The CognitiveGraph™ is at the core of the Declara’s backend. It is Declara’s way of understanding learning profiles, styles, interests and goals so that the platform can deliver a personalized learning path to each user. The CognitiveGraph maps a variety of interactions within the platform, and through APIs for Learning Management Systems, Content Management Systems and social networks to help make sense of each learner.
These interactions include informational data such as websites read and courses taken, as well as social data such as collaboration with peers. All data lives within Declara’s server and is presented in the form of live data feeds.
The CognitiveGraph™ can be analyzed at the level of the individual, a team of learners or an entire organization. The way the data is presented will differ based on the unique needs of the client.
Out of the box, standard trend reporting typically includes basic usage data such as number of users and activity. Declara can build custom reporting dashboards that include data reports that are particularly useful for the client. In K-12 organizations, trend reports that are useful include course enrollment, network activity, and discussion topics. During implementation, Declara works with each client to setup the platform but the client is able to change the settings at any time. All reports can be exported by the user.
Setup and Implementation
When a new client comes on board, a few big decisions must be made. The client must decide:
- What type of content they want to provide
- How social they would like the platform to be
- What framework they are interested in using for tagging content (Ex: For a business, this may be the organization’s Key Performance Indicators. For teacher PD, this may be a set of standards used by a particular school, district, state or even country.)
Once these decisions are made, Declara can work with the client to figure out how to configure the features to meet their needs.
Declara’s client support and implementation teams work with clients (including administrators and end users) to launch use of the platform. The entire implementation and training process typically takes 4-6 weeks including the launch of the platform, content ingestion and organization, and initial training usually with a core team of individuals on the client side (Ex: IT staff member, administrator or project manager, content expert, etc.).
The technology integration phase is when Declara imports and tags all of the content that will be delivered. The technology integration phase can take anywhere from 24 hours (Ex: when a client has their content repository on a website) to a month at the longest (Ex: integration with an existing single sign on, a very complex content integration with unstructured content in a variety of online and offline formats).
Training and Support
The initial training for the core team can be done online or in person. Typically in-person training only takes one day in workshop format. Declara usually follows the client’s lead on roll out strategy for announcing and training the end user (in the case of K-12 organizations, the teacher).
There is a client implementation team that works with the client during launch. After launch, Declara offers 24-hour online, email and phone support.
Declara supports a variety of API and custom data integrations. In the past, Declara has integrated with Learning Management Systems, Content Management Systems and User Management systems. The platform also allows users to import profile information from LinkedIn.
The platform is able to import and deliver multiple forms of content, including Open Educational Resources and proprietary content provided by the client. The platform is able to auto-tag this content based on the decided framework for the client. For K-12 organizations, this is typically a set of teaching standards. Clients can change, add or update tags at any time.
Declara supports APIs and is also able to create custom data integration when an API is not available.
Declara’s platform has four components (social, learn, analytics, search) with configurable features that can be can be turned on or off, or reconfigured to meet the needs of various client types based on how they wish to deliver learning.
The two big areas for customization are content that is delivered and the framework that is used to tag it. The data that is presented to clients is also customizable. There are a few ways to customize the look and feel of the platform, mainly choosing a color for a background and having a unique logo or image on the site.
During implementation process, Declara works with the client to configure the features and adjust settings for data reporting and content tags. The client can make adjustments to all of the settings at any time.
Declara is typically priced per user on a monthly basis, starting at $30 per user. Discounts and adjustments, based on volume and industry, are common depending on the opportunity.
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