Digital Learning: Looking Back and Looking Ahead

ipads with students

As we enter a new calendar year, it is interesting to reflect on the changes we are seeing in regards to the impact of digital resources on the way we learn.  One thing I feel strongly about is that as long as we look at digital learning as something extra or separate, we will not be where we need to be. The fact of the matter is that we need to put aside the debates about which technology is the right one for students to access (i.e. tablet vs. Chromebook) and embrace the idea that there is a rapidly expanding number of digital tools that can enhance learning when thoughtfully employed.  In fact, knowing which resource to choose and when to utilize it is imperative for those who wish to be considered literate in the years ahead.

The National Council of Teachers of English has a framework which emphasizes that students must “Develop proficiency and fluency with the tools of technology”

Students in the 21st century should have experience with and develop skills around technological tools used in the classroom and the world around them. Through this they will learn about technology and learn through technology. In addition, they must be able to select the most appropriate tools to address particular needs.

Unfortunately, the discussions on education in 2013 has been too focused on which technological devices schools are incorporating into their classrooms and less about how schools are rethinking education and creating more inquiry-based opportunities for students. Hopefully 2014 can focus less on the stuff and more on the substantive changes that are possible when we think about the opportunities that can be afforded all students if we begin to embrace the possibilities for differentiation  to meet the needs of all students.

The video short below from Michael Hornco-founder and Executive Director of Education at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, makes some good points in regards to the past year and what we can expect in 2014.  I hope that Horn’s predictions that we will see some interesting flex models that push the thinking on how schools use time, as well as, a bigger focus on competency-based learning instead of seat time ring true.

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BYOT and one-to-one initiatives are literacy initiatives

The following post was on the Smart Blog On Education earlier this week.

As a school leader who recently sold my community on the importance of moving to a one-to-one environment where every student has access to a web-based device, I believe strongly that our students will be more literate than students in other schools who do not have access to web-enabled devices.  A look at the world outside of our schools and the technological resources being accessed in so many professions that allow people to work “smarter” is a clear indication of the track that our students need to be on in order to be able to function in the “real world.”

The biggest stumbling block in schools even if we can get the devices is the proficiency level of the adults in the building in utilizing the technology resources effectively. This is not meant to be an indictment of educators, but it is a critical question that we all have to look at, assess, and then move forward. Technological tools/resources can assist educators in some of our biggest undertakings (i.e. common core standards integration, teacher evaluation, providing relevant professional development, etc.). However, because so many educators in schools are not comfortable with the most modern literacy skills we are not able to make better progress.

Are these your literacy standards?
From an educator’s perspective there are a few places that we can turn for a concrete look at the standards.  The best resources for modern literacy standards are the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). Let’s start with NCTE.  The Definition of 21st Century Literacies listed below was adopted by NCTE in 2008. While you look at the list below,  think about how many educators in your community are comfortable in these areas.

  • Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
  • Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally
  • Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes
  • Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information
  • Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multi-media texts
  • Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments

As educators, we need to be able to start to list concrete examples of how we meet each of these standards and then assist our students in doing the same.

What about the ISTE standards?
Like NCTE, ISTE also provides us clear standards to help schools better prepare students in the digital age. Unfortunately, the vast majority of educators look at the ISTE standards as technology standards when in reality they are learning standards. As the introduction to the standards states on the ISTE website, “Technology has forever changed not only what we need to learn, but the way we learn.”
Like the NCTE standards, ISTE’s contain six focal points:

  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Communication and Collaboration
  • Research and Information Fluency
  • Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making
  • Digital Citizenship
  • Technology Operations and Concepts

As with the NCTE standards, I question how many of these our staff members are comfortable with at this point.

Is this even on our radar?
So as we look towards the new things on the agenda for schools throughout our country like common core implementation and new teacher evaluation methods, I am worried that the integration of technology is still looked upon as a detached task that will have to be kept on the back burner.  The reality of the situation, however, is that if we understand how to utilize the vast array of collaborative resources out there that we can accomplish our tasks more effectively. But we cannot even start down this road if we do not provide access.

There is a great quote about technology in Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great”: “Technology alone is not going to move an organization or an individual from Good to Great. However, technology that is thoughtfully deployed can help us move a bit faster. ”

In closing, I have to mention the seven survival skills that Tony  Wagner discusses in his book “The Global Achievement Gap,” skills that our students need whether they are going on to college or the workplace.

  1. Critical thinking/problem solving
  2. Collaboration/leading by influence
  3. Agility and adaptability
  4. Initiative and entrepreneurialism
  5. Effective oral and written communication
  6. Accessing and analyzing information
  7. Curiosity and imagination

We cannot get where we need to go, if we as educators do not model these skills and we cannot model these skills if we do not provide learning environments where staff and students have access to digital resources that allow them to experiment and discover the power of being a connected learner. We are at a point where we have to consider whether or not those who are learning in “disconnected” environments can be called literate by today’s standards.
So as you are thinking about whether or not a BYOT or one-to-one initiative is right for your school, you need to ask yourself the following question: Is it important that students in our school are literate?

Patrick Larkin (@patrickmlarkin) is the assistant superintendent for learning for Burlington Public Schools in Massachusetts. He is a former high school principal and former commission member of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

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BYOT and one-to-one initiatives are literacy initiatives originally published by SmartBlogs

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Hey Forbes Magazine! What About The Students?!

Originally posted on the Connected Principals Blog

We won’t go wrong if we keep students the focus of our plans.

I was excited to see the headline on a Forbes magazine piece in August titled – Why Public School Leaders Must Embrace Social Media Now  As I read the article, I was in complete agreement with the points that were being made by the author, Joel Gagne, a consultant who works with schools on communicating more effectively with stakeholders.

Gagne pointed to the following as reasons for schools to start using social media:

“Communications: Often, schools communicate with stakeholders via either regular postal mail or the school website. When a school district decides to utilize social media, their stakeholders can receive information like the “Principal’s Report,” event information, schedule changes, and more in real time.  They can also use social media to listen to what many in their community are thinking about their local public schools.
Public Relations: Given so much negative media about public education, schools can no longer leave public relations to chance. Social media allows schools to direct their followers to newspapers and TV segments featuring positive information. School districts can also use social media to highlight the hard work of their students and staff, and their school district’s accomplishments.
 Branding: Whenever someone sees the Golden Arches, they know they’ve found McDonald’s. This should be a school district’s goal through social media – that whenever someone sees their school district’s logo, they should think “innovation” (or whatever the desired brand may be).

The above are a great starting point in regards to why schools should be utilizing social media resources.  But are these the most important reasons for us to start embracing social media?  In my mind, these are low-level tasks that have been and always will be important to any organization, including schools.

However, the biggest concern I have with school leaders be unwilling to utilize social media resources, or even worse banning them in their school, is the fallout for the students.  Students who do not know how to utilize these current resources to communicate, collaborate, and learn are not competent according the National Council of Teachers of English  framework developed on 2008.

According to NCTE :

Twenty-first century readers and writers need to

  • Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
  • Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally
  • Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes
  • Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information
  • Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts
  • Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments
In looking at this list, I am concerned that we are a long way off  from having students who can meet these standards.  If the conversation with school leaders is one that focuses on the low-level tasks described above then we will never lead our students where they need to be.  The bottom line is that if school leaders do not model the use of these resources then we cannot expect teachers to make it a priority either.  If teachers aren’t using these resources then the capacity of students to integrate them will be greatly inhibited.

In closing, I want to make it clear that I intend no disrespect to Forbes or Mr. Gagne, but the fact that school leaders would need to turn to a private consultant to market their schools has me a little bummed.  There are a number of places that our colleagues can get help for free in this areas and some great models available in school leaders that are already doing this work.

I guess it brings me back to the same question we have been asking for a while here..How do we get them to get them on board and see the bigger picture? Any suggestions?  The students are missing out! 
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Why I’m Attending ISTE’s Leadership Forum (and You Should Too!)

When I first heard about the possibility of an ISTE Leadership Forum, I was thrilled about the prospects of a conference that would allow me to collaborate with school leaders and share solutions to the most pressing issues we are facing in our schools today.  As the October event draws closer my excitement continues to grow because I know this event will leave me with a wealth of concrete ideas to bring back home to my district. In addition, I know that the connections that I make with colleagues from around the country will allow me to grow my Personal Learning Network (PLN) and have an expanded list of educational experts to reach out to as new challenges arise.

Here are some bullets from the forum’s website regarding why individuals in leadership positions and leadership teams should attend:

  • Maximize your tech investment and stretch your dollars.
  • Leverage social media for instruction and establish a social media policy.
  • Employ technology to meet the Common Core.
  • Support and motivate your staff to embrace new strategies.
  • Engage tech tools to assist with parent communication and involvement.
Here are my top reasons for coming:

1.  Connect With Amazing School Leaders  

First off, Chris Lehmann is the opening keynote and having the chance to sit down with Chris and hear his thoughts is an amazing opportunity in itself. But more importantly, Chris and the other ed. leaders who will be there (i.e. George Couros, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, and many others) are accessible every day of the week through their blogs, twitter accounts, e-mail, etc. 

2.  Michael Fullan is the lead facilitator 

Michael Fullan is one of the most highly-regarded change leaders in the world when it comes to the field of education. I had the chance to spend a full-day workshop with him over 10-years ago, shortly after the release of his book Leading In A Culture Of Change and it is still among the top Professional Development experiences of my career. More recently, Fullan has published Change Leader, another great resource for educators to rethink the traditional model of schooling that is holding back our staff and students.  

3.  Leaders Need To Model The Changing Definition of Literacy 

A few years ago the National Council of Teachers of English created a new 21st Century Literacy Framework.  The truth of the matter is that what it means to be literate in 2012 has changed a great deal from when many educators were in school themselves. In order for us to truly fulfill our role as instructional leaders, we need to understand this shift and become comfortable with this new skill-set and model it for staff, students, (and our communities). Fortunately, ISTE has a set of clear standards for administrators, teachers, and students to help us in this critical work. 

For all of these reasons, I feel the ISTE Leadership Forum will be my most important Professional Development this year.  I will have the opportunity to continue to expand my vision and goals for myself and my school and ensure that we are on the right track in providing our students with the most relevant educational experience possible.

Thank you ISTE for making this event a reality! Please spread the word to other educators in leadership positions. This is something that they will be sorry they missed!

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