I actually remember watching a series of MACOS films in 7th grade social studies. Over the course of several class periods our teacher provided both context as well as some critical troubling of the approach. Before we ever watched a film, she framed not only how we should view these films, but how we should not view them. I remember her drawing specific attention to our place as Americans and how that identity and the position it affords colors how we see things. I remember recognizing that she was speaking to us in a way that she hadn’t before. And to my recollection, that no other teacher had either. There was something in her manner and tone of voice. She was expecting something of us that we didn’t fully understand, but it was clear she felt it was important to say these things to us and that we try to get to where she was asking us to go. It felt a bit dangerous which made it both exciting and important that we get it right.
When we began watching the films, I remember sitting in our darkened classroom watching the films, jotting notes, and occasionally glancing at the classroom door to see if the principal was going to walk in and catch us learning something taboo. It’s interesting. I haven’t thought about this in decades. But in a very real way, she was providing a kind of critical theory scaffold to a bunch of 12 year olds at a time when developmentally we would be just on the cusp of being able to grasp anything as abstract as critical theory. Looking back now from my vantage point as a career educator and doctoral student, I have to give her major points for trying with 7th graders!
Practice-Based Inquiry (PBI) is a school visit process that provides interested constituencies insight into how teaching and learning happen at a school. PBI is based on the English tradition of school inspection, by which all UK schools receiving public funds are inspected every four years. The principles of PBI were also the process by which the State of Rhode Island conducted the “state-wide, school accountability system designed to support the implementation of the Board of Regents’ strategic agenda” from 1997 until 2009 (SALT Blueprint). The process came to Chicago for the first time in 1998 through the Chicago Schools Alliance at Business and Professional People for the Public Interest (BPI). ACT Charter School requested PBI visits as a part of their charter renewals during its years of operation . Since that time, the Network for College Success (NCS) at the University of Chicago has become a PBI center, sponsoring visits as a way for its member CPS high schools to better understand learning and teaching at the school. After a visit, NCS, rather than asserting control over the school, instead offers assistance (Wilson, 1996) towards its improvement plans based on the resulting PBI report. (If you are familiar with PBI, jump to implications for connected learning and equity.)
Each 5-day PBI visit follows a rigorous protocol that lays out how the visit is conducted. Protocol guidelines determine:
The size and composition of the visit team
The conduct of team members while in the school
Focus questions that guide and limit the scope of the team’s inquiry
The nature of the evidence the team collects
The structure of the team’s written report
The process for how the report is written
Tests for each conclusion in the report
Tests of the report itself
Each team in purposefully composed for the school requesting the visit and requires a complex balancing of criteria. The protocol sets requirements regarding the number of administrators, special education teachers, grade-level and subject area teachers. Further, at least 50% of the team must be practicing teachers. On top of these requirement, NCS seeks to balance teams in regard to gender and race to match that of the student population of the visited school. Finally, each team is composed of educators currently working in or with CPS schools. After each visit, that team is disbanded. Thus, each visit is conducted with a completely new, unique team, thereby making it impossible to develop a “professionalized corps of inspectors”. While assembling a team primarily from working, school-based educators arguably makes for the most daunting logistic of any visit, nearly all team members who experience a PBI visit report that it is one of, if not the most, powerful professional learning experiences they have had.
The Focus Questions
Three nested questions provide the focus for each visit: 1) How well do students at [school name] learn? 2) How well do teachers at [school name] teach for learning? 3) How well does the administration at [school name] support teaching and learning? The nested structure of the questions with student learning at the center of the inquiry anticipates related conclusions in teaching and support. While these questions seem generic, that is, in fact, what gives the visit process and resulting report their credibility. Teams do not go into schools with rubrics and checklists. In such a context, the use of such tools are far too random and subjective and thus suggest that if teams don’t find what is on the rubric or checklist that the school must not be “good” or “effective”. Instead, team members observe the school through the frames of these questions and collect the evidence that provides answers, applying their professional judgement to that evidence to determine whether and how well students learn, teachers teach, and administrators support teaching and learning.
5 Days in the School
Team members spend their first day (Monday) shadowing a student through their full schedule to get the students’ perspective and experience being a learner at the school. Throughout the day team members observe their students’ learning in each class, talk with them as well as other students they encounter. Everything they observe throughout the day must focus on evidence of student learning and to draw on their professional judgement to determine whether and what their student learned that day. On the second day (Tuesday) team members fan out to observe every teacher in the building and collect evidence to answer how well teachers teach. In addition to observations, team members converse with teachers during their preps or lunch periods to get the teachers’ perspectives about what it is like teaching at the school as well as their thoughts about their students and administrative support for teaching. The team spends the third day (Wednesday) meeting various school constituencies. By meeting with the principal, the assistant principals, counsellors, parents, students, LSC members, community partners, security, lunch staff, the team determines how well the school supports teaching and learning. Each meeting lasts at least an hour. As a result of the Wednesday meetings, team members begin to see connections between and among the evidence they collected during their first two days in the school. The first half of the fourth day (Thursday) is for conducting “special inquiries”. By this time, team members have a high level of certainty about what they want to say in the report. So the time in the school is about collecting the final evidence and determine whether it strongly affirms or challenges the existing evidence and the conclusions they believe are the most important for the school to hear about learning, teaching, and support. All inquires and evidence collection must be completed before noon on Thursday, after which the team is sequestered in the team room for the remainder of the visit to deliberate and write the PBI report.
When the first draft of the report is completed by the end of the day on Friday, the team has spent a significant amount of time in the school. On average, a PBI team is convened at a school approximately 60 hours. A team of 12 will spend nearly 125 person hours directly observing the classrooms at a given school with a goal of visiting every teacher’s classroom at least once. Teams average around 60 person hours in one-on-one or small group conversations with a school’s students, faculty, administrators, parents, and staff. They will also spend several hours observing school meetings if school and team schedules allow it. Teams convene meetings that total around 25 to 30 hours to ask questions of students, teachers, the leadership team, the principal, and senior school administrators. In addition to the time they spend interacting with the school, a full visit team meets privately in the team room for anywhere from 30-40 hours spanning the five days of the visit. During most of this time, teams are in intense discussions to thoroughly consider the evidence they have collected and to build the conclusions, commendations and recommendations presented in the report.
After each day’s evidence collection, team members return to the team room and review their notes from the day. Every team member shares the evidence they collected to answer the focus question for that day. They share what they believe is the most important information first. They finish by asking a question about the school they think they need to attend to during the next day based on what the present day’s evidence seems to suggest is important to learn. Finally, the team spends some time considering what they heard in the debriefing of the day, what patterns they heard, and common themes. These questions and common themes are captured in team notes and drive the inquiry forward.
Professional Judgement, Deliberated Consensus, & Dynamic Evidence
Several elements about the PBI protocol make it a compelling process, not to mention unusual, in this age of data-driven decision-making. What is unique is the emphasis placed on the roles of professional judgement, deliberated consensus and the dynamic nature of evidence. A PBI visit is different from the kinds of “data dives” so many schools do these days. The differences are primarily a result of the process the team follows and the evidence it collects, both of which take a significant amount of time relative to spending a couple of hours in a faculty meeting looking primarily at charts, graphs, and numbers and trying to divine from them any specifics about learning and teaching.
During the 3.5 days the team is in the school collecting evidence, each team member draws on their professional judgement to determine which pieces of evidence are the most important for the team to hear in light of the previously collected evidence and team discussions about it. They consider if and how that evidence answers the questions raised from what was shared the day before. Each day, the questions team members ask and the themes they identify in the shared evidence pushes the team farther and provides direction for the next day’s observations. While the team is open to all evidence they encounter, what they have collected also suggest the kinds of evidence they look for as they move forward.
By about the third day of the visit, the team starts to identify themes they believe are the most important for the school to hear. These themes become candidates for conclusions in the report. Thus, what the team believes is the most important findings for the school to hear evolves over time: The evidence they collect each day and the questions that fuel further inquiry are informed by their professional judgements — both individual and corporate — which in turn are informed by each day’s deliberations. The evidence becomes dynamic as the team deliberates about the meaning of the evidence they find. What the team believes is the most important conclusions to write about learning, teaching, and support on Monday are usually not the same by Thursday.
The PBI Report
Each PBI visit results in a report that is written by and tested for full team consensus. The report is the collective voice of the team. Each report includes the following sections:
Profile of the School
Portrait of the School at the Time of the Visit
Findings on Student Learning
Findings on Teaching for Learning
Findings on School Support for Learning and Teaching
Of these sections, each visit team writes the Profile, Portrait, Findings, and Final Advice. The Profile is drafted by the team chair before the visit begins. It included the history of the school and its community, drawn from the chair’s own research, public documents, and formal interviews with the school principal. It is shared with the principal for any factual corrections. The team also has an opportunity to make any revisions they feel are necessary. The Portrait, while one of the first parts of the report is one of the last parts written after most of the conclusion writing is complete. It serves as an overview, or a snapshot of the state of the school at the time of the visit. Conclusions the team writes based on the three focus questions constitute each of the Findings sections. Teams write 3 to 7 conclusions each for Student Learning, Teaching for Learning and School Support for Learning and Teaching. Each conclusion is coded from a list of evidence sources and must include a minimum of two different sources. In addition to the conclusions for the latter two Findings, teams may include Commendations for areas where teachers and the school excel. They also write brief Recommendations based on the conclusions in the visit report. Final Advice is just that: The last chance for the team to speak to the school community, rally them to the work ahead, and give the school a sense of what the team believes, only in the broadest sense, what the school’s next steps should be.
After the team adjourns on Friday night, the chair works with both a PBI master chair and copy editor to make sure the report is soundly written grammatically, stylistically, and effectively communicates the team’s intent. Then, within two weeks of the end of the visit, the chair and as many team members as possible, return to the school and read a working draft of the report to the entire faculty and staff.
Endorsement occurs after a Catalpa representative has a post-visit conversations with the team chair and the school principal to confirm procedures to ensure the legitimacy of the report were followed. [Link to Catalpa Procedures page] With the attachment of the written Endorsement to the report, the final draft is finalized, copyrighted, and becomes the property of the school. Copies are sent to the school and NCS with a third retained by Catalpa.
What PBI Suggests About Learning Technologies Use in CPS High Schools
The details of what can be shared here are limited by confidentiality agreements each team member signs in order to serve on a PBI team. Therefore, the nature of the evidence shared here is generalized.
Nothing in the PBI visit protocol explicitly requires teams to consider a school’s use of information and communication technologies (ICT). Nor should it since conclusions about ICT are easily validated within the bounds of the three focus questions. Indeed, in the past few years some teams have decided to include technology use as evidence examples of broader conclusions about learning and teaching. On one level, this is encouraging, especially since nearly all schools at the time of their visit demonstrated typical ICT use. That is teaching characterized by an overwhelming use of traditional, teacher-centered, textbook-based instructional methods even though “contemporary educational programs recommend the integration of ICT’s in teaching and learning” (Barak, 2014). Only one team of those on which I have been a part has written entire conclusions specifically about technology use in the school that one would recognize as informed by ISTE standards [link]. Even in this instance, the conclusions specifically about ICT use made it into the report only because a single team member with deep knowledge and current beliefs about the role ICT need now play — made a very strong case and successfully swayed the team. Among his arguments was that conclusions about ICT use had to be a priority since the school being visited had a curricular focus on technology. Thus the faculty and staff needed to hear what the team thought about its use of technology for learning, teaching and support. Given that the PBI protocol requires true consensus, eery team member had to agree both that the conclusion was important enough to write and that they had the evidence to write it.Nevertheless, this teacher was selected specifically to reflect the programming of a technology-focused school. To have such highly knowledgeable, ISTE-steeped teacher on visit teams for schools that do not have a technology focus is not the norm.
This raises an issue about intentional composition of PBI teams. Excepting the example above, conclusions in previous reports that even mentioned technology treated it in their reports as so many teachers do in the classroom — as a mere add-on. Yet this may not be because previous teams didn’t deem ICT use important per se, but because to date, teams have not had the current and requisite knowledge or beliefs about pan-curricular, ICT-based teaching and learning sufficient enough to make such conclusions a regular part of visit reports even if such conclusions were warranted. Song et al. in their study of the effects of prior knowledge, self-regulation and motivation on learning performance reference the work of Baldwin et al, noting “the close relationship between prior knowledge and interest from the viewpoint of adult education…. They state that ‘as people get older and increasingly specialized, interest and knowledge may come to correspond closely” (2016). Team members with more prior knowledge and interest in the uses of ICT for teaching and learning across the curriculum would “set larger and more consistent goal structures” and “behave in a more goal-oriented way” (2016). The implications of intentionally selecting educators with such specialist interests to serve as PBI team members would have significant implications for team inquiries into ICT-based teaching and learning. Not the least of which israising ICT use to the level of stand-alone conclusions in their own right, thereby putting technology skills and knowledge on a par with students’ abilities to read, write, and think critically. Such an elevation is necessary for any school that intends to be a 21st Century institution or one that positively impacts educational equity. Then, to round out the nested focus questions then, the same must also be said about technology conclusions about teachers’ use of ICT to facilitate learning and administrators’ expectations, messaging, and professional learning supports.
PBI, Connected Learning, and Equity
Why does NCS exert so much energy to sponsor, support, and in some instances, cajole their member schools into hosting PBI visits? Because PBI is a unique and powerful reflective opportunity to support continuous school improvement. As such, the best teams will uncover issues of equity in their learning about the visit school and raise it to the level of a conclusion in a report. It is worth emphasizing that all NCS schools are CPS schools. As such, NCS member schools serve mostly urban students of color, many of whom are economically disadvantaged. NCS is an equity organization that works from the understanding that education is a social justice issue, where the future success of our society’s most vulnerable citizens is directly linked to quality education. Thus, to host a PBI visit has potential benefits for school equity when the school uses the resulting report as a basis for setting priorities and improvement goals that positively impact educational outcomes for the public school students of Chicago.
As I wrote in parts one and two of this blog post, when schools make learning connectedlearning, they positively impact equity. The correlations between socio-economic class, race, and teacher beliefs, and the kinds of opportunities students have to experience connected learning through ICT-based instruction have implications for how NCS selects educators for PBI visits. In order to impact matters of equity linked to connected learning and ICT-based learning, PBI teams should be more intentionally comprised to include computing teachers (as opposed to computer teachers) [anchor tag to point in previous post] . As noted in the example above, when teams have members who can employ their technological and pedagogical professional judgements to evidence collection and team deliberated consensus, they will include more specific conclusions about technology use in PBI reports.
PBI has been been a mechanism for schools to have discussions about matters of equity all along. Whether it is about which students in a school take full advantage of available learning opportunities and programs or do not, how the curriculum does or does not prepare students for their post-secondary future, how faculty and staff beliefs expand or curtails students’ access to quality learning, or how support structures make access to programs available to all members of the learning community or privilege certain parts over others. ICT-based instruction plays a significant role in students’ development of the growth mindsets necessary for the lifelong learning, just-in-time learning, creative abilities, and collaborative abilities required to thrive in a 21st Century post-secondary world. PBI visits and reports, therefore, need to be able to raise such issues for a school as a part of their post-visit discussions and improvement plans regarding student, teacher, and school uses of technology.
Team Composition for the 21st Century
Understanding ICT-based learning and instruction as an equity issue means it must be an explicit part of school transformation efforts. Inasmuch as PBI visits are a part of such transformation efforts, then it is also vital to keep elements of connected learning with ICT-based, student-centered learning and teaching on the front burner of future PBI visits. Intentional team composition is a means towards this end. It calls for finding educators who understand the critical role learning with technology now plays. “A range of other scholars have argued that knowledge about technology cannot be treated as context-free, and that good teaching requires an understanding of how technology relates to the pedagogy and content” (What is TPACK?, 2012). Where “good [inquiry] requires specific knowledge about the teaching of those disciplines…. [S]ubject specialization helps [team members] make judgements about the quality of teaching” (Wilson, 1996). Since most schools do not effectively use ICT for teaching and learning when it is widely acknowledged how vital it is to do so, PBI practice would be strengthened and visit schools better served if the criteria for purposeful PBI team construction included educators with deep TPACK knowledge and positive belief sets about ICT use who can understand contemporary classrooms through a sort of “TPACK lens” . As ICT-knowledgeable team members collect and interpret evidence about ICT-based learning and instruction and cast their professional judgements about the evidence, they would bring their technological knowledge as well as their pedagogical and content knowledge to the team deliberations and report conclusions.
Similar understandings and belief sets in PBI chairs would also strengthen visit practice. Knowledge about ICT and connected learning would allow chairs to raise appropriate questions for the team, guide collection of useful evidence, and effectively facilitate team discussions such that visit reports include findings and conclusions about how well students learn with, teachers teach with, and administrators support uses of digital, networked technologies.
PBI As Mechanism For Changing Teacher Beliefs
PBI visits are powerful because they are conducted by professional peers. PBI teams are not, as mentioned above, a professionalized corps of outsiders coming in to pass judgement on a school community’s effectiveness and to deliver a “gotcha!”. PBI teams are working educators, fellow teachers and administrators from Chicago Public Schools. They are allies working in support of common efforts to improve teaching and learning for the children of Chicago. As such, the conclusions teams choose to write and the words they choose to write them means reports have a sometimes uncomfortably unavoidable credibility to the faculty and staff of host schools. By including conclusions about how well the learning community is or is not using technology can set the stage for changing teacher beliefs about their own abilities and those of their students. It is yet another opportunity for “perceived social influence from referent others [to have] a significant positive influence on individual beliefs about the usefulness of technology” (Gu et al, 2011). PBI team members — that is CPS colleagues — and their collective voice in the body of a report are the “referent others” who exert “social influence positively and significantly affects IT utilization” (2011).
One of the mottos that guides PBI teams is “Know what you see. Don’t see what you know.” It reminds team members that when examining evidence and deliberating in the team room, they cannot be led by what they do at their school or by whether or not a particular program or framework “should” be deployed as it is at the visit school. It reinforces that they must bring their professional judgement to bear only on what they see and hear during the week of the visit and what that tells the team about teaching and learning at the visit school. Yet it is fascinating how new learning changes what one notices. How in light of that learning that one discerns things that were never noticed before. Two years ago, I did not know about ISTE with its Essential Conditions and technology standards for educators, students, parents, and coaches . Or about the Connected Learning Research Network with connected learning as a social constructivist path toward redefining school for the 21st Century and a digitally networked era. Or about the Partnership for 21st Century Learning and the links between technology, lifelong learning, and citizenship. These are just a few of the organizations, concepts, or frameworks that in this digital, networked era so clearly connect the social justice and equity agendas of schools to the use of technology generally and technology-infused learning throughout the curriculum specifically. Those connections have particular implications in schools that seek to serve poor children of color.
For years as an educator, a PBI team member, and as a PBI visit chair, I regarded technology use during PBI visits no differently than the educators I was leading on a team. I still cannot lead PBI visits with a particular agenda. Yet at a time when digital technology and media comprise an entirely new literacy that will determine the kinds of work students will be able to do as adults, it is vital that schools understand how well they are educating their students in its use. With the considerable flexibility the PBI protocol allows, the times warrant more conscious and conscientious inclusion of knowledgeable and experienced computing educators on PBI teams and the ICT-learning-related conclusions for visit schools that will result.
HM Senior Chief Inspector Bill Maxwell talks about OFSTED school inspection.
Barak, M. (2014). Closing the Gap Between Attitudes and Perceptions About ICT-Enhanced Learning Among Pre-service STEM Teachers. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 23(1), 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10956-013-9446-8
Catalpa Ltd. (2018, April 2). Retrieved from catalpa.org
Gu, X., Zhu, Y., & Guo, X. (2011). Meeting the “Digital Natives”: Understanding the Acceptance of Technology in Classrooms. Educational Technology, 16(1), 392–402.
SALT Blueprint.pdf. (n.d.).
Song, H. S., Kalet, A. L., & Plass, J. L. (2016). Interplay of prior knowledge, self-regulation and motivation in complex multimedia learning environments: Knowledge, self-regulation, & motivation. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 32(1), 31–50. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcal.12117
Koehler, M. (2012, September 24). What is TPACK? Retrieved April 4, 2018, from www.tpack.org
Wilson, T. (1996). Reaching For A Better Standard. New York: Teachers College Press.
Wilson, Thomas. (2016). The Design and Conduct ofRigorous And UsefulPractice-Based Inquiry® Visits to Schools: A Comprehensive Handbook for The Network for College Success(at the University of Chicago) Handbook 2. The Chair Handbook. Catalpa, Ltd.
Wilson, Thomas. (2017, April 10). Template for Preparing Initial Version of Report.
This February, thanks to the support of Drs. Angela Elkordy and Ayn Keneman, classmates Tori Alland, Mia Gutsell, and I had the privilege to co-present at ICE 2018 — the Illinois Computing Educators conference. Our workshop was nearly two hours and entitled, “In Real Life: Designing Digital Learning Experiences”. In planning the workshop, we felt it was important that our session not present pie-in-the-sky ideals designed for no classroom that ever existed anywhere. We also agreed that in 2018 “in real life” digital learning should be student-centered. Thus, we developed a session that addressed school and classroom realities most teachers face day-to-day. Tori’s presentation focused on the nuts and bolts of instituting Genius Hour as a means of recruiting students’ interests. Mia modeled ways for students to demonstrate their learning through collaborative creation of digital media presentations using Google Slides. My interpretation of “in real life” and student-centeredness focused on the importance of connected learning as a framework for infusing information and communication technologies (ICT) throughout the curriculum by refining extant unit and lesson plans. In addition, we wanted attendees to recognize that Genius Hour and collaborative digital projects are examples of connected learning. It was our intention, too, that attendees take the ideas we presented back to their schools and implement them with confidence knowing that they already had everything they needed to do so without having to reinvent the wheel. In essence, the session was two parts practical application and one part theory. Or, two parts how and one part why.
As attendees were participating in our warm-up and context-setting activity, one educator asked, “Is it your assumption that we know nothing about your topic?” In the moment, it was difficult not to be defensive. It felt like an immediate challenge to the legitimacy of our presentation. The irony was that we had been planning under a considerable assumption that at a conference for computing educators our audience would indeed be highly versed in Connected Learning concepts and deeply experienced in the collaborative, student-centered content we were presenting. However, at a point in the planning, we realized we could not make such an assumption. Thus, we built in ways to tailor our presentations for the audience in front of us. This included a poll designed to assess attendees’ knowledge and experience level with Connected Learning, the results of which would determine which of three presentations I would use.
Despite the above attendee seeming to imply that the room was full of educators possessing considerable knowledge about our topic, it turned out not to be the case. This was evident not only in the poll results, but in attendees’ intense focus, participation, and the nature of the questions they asked about Genius Hour, collaborative document editing, and incorporating Connected Learning elements into instructional plans. Their desire to know more also showed when nearly all attendees stayed well past the official session end time to continue conversation and ask more clarifying and probing questions of we three presenters and our professors.
Why It Matters
In a previous post, I wrote about ICT use and Connected Learning as an equity issue. Teachers set curricular priorities and make instructional choices based more often on their belief systems than their knowledge systems. These priorities and choices are based, in turn, not on what they know, but on what they believe they know and are able to do. Their decisions are also based on their beliefs about what their students are capable of learning. (More in Navigating Teacher Beliefs, Connected Learning, and Practice-Based Inquiry for Equitable ICT Integration, Part 1.) Therefore, the kinds of learning students experience are not solely determined by what teachers know, but in part by what they believe they and their students are capable of when using ICT as methods for teaching and learning.
Consider the latest data available from the National Center for Education Statistics which shows that the access gap has narrowed nearly to the point of disappearing. However, where the gaps persist race, income, and education levels correlate. When looking at how teachers use ICT, all of the numbers are troubling given how few students use ICT for learning beyond basic skills and research — whether looking at urban or suburban contexts. However, more urban teachers report they “rarely” use ICT for learning tasks that involve tenets of Connected Learning such as corresponding with others for learning, blogging or using social media to engage with authentic audiences, or collaborating to create digital resources such as wikis than do their suburban, town, and rural colleagues. At the other end of the scale, urban teachers report they are more likely to use ICT “sometimes or often” for word processing and learning or practicing basic skills than their suburban, town, and rural colleague. These survey results would indicate urban and high poverty students have fewer opportunities to learn using ICT, than do students in suburban, town and rural schools. And when they do, teachers more often provide opportunities for students to use ICT for word processing, basic skills practice, and research (i.e: low-level cognition, substitution and augmentation levels of SAMR). Urban students are less likely to experience learning using digital, networked technology to create, collaborate, and work with authentic audiences and feedback (i.e: high-level cognition, modification and redefinition levels of SAMR, and the 4C’s [PDF]) than their counterparts in suburban, town, and rural school.
One way to interpret these data is as indicative of a pattern illustrating a dynamic prevalent to urban schools where many teachers are reluctant to create the open, freeform conditions often needed for learning to occur. Instead of allowing for the sometimes chaotic atmosphere conducive to learning, many urban teachers engage in “‘defensive teaching’…that is concerned with maintaining control” (Mouza, 2011). When controlling student behaviors is the primary concern for some urban teachers, teacher-centered instruction is more often the norm than student-centered learning. Under these conditions, the uses of ICT will be limited to low-level learning tasks with little to no Connected Learning taking place.
When viewed this way, teachers’ choices about ICT use can be interpreted as widening the achievement gap even at a time when the access gap is all but closed. The choice to use ICT and how to use it is a matter of equity where students in urban and socio-economically disadvantaged schools are less likely to use digital, networked devices in ways that prepare them for the 21st Century world of work than do their counterparts in other non-urban settings.
Whether the underlying cause is teachers’ beliefs about their students’ capabilities, beliefs about their own instructional capabilities, or some other factor, most students regardless of socio-economic class are not receiving the range of learning types digital, networked technologies can facilitate. However, the range of ICT-based learning poor, urban students experience is even more restricted. To address such inequities, teachers’ use of ICT needs to be intentional, explicit, and pan-curricular. Otherwise, our most vulnerable students will continue to be at a disadvantage when it comes to acquiring the growth mindsets and digital skills they will need to survive and thrive in the adult world.
ICE As a Forum For Theory & Equity
ICE 2018 was an exciting and professionally invigorating experience. In every session I attended over the full length of the conference, it was clear that the organization’s membership indeed consists of computing educators, not just computer educators. This is not a mere grammatical distinction. It is a sign that the organization is successfully meeting its constitutional purpose to “[p]romote the development, growth, and use of computers and technology in all facets of the educational process” (Constitution Illinois Computing Educators). It is not an organization whose memberships consists exclusively of teachers of computer courses. In every session there were administrators, teachers from every grade-level and every subject area, even some post-secondary counsellors.
Many, if not most of the sessions were “how to” sessions that focused on products and processes: Ways for students to produce particular learning artifacts or to use a particular app or set of apps to facilitate learning. These types of sessions are important in that they seek to model the nearly endless ways teachers can creatively use ICT to facilitate learning across the curriculum. In addition to such sessions, there are opportunities for ICE to be a forum for the necessary theoretical understandings needed to influence teacher belief sets and “[f]acilitate the dissemination of information concerning computing and technology” (Constitution Illinois Computing Educators). For example, individual chapters as well as the state organization could gain a deeper understanding of the continuum of knowledge about ICT-based learning that undergirds the belief sets and instructional decision of ICE members. Chapters could explore members’ internal anxieties regarding ICT use that impact their instructional decisions and student learning. Such an understandings open the possibility of theoretical offerings at conferences and professional learning sessions that explicate and support the sessions focusing on practical applications.
Many of our session attendees were unfamiliar with Connected Learning, Genius Hour, or how to incorporate student-centered learning using networked collaboration tools. This would suggest another opportunity to examine how member teachers use ICT in their classrooms. Even though “many teachers are aware of the potential of integrating ICTs, a considerable number of them do so in a traditional, teacher-centered manner with no significant change in their teaching methods” (Barak, 2014). As discussed in part 1, teachers’ beliefs and attitudes influence curricular and instructional choices more than any other factor. Additionally, they are more likely to teach in the same ways they were taught and employ “techno-centric and tokenistic use of ICTs” (2014) where “only a few conceptualize ICTs as means for promoting progressive education and social-constructivist learning” (2014). The ICE conference may have revealed these dynamics even among its membership, arguably a set of more “highly functioning” ICT users than the average teacher.
Since most k-12 teachers do not read a sufficient quantity of professional literature, they do not tend to link their practice to wider theoretical underpinnings. “This is not surprising , as teachers were not required to read relevant literature on teaching with technology…. [I]integrating relevant literature … is crucial to helping teachers connect their experiences to a larger body of knowledge” (Mouza, 2011). As a professional organization for teachers who use technology, ICE is well-positioned to provide the kinds of research, literature and theoretical underpinnings most K-12 teachers lack.
For Teachers of Disadvantaged Children of Color
ICE represents an exciting space to explore the perspectives and experiences of educators of socio-economically disadvantaged students of color. Urban students — adolescents in particular, are no different than their suburban peers. They are tethered to their phones, which represents considerable potential to leverage their devices for learning even in the face of very specific district- or school-wide structural, attitudinal, and technological challenges. Looking at the attitudinal challenges specifically, they include the kinds of subtle (and not subtle) deficit thinking some educators hold about urban students’ abilities, such as the defensive teaching mentioned earlier. Teacher beliefs and attitudes about what urban students can and cannot learn often impedes students’ developing necessary technological fluencies. Often, teachers plan in such ways out of the belief that students “can’t handle” innovative practices (Mouza, 2011). Nevertheless, ICE chapters and members represent a dynamic constituency to influence such associated personal efficacy and social factors that impact teacher choices. ICE and its chapters are the energetic sites where, “perceived social influence from referent others has a significant positive influence on individual beliefs about the usefulness of technology … [and] social influence positively and significantly affects IT utilization” (Gu et al, 2011). ICE represents a potentially powerful lever in moving the ICT and Connected Learning bars in urban education where ICE members are the “referent others” who, in their “post-ICE learnings” return to their schools and interact with their colleagues exert the social influence to change the beliefs and practices of technologically reluctant teachers. ICE could be an exciting and perhaps even unexpected vector from which to advocate for the ICT learning needs of some of our most vulnerable students and thus have a positive effect on equity in urban learning communities.
As an organization that supports real life digital learning, Illinois Computing Educators is a remarkable professional body. ICE 2018 was an invigorating three days of learning and interacting with several thousand enthusiastic, like-minded colleagues. As any successful conference should, this one engendered many more wonderings than answers. These wonderings suggest exciting opportunities for nuanced understanding of the needs, knowledge bases, and beliefs of computing educators, as well as adding theoretical learning to the organization’s already strong emphasis on practical applications. And significantly, there is room for added interpretations of the ICE constitution where members, chapters, and the state organization as a whole become sites of educational equity as expressed through their use of learning technologies.
Barak, M. (2014). Closing the Gap Between Attitudes and Perceptions About ICT-Enhanced Learning Among Pre-service STEM Teachers. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 23(1), 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10956-013-9446-8
Gray, L. (n.d.). Teachers’ Use of Educational Technology in U.S. Public Schools: 2009, First Look, 70.
Groff, J. (2008). A Framework for Addressing Challenges to Classroom Technology Use. AACE Journal, 16(1), 21–46.
Gu, X., Zhu, Y., & Guo, X. (2011). Meeting the “Digital Natives”: Understanding the Acceptance of Technology in Classrooms. Educational Technology, 16(1), 392–402.
Mouza, C. (2011). Promoting Urban Teachers’ Understanding of Technology, Content, and Pedagogy in the Context of Case Development. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 44(1), 1–29. https://doi.org/10.1080/15391523.2011.10782577
In an editorial in Education Weekly, “The Technology Puzzle: Why Is Greater Access Not Translating Into Better Classroom Use?”, Larry Cuban lays out a number of reasons why, from his point of view, education has not adopted technology into their practices to the same extend the business world has. He outlines the usual tropes that lay the issue solely at the feet of teachers, including pre-service education that does not emphasize technology, a dearth of specific training, not enough time to learn about and practice with technology, the number of “older teachers” in the profession, and technophobia. Yet he doesn’t leave it there. Refreshingly, he identifies five other obstacles, none of which blame teachers. After going into detail about the impacts of contradictory advice from experts, intractable working conditions, demands from others, the unreliability of technology, and policymakers’ disrespect for teachers’ opinions, Cuban concludes,
“Why should very busy teachers who are genuinely committed to doing a good job with their students listen to experts’ changing advice on technologies when they have to face daily, unyielding working conditions, internal and external demands on their time and stamina; unreliable machines and software; and disrespect for their opinions?… What corporate cheerleaders, policymakers, and vendors who have far more access to the media ignore are teachers’ voices, the enduring workplace conditions within which teachers teach, inherent flaws in the technologies, and ever-changing advice of their own experts. Such reasons are ignored because they go to the heart of what happens in schools, are very expensive to remedy, and reflect poorly on corporate know-how in producing machines…. For experts, the answer are straightforward and all point to teachers. Bashing teachers for not doing more with technology misses the deeper, more consequential reasons for what teachers do every day.”
As contemporary as this sounds, Cuban was writing an editorial that appeared in 1999.
Cuban’s perspective is a refreshing break from the tendency to lay blame for all kinds of societal ills at the feet of teachers. Not only does this oversimplification of “laying blame” keep us from adequately identifying what makes for good teaching and learning, but it elides the highly complicated interplay between elements of the school ecosystem and teachers’ roles within it. Indeed, the fact that a description of teaching conditions from nearly 20 years ago is nearly identical to those many teachers work in today would suggest that we are spinning our wheels. Yet when it comes to the integration of information and communication technologies (ICT) into instruction, teachers are the ultimate facilitators or obstacles when it comes to whether and how students get to experience ICT in their learning. As such, we need to explore and better understand how teachers’ attitudes and beliefs impact their use of ICT for teaching and learning. In doing so, education teachers and professional learning providers will be in better positions to support teachers in making the changes needed for ICT to be both process and product of teaching and learning across the curriculum.
Little, if anything, happens in the classroom without the teacher setting the stage for action. What teachers believe about their students abilities impacts what they teach and how they teach it. Yet what teachers believe about their own abilities also influences what and how they teach. Drawing on James Calderhead’s work into the role beliefs play in teacher practice and the differentiation between beliefs and knowledge, Ertmer explores the relationships between them. Ertmer defines beliefs in this context as “educational beliefs about teaching and learning (referred to here as pedagogical beliefs) and the beliefs they have about how technology enables them to translate those beliefs into classroom practice” (2005) In extending Calderhead’s work, Ertmer noted that even after one gains some knowledge, they still either accept it as true or false. That is, they either believe the information or they do not (2005).
Park and Ertmer examined how problem-based learning impacts teachers’ beliefs about the use of technology for teaching and learning. They identified the differences between so-called first order and second order barriers to change where first order barriers relates to externals — limited access to computers, software, planning time, or administrative support. Second order barriers deal with the internals — teachers’ beliefs about instructional technology, preferred methods. and willingness to shift practices (2014). They cite research by Zhihui Fang finding that many factors shape teachers’ beliefs, including discipline subculture, pre-service classroom experiences, and opportunities to reflect on their pre-service experiences. In addition to these, Park and Ertmer find teachers’ beliefs about their pedagogy, their own self-efficacy, and the value of technology for education all influence their ICT use (2014).
In a two-year study that examined K-12 teachers’ perceptions of the benefits of ICT for teaching and learning, Badia et al. They found that while the school structure and the technological profile of the school positively correlated to perceived benefits of ICT use, teacher’s beliefs were the most important factor. “The strongest correlations are found in variables related to the technological profile of the teacher, such as the level of computer literacy…, training received and assessment of its usefulness…, frequency of access to the Internet [sic] at school…and frequency of access to the Internet [sic] outside school” (2015). Other factors that had a significant positive relationship were gender, subject area, and educational technology policy of the school (2015).
Song, Kalet, and Plass conducted a study examining the effects of prior knowledge, self-regulation and motivation on learning performance in complex, multimedia environments among medical students in rotation. They found that students’ prior knowledge in a specific domain “directly influenced their knowledge recall, comprehension and clinical reasoning after learning from a multimedia module” (2015). In addition, prior knowledge is also associated with self-regulation, motivation, self-efficacy, and goal orientation (2015).
Examining teachers’ agency, Biesta et al. consider how teachers actively shape the work they do and the conditions in which they do it. The authors note specifically how this is in marked contrast to “several decades of policies that worked to de-professionalise teachers by taking agency away from them and replacing it with prescriptive curricula and oppressive regimes of testing and inspection” (2015). They position teacher agency within the broader space of agency theory where “rather than seeing agency residing in individuals, agency is understood as an emergent phenomenon of actor-situation transaction” (2015). Recognizing such positioning will have implications for the role beliefs play in teacher agency and the extent to which elements of practice do and do not manifest in the classroom.
Mumtaz explored influences on teachers’ ICT use — both the elements that facilitated its effective use and inhibited it. She identified three behaviors that inform teachers instruction according to their beliefs about technology use: avoidance, integration, and technical specialization. Mumtaz also describes the impacts of these belief-behavior types on the pupils of said teachers (2006).
Multiple Heavy Lifts
While it provides fascinating insights and very useful information, in many ways the research lays out an extremely daunting path for teacher educators and professional learning providers. For the most part, first order obstacles to change are far less an issue today. Even though the “access gap” is all but closed, with near total high speed connectivity of the schools and the ubiquity of mobile devices, we still have not seen commensurate levels of ICT integration. This would suggest that second order obstacles are the actual roadblocks that need to be addressed consistently and often. Part of this challenge is that teachers view first-order obstacles as surmountable because changes they require are seen as incremental, doable without needing to change any existing structures or long-held beliefs. Teachers also perceive them as reversible. Second-order obstacles, however, requires teachers to challenge their deep-seated beliefs. They require teachers to see and do things differently. Significantly, second-order change is seen as being impossible to reverse once they have begun (Ertmer, 2005). As such, we can expect these changes to be hard won and long in the offing since belief change is some of the slowest change of all. Yet it is the most necessary in order to truly integrate ICT into teaching and learning practices for the digital age.
A common belief among educators and professional learning providers is that to attain the necessary ICT integration to thoroughly prepare students for the 21st century world of work, high quality and sustained professional is essential. This is indeed true. However, the idea also runs the risk of being yet another silver bullet since the kind of professional learning we must consider cannot be just about giving them knowledge about technology and how to use it. It must include learning that addresses and changes teachers’ belief systems about the pedagogical value of technology and why it is necessary.
Because the interplay between teachers’ belief systems and knowledge systems is highly complex and complicated, professional learning must address both systems. On one hand, beliefs and knowledge are in opposition with one another as can be seen when it comes to teachers’ pedagogical beliefs and the relative value of ICT for education. The strong emotional and evaluative charges beliefs carry make them “more influential than knowledge in determining how individuals organize and define tasks and problems” and thus makes them more powerful determiners of behavior (Ertmer, 2005). On the other hand there is significant overlap between beliefs and knowledge where prior knowledge impacts teachers’ self-efficacy which in turn impacts implementation of ICT instruction. What teachers believe they can or cannot do with ICT instruction is not necessarily aligned with what they know about what to do with ICT instruction. Teachers’ self-regulation, or “self-generated thoughts, feelings, and actions for attaining academic goals…help a learner acquire knowledge by goal setting, self-monitoring and self-reflection…. [W]hen learners are confident about a learning task, they tend to use more self-regulated learning strategies in the task…[and] when learners perform better using self-regulated learning strategies, their self-efficacy on the task tends to be increased” (Song et al., 2015). In addition, self-efficacy beliefs are a strong predictor for whether or not teachers use technology for teaching and learning. Teachers’ beliefs about the value of using technology in the classroom “greatly enhanced” teachers’ perceptions of computers’ effectiveness as tools for teaching and learning (Park & Ertmer, 2015). Thus, not only do teachers need to have knowledge about ICT and methods for its instructional use, but they also need to believe both that they can use that knowledge effectively and that its use would be productive.
The work of changing minds is difficult enough when the facts are at hand. But as Calderhead distinguished there are differences between knowledge and beliefs in that knowledge is based on factual propositions and understanding whereas beliefs grow out of suppositions, ideologies and commitments (Ertmer, 2005).
Distinguishing between Technophobia and Cynicism
Pew Research Center data shows that as of February 2018, 95% of American adults own a cellphone and 77% own smartphones. Among adults who graduated college, 91% own smartphones. Looking at other devices, Pew finds that 77% of American adults own a laptop or desktop and 53% own a tablet. Teachers clearly fall within these demographics. Yet some teachers self-identify or are identified as “Luddites”, “technophobes”, “digitally reluctant” or any other term we have come up with to describe (and excuse?) teachers who do not incorporate ICT-based methods in their classrooms, or do so only in the most rudimentary, low-skilled ways. Yet given the data like that from Pew, these teachers cannot be true technophobes. Many, if not most, have some kind of digital identity that does not include their teacherly self. They have mobile devices through which they acquire, create, and share information via text messages and social media. They find their way in the world with GPS-supported navigation. They video chat. On their laptops they shop online, do their banking, correspond via email, and schedule their lives with calendar apps. Everyone “googles”. Indeed, there are “no technophobes here” (Cuban, 1999).
So why are these teachers not bringing a similar digital savvy to their instruction through the plethora of edtech options available to them? For “decades, experts hired by corporate vendors and entrepreneurial academics have exhorted teachers, particularly those in high schools, to use new technologies for classrooms” (Cuban, 1999). In the 1980’s teachers were told students needed to be fluent in the BASIC programming language. In the 1990’s knowledge of BASIC was replaced by needing to know HTML so students could build web sites. They also needed to be fluent in specific types of applications so they could conduct research online, communicate with email, write in word processors and compile data and crunch numbers in spreadsheets (Cuban, 1999). The messages today are yet another set of expectations that are quite different from teachers heard at the turn of the century, even if they are more generalized around constructs such as the 4 C’s that don’t strap teachers and students to highly specific contexts or tools. But this is an issue that k-12 educators in particular struggle with as a profession: The never ending revolving door of initiatives and priorities, where said initiatives and priorities only tend to be a focus for a year or two before being replaced by another set of initiatives and priorities. The constant churn only serves to generate initiative fatigue and cynicism when teachers recognize the pattern and stubbornly refuse to change out of sheer exhaustion.
Whether it is initiative fatigue-induced cynicism, technophobia, or something more complex at play, the result is what I am calling an “application gap”, which is the difference between how teachers apply ICT use to their personal lives than in their professional lives. And it represents another fascinating area of study and more research to better understand the teachers who do not implement ICT instruction in their classes and to provide a path for them to do so.
What’s Next and Why It Matters
This is the first post in what is projected to be a three part series. Future posts in the series will further explore the role of connected learning as an ethos for more fully integrating ICT in teaching and learning across the curricula. They will also relate some of my experiences as a team chair for Practice-Based Inquiry (PBI) school visits and what I have seen during the past 6 years I have been doing these visits in regard to ICT implementation and how such visits might serve as a means of providing feedback for schools around ICT implementation. In as much as fully integrating ICT into teaching and learning in our digital, networked age is an essential element of schooling, it means that we then must pay particular attention to the communities in which securing educational resources has historically been a challenge. That is to say those where our most vulnerable and chronically underserved students live — the cities and neighborhoods that are home to poor children of color. Thus, the overarching goal of this series is to position teachers’ beliefs about ICT integration, connected learning, and PBI methodology as matters of equity for all learning communities to consider, particularly those that serve those most in need.
Ertmer, P. A. (2005). Teacher pedagogical beliefs: The final frontier in our quest for technology integration? Educational Technology Research and Development, 53(4), 25- 39.
Mumtaz, S. (2000). Factors affecting teachers’ use of information and communications technology: a review of the literature. Journal of Information Technology for Teacher Education, 9(3), 319–342. https://doi.org/10.1080/14759390000200096
Park, S. H., & Ertmer, P. A. (2007). Impact of Problem-Based Learning (PBL) on Teachers’ Beliefs Regarding Technology Use. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 40(2), 247–267. https://doi.org/10.1080/15391523.2007.10782507
Song, H. S., Kalet, A. L., & Plass, J. L. (2016). Interplay of prior knowledge, self-regulation and motivation in complex multimedia learning environments: Knowledge, self- regulation, & motivation. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 32(1), 31–50. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcal.12117.
The skills students needed to do well in the world of work during the industrial age and the way those skills were taught in schools are no longer sufficient to prepare young people for the world of work and civic life in the networked age. Schools need to prepare students to think deeply, contribute actively and collaborate with others. They need to prepare students for the kinds of jobs that don’t even exist yet. Connected learning offers a range of practices towards these ends. As such, there are many reasons why connected learning practices need to be a regular part of teachers’ instructional repertoires. But today, I’ll constrain them to just three — in no particular order. Connected learning offers paths to move teaching as a profession into the networked age, to resolve the alienation faced by many students today, and to provide equity and visibility for non-dominant learners*.
Before looking at why teachers should incorporate connected learning practices, let’s examine two definitions to help frame why connected learning practices are important. In From Good Intentions to Real Outcomes: Equity By Design in Learning Technologies (PDF), a report by The Digital Media + Learning Research Hub, Justin Reich and Mizuko Ito write that “powerful learning experiences result when students have the opportunity to connect their interests, identities, and home experiences to school and other learning settings. Many successful efforts also draw on interdisciplinary and cross-sector relationships that bring together expertise from social science, technology, and education” (Reich & Ito, p. 12).
In a research synthesis report by the Connected Learning Research Network, Connected Learning (PDF), Ito et al. define connected learning as “broadened access to learning that is socially embedded, interest-driven, and oriented toward educational, economic, or political opportunity. Connected learning is realized when a young person is able to pursue a personal interest or passion with the support of friends and caring adults, and is in turn able to link this learning and interest to academic achievement, career success or civic engagement. This model is based on evidence that the most resilient, adaptive, and effective learning involves individual interest as well as social support to overcome adversity and provide recognition” (emphasis original) (Ito, et al., p. 4).
Transitioning the Teaching Profession
Leonard Waks, in his book, Education 2.0: The Learningweb Revolution and the Transformation of the School, proposes that one of the problems with education has
been the creation of the professional educator and the concentration of teaching legitimacy in this professional corps. He also posits that the advent of Web 2.0 technologies and Open Educational Resources will help make traditional schools and professional educators obsolete since learning can now be done anytime, anywhere with students in complete control of their learning. The role of teacher, in Waks’s world, becomes just another element of the gig economy, where anyone with expertise and an internet connection can be a teacher. While there is a lot to recommend Waks’s scholarship, his views on the role and composition of the teaching profession are dubious. Besides content knowledge, would-be teachers also need pedagogical knowledge along with sophisticated understandings of human development and learning theory. In the digital age, a modern teacher also needs technological knowledge, with the ability to design instruction that incorporates technology into the learning process in ways that enhance learning and put students at the center of the learning process. The extent to which the profession has let schooling replace teaching and learning is problematic, especially for Gen D students, and leads us to the second problem connected learning could help solve.
Resolving the Alienation Crisis
Where commerce, business, and other professions across the globe have embraced the digital, networked age, American education has resisted the transition to the tools, practices, and ethos of the digital age. This has exacerbated the extent to which young people — particularly adolescents — are not just disengaged, but alienated from school-based learning. Currently, we are facing a crisis of legitimacy in our K-12 schooling. This crisis is rooted in the differences between what young people value as worth learning and how they learn it and what school culture values. Outside of school, young people spend much of their time on their digital devices. However, contrary to the dominant narrative, they are not “addicted” to their devices. As Mizuko Ito and danah boyd have found in much of their research about networked youth, young people are pre-occupied with each other. In an age when teens face significant restrictions on their spending time together in public spaces and free from the adult gaze, their devices provide digital spaces for the kinds of interacting adolescents developmentallyneed to do. Young people also interact with content that interests them via their devices. Whether connecting with friends, consuming media, or producing it, young people are engaged in highly sophisticated transactions where they produce and contribute to media culture, actively create modern youth culture, support like-minded producers, learn from others with more experience in their interests, and develop aspects of their identities according to and as a result of these sophisticated exchanges and the devices that facilitate them.
So, it should not be surprising that young people find little relevance in schooling characterized by generalized outcomes and test-driven instruction that is so utterly divorced from the kinds of learning they practice outside of school. Thus, connected learning offers hope for making school relevant to youth by leveraging not only their devices for academic learning, but also their network-based behaviors and habits of mind. In using methods for deep learning young people are accustomed to (modes Ito describes as “hanging out, messing around, and geeking out”), young people can (re)connect with academic subjects through peer collaborators and digital media. The tenets of connected learning and its drawing on technological affordances give teachers significant tools for resolving this alienation crisis.
Equity & Visibility
In an era of increasing gaps of all kinds — between the rich and everyone else, natives and immigrants, the dominant and non-dominant cultures — connected learning and the affordances of digital, networked technology also provide paths to equity & visibility for non-dominant students. Connected learning practices incorporate what Paul Gorski describes as “equity literacy” which enables teachers to “recognize, respond to, and redress conditions that deny some students access to the educational opportunities enjoyed by their peers and, in doing so, sustain equitable learning environments for all students and families” (Reaching and teaching students in poverty: Strategies for erasing the opportunity gap, p. 19). When students who come from families with means are shifting more and more of their learning to “enrichment” opportunities outside of school, non-dominant students and families often cannot afford the same kinds of financial investment in extracurricular “enrichment”. This widens the achievement gap. But connected learning practices can bridge this gap by providing non-dominant learners with such “enriched” learning opportunities. In as much as connected learning places student interests and culture at the center of their learning, non-dominant students can also gain more visibility by accessing the funds of knowledge embedded in their cultural backgrounds — funds that are often ignored by dominant or traditional schooling practices.
Much more than just being about incorporating technology into learning, connected learning leverages the vast learning that takes place outside of school and as a result of interactions between learners and more knowledge others other than their teachers. It is disingenuous to suggest that anyone with knowledge can teach. Still, there is a need for students to learn from other knowledgeable adults who share their interests, who want to share what they know with novices, and from whom young people can learn. Learner interests, collaboration and feedback among their peers, the connections between young people and adults and the creation of knowledge and products are all valid and necessary paths to learning. And while digital, mobile, networked technologies make connected learning possible in ways that were very difficult and expensive to accomplish just a decade ago, there is nothing inherently technological about what makes connected learning so powerful, so vital for young people and schools today. The technology significantly lowers the barriers to connected, relevant learning for 21st century students — ways of learning that were more prevalent and widely accepted as legitimate prior to the industrial age.
Indeed, connected learning as a teaching and learning framework represents a path out of the outmoded industrial paradigm to one that is more aligned with the digital, networked, mobile age in which we now live. Young people learn through different and multiple pathways that include their own interests, their interest-oriented interactions with peers, and mentoring relationships with adults in regard to those interests. That learning should also include elements of the learner’s culture that mediate learning. Each of these factors allow learners to develop their identities through their interests and their developing expertise around those interests. When taken together, connected learning practices make for useful, necessary, and powerful hacks for bringing teaching and learning into the digital age.
*: In Connected Learning, Ito et al. use the term “non-dominant” in place of more common terms like “minority”, “of color” etc. I appreciate their explanation that “‘non-dominant’ explicitly calls attention to issues of power and power relations than do traditions terms to describe members of differing cultural groups.” As such, I am using it as well.