Week 3-Learning Management Systems and “Edupreneurship”

Processing Questions from Lucy Gray Following EdSurge & Otus Presentations

1) What do you think of EdSurge?
Image: Lucy Gray

Beyond randomly finding an article or blog post with an EdSurge URL, I’m not that familiar with the site.  Since Mary Jo Madda’s webinar appearance I’ve spent some time browsing the site.  In general, I’d say it looks like a useful clearinghouse of information.  Their Product Index is an elegantly organized resource and provides a succinct breakdown of each product.  Actual user reviews make this particularly useful through both the Case Studies and Summit Reviews.  Providing teacher voice as a professional word of mouth — an educational Yelp, if you will — takes some of the  uncertainty out of purchasing or usage decisions  for unknown, untried products.  The one area that I’m skeptical about and will need to spend more time on is the Research section.  When Pearson and AT&T Aspire logos are so prominently displayed as funders, red flags go up and the page feels rather advertorial.  Still the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Nellie Mae Education Foundation are funders as well, if one reads the mouse print.

2) Did you learn about any new tools from Mary Jo? If so, which ones?

Most of Mary Jo’s talk seemed more general and was a confirmation or reiteration of much of the research I’ve read thus far in my studies at NLU.  Mainly that in many cases, technology isn’t changing the look and feel of classrooms.  As she put it, students are still sitting at desks in forward-facing rows looking at a teacher, work is not student centered, and tech is “sprinkled” into instruction as an add-on.  She added what the research bears out, namely that this is the case with even many tech savvy teachers.  That said, she did mention a few resource I would like to explore: Global Nomads, Everfy, Remind, and particularly the 50 States Project.

3) Any other takeaways from Mary Jo’s portion of the webinar?

The two takeaways, again, weren’t anything new, but confirmation, which is always affirming.  The first of these was her articulation of the three requirements schools must meet to qualify for particular grant funding:  Total and functioning wifi infrastructure, a 5-year plan to continue funding once the grant is depleted, and a 5-year professional learning plan.  The other was her description of how schools in Houston take on new tech initiatives.  They roll it out.  This is something I am constantly wrestling with teachers about.  When we start something new, we cannot start out at 100%.  And to expect that starting at 100% is not only unreasonable, but borderline abusive.  We have to ramp up and build capacity over time when trying new things.  So when implementing a new program or piece of software, begin with a small cohort of schools (or departments or teachers) to establish a learning curve.  This is just, well, reasonable.  As is:

  1. Letting the small cohort determine or at least negotiate what is a manageable set of standards for minimum use
  2. Determine a period of time for safe practice
  3. Assess how the work is progressing
  4. Identify and acknowledge early power users that play beyond that identified minimum use
  5. Make tweaks to refine the work for continued success within the context of the particular classroom/school/district
  6. Repeat the cycle with the refinements.  
  7. Then allow the learning from that process to be leveraged by the next cohort through some kind of mentorship or guided practice from more knowledgable others who learned it first.  

(That last one sounds downright Vygotsky-and-ZPD-esque.)  

Both these takeaways are just basic and essential sustainability practices.

4) What do you think of Chris Hull’s “teachpreneur” story?
Image: Lucy Gray

I have to acknowledge a bias at this point.  The advent of the digital age and the democratization of and explosion of creativity it has facilitated all through society is an incredibly good thing.  However, I am turned off by two notions that seem to have sprung up along with this creativity, particularly in our consumerist-capitalist society.  The first is that this explosion of creativity should be monetized where it can be.  The second is that once we have discovered our creative idea, we must leverage it to become entrepreneurs, essentially leaving behind the work we were doing that led to the creative discovery in the first place.  And we should not just be entrepreneurs; but entrepreneurial “disrupters” of the status quo.  Inasmuch as this pertains to education, ours is a profession that has been beset by snake oil salespeople for decades.  So my bias is that I am highly skeptical of yet another way to sell educators on new, tech-based products, most of which are usually marketed as “the last xyz product or platform you will ever need because it does everything educators need to do in one convenient package.”  To paraphrase Chris, I am wary of the “shiny-shiny” effect of new educational technology.

That said, Chris stands out as the rarer example in that he has, so far, stayed in the classroom even as he’s entreprenant.  This gives him a bit more credibility.  His product grows out of his experiences as a working teacher and is not some corporate or academic software designer making products he thinks teachers and students need.

I do wish the webinar had been more academic and less product demo.  I would have liked to explore pertinent ideas about teaching in the digital age. Perhaps wrestling with big questions like “Why are LMS’s necessary for teaching and learning in digital age classrooms?” or “What kinds of functions and information are most important when using an LMS?” and “How can that provided information be used to improve teaching and learning?”

5) Have you ever come up with an idea related to ed tech that you might like to develop?

No. I tend to work better along the lines of finding ways to extend the use of tools others have developed beyond their intended use or to use them in innovative ways.  It’s taken 7 years of independent consulting, but I’ve learned that I am not entrepreneurial or a “teacherpreneur”.  While there are elements of being my own boss I’ve enjoyed, I’ve found I work much better as part of a single school community, with all members working towards the same mission.  I don’t think I would want to “dilute” that work.  And as I stated above, I resist this whole notion of everyone having to be an entrepreneur.  I do not like how that moniker and type of activity have been elevated as some kind of ideal we all should be shooting for no matter our profession.  It feels as if you’re not really contributing if you’re not “disrupting” or being “entrepreneurial” and making money from it.  We still need individuals who are dedicated and focused on the science and craft of education (or insert-profession-here since entrepreneurship is now applicable to any profession).

6) Check out Otus. What do you like or not like about this platform?

Otus looks to be another tool that efficiently and effectively allows teachers to see all kinds of data about their students.  It also seems to allow for quick differentiation (once lessons and assessments are created/input) in terms of what lessons and assessments are assigned to what students.  Teachers can then spend more time talking, analyzing, evaluating, and thus making decisions about next steps regarding their own performance as well as their students’.  They don’t have to spend all their time searching for data and aggregating it.

While this kind of data can be useful, it is only one kind of evidence about how well teachers are teaching and how well students are learning.  It is only one type of snapshot in an album of evidence that tells the story of student learning and growth over time.  I would like to see the tool also store and pull up actual student artifacts as easily as it does data points.  Looking at student work — not just final grades or completed assessments — and having discussions about what that work reveals about teaching and learning provides far more detailed insights into student understanding, misunderstanding and confusion than looking at scores alone.  Scores show trends.  Work products show details and nuance about the state of student growth.  Being able to quickly select and aggregate said products as easily as scores and statistics would make this platform truly unique.

Since research bears out that what teachers use technology for most is communication, student management, and administrative work, I’m wondering how disruptive Otus really is.  Perhaps if there were more functions that facilitated teachers’ use of ICT instructional tools?  (And perhaps there are, I don’t know as I’ve only just learned about Otus two days ago.)  But then again, if you try to make any one tool all things to all people, it winds up doing nothing very well.  Perhaps it is sufficient that it appears simply to be a quality tool for teachers to do what they usually do with technology.

Week 7-Gamification

When it comes to game theory, I have had only a passing, skeptical interested.  But my recent studies have started me thinking about gamification from a different perspective.  So that is my selected adventure this week.

The quick Answer to One Framing Question

The week’s framing questions for the topic were provocative.  Do I think we need to gamify our classrooms to engage students?  This one I can answer quickly.  No.  There are many ways for creative teachers to draw students into learning without having to sexy it up with a video game interface.   That “no” is even firmer if it means that gaming is the only way we conduct instruction since no teacher can be successful with only one method or strategy in their toolbox.

Do I think gamificaion is bribery and the way students learn in the 21st century?  As a result of my course work last term and my readings and explorations this week, those answers are now more complex.  As I said, the idea of gamification has been, at best, at the edges of my professional interests.  When thinking about my own gaming experiences my gut tells me there is something there that I “get” as it applies to learning and I have trusted that academics have teased out all the theory for those teachers who want to traverse that route in their classrooms.   But this grown up, serious teacher never pursued deep research into game theory because I was fine with my practice as it was, thank you very much!  But last term was a watershed for me when it comes to thinking about the conditions that provide powerful learning experiences.  The course of study Dr. Angela Elkordy put together for Intro to the Learning Sciences required us to think deeply about our own learning in every conceivable context (documentation of which is posted on this blog under the NLU Class Journal Entries tab above).  Examining my own informal, collaborative, digital, self-directed, just-in-time, playful learning experiences caused me to realize the potency of learning in these other-than-formal contexts.  Those reflections have led me to re-evaluate some core beliefs about teaching and learning — for both students in the classroom and teachers in professional learning.  That re-evaluation has ramifications for my thinking about game theory.

Constructivism and Game Theory
My niece learning to code on her mom’s phone by playing Lightbot (and then teaching me!) Source: D. van Dyke

I’ve always believed that teachers needed to be more facilitators of exploration than dispensers of information.  I am a constructivist.  So my instruction — be it with children or adults — is designed accordingly.  My lessons are always written for the specific learning needs of the students in front of me.  Pacing is a dance with students’ zones of proximal development.  Formative assessment is central for two-way feedback, metacognition, and reflection for both students and myself that then determine my next planning steps.  With the growth of digital technology and mobile tech particularly, it makes sense to leverage these to push the boundaries of constructivism even farther.  Additionally, I see clear connections now between constructivist methods and the way games work for those who play them.

Any-time, just-in-time, exploratory learning all cement learning in long-term memory.   As a result of Dr. Elkordy’s strategies with us, I experienced first hand how learning new content through learning a new app permanently inks that neural tattoo on the brain.  Almost weekly I learned a new app of my choosing by exploring it, playing in it, and not from a formal training course or a user’s manual.  Then I applied my understanding of the app to demonstrate my understanding of the course content.  All of this was done informally, in my time, with just enough difficulty to challenge me.   Except now I don’t only understand the content.  By learning content through the use of a digital tool, I now understand so much more than just the content itself.  Not the least of which is that the learning I structure myself is highly enjoyable and more often than not elicits flow and the consolidation of understanding in long-term memory.  These are the learning conditions I want to create for my students and teachers.

A More Complicated Answer to the Other Framing Questions

As to the questions of gamifying education as bribery and being particularly suited to 21st century learners, I believe it is neither.  The way humans learn best is the way humans learn best whether they are of the 11th century or 21st century.  What is different about the 21st century is our knowledge of how the brain functions; the advent of technologies that allow us to align our pedagogy to our neurology, psychology, sociology; and the economic imperative that we change the way we do school.  In as much as game theory and educational psychology share underlying elements, I can accept gamification as a methodology.  Though does it always need to be so literal as turning the learning process into an actual game?  Especially since doing so requires an incredible investment of time and effort to convert a unit of study into a game that will create the conditions necessary for deep understanding to occur.  So I have generated a few key questions that could help guide decision-making when thoughts turn to gamification:

  • What are the concepts from game theory that are applicable to a given unit of instruction?  A given set of students?  Under what circumstances might it be useful to apply those concepts to improve teaching and learning?
  • When teachers decide to convert a unit into an actual game, what online platforms are available to facilitate the implementation and that can quickly and easily provide insights (evidence and data) about student learning?
  • When teachers want or have to make the game themselves, how can they create elegant games that don’t require disproportionate amounts of time to construct and relatively easily provide insights (evidence and data) about student learning?
How can we make certain gamifying efforts result in students learning the intended content and not just playing the game?
Video: Heck Awesome blog, Carrie Baughcum

Still, informal learning, unstructured learning, choice, and play are powerful contexts in which deep understanding can occur.  These modes are, as Willis calls them, “neuro-logical”.  It makes sense to create them when possible since they activate optimal learning pathways in the brain and foster new, strong synaptic connections.  Well-designed games create these conditions and leverage the same brain processes for learning.  Thus, including high-quality game-based instruction could be a powerful method for teaching and learning.

Gamifying Professional Learning

What was already a paucity of professional learning time in CPS has been completely eliminated this year as a partial “solution” to the budget travesty being visited upon CPS teachers and students.  As a result, I have started leveraging ICT options that are included with GAFE to continue our professional learning despite losing our PD calendar.  Via Groups and Sites, we continue the work asynchronously by holding discussions of professional readings, presenting aggregated learning walk evidence and sharing thoughts and insights about them.  We have already moved quite a bit of planning to remote, synchronous spacetime via Hangouts and Drive.  So the idea of gamifying professional learning is just an extension of this.  Taking PD into the realm of gaming would have the combined benefits of making PD more relevant by providing teachers with differentiation, choice, and timing.  I have also started researching adding digital badges to the work which I find terribly exciting!  On my goal list for next year:  implementing a badged, gamified professional learning series for the schools with which I work.

Digital badges for both student and teachers.  Video: HASTAC

Below are three game-based PD ideas I’m totally stealing from our readings this week:

Fired Up For February — Gamifying professional learning; Source: Unified School District of De Pere, WI

 

A Language Geek’s Rhetorical Finish

Even as I find myself being convinced of the benefits of game theory as instructional practice, there is still something that doesn’t sitting well when I hear phrases like “gamifying the classroom”.  If you’ll indulge the English teacher unpacking language here.  A game is a diversion or something trivial.  Something that can be taken less seriously.  Even in the multi-billion dollar world of professional sports, the expression, “It’s only a game.” is used to readjust perspectives when emotions are high.  Yet the very project at hand for education is de-trivializing digital instruction among reluctant educators.  So while I can see the underlying value and power of this way of “doing” teaching and learning, I wonder if framing it as “gamification” works against us.  I don’t have an answer as yet for what to call such a complex process.  Maybe a few rounds of Words With Friends will do the trick!

Week 4: Digital Spaces Map

The New Metaphor

The digital spaces work this week was incredibly interesting.  Building my map was a fascinating exercise.  As someone who has made regular use of Prensky’s “immigrant/native” metaphor, I found White’s rethinking of the differences between people’s’ internet use far more nuanced.  In that it more accurately describes the various ways people use the internet by identifying multiple types and contexts for online interactions, it is ultimately a more helpful metaphor as well.  White’s metaphor succeeds through his identification of a continuum of use, which takes the way we talk about online usage out of the realms of generational differences and binary oppositions.  And while it might not completely remove notions of identity based on internet use, the visitor/resident metaphor does allow us to think about online identities without the freighted connotations that terms like “immigrant” and “native” carry.  Describing a continuum of use between the poles of “visitor” and “resident” presents internet usage in terms of dynamic, frictionless, and intentional participation anywhere along that continuum according to a user’s needs or desires in a given moment.  Taking it two-dimensional by adding the “personal/institutional” axis ensures that practically anyone can positively locate themselves in this metaphor.

Surprise!  Surprise!

I love maps.  I love maps of all kinds.  Ancient maps.  Atlases.  Globes.  Curriculum maps.  Mind maps.  And now I have a new one to pour over, the digital spaces map.  This map allowed me to visualize my own cyber contexts, the online tools I use, and the places on the internet where I reside and visit.  And while raising a slight challenge above to notions of identity, this exercise has revealed, in no uncertain terms, aspects of my identity.  I was quite surprised by the extent to which I “live” as a resident of the internet.  As I set out to draft my map, I predicted it to be weighted far more on the visitor side given the hallmark of our visitor-like actions not leaving traces or “footprints” of our having been online.  But it would appear that I leave a few more “tracks” in the cyber-sand than I originally imagined.  For having been born into the old country of Analog, it would appear I have readily embraced my adopted country of The Internet.

My map of internet use. Clearly I am more resident than visitor, and quite surprised by this outcome. Source: D. van Dyke

 

A First Draft

At this point, I would view the first pass at my online usage map as a draft.  (In part, because I would like to create one that is not as “old school” as this is with its paper, Sharpies, and colored pencils.)  In a second draft I’d likely slide everything on the “resident” side a bit more towards the center.  While I am decidedly more resident than I initially suspected, I’m not that far to the right.  Some of the positioning was due to needing to fit everything on the page such that it could all be seen.  I would also like to find a place for search, as White discussed in the video of his own map.

Future Drafts and Uses

I think it would be a very interesting exercise to do as a reflective exercise with a faculty and to do repeatedly over time.  What an interesting tool for reflection:  How does my online use change over time?  Does that change mark some kind of evolution?  How does my online presence map onto phases in my life?  In my instructional practices?  What might it suggest for my professional development?  My role as a coach? How might de-compartmentalization streamline my online presence?  Is de-compartmentalization desirable?  In what areas might compartmentalization benefit my online experiences?  How would I use this with my students and to what ends?  Etc.

To Wrap

Again, this week’s assignments have been mind-blowers in multiple ways.  My thoughts over the past few days keep returning to how in a couple short decades digital technology has so utterly transformed our world.  That realization makes the work of getting our students learning digitally and acting in terms of digital and global citizenship seem more important than ever.  All from a simple map?  Yeah, all from a simple map.

Week 4: Communication and PLN’s

Update:  Six weeks on from this post and Twitter chats have become a go-to component of my PLN.  I’ve attended four other chats in the intervening weeks with another scheduled for today.  I’m finding that when I’m in need of a particular kind of research or just in a curious mood I turn to a scheduled chat or skim related hashtags of past chats.  Some chats are definitely operating at higher levels in terms of depth of thought, extent of conversation, or ideas and resources shared.  However, I’m singularly impressed by the one characteristic common to all of them so far — how welcoming, friendly, and generous the participants are.   Too, I had no idea how many chat groups are out there — not just in education, of which there are dozens.  I’ve even found a couple chats for my husband who works in the hospitality industry and is always looking for new ideas.  He is a Luddite.  But after a couple hours of his peering from the corner of his eye from the other side of the sofa as I chat, I figured I’d see what I could find for him.  When I sent him the links, his response was, “…I’d like to know more….”  Next stop is getting him his own Twitter account!

The New Addiction

I’m officially hooked on Twitter chats.  While I knew these were “a thing”, I was never clear on how exactly to access them.  And I certainly never thought they were as organized as having an official chat list.  Admittedly, I found them rather intimidating to start.  However, our reading from the PLP Network was spot on with “how to”.  A particularly good recommendation is to use TweetDeck — a platform I’ve used in the past for my multiple handles*, but discovered its ultimate usefulness in this chat context.

Using TweetDeck for Twitter chats; Source: Screen cap, D. van Dyke

 

3 Different Experiences

In all, I participated in three chats.  Coincidentally, they provided three different kinds of experiences.  I’m trying not to rate them on a qualitative scale; however, I did find one a more enjoyable, and thus a more worthwhile, experience.  But “enjoyable” and “worthwhile” are according to what works for me in terms of my learning style and learning habits.

Starting with the chat I found most challenging, Digital Citizen Chat (#digcit), was the most rambling and freeform.  Chronologically, it was my second chat which followed a highly organized first experience last week.  So the differences were immediately noticeable.  Right from the start, there were a number of participants who seemed to be looking forward to the chat.

Yet about 15 minutes past the designated start time, there was this exchange between Professor Passafume and Hope Frazier.

From what I could tell, no moderator ever showed up.  So people posted randomly.  While I’m not sure the number of conversation threads were different from other chats, it all seemed vague and scattershot with very little focus.  In all, I didn’t find it a terribly helpful chat given there were more opinions being solicited and shared than useful practices and resources.

Likes from #educoach chat; Source: screen cap, D. van Dyke

The middle-of-the-road experience was the Instructional Coaching Chat (#educoach).  More organized and attended by experienced coaches, #educoach had two moderators and a set of nine questions at the ready.  While the other chats seemed to be attended by several self-identifying pre-service and novice teachers, I felt more in the company of my experiential peers in #educoach.  Unfortunately, there is either an error on the Education Chats schedule or there was some other kind of snafu.  When I showed up 10 minutes ahead of the scheduled start time — 9pm Central — it had clearly been underway for 50 minutes.  I didn’t feel comfortable crashing in with ten minutes on the clock, so I scrolled and lurked through the conversations and liked the tweets that had thoughts and resources I found useful for my work.  One such resource was a meta-analysis shared by @region13coaches at the very end of the chat.  It was a nice button on the conversation for how the work of instructional coaches has a measurable impact on teacher practice and student outcomes.  I read it and immediately emailed it to the principals of the schools I work with — as research support and encouragement for our work.

Finally, the chat I found to be the most enjoyable experience was, oddly enough, my first.  Last week I decided to preview the Twitter chat experience in anticipation of this week’s assignment.  I didn’t want to troll this one, so I decided to boldly identify myself as the nube I am.  I tend to get anxious with online interactions among strangers.  So participating in this new way among fellow professionals felt risky because I knew there likely were all kinds of rules of etiquette of which I was completely unaware.  But I could not have been more warmly welcomed.  I

My first Twitter chat: Warmly welcomed to #hseduchat; Source: Screen cap, D. vanDyke

wouldn’t say my contributions to the conversation were high-level or even on topic.  They were more about meeting and greeting and getting my feet wet with this new professional learning experience.  Luckily, though, the folks over at #hseduchat were accepting and supportive of my lack of chat experience and encouraged my contributions.  Their behaviors made it more likely that I’d participate in other chat in the future.

This chat was very well-organized, the moderator having sent out the questions in advance, reviewed them all again when the chat started, and gave instructions for how to format responses.  She then released the questions at regular intervals.  In this way the moderator kept tabs on the conversation and kept it rolling.  All these elements fit with my own needs as learner.  It really was the perfect chat for my first attempt.

Final Thoughts

The assignments this week made for highly enjoyable learning (more on the Resident/Visitor map to come).  While I’m not new to Twitter, chats are a revelation.  In my experience Twitter has been a much more positive, uplifting, useful platform than, say, Facebook.  Still, as a professional resource, it always seemed a bit random, even when I used hashtags to track down resources.  But having entire lists of chat schedules, the ideas and suggestions from Nicole’s narrated Prezis, and some chat experiences under my belt, Twitter finally feels like an actual arrow in my professional and ICT quiver.  My exploration now will turn to those chats that are moderated and organized for those times when I’m on the hunt for useable material — actual ideas and resources.  Though I can see hanging out in a chat with no clear facilitator where participants ask and answer random questions, for those times that I’m looking simply to network or have collegial conversation.

It’s become increasingly clear to me that informal learning is an extremely potent type of learning.  Twitter chats hit so many of those buttons — self-directed, just in time, anytime/anywhere, tailorable to a learner’s needs of the moment, learner choice, working with a sense of relaxed and stress-free flow in the learning moment.  I can see how Twitter chats can be a powerful tool for a particular kind of teacher support and professional learning.  With such tools and access, this really is an exciting time to be an educator!

*: I have one professional Twitter account: @commonelements.  I also have two personal Twitter accounts: @oberon60657 for general, personal tweeting.  My husband and I enjoy cruising and try to do at least one sailing a year — despite the outrageous behaviors of many passengers.  I finally couldn’t take that behavior anymore and as an outlet started a separate handle just to tweet out the ridiculous things people say while shipboard.  If you want a laugh, follow me on @some1saidreally.

Week 3: The 4 C’s of 21st Century Learning

As I may have mentioned on some post somewhere, I am developing an interest in how educators’ use of information and communication technology (ICT) in their personal/non-school lives influences their curricular and instructional decisions regarding ICT in their classrooms.  Particularly where high school educators are concerned.  So it made sense that I do a close reading of “Maximizing the Impact:  The pivotal role of technology in 21st century education systems”.

Report Summary

A collaboration between ISTE, SETDA, and P21, the report explores the needs and rationales for ICT inclusion in education in three areas:  proficiency in 21st century skills, innovative teaching and learning, and robust education support systems.

The executive summary clearly lays out the issue and goes on to note that as a nation, the US simply cannot rely on the global standing, economic prosperity, and technological predominance we have enjoyed as a result of the industrial era.  Nations that lead in technology development lead in prosperity.  Therefore, we must prepare students to thrive in the 21st century and thereby take the nation into this digital age.

“Maximizing the Impact” executive summary; Source: Partnership for 21st Century Skills

What does this look like?  To start, we must focus on what college and business leaders identify as “21st century skills” and what we now commonly refer to as “the 4 C’s” — communication, collaborations, critical thinking, and  creativity.  These are the how’s of the executive summary — the ways through which we teach content.  This aligns with the other literature assigned this week that points to teaching the 4 C’s in addition to the more traditional 3 R’s.  Importantly, the authors note that it is less useful now for everyone to know about computers, software, coding, etc.  Their ubiquity in our lives means it is more important for everyone to know how to use them as tools for learning, productivity, and creativity.  A common analogy is that in order to do the shopping, shuttle the kids, or take a road trip, everyone need not know how to build, conduct maintenance, or even understand the basic workings of an automobile.  It is sufficient that we know how to drive in order to complete our errands or enjoy an adventure.  It is the same with ICT.

Technology use in Education. Sources: US Dept. of Commerce, Partnership for 21st Century Skills

 

Therefore, students need “more robust education than they are getting today” and this involves a comprehensive inclusion of ICT across the curriculum (p. 2).  As mentioned above, this must entail not just learning about technology, but learning with technology.

With a shared vision of a 21st century education system, the authoring agencies of this report succinctly identify needed outcomes and why they are vital for both students and educators.

A shared vision. Source: Partnership for 21st Century Skills

 

The report also included a visually colorful and intriguing graphic of a Framework for 21st Century Learning.  It is eye-catching, but not easy to interpret without some explanation.  Watch the video for an attempted unpacking.

The rest of the paper explores details, gives examples and provides analytical and evaluative questions for educators in a “call to action to integrate technology as a fundamental building block into education” (p.3).  That plan for ICT implementation focuses on the three areas mentioned above:  Using technology comprehensively to develop proficiency in 21st century skills; using technology comprehensively to  support innovative teaching and learning; and using technology comprehensively to create robust education support systems (pp.6, 9, 13).

The Good

Overall, “Maximizing the Impact” presents a useful roadmap for schools to implement ICT-based instruction.  The report makes a strong case for why it is vital we undertake this tech-based approach to teaching and learning.  It presents a thoughtful plan that makes much sense.  Indeed, the collaboration between different organizations with different goals and priorities only bolsters its persuasiveness.  In addition, the P21 web site offers many resources to support the work.

The Flaw

Ertmer and Ottenbreit-Leftwich (2010) and Somekh (2008) found that a significant challenge to incorporating ICT into classroom instruction is that it destabilizes classroom routines.  And this is, in fact, what we need to happen to transform our classrooms for the digital age.  However, they found that teachers who don’t value ICT negatively impact those who do and then point to the destabilizing effects as reasons to shun technology-based learning.  In a related study, Ertmer and Ottenbreit-Leftwich also found that teachers who see positive student outcomes as a result of using ICT instructional practices are more likely to make technology a part of their practice.  Thus, teacher mindsets is a key factor in implementing ICT-based instruction.  They also found where ICT is central to learning, schools had six qualities in common:

  1. They were well equipped for ICT instruction.
  2. Their focus was on changing the process of learning using ICT.
  3. Skills were acquired as part of the process of using those skills purposefully.
  4. The school provided support.
  5. Teachers had opportunities to discuss, reflect and  troubleshoot with peers and facilitators over time.
  6. The nature of student learning changed along with teachers’ beliefs and knowledge sets

Looking at this list, it is hard not to recognize the outsized role professional development must play in making ICT the how of student learning.  Yet in the P21 framework, professional development is sandwiched in between standards and assessment and learning environments.  In the bullet list explanation of the framework graphic “21st century professional development” is the 27th bullet out of 28.  Indeed, in nearly all our optional readings this week, the various authors address professional development almost parenthetically.  And some suggested a mere workshop or two is all that is needed to provide teachers with the understanding necessary to make a seismic pedagogical shift.  Such approaches to PD run contrary to much research that finds one-off professional development neither changes teachers’ mindsets nor practices.  As the Center for Public Education has found, to bring about sustainable change effectively PD must:  be of a significant and ongoing duration; be supported by the administration; allow teachers to actively make meaning of the new material; and not be generalized, but presented for the teacher’s subject and grade-level   (Teaching the Teachers: Effective Professional Development in an Era of High Stakes Accountability).  When we consider most of our professional learning experiences, how do they hold up to these criteria?  Likely, not too well.  As Tom Murray noted in the Start^EdUp podcast, we’re not going to fix anything by buying “more stuff”. To make the needed shifts we have to hack educator mindsets.

If we must first “win hearts and minds” of teachers and administrators in order to bring lasting instructional change where ICT is a method of instruction, then I believe delivering focused, sustained professional learning differentiated by educator should be prioritized over the development more standards and assessments, new curriculum and instruction, and rejiggered learning environments.  Not that these areas are not important.  They are.  However, spending money and effort on those will mean very little if educators do not understand or have the pedagogical skills to implement ICT practices throughout their buildings.  Once that is in place, the rest will follow, brought about by those who know best how to develop and document them–  namely the teachers, students, and administrators who are engaged in their regular practice.