What In-Service Teachers Should Know About Connected Learning Practices

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*.

definitions

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
Teachers need to know so much more than just content. Especially in the digital age. Image: TPACK.org

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
Connected learning looks a lot like TPACK model. Image: DMLResearchHub

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 developmentally need 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.

Conclusion

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.


Week 10- Predicting the Most Important Trends in Ed Tech

NMC/CoSN Horizon Report 2016

The NMC/CoSN Horizon Report 2016 K-12 Edition reads like a state of the union for educational technology outlining key trends, significant challenges, and important developments in the field.  Its evaluation of trends and developments as short-term (1 yr or less), mid-term (2-3 years), and long-term (4-5 years) are reasonably assessed.  So too is categorizing challenges as solvable, difficult, and “wicked”.  Much good information is included here.  Organizing each trend into bite-sized pieces with a sort of preamble; Overview; Implications For Policy, Leadership or Practice; and then substantial For Further Reading offerings  to further explore each subject.

Professional Development

An element of professional practice that I’ve been wrestling with over the course of this year has to do with professional development for k-12 teachers.  There is much to get excited about in this report and some trends are already underway.  However, at the risk of injecting a cynical note into the discussion, I’m not sure how many of these trends will become embedded in American practice until we address professional learning.  Through 47 pages of the NMC/CoSN report, professional development is mentioned 11 times.  In fact, “Rethinking the Roles of Teachers” is a significant challenge addressed in the report as a “solvable challenge”, even if it is buried midway into the report and is the second of only two challenges the authors consider solvable.

I would argue that no trend mentioned in this report can be implemented without significant professional learning for teachers and administrators alike.  The dismal quality of much American k-12 PD, little budgetary support, and teacher attitudes towards it will all have significant impact on whether and which trends come to live in any given school or district.  As such, professional learning and “Rethinking the Roles of Teachers” is the lens through which I will read this report.

Trends

Of the trends outlined in the report, those I think will gain traction in the next five years include  collaborative learning, students as creators, rethinking the roles of teachers, personalizing learning, and online learning.  They are likely have the best chance of taking hold in American education if for no other reason than they fit within the current paradigm and do not require technology necessarily to provide powerful learning experiences.  Collaborative learning, project- and problem-based learning, and personalized learning are already a part of teacher vocabulary.  Online learning is gaining traction via flipped classrooms and blended learning.  With this foot in the door, technology can be incorporated in ways that modify and redesign extant units and lessons.  With some shifts to what they offer, professional learning providers deliver can accomplish such modification and redefinition of existing lessons and in the process realign teachers away from teacher-centered instruction and towards new roles as guides and facilitators.  PD providers need to present learning such that teachers receive “hands-on experiences … to help integrate technology in the classroom [and] create agile environments that support the development of professional learning networks where educators can seek guidance and inspiration from peers and around the globe as they rethink their pedagogies and curricula” (p. 24).   Through their own hands-on experiences, teachers learn as we want their students to learn in the digital age.  With such experiences, teachers are more likely to transfer their experiences to their students.  Back in their classrooms, then, teachers facilitate experiences that extend students’ collaborative learning out through digital networks, empower them as creators of content and not must consumers, teach them to recognize and pursue their own interests and learning goals, and do more and more of all these activities online.

Impact on Educators

I predict that online learning will become a path to personalized learning not just for students, but for teachers too.  I predict that over the next few years, teachers will figure out they can completely personalize PD, learn anytime/anywhere, at their own pace, and not have to contend with one-size-fits-all PD.  I am especially excited about the prospects for digital badging.  As it becomes increasingly popular, more and more educators will be able to extend their personalized, online learning even farther as they accumulate only the skills and content knowledge needed for their own specific professional learning needs.  In fact, some states are already experimenting with digital badges as a way for teachers to maintain their credentials along side CPDU’s and potentially even in place of them. When these trends take off, online learning for both teacher learning and student learning will become de rigueur.

Good for Schools

All these changes will be good for schools, yes.  But mostly, they will be a boon for students and learning.  Young people are so disconnected from their school experiences right now.  Many teachers teach for compliance and completion because such work is easy to grade and translates into easy measurables like GPA’s and graduation rates.  But completion and good grades do not equal learning.  And compliance and completion methods are mostly divorced from the kinds of social learning young people are used to doing with and without their networked devices when they are not in school.  Perhaps one of the biggest challenges to getting more technology-based methods in the classroom is getting teachers to see themselves as facilitators and not experts.  The image of themselves as experts keeps many teachers from trying things they don’t think they know well enough to teach.  This is especially so with technology given how vast a landscape it is and how constantly and rapidly it changes.  Prior to the digital age, it was a little easier to operate with the expert mindset.  But the internet age has given us access to the sum of human knowledge and there is no way anyone can know all of it.  The mobile age has given us a multiplicity of ways to access that knowledge and ways that are persistent.  There is no way to be expert in all affordances either.   In a blog post for a previous class I wrote about this very subject.

“As Bryan Alexander said in the Teaching and Higher Ed podcast, ‘There’s a lot of churn.  But …overall we were right.  We hit on the web as a major feature of literacy and learning.  And that’s a good thing.  We didn’t identify a horrible monster.  We identified a really powerful platform for human expression and connection, with flaws, with problems.  But that’s a major stride forward for the human race….  Teachers are hired to be experts and we can’t be expert in everything online.  Therefore they have an extra layer of anxiety to participate in the social world of the web and they’re not the expert.  They’re average users.  And that is very hard and threatening.  That’s why teachers have had a hard time using the web for teaching and learning.’  Yet we have to push through that anxiety and not only take our place in the digital world, but also guide the younger generations to their own critical and constructively participatory place in it as well.  And as we do, let’s keep in mind ‘There’s too much to master.  No one can master it all.’ So ‘grab one particular corner of it [like Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, etc.] and get comfy with it.’”

T.A.T.Too, “Critical Thinking and Information Literacy”

 

Once we can get to this point as a profession — where teachers shed their self-perceptions as experts and dive deep into their “one particular corner” of the internet or social media to feel “comfy” with it — then many more of these trends stand a chance of sticking.  Then school will again be a place of interest and joy for our students and not a drill and kill testing mill.

Final Thoughts

Another significant shift needs to occur around what kind of PD is prioritized.  For any of these trends to become a meaningful part of teaching and learning, teachers need to seek more learning about how to incorporate the broad concepts each of these trends represents and how technology plays a role in each. They need far less PD that is merely training for specific apps.  Indeed, teachers already in the classroom will need quite a bit of focused, long-term learning so they can become “guides and mentors, modeling responsible global citizenship and motivating students to adopt lifelong learning habits by providing opportunities for students to direct their own learning trajectories” (p. 24).  If  administrators and teachers prioritize professional learning to focus on a limited set of student-centered outcomes that map to and differentiate for teacher learning needs, then these trends have a chance of taking root.  The extent to which schools sustain limited PD over time and partner with PD providers who deliver quality learning experiences will also impact success.  But where professional learning is piecemeal, random, low-quality, one-off, and conference-based,  I don’t see any of the trends in the report taking root in any consistent way that is beneficial for all learners.  

 


PD Issues in Ed Tech Video

Week 4- The Internet and Education

In the vast majority of the schools I work with or have taught in, it is definitely not the case that the internet has transformed K-12 education in ways that were unprecedented by giving everyone access to all the knowledge of the world.  Neither, has it, in my experience, pushed classroom learning away from content and basic skills or enabled more authentic, situated learning.  To date, I have only ever been in two classrooms out of the dozens of CPS schools I’ve worked with, visited, or toured where I saw practices that even remotely approach this description.  Even then, the sophisticated use of BYOD and blended instructional methods were still teacher-driven and focused on content and skills.  I must admit, my own classroom was not one of the two, knowing what I know now — though no doubt I would have said otherwise when last I had my own classroom in 2008.

Dynamics At Play

There were a number of dynamics at play in the early days of the internet that I believe short-circuited this utopic vision from becoming even a partial reality.  To be sure, “there is an essential lesson we must take to heart if we are to construct a new informational paradigm for education — that Internet architecture by design undermines hierarchy and liberates the end users at their powerful personal computers and mobile Internet devices….  The machine is really a giant centrifuge, forcing power outward from hierarchical systems to computer end users, individually and collectively forming a networked global society”  (pp. 68-69).  In as much as this is true, the industrial model of schooling has a vested interest in preventing this educational nirvana from being realized.  Still, there are some other specific dynamics I see as interfering.

High Stakes Testing and School Reform

The early 1990’s were the point where high-stakes testing and school reform were shifting into high gear.  As Waks has noted, these have the effect of solidifying the industrial model of schooling.  So even as some educators wanted to innovate as part of a “reform” agenda on one hand, they were bound even more closely to the industrial model on the other via the use of test scores to measure the effectiveness and efficiency of their reform methods.

Cost and the Digital Divide

Then as today, costs for digital hardware and some software are prohibitively expensive and out of the financial ranges of most schools.  Beyond a few labs, hardware carts, and faculty laptops,  schools lack the funding to put a device in the hands of every student. While doing so is far from guaranteeing high level learning via such devices, digital instruction and learning without them is impossible.

The high associated costs in the early days drove the digital divide separating the digital haves from the digital have-nots — whether a family or a school district.  Costs for hardware, commercial software, and basic internet service, never mind even more expensive high-speed options, all contributed to setting up this initial divide.  When thinking in terms of academic allocation and legitimacy, as Waks does, one can see a digital analog being set up by the initial and consequent digital divides.  People with access to the internet have a far wider allocation to the new social and network structures of the digital age.  So even as the internet can be a disruptor of the allocations made by the industrial society and its schools, the economic realities of the industrial society transferred its allocations to the early digital/information/knowledge society via the digital divide.

Roll of Professional Learning and Educator Mindsets

Professional learning for both teachers and administrators has a profound impact on the extent to which information and communication technology gets implemented in a given school.  Peggy Ertmer and Anne Ottenbriet-Leftwich have researched (PDF) technology change in schools and have found that in schools where teachers adapted ICT in meaningful ways, all had six characteristics in common:

  1. They were well equipped for ICT.
  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.

They have found that both teachers and administrators need quality, differentiated professional development that addresses their educational belief systems as well as the learning needed for any given digital tools.  In fact, Ertmer and Ottenbriet-Leftwich found that substantive and lasting change around digital methods will not occur with out the former in particular.  They also found that school culture is a major driver of change.  In schools were the administrators believe incorporating digital learning is a vital aspect to teaching and learning, teachers are more likely to include them in their practices.  Even where administrators had laissez-faire attitudes about technology, those schools did not make any meaningful shifts to include digital instructional practices.

When we think about Ertmer and Ottenbriet-Leftwich’s research and acknowledge the paucity of time, money, and attention given to substantive, quality, professional learning for most US teachers, it is no surprise that schools are not making the shifts they need to make to bring teaching and learning into the digital age.

Affordances of Web 2.0 and a Wishlist

Still, 2017 is not 1997.  As Waks notes, Web 1.0 was about desktop hardware, dial-up connections, and downloaded applications.  The internet was essentially an application in as much as it could only be accessed via the Netscape browser.  However, Web 2.0 is mobile, apps and data live in “the cloud”, the browser and the internet have become an operating system in and of themselves through which we can work, play and interact with nearly anyone on the planet via millions of digital networks (p. 81).  Even though the world has shifted to this more interactive and participatory model of Web 2.0, I wonder if many educators and parents are not thinking about it in Web 1.0 terms, even as many of them make use of the networked technologies in their personal lives.

What do I wish were different?  To start, I wish that with the affordances of lower costs and greater access to what danah boyd calls “networked publics”,  adults will realize what young people have.  Namely, that Web 2.0 is indeed all about connecting people, not computers (p. 81).  That it is defined by social and commercial factors and not technology (p. 82).  I would like educators and parents to allow kids to engage more in the behaviors identified by Mimi Ito as hanging out, messing around, and geeking out in these digital spaces.  I would like to see teachers push their own use past administrative mere tasks with email and online gradebooks and into more instructional practices.  I would like to see students, educators, and parents all “make [their] web experience more interactive and engaging…with creative ideas” (p. 82) and realize that the digital sphere is not something separate from “real life”, but just another “social and commercial milieu, not [emphasis added] the underlying technologies” (p. 82).  Finally (for now) I’d like teachers specifically to take hold of the “bisociation” Waks cites Arthur Koestler as describing (p. 86).  Such “bisociation” in the era of the mash-up and  Open Educational Resources provides a great frame for pushing teachers out of their isolation and towards more collaborative work.  I’m imagining “bisociated” lesson plans, unit plans, and curricula.  Perhaps even a time where the term “cross-curricular” planning fades away to be replaced by “bisociated planning”.  A time when teachers creating user-generated content on web sites and wikis like Teachers Pay Teachers or the Smithsonian Learning Lab is de rigueur and not reserved for the “tech geeks” among us.

And, I see this all coming to pass.  In the next 10 years?  Perhaps.  But given the tremendous impact and change the internet has wrought on global society, I don’t think even education can insulate itself from the changes for long.


For more, check out these other media sources.

Alan Kay on Arthur Koestler and “bisociation”.

Mimi Ito on connected learning

An excellent interview with danah boyd on On Being.


Waks, L. J. (2016). Education 2.0: The learningweb revolution and the transformation of the school. New York, NY: Routledge.

 

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 11-Teaching 21st Century Students

One of the key safety instructions we all hear every time we board an airplane is that in the event of cabin depressurization we must put our own oxygen mask on first before helping others.  This is vital since no matter how much we care about the family or friends sitting with us, we cannot help them if we ourselves are unconscious due to asphyxia.  When it comes to our societal need to transform our schools, we are very much in a similar situation as a depressurizing airplane.  As much as we say we want to focus on the needs of students, we will not see the transformations they need in our education system until teachers and administrators are moved to understand the need for change and prioritize the professional learning necessary to get us there.  So this week I focused on the ISTE Standards for Teachers 15 Characteristics of a 21st-Century Teacher, and The 21st Century Workplace which provide clear targets for teachers to consider when teaching the habits of mind, cognitive skills and collaborative abilities students will need in the world we’re preparing them to enter.

Verbs Calling For Transformation

Image source: ISTE Standards for Teachers

Consider the verbs of the 5 top level ISTE Standards for Teachers: facilitate, inspire, design, develop, model, promote, engage.  In addition to these top level verbs, it is striking that “model” appears nine times across all 5 standards and 20 sub-clusters.  When considered in combination with the other verbs inspire and facilitate, I’m struck by the heavy lift the ISTE standards are pointing towards.  They suggest that what we need is nothing short of a sea change in school cultures with regard to 21C technology and methodologies.  When so many schools outright ban cell phones and so many teachers don’t incorporate technology in meaningful ways, how are they to facilitate, model and inspire?

It’s All About Culture and Professional Learning

In research for a previous literature review I found that a critical component for implementing the necessary change ISTE calls for comes only with consistent, focused professional learning for teachers.  Not only that, but school culture also has a significant impact on the success or failure of information and communication technology (ICT) implementation, much of which is determined by the level of support projected by the principal.

School culture can positively impact ICT practices.  Positive peer pressure can motivate reluctant teachers to try new approaches with technology.  Studies have also found that teachers who see positive student outcomes as a direct result of ICT practices are more likely to continue and expand their ICT toolkit.

In a study of three schools where teachers adapted ICT in meaningful ways, all three schools had six characteristics in common:  1) They were well equipped for ICT.  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  (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010).

Therefore, the school community must recognize that the most effective professional development is that which facilitates teachers understanding about how specific instructional practices themselves support student learning of particular content.  That is, schools must allow teachers to see that technology-supported, student-centered practices impact student acquisition of knowledge  (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010).

Finally, even when teachers are willing to wrestle with their beliefs, identify what they truly value, use these realizations to motivate changes to their practice via meaningful PD, the role of the principal administrator cannot be underestimated…. The principal plays an outsized role in creating and maintaining at least four of Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich’s six conditions and is generally responsible for shepherding the wider culture of the school community.  Determining what professional learning is necessary among which teachers; establishing the systems for implementing the professional learning plan; creating calendars for structured and unstructured learning; countering programmed time with protected, unprogrammed time for reflection and metacognition about instruction – all these necessities flow from the principal’s office.  When the principal does these things in a way that sets high expectations and supports for ICT instruction, shifts can be made more readily if still not easily.  However, when the principal’s own beliefs, values, and motivations do not prioritize ICT methods, digitally infused learning environments are far less likely to take hold, even with willing and capable teachers.

Douglas van Dyke, “Transitions to Digitally Mediated Classrooms”

 

The Educator’s Need to Feel Expert

This dovetails with the what I’ve written about in previous blog posts about the anxiety teachers feel when they are thrust into areas where they do not feel expert.  Given the significant shift and stretch for which the ISTE standards are calling, we don’t seem likely to meet them without acknowledging both the fundamental changes in school culture that are necessary as well as high quality and consistent PD for teachers.  Additionally, educators must reconcile their reluctance to implement ICT methods in school with their own ICT use in the various aspects of their lives outside of school.

Blow This Stuff UP!

When we consider the 21st century world — that is the one we are living in today — and the workplace students will enter, especially as described by Daniel Pink, the need for a cultural and instructional transformation of our schools could not be more apparent.  The leap from an “Information Age” to a “Conceptual Age” cannot happen without students learning through active learning and metacognitive methods.   ICT and the 4C’s are uniquely suited for the attainment of the skills categories that will be most valued as described by Levy and Murnane: “expert thinking — solving new problems for which there are no routine answers” and “complex communication — persuading, explaining, and in other ways conveying a particular interpretation of information”.  To make such shifts, however, educators must blow up the linearity of the industrial model that defines our school structures and curriculum and the information model on which accountability is based in favor of more distributed, differentiated, student-centric proficiency-based approaches that digital and mobile technologies can now facilitate.

Concluding This Post & TIE 524

What ISTE is essentially calling for is SAMRizing and TPACKing our entire education system.  We must prioritize changes in school culture through consistent professional learning for teachers around ICT methodologies.  Administrators must lead the way, advocating and requiring ICT methods and solidifying the cultural shifts that come as a result.

Over the last eleven weeks, this course has provided a remarkable set of resources for incorporating ICT strategies for both  classroom instruction and professional learning.  In doing so it has facilitated multiple opportunities for reflection about my own practice, where we are as a profession, and how far we all have to go.  It has been an excellent next step on this master’s journey!