Community Engagement Project

Community Engagement Project for EDTC 6104

Reflection

For this blog post, I’m reflecting on the culminating Community Engagement project for EDTC 6104.  The project required that we “create a professional learning presentation or workshop on a topic of your choice that you will use to engage and provide professional growth for an audience of your choice” and also required that we submit it to present at a conference. In the end, this will result in two slightly different projects for me, but I’ll start with my original plan and shift to what I ended up doing for my conference submission.

I chose to develop a PD opportunity for my colleagues at SCS related to the use of technology in the classroom.  This entire project fit in quite well with where our school is at right now.  After our last accreditation cycle, my school decided to implement a more comprehensive approach to PD.  This resulted in a PD plan that included input and participation from the staff. As such, “technology” was one of the topics selected by the staff and I volunteered to help lead the PD on this topic.  The sessions are two hours and there are to be 3-4 over the course of the semester.  For this PD I was planning on addressing how our students thought about and used technology along with an opportunity for teachers to practice using some practical digital tools (including brushing up on our school’s LMS).  Subsequent sessions will focus on ethical issues, the collaborative nature of digital technology, and specific digital tools we can use to help students learn.

At this point, I’ll transition to the PD I planned for the conference submission. While I still plan on using my original concept for my school’s PD program, the necessity of proposing a presentation for a conference led me to make alterations to my plan to meet the needs of a different audience and a different context.  I was also approached by one of my colleagues, Orlala Wentink (check out her cool blog) about presenting together at the NCCE conference.  Her topic was using Google Sites in the classroom and she suggested that we combine our topics into one presentation.  It seemed like an interesting prospect, and while there are differences in our topics, I appreciated that her Google Sites component would be the sort of complimentary piece I was looking for with my original PD plan.  So we structured our workshop to fit within the two-hour window and we decided to use the content of my presentation and the skills of Orlala’s presentation.  We also decided to go back-and-forth between content and skills instruction/practice within the session.  As can be seen in our outline, we start with a rudimentary introduction of Google sites then switch to a discussion about how teens use technology. This piece also contains an interactive piece through the poll everywhere questions.  We then go back to the Google sites piece as participants blog on our section Google site about a topic brought up in the content section, “Is knowing obsolete?”  After participants have made their blog posts, we switch back to more content (again with digital participation) on the topic of the ethical use of technology by students.  From this, we transition to discussing online collaboration and community.  Participants will comment on each others’ blogs, and we will wrap up the session with participants making their own Google sites so they can take this skill back to their classrooms.

I think the diverse nature of our topics – one on the philosophical and ethical nature of students and the other on the use of a practical tool to foster collaboration and community; provides a unique opportunity to offer theory and practice – which became the title of our presentation (“Theory and Practice: How Students Use Technology and Using Google Sites to Reach Them”).  Teachers will be exposed to new ways of thinking about technology and how students learn, and they will also be trained to use a new set of digital skills to reach their students (a “product” at the end of the session – to quote Orlala).

And if the collaborative nature of our topic wasn’t enough, the project itself was completed jointly, online.  Orlala and I used the digital tools at our disposal to plan and create this entire project. Google sites, Google Docs, Google drive, Google Slides, YouTube, and Powtoons were all used in constructing this presentation.  We encountered various challenges and difficulties along the way, but we persevered, just as our students must persevere when they encounter the same sorts of challenges for our classes.  It was a learning experience for me and I am grateful I had a patient and thoughtful partner in Orlala.  We never met face-to-face during the course of this project, but I think it holds great promise – and perhaps that is the greatest testimonial to the collaborative power of the internet.

Resources/Artifacts

 

Proof of Conference Submission

Link to  Google Slides for the Presentation

Link to Google Site for the Presentation

 

Be Prepared!: Troubleshooting by Looking at Current Issues and Problems in Education Technology (ISTE Coaching Standard 3 E&G)

“Be Prepared!”

I’ve never been a Boy Scout, but I’ve always liked their motto: “Be Prepared.”  And as I was considering this week’s prompt, “Given the opportunities for students and teachers to collaborate globally, how can we help them develop strategies to troubleshoot and resolve issues that can come with increased use of emerging technologies such as digital video, audio, and social media?” I began to wonder about what issues teachers and schools might face when it comes to increased use of emerging technologies.  I thought of my own experiences…internet not working, computers not plugged in/charged up, students intentionally removing keys from the keyboard or stealing mice (“mouses?”), but I was sure there must be more to it than this. My problems are all pretty pedestrian, but schools and ed tech professionals must be thinking more broadly. Fortunately, in my research I came across no shortage of lists of the various issues with technology to be addressed by teachers in the classroom. As I soon discovered, I could place some of the biggest problems into three broad categories.

Pedagogical Problems

The first article, the one I’ll use as my resource for this blog post, is rather extreme in places, but is a good example of the need for a solid pedagogical approach when using technology in the classroom.  My resource is from a 2013 article by Alfonzo Porter at The Washington Post. In his article, “The problem with technology in schools,” he outlines some of the basic problems confronting teachers with regard to technology in the classroom.  Citing a 2012 Pew Research Survey, Porter blames technology for issues like creating short attention spans in students, declining face-to-face social skills, and students being conditioned to find “quick answers” (Porter).  Even more problematic than this may be the inability of students to log off and put their devices away during class time. Porter argues, “To remedy this, all technology should be left in lockers and not allowed in the classroom. Failure to comply should be met with confiscation of the device, which would only be returned to the parent. If parents believe that it is acceptable for their child to violate established school policies, then the schools are left with no other option other than to seize them” (Porter). As a teacher, I recognize that there’s a time and place for technology (and I HAVE taken devices away on occasion), but this zero-use policy is bit harsh.  It seems to belie the fact that technology can be used in the classroom – something he actually mentions later when he cites the survey again and mentions that “Roughly 75 percent of the teachers surveyed said that the Internet and search engines had a “mostly positive” impact on student research skills. And they said such tools had made students more self-sufficient researchers.” According to the teachers, technology may be a problem, but it may also be the solution. I’m willing to cut Porter some slack on his seemingly harsh policy about electronic devices in the classroom (or “gizmos” as he calls them) as being a possible overstatement of what his position may actually be. I’ll also take the age of the article into consideration – although by 2013, cell phones were a staple of most students’ lives.  In any case, I’ll stick with his statement about technology being the problem AND the solution.  But it begs the question about the pedagogical application of technology in the schools. If it’s a question of how it’s used, then that’s an important first step.

Terry Heick at Teachthought and Michelle Harvin at EdTech Times both offer lists of problems with technology in the classroom that focus on how it’s used. Here’s both of their lists with brief explanations as to their points:

1. Pace of Change (Schools are not switching over fast enough, plus $)
2. Different Social Dynamics (Online classes may not be taken seriously)
3. Distraction (Teachers can’t watch what everyone’s doing all the time!)
4. Technology Out-thinking the Instruction (Tech makes it too easy)
5. Learning Innovation vs Improved Test Performance (More technology doesn’t guarantee improved test performance) (Heick)

5. The crutch (Copying and pasting instead of actually learning)
4. The crash (Tech problems at home may make material inaccessible)
3. The old-timer (Some teachers don’t use it, many aren’t trained to)
2. The Facebook (Distraction)
1. The Band-Aid (It’s not a guarantee of success) (Harven)

If we look at both lists, several items overlap. Distraction is on both lists as is some sort of idea that the learning becomes too easy or superficial.  More interestingly is the idea that more technology doesn’t necessarily equal more success, which not only appears on both lists, but appears in the same spot (Harven decided to count “down” rather than “up”).  So clearly the first step is to acknowledge that technology is not a magic bullet that will slay every problem schools face.  In fact, adding more technology without the proper support may exasperate problems (and a greater cost) than actually fix anything.  Pedagogy is key in using technology in a meaningful, impactful way in education. If digital education is going to work, it has to be done correctly.

Big Picture: Administrative Issues

The second type of problems that became apparent in my research tended to focus on issues administration might face when looking at technology in the school.  Frank Smith’s article for EdTech Magazine and David Nagel’s piece for The Journal both highlight the administrative side of the equation. Again, here are their arguments (respectively):

  • 75.9% — Budget limits
  • 53.9% — Inadequate professional training
  • 41.4% — Teachers resistant to change
  • 38.2% — Inadequate network infrastructure
  • 30.9% — Unreliable device/software options
  • 29.6% — No systems to use technology for curriculum
  • 17.8% — Other
  • 13.2% — District doesn’t see immediate need for more technology (Smith)

Challenge 1: professional development.
Challenge 2: resistance to change.
Challenge 3: MOOCs and other new models for schooling. (Massive Open Online Course)
Challenge 4: delivering informal learning.
Challenge 5: failures of personalized learning.
Challenge 6: failure to use technology to deliver effective formative assessments.  (Nagel)

Smith’s results come from a survey of 150 education teachers and leaders while Nagel draws upon, “The NMC Horizon Report: 2013 K-12 Edition,” by the New Media Consortium as part of the Horizon Project. It’s fascinating to look at the similarities here: professional development is #2 and #1, and teacher resistance is #3 and #2 (and #3 on Harven’s list above). Two different groups, two years apart both identified two of the exact same problems (in approximately the same place) facing Ed Tech today. And it’s no coincidence given that the lack of training and the subsequent frustration and resistance go hand-in-hand. To me this speaks volumes. We must do a better job of educating our teachers on how to use technology. It’s approximately 1/3rd of the biggest problems facing the field right now!  If you could solve 33% of your profession’s biggest problems by fixing one issue, wouldn’t you?  This is nothing short of a call to arms for Ed Tech leaders to fix the problems that schools have been overlooking for too long.

Most of Smith’s other issues relate to hardware/infrastructure issues while Nagel takes us into different approaches to how education should work in a digital environment (more pedagogical). Both of these approaches are important as well, but I’m looking for commonality here so these points will have to wait for another day.

The Bigger Picture: The Social Network

Attorney Bruce Nagel holding the “lethal weapon”

As I write these lines, a news story from two days ago is still rattling around in my head.  A twelve year old girl, Mallory Grossman committed suicide after some persistent cyber-bullying from her schoolmates. A tragedy.  Now her parents are suing Rockaway Township School District for “gross negligence” in the death of their daughter.  I can’t imagine what these parents are going through. This kind of loss is painful beyond words. But as I look at the position the school is now placed in – as being “responsible” through negligence for the death of this young girl, I can’t help but see another potential problem can come with “increased use of emerging technologies such as digital video, audio, and social media.” I don’t pretend to have any answers for this specific case, but it’s worth taking a brief look at some elements of this tragedy.  New Jersey has one of the most stringent anti-bullying laws in the nation and they even have an 86 page guide: Guidance for Schools on Implementing the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act.  In fact, it’s the school’s alleged failure to comply with this act that is being cited by the parents in the lawsuit. I’ve looked over guidelines and the law, but didn’t see much in the way of internet or social media-specific policies. This may be an oversight on my part or the law’s, but more information will come out about that as the case proceeds. In her coverage of the case, the Washington Post’s Samantha Schmidt pointed out that Mallory is not alone in being persecuted on the internet. “One recent study surveying 5,600 children nationwide between the ages of 12 to 17 found that 34 percent had experienced cyberbullying in their lifetimes” (Schmidt). This number is pretty high and I’m not surprised. The anonymity and power of the internet are a powerful lure, and a struggling adolescent can fall in to a pattern of abusing others at the click of a button. Digital citizenship education must be paired with anti-bullying campaigns. It’s HOW bullying is done in the 21st century.  The problem is the parameters.  The school can curtail your first amendment rights at school when you say you’re going to hurt another student.  But what right/responsibility does that school have when you’re on your own Facebook page or your Instagram page or Snapchat or whatever?  Should the school be checking every student’s internet footprint to see if they’re saying mean things about other students?  Is it even possible?  Again, I’m not sure how this will play out.  The Grossman’s lawyer dramatically pushed the argument to its limits. “‘We are here today to bring light to the fact that this small device can be a lethal weapon in the hands of the wrong child,’ Nagel said holding up an iPhone in the Tuesday news conference” (Schmidt). The cell phone as a weapon – that’s the issue today.  How schools respond to this and what programs they have in place to teach responsible digital behavior, as well as anti-bullying programs, will determine if cases like this become the norm in the future. Just like with the pedagogical issue, technology may be the problem, but it may also be the solution.  Modeling and teaching proper digital citizenship and collaboration is key. “Informed and empathetic global citizens use online technologies to gain different perspectives about the world” (Lindsay). This is a far cry from the insulated, self-focused, vindictive behaviors that victimize so many adolescents (and adults) every year.  This is yet another call for diligent Ed Tech leadership.

Conclusion: What’s the Problem(s)?

At the end of my research, I think the three biggest issues that we, as Ed Tech leaders, have to be prepared to address are pedagogy, professional development, and digital citizenship. Or, to state it as a series of directives, we must practice and promote effective pedagogy that utilizes technology for learning. We must train and support our teachers so they can function and flourish in the digital environment, and we must coordinate and implement meaningful digital citizenship programs that promote healthy internet behavior.  Of course, these overlap with numerous ISTE standards, but i guess that’s the point. Learning the ISTE standards is a way to prepare us to meet and address these issues; it was just fun to turn it around this time and look at it from the problem side.  And at least we know where we can find the answers.

 

ISTE (2011). “ISTE Standards for Coaches.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

Harven, Michelle (November 6, 2013). “Top 5 Problems with Technology in Education Today.” EdTechTimes. Retrieved from: https://edtechtimes.com/2013/11/06/top-5-problems-technology-education-today/

Heick, Terry.  “5 Problems With Technology In Classrooms.” TeachThought.com.  Retrieved from: http://www.teachthought.com/the-future-of-learning/technology/5-problems-with-technology-in-classrooms/

Lindsay, Julie (July 19, 2016). “How to Encourage and Model Global Citizenship in the Classroom.” Education Week. Retrieved from: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/global_learning/2016/07/how_to_encourage_and_model_global_citizenship_in_the_classroom.html

Nagel, David (June 4, 2013). “6 Technology Challenges Facing Education.” The Journal.  Retrieved from: https://thejournal.com/Articles/2013/06/04/6-Technology-Challenges-Facing-Education.aspx?Page=1

Porter, Alfonzo (January 28, 2013). “The problem with technology in schools.” The Washington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/therootdc/post/the-problem-with-technology-in-schools/2013/01/28/cf13dc6c-6963-11e2-ada3-d86a4806d5ee_blog.html?utm_term=.89898f0ec227

Schmidt, Samantha (August 4, 2017). “After months of bullying, her parents say, a 12-year-old New Jersey girl killed herself. They blame the school.” The Washington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/08/02/after-months-of-bullying-a-12-year-old-new-jersey-girl-killed-herself-her-parents-blame-the-school/?utm_term=.6124ec7ab95c

Smith, D. Frank (November 23, 2015). “The 7 Greatest Challenges Facing Education Technology.”  EdTech Magazine.  Retrieved from: https://edtechmagazine.com/k12/article/2015/11/7-greatest-challenges-facing-education-technology

 

“All Aboard!”- Accessibilty Guidelines and Digital Leadership Coaching

Equal Access [to Digital Education] for All!

When looking at the prompt for this week’s EDTC6104 question, I was struck by a seeming discrepancy in the text of the question for the prompt and that of the coaching standard itself (ISTE coaching standard 3, indicator F). The standard/indicator calls for digital education leaders to “collaborate with teachers and administrators to select and evaluate digital tools and resources that enhance teaching and learning and are compatible with the school technology infrastructure” (ISTE 2011) whereas the prompt question for this module asks, “How do we evaluate, select and manage digital tools for teachers and students and resources that meet accessibility guidelines and fit within our institution’s technology infrastructure?” (emphasis added).  While some of the wording may be slightly different, it is the addition of the clause “accessibility guidelines” that caught my attention and caused me to ask my own questions regarding this standard. Namely, what does this clause mean? Why was it added? What are some examples of these kinds of guidelines? And, what are my institution’s accessibility guidelines regarding technology?

The Need

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are approximately 6.5 million students ages 3-21 with disabilities that attend schools in the US.  That’s 13% of the entire school population. And of that 13%, 35% have specific learning disabilities (NCES 2017). Technology has the potential to substantially help these millions of students, but only if it is done right.

Seale, Georgeson, Mamas, and Swain’s 2014 study, “Not the Right Kind of ‘Digital Capital'” outlines that technology alone is not the answer (2014). Their study focuses on the difficulties incorrect technology presents to disabled students in higher education.  This study indicates that it’s not enough for people with disabilities to merely have access to technology, but that the technology must meet their specific needs. Students with specific learning disabilities benefit when technology matches their needs.  Hall, Cohen, Vue, and Ganley’s 2015 report, “Addressing Learning Disabilities with UDL and Technology: Strategic Reader” (2015) shows what can happen when a more pedagogically holistic approach is applied to digital education for students with learning disabilities.  Their study looks at how a technology-based system based on the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) matched with Curriculum Based Measurement (CBM) led to improved engagement and scores with the Strategic Reader program. Granted, this was paired against a non-digital classroom format, but the concepts found in the UDL go beyond merely being digital.

So how is the technology done right?  Schools and other institutions are learning to establish and implement the aforementioned “accessibility guidelines” in an effort to make digital education meaningful to ALL students.

The Law

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1975 requires a “free and appropriate public school education for eligible children and youth ages 3–21.” Even more broadly, “title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that businesses and nonprofit services providers make accessibility accommodations to enable the disabled public to access the same services as clients who are not disabled. This includes electronic media and web sites” according to my primary artifact for this entry, TechRepublic’s guide on “Creating an ADA-compliant Website.” (Nash 2012). In this 2012 piece, written by Nicole Nash,  provides a checklist from the Department of Health and Human Services to see if your website is accessible to people with disabilities:

  • Every image, video file, audio file, plug-in, etc. has an alt tag
  • Complex graphics are accompanied by detailed text descriptions
  • The alt descriptions describe the purpose of the objects
  • If an image is also used as a link, make sure the alt tag describes the graphic and the link destination
  • Decorative graphics with no other function have empty alt descriptions (alt= “”)
  • Add captions to videos
  • Add audio descriptions
  • Create text transcript
  • Create a link to the video rather than embedding it into web pages
  • Add a link to the media player download
  • Add an additional link to the text transcript
  • The page should provide alternative links to the Image Map
  • The <area> tags must contain an alt attribute
  • Data tables have the column and row headers appropriately identified (using the <th> tag)
  • Tables used strictly for layout purposes do NOT have header rows or columns
  • Table cells are associated with the appropriate headers (e.g. with the id, headers, scope and/or axis HTML attributes)
  • Make sure the page does not contain repeatedly flashing images
  • Check to make sure the page does not contain a strobe effect
  • A link is provided to a disability-accessible page where the plug-in can be downloaded
  • All Java applets, scripts and plug-ins (including Acrobat PDF files and PowerPoint files, etc.) and the content within them are accessible to assistive technologies, or else an alternative means of accessing equivalent content is provided
  • When form controls are text input fields use the LABEL element
  • When text is not available use the title attribute
  • Include any special instructions within field labels
  • Make sure that form fields are in a logical tab order
  • Include a ‘Skip Navigation’ button to help those using text readers

Many of these recommendations are also mirrored in the government’s ADA Best Practices Tool Kit for State and Local Governments, as well as in the ISTE’s own article, “5 pro tips to make digital learning accessible to all students,” which includes the following list (ISTE Connects, 2017):

  • Write alt text for your images.
  • Caption your videos.
  • Transcribe your podcasts.
  • Structure your website for ADA compliance.
  • Use the right tools.

As we can see, there are many similarities designed to make the material more accessible to more people – especially with regard to issues related to vision, reading, and organization. Nash also includes recommendations for procedures and tools to assist in meeting these suggestions.  These are all good guidelines and they are a good place to start.  But these guidelines are not really about education and their focus reflects that.  As such, they primarily address disabilities not related to learning learning disabled students – the 35% of the 13% mentioned earlier. What about their access?

The School – Helping Students with Learning Disabilities

When examining this part of the question, I found two resources that help in different ways. The first is in practical application. Here, once again, I turn to the ISTE and Luis Perez and Kendra Grant’s 2015 article, “25 Tools for Diverse Learners.” In this overview, Perez and Grant break the tools into three categories to help learners with different learning styles (Perez and Grant 2015):

  • Tools for engagement and the affective network (collaboration)
  • Tools for representation and the recognition network (reading)
  • Tools for action, expression and the strategic network (writing)

The tools are practical and well-organized. They include explanations of how to use them and what kinds of students would benefit most.  Perez and Grant are trying to help teachers where they need it most: in the day-to-day activities in their classrooms.  They also take up the slack where the government guidelines fall short by specifically addressing learning disabilities.

Perez and Grant’s categories are also taken directly from the second source I looked at with regards to this category, the National Center for Universal Design for Learning’s UDL Guidelines.  These guidelines fall into the “Why” of learning (Engagement), the “What” of learning (Representation) and the “How” of learning (Action & Expression). These  three basic categories establish a solid philosophical and pedagogical foundation for education in general and, as we have seen with the Perez and Grant article, can be specifically applied to digital education. This whole-brain approach addresses many of the issues related to students with learning disabilities, and, as already demonstrated in the Hall, Cohen, Vue, and Ganley’s study, can be paired with specific technology tools to achieve better engagement and end-results.

Conclusion

As I see it, when it comes to accessibility guidelines and education, there’s the law and then there’s teaching.  First, we must comply with the law.  As it stands right now, guidelines exist for websites and I’m not sure how compliant most schools’ websites are with this. I believe there is work to be done here. It also creates more questions. How are federal ADA guidelines being applied in other tech components in the school? The website surely isn’t the only place students are interacting with the technology in the school. What about the LMS or LCMS?  What responsibility do third-party developers or the schools themselves bear with regard to making sure that information is accessible and in compliance? I suspect this will be a big issue going forward.  And then there’s the issue specifically with regard to learning disabilities. How is technology being used to address issues of access here?  What are the legal ramifications of this under the ADA?

As usual, my question has ended up with me asking more questions, but I have a firmer grasp on the nature of “accessibility guidelines.” Right now, this is not a formal indicator in the ISTE standards, but maybe it should be.  Perhaps that is the next question.

 

Hall, T., Cohen, N.,  Vue, G., and Ganley, P. (2015). “Addressing Learning Disabilities with UDL and Technology: Strategic Reader.”  Learning Disability Quarterly. Vol. 38(2) p. 72-83. Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5W5P9bQJ6q0UjNkdkNfcDFDYVU/view
ISTE (2011). “ISTE Standards for Coaches.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches
ISTE Connects (2017). “5 pro tips to make digital learning accessible to all students.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=943
Nash, Nicole (March 20, 2012). Creating an ADA-compliant Website. TechRepublic.  Retrieved from http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/web-designer/creating-an-ada-compliant-website/
NCES – National Center For Education Statistics (Updated, May, 2017). “Children and Youth with Disabilities.” The Condition of Education.  Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cgg.asp
Perez, Luis and Kendra Grant (June 8, 2015). “27 Tools for Diverse Learners.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=434
Seale, j.,  Georgeson, J.,  Mamas, C., and Swain, J. (2014).  “Not the Right Kind of ‘Digital Capital’: An examination of the complex relationship between disabled students, their technologies and higher education institutions.” Computers & Education.  Retrieved from  https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5W5P9bQJ6q0TE9BMXdyMlhYQWs/view
UDL Center (April 24, 2017). “About UDL: Learn the Basics.” National Center on Universal Design for Learning. Retrieved from http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines_theorypractice

 

 

The Worst of All Possible Worlds – ISTE Coaching Standard 3 and the Dystopian Future of Education?

“In a world…”

And so begins the introduction to countless movie trailers.  We’ve seen them: psychological thrillers, sci-fi classics, action-packed blockbusters all use that famous three-word tag-line.  It’s become so ubiquitous that it’s become a parody of itself and is often used ironically or in satirical versions of these somewhat-esteemed genres.  And it’s a tag-line that immediately sprang into my head as I looked over my research for this week’s question regarding ISTE coaching standard #3, “How do we design, teach, and facilitate digital age learning environments for students and teachers that promote collaborative learning while maintaining effective classroom management practices?”  The journey from this digital education question to the ominous opening of a dystopian sci-fi movie is a strange one, but one worth taking.

The Question

The question regarding the role of teachers and teaching in the digital classroom is a logical one for an ISTE coaching standard. As coaches, our intent is to help facilitate teachers in this environment.  My specific question relative to this particular prompt regarded student autonomy (to research, study, and design their own learning) vs. the supervision and direction that must be supplied by the teacher in a digital classroom.  I was in search of any good resources for how to manage this delicate balance.  My question morphed a bit over time as I began to explore this tension. To me, it was an obvious question, but there didn’t seem to be much on this specific topic so I began to look more generally at the role of teachers in the digital classroom.  It was in the context of this query that I came across an article who’s subtitle begged the question, “When kids can get their lessons from the Internet, what’s left for classroom instructors to do?” (Godsey, 2016).  I found this question, despite it’s obvious bias, to be more compelling. I didn’t necessarily agree with the implication of what was being argued, but I did like the question, so I effectively adopted it as my own.

The Resource

Michael Godsey is a veteran high school English teacher who obviously loves teaching English – many of us who teach love our subjects – and he presents a grim forecast for the future of teaching as we know it.  His essay, “The Deconstruction of the K-12 Teacher” in The Atlantic presents a grim dystopian scenario worthy of any science fiction story. And just like the best writing in that genre, it is grounded in reality.  Godsey is correct in pointing out that education is changing – that the role of the teacher is changing.  His “guide-on-the-side” vs. “sage-on-the-stage” is something I’ve heard numerous times in my graduate studies in education.  “Teacher as facilitator” is another mantra I’ve heard repeated in the program. Other components like shared lesson plans, educational YouTube videos, companies like Kahn Academy and Edmodo all already exist. What Godsey does is take these realities to the extreme. But is his vision the “logical” conclusion of this evolution in education?

The Future (?)

In Godsey’s future, students learn in digital classrooms with a “fantastic” computer screen in the front of the class where a “super-teacher” (think John Green, TED Talks, etc.) delivers professionally produced, interesting, and engaging lessons to the students. The students then use their computers to play interactive games with a global student body and take formal assessments that will all be graded by the computer. The actual in-class supervision is handled by low-wage, uncertified (and one would assume non-union/non-NEA) “techs” who would look after the mundane details of basic technical maintenance and classroom management.  The implications are frightening.  Students screen-time would skyrocket as all learning and engaging and assessing would be done through the computer.  The outlook for teachers is also bleak as in this scenario as anyone short of a super-star, multi-media teacher is not needed in education. The profession would become the purview of a elite few.  Even beyond that, the teacher becomes the least important part of the educational equation as students take control and “masters of content” – aside from the “super teacher” on the screen, are not needed in education anyway.  Even the organization and management of educational content has already been monopolized by companies like Edmodo and the coincidentally-orwellian-sounding “Activate Instruction.”

It’s a bleak scenario Godsey paints for us, but one that is usually at odds with contemporary thoughts on education. Most scholars in the field are usually in favor of the current changes in education.  Godsey mentions several of these scholars in his essay and holds to his view that the ramifications of the current trends will mean the demise of the teaching profession (except for an elite few) and the establishment of schools dominated by the computer and online, impersonal learning.

The Hole in the Wall and the School in the Cloud

Godsey references this particular TED talk by “Hole in the Wall” computer pioneer Sugata Mitra.  I’ll be referencing this, and Godsey’s take on it, below.

 

 

Utopia or Dystopia?

Since Godsey’s approach is essentially dystopian, I’ll look at the argument from both sides: first addressing the potential negative aspects Godsey brings up related to the proposed changes in education (cases where the dystopian alarms should be heeded) and secondly looking at the more Utopian elements that technology brings to education that Godsey may be overlooking in his bleak scenario.

Dystopia
  1. Underlying assumption that all learning is about jobs.  To me this is the most troublesome and unquestioned assumption about education today: the purpose of education is to prepare someone for a job.  In the hurry to make education relevant and meaningful, we have lost sight of the greater purpose of education.  Maybe it’s because I teach government and there’s something about an educated electorate being necessary for the survival of the Republic, or maybe it’s just my liberal arts college background showing through, but if education is all about jobs, then no one should ever have to read the Great Gatsby or learn the periodic table of the elements or take an art class or learn just about anything in US history.  Students should just learn how to read, use computers, and do some math.  If knowledge is all about jobs then we just need to know our work.  Ironically, Mitra is critical of the imperial/industrial model of education because of it’s dehumanizing effects that turned people into clerks, but presents a model which is designed to essentially the same thing (produce good workers) with a different technology. I believe that our education is more than just about jobs – it is teaching us who we are and how we can be better as a people…not just as employees.  It is about understanding our world, ourselves, and celebrating our shared humanity – the art and culture and literature and history that makes us human.
  2. “Knowing is obsolete.” Godsey is not incorrect in worrying about this.  Mitra mentions this phrase specifically as a virtue in his TED talk and while it’s not without its veracity or merits, it’s a problematic mindset.  Technology has indeed changed what we need to know (I’ll deal with this below, but when was the last time you consciously tried to remember a phone number…other than your own?).  It has liberated us from a fair amount of mundane knowledge but it does not mean we need to know nothing.  I understand that necessary knowledge changes.  Several thousand years ago it was good if you could identify which berries were poisonous and which you could eat, but once we figured that out and made stores where you could buy your food we didn’t call it quits and say we were done knowing stuff.  New stuff came along for us to learn.  We have unprecedented, unfettered access to the accumulated knowledge of all mankind; that does not equal the repudiation of knowledge.  When we stop knowing things, we cease to understand who we are, where we are, and where we came from.
  3. “Grandma would make a good teacher.” Not an actual quote from Mitra’s talk, but one that I think belies his under-appreciation of what teachers do. At one point Mitra says that the teacher, “only raises the question.” Raising questions is a huge part of what we as teachers do, but that sort of oversimplification hurts his argument. It’s no wonder Godsey is skeptical of the changes in education and what they might mean for teachers.  Mitra blithely mentions several times that classrooms can/should be managed by “grandma’s” who have this kindly, home-spun, wisdom of the ages that would allow them to effectively guide the students on their quest for knowledge just like they guided their children to adulthood.  First, let me just say that I loved my grandmothers and I think grandmothers a great. I even think his project with grandmothers is interesting and worthwhile, but his contention that life experience is all that matters in education (and that’s essentially what he’s arguing), runs counter to almost everything the entire field of education stands for.   Not that experience doesn’t have its benefits, but if the future of education – the school in the sky – is all about grandmothers directing students on using the computer, Godsey is right to be worried.
  4. “Teachers can/will produce good original video content.” This dystopic vision is closely associated with the flipped-classroom concept and what it might mean for education.  The flipped classroom is key to Godsey’s argument and he discusses at length.  He’s concerned about the fact that teachers don’t really need to work hard to record and plan flipped classroom lessons because other teachers have already done it.  His extension of this idea is that schools will realize this and just use the best ones in the aforementioned video classrooms led by “super teachers.”  Not an unthinkable reality.  Recording lessons is hard work and while 16% of teachers say they regularly record lessons for their classes (Project Tomorrow & Flipped Learning Network, 2014), 19% report concern over the difficulty in making them (Yarbro, Arfstrom, McKnight, and McKnight, 2014).  Interestingly, that number was much higher in the previous report (27%) but declined substantially. Also noteworthy is the fact that the same report cited 25% of teachers worried about finding suitable videos for classroom use but that number subsequently dropped the following year to 1%.  Is it possible there is a connection between these two figures?  Could it be that as more teachers found outside videos to show for class, they didn’t need to worry about making their own? I have no evidence for this, but it’s an interesting correlation. One last point on this topic is relevance.  I’ve taken classes where the video content created by the instructors was out of date.  Not necessarily in terms of specific disciplinary content, but in terms of course material and requirements. Recycling old content can be devastating. If the intent is to engage and encourage students to learn, re-posting an old, outdated video which contains irrelevant or outright incorrect information achieves exactly the opposite. I’m currently making some videos for a class I am teaching and I am intentionally making them specific to the class I am teaching at the moment. I’m doing this because I know it will force me to re-record them if I teach this course again. If my students have to watch it, I feel like I owe it to them to make sure the material is up to date and personalized for them.
Utopia
  1. Technology is leveling the playing field for students. No matter how critical Godsey and others may be about technology, this fundamental truth still applies.  This is the beauty of Mitra’s message.  The democratization of information is perhaps one of the most transforming components of the digital age, and his “Hole in the Wall” experiment is a vivid testament to what technology can do. Godsey may be critical of the impact of educational change on teachers (and it’s probably not going to be the catastrophe he envisions), but for the overwhelming majority of the world’s students, the reality is that the technological changes that have accompanied education have greatly enhanced their educational opportunities.
  2. Technology is empowering students.  Much like point one, this component of technology and education has been overwhelmingly transformational and positive.  Godsey may lament the loss of his knowledge monopoly in the classroom, but I, for one, welcome it (mine, not his).  I like to know things – as much as the next person and maybe more so, but I  take genuine pleasure when a student in my classroom corrects me or wants to elaborate further on a point that I bring up.  I frequently throw out facts (usually non-essential, but interesting, minutia) that I think to be true and then casually inform the class that I’m not sure about it, but someone could look it up.  What follows is usually a flurry of cell-phone and/or laptop activity.  I won’t hazard a guess as to what % I’m right, but students love to fact-check me.  And I like too. It engages them and they feel a part of the process as we stumble towards the truth.  And that’s where Godsey is wrong. It’s not about us as teachers knowing everything – we can’t and we shouldn’t think we can; it’s about working with the students, nurturing their curiosity, and forming a relationship of learning where we are partners.  I believe technology has made that relationship easier to establish because it has empowered our students; and empowered students are more interested and more invested in what they learn.  It also empowers students in the areas of collaboration and publication, both of which also enhance the learning environment.
  3. Technology is helping teachers. Godsey walks an interesting line between praising technology and condemning it – or more precisely, condemning its impact on education.  The reality though, is that technology has made our jobs as teachers manifestly easier – not just for the reasons mentioned in issue #2 (although no longer having to be the fount of all knowledge is a relief), but for a host of reasons. Everything from taking attendance, communicating with parents, communicating with students, tracking student progress, providing supplemental material, finding lesson plans, finding tests, quizzes, review games, activities, etc. are all made easier by technology.  I’m old enough to remember when a computer in the classroom was a new thing (see previous posts); now, I can’t imagine doing my job without it. And Godsey acknowledges this reality too. The flaw in his argument is that he’s projecting out into the future.  He’s taking something that is essentially a good thing and creating a worst-case scenario where our technology essentially puts us out of a job. And there is some precedent for this. The first time a robot was introduced on the factory floor, I’m sure management told the workers it was going to make their jobs easier, not replace them (University of Phoenix just released an ad expressing this sentiment – where technology displaces a worker and then helps her get a new job. See below).  And this is where Mitra’s underestimation of what professional teachers actually do is dangerous because it feeds into this fear.  This is also where effective leaders in digital education are so very necessary.  Digital Ed leaders must not only train (and, in some cases, calm) this generation of teachers on how to effectively use digital technology in the classroom, they must also help shape the direction this educational change will take – steering it away from Godsey’s dystopian vision.  It’s not like Godsey is making crazy assumptions.  If the cost of education could be drastically cut by using technology and streaming some “super teachers” and running a few programs (at the expense of the entire teaching profession – and breaking the union to boot) is it so unreasonable to think government wouldn’t support such an effort?  Government leaders have a history of making educational decisions based on economic factors over educational ones. Godsey cannot be disregarded as a crank, but for his vision to come true we have to fail as Ed Tech leaders.
  4. Technology is changing what we know and what we need to know. This is a truism that Godsey would probably acknowledge.  However, this doesn’t mean we don’t have to know anything (Again, I think Mitra’s overstatement hurts his overarching argument here).  Our ways of thinking and understanding are all being changed by technology. There’s no changing that fact.  The trick now is for us to figure out what this new mode of thinking looks like and how we can effectively use it in education. Much of what we needed to know from rote memory is no longer essential.  Much of the grunt work in education can be simplified or eliminated just as knowing how to shoe a horse or sharpen a quill for writing is not essential today.  Once again this is the duty of digital education leadership.  The pioneers in this field are doing the research, publishing, and pushing an agenda where education and technology work hand-in-hand for the benefit of the student, the teacher, and the community.  It’s not a matter of eliminating all knowledge, but of refining the canon.

University of Phoenix Commercial: technology hurts and helps

Conclusion: “In THIS world…”

Does this movie turn out to be a teacher nightmare?  Are we going to end up with 500 students in a classroom all watching a super teacher on the computer?  Is the teaching profession destined for the dustbin of history, like the cobbler or the blacksmith or the town cryer?  Not likely. To be fair, I’m undoubtedly influenced by my own educational program and interests.  Pursing a digital education degree has exposed me to various theories on both sides, though primarily positive, but I like to think that I’m open-minded enough to reach a reasonable conclusion. Godsey is a critic and we need critics. He’s shouting a warning from the watchtower, but that doesn’t mean his vision will come to pass. Technology is changing education. That it is a reality and there can be no doubt, but where Godsey foresees apocalypse, I see hope. The future remains unwritten.  How exciting it will be for those who have a hand in it to write this next crucial chapter!

 

 

Godsey, Michael (March 25, 2015). “The Deconstruction of the K-12 Teacher: When kids can get their lessons from the Internet, what’s left for classroom instructors to do?” The Atlantic.  Retrieved from: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/03/the-deconstruction-of-the-k-12-teacher/388631/

ISTE (2011). “ISTE Standards for Coaches.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

Project Tomorrow & Flipped Learning Network. Speak Up 2013 national research project findings: a second year review of flipped learning.  Retrieved from: http://www.tomorrow.org/speakup/2014_FlippedLearningReport.html

Rebora, Anthony (June 6, 2016). “Teachers Still Struggling to Use Tech to Transform Instruction, Survey Finds.” Educational Week. Retrieved from: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2016/06/09/teachers-still-struggling-to-use-tech-to.html?tkn=SUNF3xA1W22FFtjNlbjUg5JOX4Y8vP7i4W5T&intc=es

Yarbro, J., Arfstrom, K., McKnight, K, and McKnight, P. (2014). Extension of a Review of Flipped Learning.  Retrieved from: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5W5P9bQJ6q0ZEZELXFYTEg3Uk0/view

 

Surfing the Wave: Keeping Abreast of the Digital Ed Field

Riding the Wave

This week’s question for EDTC 6103 was pretty straightforward. Given ISTE standard 5, I wanted to focus in on indicator C, which called for teachers to “evaluate and reflect on current research and professional practice on a regular basis to make effective use of existing and emerging digital tools and resources in support of student learning” (ISTE).  My question was about how to best do this in an ever-changing field.  Are  there any best-practices for teachers who wish to stay abreast of developments in such a rapidly evolving field?  It may be helpful to remind ourselves that the “digital” part of digital education is fairly recent.

In 1965 Gordon Moore predicted that the sheer processing power of computers would double every two years, and while there is some debate about the reality of the prediction today, the fact remains that in the last 50 years, computers have increased tremendously in power and decreased drastically in size and in cost.  In 1991, the year I got my first computer, an Apple laptop (Macintosh Powerbook) cost around $2300, or just over $4000 in today’s money, had a 16 MHz processor, and weighed about 6 pounds (Comen, et. al. 2016).  Today, I see I can get a 4.4 pound Apple MacBook Air  with 1.4 GHz Intel Core i5 processor on Amazon for just under $800. Combine the evolution of processing power, weight, and cost with other digital developments in the last thirty years like the creation of the World Wide Web (1989), the creation of modern-day internet behemoths like Amazon (1994), Google (1998), and YouTube (2005), and technology that made computers truly personal, like the iPhone (2007) and iPad (2010) and you have an inkling of the kind of hectic evolution we’re dealing with.  Factor in the educational components of this equation – like the tech-savvy teachers necessary to bridge the new digital divide (see previous post here), and you have desperate, persistent struggle to keep up with what’s current.  Keeping up with what’s new is crucial and it needs to be part of professional development as well. According to Patterson, “91 percent of teachers believe their success in the classroom depends heavily on having access to technology training. Unfortunately, 60 percent of teachers don’t feel adequately prepared to integrate technology into their lessons” (Patterson).  Keeping of top of all this technology and pedagogy can be difficult for digital education leaders, and it can be devastating for teachers who are not technologically inclined.  And it’s not just about the technology we have now.  The standard itself even requires us to not only stay current on that which exists (“existing…digital tools and resources”), but also that which does not truly exist in full form yet (“emerging…digital tools and resources”).  The standard requires us to “ride the wave” of educational technology and demands we stay current.

Looking to the Librarians

 the librarians
Photo from TV Guide (and apologies to TNT)

So I found some help from the librarians.  Ok, maybe not the librarians from the TNT show, The Librarians, but I did find help on this topic from the Association of College and Research Libraries, which is a division of the American Library Association.  In an article by Steven J. Bell called “Keeping up with the EdTech Surge” I found some useful advice for all of us trying to surf the EdTech wave…or “surge.”  After a brief overview of the “EdTech explosion,” Bell goes on to explain how we should “engage” with EdTech and here he provides 5 key thoughts/recommendations (Bell):

  1. Explore three to five new educational technologies a week. This could be as simple as visiting a website or viewing a video.
  2. EdTech usually falls into one of three categories. Is it “free, freemium or fee.”
  3. Asking permission versus forgiveness. Researching tech on the job IS part of your job (ask forgiveness if it’s a problem) vs. a librarian-specific situation where you ask permission before exposing someone else’s students to an EdTech solution (ask permission)
  4. What’s the EdTech community saying? Check reviews online.
  5. Exploration is good but ask why.  No matter how cool it is and how much you make like it, the EdTech product must serve a purpose.

http://www.ala.org/acrl/publications/keeping_up_with/edtech

Admittedly, these suggestions are for librarians, but I find these guidelines to be helpful for any EdTech leaders.  The surge (“wave”) can be intimidating at times, but this measured response feels manageable. It even seems encouraging as it’s a persistent process of exploration – not a never-ending hunt for the latest-and-greatest ed tech.  It’s purposeful (tip 5) but not deterministic.  It has guidelines, but ultimately it must fit the mission.

Bell goes on to identify a dozen links to help “navigate the surge.” These are a combination of k-12 and college-level sites that deal with blogs, twitter, and other forms of digital communication that can be useful for anyone involved in surfing the EdTech wave.

The Mystery Box

Bell also includes a section on the “Mystery Box.”  I’ll admit that I was a bit skeptical of what he was talking about here, but in the end, I think it makes sense.  Bell shares a link to a TED talk featuring director JJ Abrams.  In it, Abrams discusses a “Mystery Box” that he received as a child but never opened.  It was supposed to be full of incredible magic tricks, but for Abrams, this unopened mystery box served as metaphor for the power of the unknown – a hallmark of much of his subsequent work as director. Bell applies it to EdTech, “When it comes to EdTech and blending our librarianship and instructional technology skills, Abrams words speak volumes because it is the drive to unravel the mystery of how to best leverage technology to enhance learning that should drive us, as academic librarians, to explore, experiment and discover all that the EdTech world has to offer” (Bell).  Again, Bell is speaking for librarians, but I see no reason why “librarianship” cannot be replaced with “teaching sklls” – especially if we are to be EdTech leaders.

Whether or not we view it as a “mystery box,” exploring EdTech is something we must always be doing as digital education leaders; it just comes with the territory.  After all, we don’t want to be using last-decade’s digital tools any more than we want to be using last-century’s pedagogy (though we often see both).  I believe Bell’s suggestions can go a long ways towards helping us avoid these hazzards and help us get on our boards and more effectively surf that Ed-Tech wave!

Addressing the Prompts:

Connecting with ALL of the ISTE Teaching Standards, write a narrative of your learning throughout this quarter: 1 What level of understanding and competence of the ISTE Teaching Standards did you start with this quarter? 2 What were one or two of the more significant areas of growth throughout this quarter? 3 Where would you like to continue to grow? 4 How can you empower others- colleagues, etc., as outlined in ISTE Coaching Standard 2?

  1. While I started with no formal understanding of the competence of the ISTE Teaching Standards, I was familiar with them through their connection with the ISTE Student Standards from last quarter.  Dr. Wicks had indicated that we would be addressing these in the following class, so while they were not completely unknown to me, this is the first time had studied them in-depth.
  2. While there is quite a bit of overlap between the student and teachers standards, there are others that were more unique in their application to teachers and thus afforded me the most opportunities for personal growth throughout the quarter.  These would be standards 2 and 5.  Standard 2’s requirement to develop digital age learning experiences and assessments – particularly as it applies to technology-rich learning environments, was very interesting to me; and standard 5’s requirement for professional growth is another area where not only myself, but all teachers could afford to grow (“growth”is in the title, after all, and it therefore connotes a continuous process).
  3. I think I would like to continue growing in the two aforementioned areas, particularly in #2 – as it relates to the digital teaching environment. I believe that if teachers are impeded from truly transforming their classrooms into digital learning environments, then we will not see the 21st century classroom, just the 19th century classroom with computers in it.  That would be a shame.  The Patterson article comes to mind again, “This misstep [lack of tech training] can increase teacher resistance and negate the power of technology implementations.” (Patterson). The true promise of digital education lies in its effective implementation, not merely its presence, and therefore the more we can do to make that evolution a reality, the better.
  4. When looking at coaching standard 2, the piece that jumps out to me the most are the verbs used in the standard.  “Coach and model” appear in all of the indicators for standard 2 and the verb “assist” is the primary action given in the standard itself. It seems to me that the standard is requiring we empower others by modeling the effective use of technology and assisting them in doing so also.  To that end, I believe that I can best empower my colleagues by demonstrating meaningful, effective use of digital technology and encourage and facilitate others in doing the same. This involves not only using the technology, but also maintaining a positive mindset about the use of technology (which can be difficult when things go wrong) and demonstrating flexibility in the face of adversity (like when things go wrong).

 

Bell, Steven J. “Keeping Up With… The EdTech Surge.” Association of College & Research Libraries.  Retrieved from: http://www.ala.org/acrl/publications/keeping_up_with/edtech

Comen, Evan, and Michael B. Sauter and Samuel Stebbins (April 15, 2016). “The Cost of a Computer the Year You Were Born.” 247wallst.com.  Retrieved from: http://247wallst.com/special-report/2016/04/15/how-much-a-computer-cost-the-year-you-were-born/6/

ISTE (2008). “ISTE Standards for Teachers.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-teachers

Patterson, Mike (2016, April 26).  “Tips for Transforming Educational Technology through Professional Development and Training.”  EdTech K-12 Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.edtechmagazine.com/k12/article/2016/04/tips-transforming-educational-technology-through-professional-development-and

 

 

Digital Citizenship and the New Digital Divide: ISTE Teacher Standard 4 Indicator B

Digital Divide.jpg

The Digital Divide

The concept of the “digital divide” has been around ever since digital technology has been used in classrooms. Initially, the term applied to students who had access to digital devices and the internet at school and at home versus those who did not. Today, however, that term has come to mean something else. The almost ubiquitous availability of digital technology available to students in the US today has rendered the previous definition  a led to a redefinition mute and the term now applies to how the technology is used.  The US Department of Education in introduction to their latest National Education Technology Plan (NETP) says the digital divide now separates “students who use technology in ways that transform their learning from those who use the tools to complete the same activities but now with an electronic device” (US Dept. of Ed).  This redefinition is not merely a question of semantics. The implications are significant as we struggle to facilitate digital leadership for the current generation of educators and students. It also relates to my question for this week regarding ISTE teachers standard 4 indicator b, which calls for teachers to “address the diverse needs of all learners by using learner-centered strategies providing equitable access to appropriate digital tools and resources” (ISTE Teacher Standards). My question initially involved searching for what learner-centered strategies exist for this endeavor, but I was more curious as to how this would provide equitable access.

Link to Boardthing overview of NETP Introduction: https://boardthing.com/board/59225c6394aad1fe05ec17ff

When searching for ISTE’s definition of “equitable access” I came across their page which defined this concept as not only the effort “to bridge socioeconomic gaps and truly support digital learning for all students,”  and, “an initiative must ensure sufficient bandwidth and connection speeds to allow learning and teaching to occur anytime,” but they also explained that, “equitable access means more than simply providing devices and connectivity. It also means giving every student the opportunity to learn from teachers who understand how to use technology to both enhance learning and create quality learning experiences for students with special needs” (ISTE Essential Conditions).  This expanded definition of equitable access fundamentally changes the game.  The paradigm shift here is that the physical material for facilitating digital education will present – that is practically a given. The change lies in expectation that teachers are to provide a transformational learning experience using this technology.  This is the somewhat unexpected answer to my question.  Mike Ribble and Teresa Northern Miller allude to this in their article on digital citizenship.  Though addressing the issue of educating for digital citizenship, they point out that the entire educational experience must be changed if it is to effectively incorporate digital technology.  “All technology users need to begin a process of understanding basic skills of technological literacy starting at a very young age. Students today are coming to school with a wide-ranging set of technology skills that are beginning to change how teachers are teaching, as well as when and how students learn” (Ribble p. 141).  And while this can certainly be a challenge, they point out that it is a case of applying appropriate pedagogy to the technology and the curriculum, “For many educators this is a frustrating time as not only is the technology use changing within the classroom, but so are the standards for education. These may seem to be different topics but they are pointing to the same end: better educational opportunities for students. Educators need to look at these changes as opportunities to bring the concepts of technology and educational theory together” (Ribble p. 142).

The Artifact

http://www.americasquarterly.org/warschauer

My artifact that addresses this topic more directly is the 2012 piece by Mark Warschauer for Americas Quarterly titled, “The Digital Divide and Social Inclusion.” In this essay, Warschauer examines the so-called “magic bullet” theory that wider physical access to computers in schools is the great equalizer; the solution for the education gap between developed and developing countries. He reviews the MIT project by Nicholas Negroponte to put a $100 laptop in the hands of impoverished children around world. A noble concept, to be sure – it is thought to be the key to social inclusion.  But it is a project that has been plagued by technical difficulties and questionable results.  But more importantly to Warschauer, it also contains a pedagogical flaw: “mere access does not guarantee learning, as anyone who has witnessed a child wasting hours playing games on a computer can testify. Instead, research has shown that beyond just having the hardware, what is important is the “social envelope” it comes in: the technical and social support provided to children as they learn.”  Essentially, he’s arguing that teachers and student-centered strategies matter.  “It may seem a simple concept—long held true in other areas of pedagogy—but it’s one that seems to have been forgotten when it comes to technology” (Warschauer 2012).  This is an interesting indictment from someone who is an advocate for digital education, but not one unwarranted given the current educational climate. This is also a topic he addressed in his 2004 book, Technology and Social Inclusion: Rethinking the Digital Divide where Warschauer warns of “technological determinism” and the “fire” model educational technology which assumes technology will bring education just like a fire brings warmth (Warschauer 2004 p. 202).  Here too, the salvation lies solely in the technology; devoid of the means of instruction.  It suffers from the same pitfalls as the opposite error outlined in his book, “neutralism,” in that both approaches fail to account for the “social embeddedness” of technology. Warschauer writes, “There is a complex, mutually evolving relationship between a technology and broader social structures, and the relationship cannot be reduced to a matter of technology’s existing on the outside and exerting an independent force” (Warschauer 2004 p. 202).  Teachers are a key piece to unlocking the connection between the technology and those social structures. Mandated, top-down application of the technology without consideration of these structures is folly.

Valdez and Duran’s 2007 study “Redefining the Digital Divide: Beyond Access to Computers and the Internet” bears out this hypothesis.  Their examination of five “low resource” schools compared with one “high resource” school determined that the digital divide was not merely the physical access to digital technology, but the way in which it was used. “S6 [the high-resource school] with its greater access to C&I [computers and internet] than low-resource schools, had more teachers using C&I to support instructional activities. In addition to more frequent use, we presented modest findings that S6 teachers were more likely to engage in C&I practices that encouraged creative and critical thinking in their students” (Valdez and Duran 2007, p. 38).  Schools with more resources not only provide more opportunities for use, but the teachers employ higher-level pedagogy in their instruction. This is the embodiment of the ISTE 4c indicator of “address[ing] the diverse needs of all learners by using learner-centered strategies providing equitable access to appropriate digital tools and resources.”  We have an obligation to model this form of instruction under the standard.

Conclusions:

I will admit that I entered this exercise with a completely different (and partially incorrect) understanding of what this standard meant. I assumed that the “equitable access” mandated by the indicator “merely” meant physical access to digital equipment.  To this end, I was somewhat puzzled how the teachers’ instructional techniques were going to bring that about.  While it is certainly important to make sure students have physical access to the technology (it’s hard to implement digital education without the technology), I am glad that my journey with this question has led me to a broader understanding of what this concept means.  Equitable access and the new understanding of the “digital divide” are crucial concepts for any digital ed tech leader to grasp.  Our mission now is to educate others about these issues and implement the necessary changes to address these concerns.  The specifics of how to do this may well form the basis of another future blog post.

Assigned ISTE 4 reflection topics:

What are your thoughts on how districts (you can speak specifically to yours, or you can speak more broadly) attend to and empower teachers to not only be ethical users of technology, but empower their students to as well?
Connecting to your GCP and indicators in ISTE TS 4, how does your district empower teachers to promote global awareness of other cultures through the use of technology? If you don’t see evidence of this, how could you, as a teacher leader, even begin to promote this principle?

I can only really speak to my particular situation as a secondary history teachers in a mid-size private religious school.  Teachers are encouraged and empowered to both use and encourage their students to use technology, but as my last post illustrates, there is little actual direction as to how to do this and especially how to do this ethically.  I think most of the ethical considerations related to copyright and intellectual property issues are assumed to be addressed in the language arts department – as this usually pertains to plagiarism, but this is only a fraction of the actual concern.  In the elementary and middle school, they are starting to enact programs dealing with cyber-bulling and other socially-oriented facets of digital citizenship, which is good, but we’ve still a ways to go.  The desire is there and the need is definitely present, but a more cohesive top-to-bottom approach needs to be developed.

With regard to my GCP, ISTE TS 4 and how it relates to district empowerment, I would say that the school has been very encouraging and empowering. I know the Spanish department has used technology to facilitate Skype chats with other students in Latin America and they were very on-board with my GCP proposal.  So I would say empowerment is there.  As for promotion, that can be more complicated. I think there’s a realization of the potential for this sort of global awareness through technology, but the implementation, at this point, feels very bottom-up. In my experience, it must come from the teachers.  As a teacher leader, I think the best way to promote this would be through successful implementation in my own classroom and then collaboration with other teachers to show them how it’s done.

 

ISTE. “Essential Conditions.”  International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/tools-resources/essential-conditions/equitable-access

ISTE (2008). “ISTE Standards for Teachers.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-teachers

Ribble, M. & Miller, T.N. (2013). Educational leadership in an online world: connecting students to technology responsibly, safely, and ethically. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 17(1), pp. 137-145.  Retrieved from: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1011379.pdf

US Department of Education (2017). NETP: Introduction. Retrieved from https://tech.ed.gov/netp/

Valdez, James R. and Duran, Richard (2007). “Redefining the Digital Divide: Beyond Access to Computers and the Internet.” High School Journal. Feb/Mar 2007, Vol. 90 Issue 3, p31-44.

Warschauer, Mark (2004, September 17). Technology and Social Inclusion: Rethinking the Digital Divide. MIT Press.

Warschauer, Mark (2012). “The Digital Divide and Social Inclusion.”  Americas Quarterly.  Retrieved from http://www.americasquarterly.org/warschauer

 

Can We Get on the Same (Web) Page? ISTE Standard 3 and Coordinating Digital Age Media and Formats

Direction or Freedom?

Finding balance between freedom and direction can be difficult for a teacher and it can be even more daunting for an administrator – especially where technology is concerned.  I remember one of the first technology committees I ever served on. It was the late 1990’s (I’m old) and I was teaching middle school at the time in a rather large private school. Since I was a relatively-young, technologically inclined teacher, I was asked to be on this brand new committee which would focus on technological issues the school needed to address.  Back then one of the major issues was getting all teachers to use e-mail to communicate with parents.  It was a big step for many at that time.  Internet plagiarism was another big problem – especially since not all teachers had internet in their homes yet (it was a simpler time).  But as I was reflecting on this Module 3 – “Model digital age work and learning”, I thought of a particular incident.  As I said, I was one of a number of technologically inclined teachers selected for this committee and we wanted to tap into the promise of technology to assist us in our jobs as teachers.  The late 90’s were still the early days of the internet – especially in education.  Amazon.com wasn’t created until 1994 and Google wasn’t invented until 1998, so it should come as no surprise that the school had no learning management system (LMS) or learning content management system (LCMS).  This stuff was practically science fiction.  We all kept grades in our quaint paper grade books and we manually calculated scores at the end of every quarter.  But some of us on the tech committee came across a few early online LMS programs. These were essentially grade book and assignment-posting programs.  We marveled at what they represented: not only would our grade calculations become infinitely easier, but we could post assignments online and students and parents could keep track of their grades in real-time!  This was just what we were looking for – a way to open the channels of communication by with students and parents like never before.  We were very excited as we presented this idea to the administration, essentially asking permission to utilize the online grade book program.  And we were equally crestfallen when the administration essentially told us “no.”  What they told us, actually, was that while we were not specifically prohibited from using the program, we were not encouraged to do so either (a classic no-decision decision); nor would the school officially adopt it.  When we asked why the school didn’t want to go ahead with this, we were told the school was afraid that (and I’m totally serious here) teachers might spell words wrong on their page.  Also, since these were commercial third-party sites, they were afraid of what advertising might appear on the page (a more reasonable concern).  Thus ended my first foray into trying to utilize an LMS.  The school couldn’t control it, therefore we weren’t encouraged to use it.  This wouldn’t be so bad, except the school offered no alternative at the time.  Freedom (and progress) was sacrificed for the sake of administrative oversight.

This sacrifice, this conflict, was on my mind as I looked at ISTE Teacher Standard 3, “model digital age work and learning.”  I thought about indicator C which calls for us to “communicate relevant information and ideas to students, parents, and peers using a variety of digital age media and formats” (ISTE #3).  In 199x, the school where I was teaching was actively discouraging this idea.  I realize it’s not really fair to blame the school since this was fairly early-on in the tech age, but I think it’s a useful example to frame the discussion.  Today, of course, we’re somewhat horrified at such shortsightedness, but in some ways we’re not that much better off.  Today’s teachers generally have a great deal of latitude in utilizing technology – schools have encouraged and adopted everything from Edmodo to Facebook to Twitter, which is fantastic, but sometimes this comes at the cost of consistency, clarity, and purpose – not to mention the amount of teacher time that has to be invested in each one. In short, we have more tools at our disposal, but often don’t use them effectively.  We lack direction.  My question for this module focuses on the ISTE3c goal of “communicating with students, parents, teachers and peers,” but what I want to better understand are the processes by which the “digital age media and formats” are selected and implemented – and much of the discussion seems centered around the balance between freedom and direction.

My Search

My search for a resource to answer my question took me all over the map.  The most helpful sources I came across seemed to fall into one of two categories: software-based sites devoted to LMS’s and LCMS’s, which would include corporate sites promoting their specific products as well as tech sites reviewing various school software programs, and general postings on education sites about parent-teacher communication.

Software Sites – LMS’s and LCMS’s

William Fenton’s overview of the best LMS’s of 2017 for PC Magazine is a good place to start. In it, he provides an overview of different features of LMS’s (including what makes something a LCMS) as well as their service plans and relative costs.  This is helpful for defining some of the basic terms and comparing different systems, but it is not the truly integrated approach I was hoping for.

Continuing in the software realm, I came across Steve Williams, who wrote a piece for Campus Suite.  Campus Suite is provides web hosting services for schools as well as text, voice, e-mail, social media, and app notification systems. Their line of products, “unifies all your school communications into one, simple platform.”   In promoting their product Williams writes about the “6 Key School Communication Channels and How to Use Them.”  They are:

1. Promotion of school happenings and news (e.g., achievements, events, etc.)
2.  Time-critical school information (e.g., school closings, policies, etc.)
3. PTO events and other important issues
4. Leadership and education improvement ideas (e.g., parent resources)
5. School levy and community outreach (including fundraising)
6. Stories and imagery of the school’s impact on the community (cool human interest content, alumni, photos, videos)

This post includes some key communication elements I’m looking for, like news and parent resources as well as community and alumni information, but it’s geared solely for administrators.  Not that this is bad, but I want the whole enchilada.  I want the system that works with parents, administrators, and teachers. I want to see content, communication, and collaboration across the spectrum of stakeholders.  And I would like to see an overarching philosophy of how these systems are to be utilized.  I was, quite frankly, a bit disappointed in the division of labor for school software systems. Why can’t the school manage an effective, complete system that allows for all facets of communicating relevant information and ideas to students, parents, and peers using a variety of digital age media and formats?  Is this giving too much control to the school?

The reality, though, is that the software sites tend to be more oriented towards to product they are selling (or reviewing, as the case may be) and not geared towards any policy considerations, which, to be fair, is not their goal.  To look for philosophy, I would have to look at education-oriented websites.

Ed Sites – The Promise and Pitfall of Parent-Teacher Communication

On the other side of the spectrum, we have the teacher-oriented sites that seek to give advise to teachers and, in some cases administrators, on how to improve communication.

Linda Flanagan’s piece for Mindshift looks at “What Can be Done to Improve Parent-Teacher Communication.”  One of her key components for improving communication is for the school to help set the tone and the parameters for communication.  She writes, “Despite obstacles, schools can do much to help teachers contact parents, starting with establishing norms for communication that defuse built-in tensions and make allowances for teachers’ time” (Flanagan).  I hardily agree with Flanagan and I like that she also included respect for teachers’ time in her analysis.  This is often overlooked.  More importantly, this is a good step towards the school taking a more pro-active approach to communication; an approach which would, hopefully, increase teacher efficiency and efficacy in communicating information and ideas to parents, students, and peers. Communicating effectively is not only part of ISTE standard 3, it is also one of the six “Deeper Learning Skills” Jennifer Kabaker writes about in her piece on micro-credentialing.  This endeavor seeks to track and reward teacher progress on a variety of fronts, one of which is directly tied to this fundamental issue.

The piece that I am using as my resource for this question is Anne O’Brien’s post on Edutopia about “What parents want in school communication.”  O’Brien uses a survey from the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) to examine what parents what. She breaks down the topics according to what news they want, how they want to receive it, and when they want to receive it.  The chart below illustrates her main points.

https://www.edutopia.org/blog/parent-involvement-survey-anne-obrien

I believe the second section proves my earlier point about administrative vs. teacher software systems. Parents expect information from both administration and teachers, so why don’t we conceptualize the system that facilitates the communication as a whole?  Why are we separating grade books from e-mail from content delivery from collaboration from school announcements and so on?   The demand for unity is there – as is the demand for speed (see section 3 on “when they want it”).  O’Brien writes, “As NSPRA President Ron Koehler points out, ‘Consumer needs are changing. The backpack folder is no longer the primary source of information for parents. They want and prefer instant electronic information. … [T]he data demonstrates parents and non-parents alike turn to the web when they need information, and they want it now.'”

Potential Issues

So is more support, guidance, and oversight from schools the answer improving teacher communication?  Perhaps partly, but direction comes at a cost.  Any administrative oversight comes at the cost of limiting the freedom teachers have to implement systems of their choosing and communicating in their own way.  Nicole Krueger’s piece on the ISTE website addresses the issue of teachers’ resistance to administrative meddling with regards to technology, “A frank conversation with just about any teacher will reveal that classroom innovation is often hampered — if not suppressed entirely — by school or district policies. Policies that restrict cell phone use, social media or other emerging technologies may have made sense at one time, but it’s getting harder to justify keeping these powerful tools out of students’ hands.” (Krueger). The lag between what is happening in the classroom and the discussion, debate, adoption, and implementation of administrative policies can seem enormous – especially given the speed at which technology changes.  More involvement from school administration will undoubtedly hamper some creativity and flexibility, but the question remains, is it worth it for the sake of uniformity and consistency?

Flanagan also points out a number of difficulties in schools establishing norms for school communication. Although she advocates more frequent “light touch” communication from teachers, she acknowledges the problems. “’Implementation barriers’ are the first hurdle, Kraft says, including defunct email addresses and phone numbers, language barriers and outdated address books. Even more troublesome is the absence of norms, in most schools, on the frequency and content of teacher-parent communication. ‘There’s no clear expectation on best practices, or what that communication should look like,’ he explained. The limitations of the clock also factor in: Teachers in large public schools who might be teaching as many as 150 kids a day are hard-pressed to find time for meaningful one-on-one communication with parents” (Flanagan).  Several points from this quote stand out to me. The first is time.  I “only” have about 100 students a day (far less than many teachers). If I was, let’s say, required to send an e-mail to each one every month – even just to drop a note of encouragement, and if each e-mail took only 5 minutes to write, that’s 500 minutes, which is over 8 hours!  Would the school provide an extra paid work-day once a month for me to write students?  Is it worth it?  Where does the time come from?  I don’t have any answers, but nor does anyone else it seems.  The second issue I find even more discouraging and it’s the “absence of norms” and the lack of any best practices.  Flanagan is quoting Matthew Kraft who carried out much of the research relating to parent-teacher communication she uses in her article, and he hasn’t found any.  His position is that it’s needed, but it doesn’t really exist right now. It’s shocking to think that we have so much technology – so many choices – but so little direction.

Conclusions

It’s hard not to walk away a bit discouraged from my question.  The search for a comprehensive view of how to “communicate relevant information and ideas to students, parents, and peers using a variety of digital age media and formats” is elusive.  The various media formats to be used are numerous and diverse, but can lack unity.  Best practices, on a school-wide level, seem difficult, if not impossible, to find.  Perhaps it’s not the job of the school but the individual teacher?  Maybe every teacher should just do their own thing?  But that seems antithetical to what we in digital education leadership are trying to achieve.  The school should be working to facilitate this communication, not leave it to chance.  Teachers should be encouraged and supported in this endeavor. Technology should be adopted and implemented in such a way that the message from all facets of the school program is easily accessible and consistent.  Norms should be established and best practices should be promoted. In some ways this can be seen as discouraging, but in another way it’s optimistic.  I can’t help but think back to that first tech committee I was on. We had no idea what we were doing and the administration wasn’t really on-board with using computers for communication.  That has changed.  There’s plenty of freedom, but not much direction.  The norms and best practices are yet to be written.  We’re only now just starting to ask the questions and we have the opportunity, as digital education leaders, to help write the answers.

Connecting to ISTE TS #3, reflect on a tool/resource your school and/or district uses for communicating with colleagues, parents, etc. What makes it effective? How could the use of this resource be improved? (Be sure to use your leadership lens) 2 paragraphs.

I’ve used numerous communication tools/resources in my 20+ years of teaching. In fact, part of why I entered this program was because of my frustration with the inadequacies in this area.  Fortunately, the LMS we are using at my current job is pretty good.  We are currently using Rediker (https://www.rediker.com/).  It combines a number of elements that makes it makes it an effective and efficient system.  It has a portal for student and parent access, a grade book for teachers, and it also has some content capabilities.  For example, I can post an assigned reading as a document to the class files page, enter that assignment in their “upcoming assignments” on the portal (which also adds it to their calendar) and simultaneously add it to my grade book.  If I need to send an e-mail to a parent, I can click on their name in my grade book and it automatically opens Outlook with the parent’s e-mail address filled in.  It’s a pretty effective system.

I think the biggest advantage for the system is transparency. Students can see their grades right away, see what’s coming up, and access content all in one place.  It helps eliminate mistakes – on both ends. One time I entered the wrong number of points possible on a particular assignment (I entered it as x/100 instead of x/20 – or something like that) and the next day I had a dozen or so angry students wondering why they all failed the last assignment. I was embarrassed and quickly fixed the error, but it was good to know so many kids were keeping tabs on their grades.  One last testimony to the effectiveness of our system comes from a scenario where someone missed a day of class because of an appointment.  She had an assignment due the next day but she didn’t do it because she said she didn’t know about it.  “Did you check the student portal?” I asked.  “No.” “Did you check the calendar?” – “No.”  “Did you see the reading on the class files page?” – “No.”  Having run out of excuses she said, “I don’t like this new system. We don’t have an excuse to not do our work anymore.”  Maybe that’s the best endorsement of all.

 

Flanagan, Linda (November 17, 2015). “What Can Be Done To Improve Parent-Teacher Communication?”. Mindshift. Retrieved from https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2015/11/17/what-can-be-done-to-improve-parent-teacher-communication/

Fenton, William (March 28, 2017).  “The Best LMS (Learning Management Systems) of 2017.”  PC Magazine.  Retrieved from http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2488347,00.asp

ISTE (2008). “ISTE Standards for Teachers.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-teachers

Kabaker, J. (2015). Supporting deeper learning in the classroom. Retrieved from http://www.digitalpromise.org/blog/entry/supporting-deeper-learning-in-the-classroom
Crompton, H. (2014, July 24). Know the ISTE Standards-T 3: Model digital age learning.

Krueger, N. (2014, June 28). “3 barriers to innovation education leaders must address.” ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=98&category=ISTE-Connects-blog&article=3-barriers-to-innovation-education-leaders-must-address

O’Brien, Anne (2011, August 31). “What Parents Want in School Communication.” Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/parent-involvement-survey-anne-obrien

Williams, Steve (October 26, 2015). “6 key school communication channels and how to use them.” CampusSuite. Retrieved from https://www.campussuite.com/6-key-school-communication-channels-and-how-to-use-them/

Space to Learn: ISTE Teacher Standard #2 & the “Technology-Enriched Learning Environment”

Being a teacher and an historian, I enjoy old photographs of schools, students, and classrooms.  I think most people are fascinated by photographs of people doing their job years ago.  Of course, one of the things that drew me to the study of history was the idea of trying to imagine what life was like in the past and these types of photographs offer us glimpse of life as it was in the classroom long before our time.  The photograph above is a good example.  I can’t help but think about what education must have been like for these students.  Look at the picture. What do you notice?  The gender?  All boys.  The dress? Rather formal with jackets and knickerbockers.  The posture?  Heads all intently buried in books.  The content?  Latin grammar scrawled across the boards in fastidious tables and elaborate cursive sentences.  Or maybe it’s arrangement of the classroom itself?  Students sit at heavy desks uniformly spaced and bolted to the floor – all facing the teacher, who, in turn, sits authoritatively at his desk which is slightly elevated above the pupils.  There can be no mistaking the relationship here.  The teacher is the master. He is the source of knowledge and the students are there to receive the instruction he has to impart.  In the blog post where I discovered this photograph, Stanford education professor Larry Cuban discusses the ramifications of this type of arrangement.  He points out that in this sort of arrangement, “Teacher-talk  gains higher priority and legitimacy than exchanges between and among students,” and that, “Surveillance is easier for a teacher when rows or tables are in rows. Threats to classroom order can be seen quickly and dealt with expeditiously” (Cuban).  He goes on to state that we can infer that instruction is more teacher-centered than student-centered when the classroom is arranged in this fashion.  Yes, we can imagine what education was like in this sort of arrangement. For some of us, this is not too distant from the approach we grew up with in school, but the question is, how far have we truly come?

For my examination of ISTE teacher standard 2, I focused on indicator b, which calls for a “technology-enriched learning environment” that can “enable all students to pursue their individual curiosities and become active participants in setting their own educational goals, managing their own learning, and assessing their own progress” (ISTE). This concept of a technology-enriched learning environment fascinated me. It didn’t just mean a classroom with computers in it. If that was the case, we could just add laptops to the photograph above and meet the standard.  No.  It had to mean more, so I decided to pursue a better definition/explanation/example of the technology-enriched learning environment.  That’s what I want for my students.  It is a noble goal.  But this goal will require not only a shift in desks and classroom material, it will necessitate a shift in how we do education as well.

Cuban’s post on arranging classroom furniture is one example of a change in thinking. The standard addresses it as well. Students pursue their individual curiosities, become active participants in setting their own educational goals, managing their own learning, and assessing their own progress.  This is student-centered.  The Alliance for Excellent Education addresses the collaborative and cooperative elements of student-centered education, “In their everyday exchanges with peers and friends, young people contribute, share, and give feedback in inclusive social experiences  that are both fluid and highly engaging. In these connected learning spaces, students can contribute their expertise and questions to other students’ work  in a fun, informal, and socially inclusive manner.”  The learning spaces are essential elements to the this process, but it’s not just about collaboration; the students also set their goals, manage their learning, and assess their progress, “Students drive activity during Boss Levels more than at any other time during the year. While educators put students in teams and define the challenges, students take the lead in designing, discovering, and evaluating possible solutions as well as providing each other with ongoing feedback about each other’s ideas and work styles” (Alliance). This approach completely correlates with indicator 2b.  The question remains, however, what kind of classroom facilitates this type of learning experience…probably not the one pictured at the top of this post.

In my search for some answers regarding characteristics of a technology-enriched learning environment, I came across Edcause and their “Learning Space Rating System” (LSRS).  Their goal is to set criteria for “active learning classrooms” (ALC’s) and then set up a process by which to evaluate these classrooms.  The evaluation takes into consideration not only specific technology issues, but also the school’s stated mission and technological goals as well.  Edcause focuses on college classrooms, but there’s no reason to think that what they discuss can’t be applied to the secondary classroom as well.  Much of this is approach regarding classroom arrangement  is already being implemented at the elementary level, though with less technology perhaps,  (https://www.edutopia.org/practice/flexible-classrooms-providing-learning-environment-kids-need).

In this initial post from Edcause, they outline various technologies as they apply to the ALC, their current status, and their expected implementation by 2022 http://er.educause.edu/blogs/2017/3/active-learning-classrooms-the-top-strategic-technology-for-2017.  While most of the technologies and approaches are still “emerging” or “experimental” they have full confidence that by 2022 most will be “mainstream” (Brooks).  In addition, a 2015 report on the status of the LSRS (“Kicking the tires on the Learning  Space Rating System”) reveals some of the goals of the LSRS as well as examples of ALC’s around the country. https://events.educause.edu/sites/default/files/library/presentations/E15/SESS130/E15+LSRS+deck.pdf.

This approach to classroom design correlates quite nicely with ISTE standard of students becoming “active participants” in the learning process.  Even the name denotes that the students are active learners in the process of education.  Here are a few pictures of ALC’s that illustrate the inclination towards active learning built into the design of the classrooms:

Image result for active learning classroom

Image result for active learning classroom

Image result for active learning classroom

Some features worth noting include: chairs/desks facing each other, the common work area, the access to laptops/tablets (with built-in access to power in some instances), and the large screens or white boards available at each grouping of desks.  As much as the photo at the top of this post is teacher-centered, these photos are student-centered.  They really reveal a revolution in education.  This isn’t just technology in the classroom, it is re-thinking how education is done.  It integrates technology, not merely includes it.  It empowers students and engages them rather than making them a passive audience.  It’s interesting to think how a classroom like the ones pictured above would change instruction.  Would it automatically make a classroom more student-centered?  Perhaps not.  Ultimately that will still rest with the teacher.  A determined teacher could probably lecture like teachers did 100 years ago in one of these classrooms, despite the fact that everything in it seems to be working towards student collaboration.  But one thing we can say with some certainty is that if a teacher wanted to shift the focus of education to the students – if he or she wanted to try to integrate ISTE standards, it would be much easier in a classroom set up along these lines than in a more conventional classroom setting.

And speaking of conventional classroom settings, I thought I would take some pictures in my own school for comparison.

Here is a photo of our computer lab.  Notice how the tables and computers all face the front of the class and the towers serve as impromptu dividers?  The conveys the idea that education is meant to be individual and private with the teacher still at the center.

Here are some computers in the back of my own classroom.  No dividers here, but the students using them all face the wall.  Individual use with minimal distraction – not geared for collaboration or interaction either.

Even in the library, where tables are set up for people to work together, the computer workspace is isolated and each computer is tucked neatly into its own slot for individual learning.  Larry Cuban discusses the hints about classroom instruction we can deduce by looking at how classrooms are arranged, “Furniture arrangement is seldom mandated by a school board, superintendent, or principal. The teacher decides how to use classroom space. Furniture placement, consciously or not, expresses the teacher’s views of how best to teach, maintain order, and how students learn. Thus, an observer gets a clue to whether teacher-centered and student-centered instruction* (including mixes of both) will prevail.”  The message at my school is clear.

In many ways, the use of computers at my school is more reflective of the educational approach at the very top of this page than the ALC’s depicted just above.  And I don’t think my school is unique.  And I don’t blame them.  In today’s technology-rich world, access to computers is not the issue; it’s how we use them.  Creating the physically “technology-enriched” classroom may not be the one-stop solution to the problem (teachers are far too influential for that to be the case), but they can be an important step to help us to reach that goal.  And if you have any doubts on the impact that this change might have, look again at the classroom at the top of this post and then look at the middle photograph of the ALC – the one with the students in it, and imagine how their learning experiences are different from the students at the top.

 

Steelcase corporation grant for ALC’s: https://www.steelcase.com/discover/information/education/active-learning-center-grant/

Larry Cuban’s blog: https://larrycuban.wordpress.com/2014/03/19/arranging-classroom-furniture-an-unobtrusive-glimpse-into-how-teachers-teach/

 

  1. Briefly discuss an assessment tool your district/ school uses and how it benefits or hinders student learning and/or teacher practice. What recommendations might you have for improving the effectiveness of the tool? (It can be ANY assessment tool for ANY assessment purpose) (1-2 paragraphs)- Remember, this prompt is a sort of “add on” to the Module 2 Resolution. Feel free to include this in your blog by adding an additional paragraph(s), or integrating it into your Resolution.

My school doesn’t really have a school-wide assessment system other than MAP testing and exams.  Given our small student body, teachers are given a great deal of leeway to incorporate methods of assessment as they see fit in their classrooms on a daily basis.  I would say this decentralized approach is appropriate given that each teacher usually teaches all sections of a particular subject so consistency across different sections is not really an issue. There has been some debate over the merits of giving exams to our students, but given that most continue on to a four-year college or university, it is generally agreed that exams have a place in our pantheon of assessment tools.  If I were to make a suggestion, I might recommend a bit more flexibility in the exam system whereby a final project or other activity could be used in place of an exam, but I’m not sure how much traction that idea would have at this point.  In summary, I would like to see more diversity and variety in summative assessments at our school – particularly in the exams.

 

 

Alliance for Excellent Education. (2014, March 1). Connected learning: harnessing the information age to make learning more powerful. Retrieved from http://all4ed.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/ConnectedLearning.pdf

Brooks, Christopher D. (2017, March 27).  “Active Learning Classrooms: The Top Strategic Technology for 2017,” Edcause Review. Retrieved from: http://er.educause.edu/blogs/2017/3/active-learning-classrooms-the-top-strategic-technology-for-2017

Cuban, Larry. (2014, March 19). “Arranging Classroom Furniture: An Unobtrusive Glimpse into How Teachers Teach.” Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice.  Retrieved from: https://larrycuban.wordpress.com/2014/03/19/arranging-classroom-furniture-an-unobtrusive-glimpse-into-how-teachers-teach/

ISTE (2008). “ISTE Standards for Teachers.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-teachers

 

Helping Students Help Themselves: ISTE Teacher Standard 1

To Inspire and To Plan

As we begin a new quarter in EDTC6103, we are starting to look at the teacher standards for ISTE.  Standard #1 for teachers deals with facilitating and inspiring student leaning and creativity.  This, in and of itself, is not really remarkable, but the scope and the methodology presented by ISTE presents some interesting challenges to the conventional classroom setting.  I was particularly struck by indicator c where it calls for the use of reflection and collaborative tools to “reveal and clarify students’ conceptual understanding and thinking, planning and creative processes” (ISTE).  I had always understood reflection as a means to process “conceptual understanding” and I also could easily understand how it would apply to “creative processes,” but when it came to helping students “think” and “plan” I was at a bit of a loss.  My question for this standard then, revolved around how technology and reflection could be used to help students plan and think about their learning.

Helen Crompton’s piece on ISTE teacher standard 1 provides some indicator of how student reflection can be utilized to help plan a lesson.  In her explanation of an activity that fully meets the criteria she writes, “The teacher in Activity 3 asks the students to work collaboratively in teams so they can have conversations about the data and make group decisions about how to represent it. The teacher has provided the context of healthy living, but the students collect their own meaningful data from their grade level” (Crompton). The key, as it relates to my question, is in how the teacher provides the context, but the students are the ones who collect, apply, and interpret the data.  This certainly has aspects of planning, but I wanted more of an explanation on the degree to which these fourth graders are determining their collective educational fate.  This is a positive first step in understanding how students can use reflection in planning, but I was hoping for more.

Overview of the reading for Module 1:

In my own search for information on how teachers can inspire and facilitate the use of collaborative tools and reflection to help students think about and plan their education, I came across a number of sites that provided links to various collaborative tools to facilitate collaboration.  The main problem I had with many of these sites is that they generally failed to go into any detail about HOW to implement these tools – especially at it relates to planning.  These sites were often simply lists of various collaborative tools for students in the classroom, which is fine if that’s all you’re looking for, but I wanted a more philosophical approach.

Eventually I came across Marita Diffenbaugh’s piece on Edsurge called, “Tips and Tools for Involving Students in Lesson Planning and Content Delivery.”  In it, Diffenbaugh clearly outlines her approach to the role of teachers and students in education. “What if teachers and students could discover academic goals in the same way that one would plan for a travel adventure–together?” This solidly addresses my question regarding teachers inspiring and facilitating planning and thinking on the part of the students. Not merely a list of websites for students to work together, Diffenbaugh explains how those tools could be used. The post is organized around a 5-step process to help students plan a lesson (collaborate and reflect to plan – as per the indicator). The post goes further and in each section it includes links to different tools to help facilitate that particular step of the process. This is generally the opposite approach taken by many sites which will simply list various tools and then say how each can be used. In some ways, that approach seems backwards. I believe Diffenbaugh gets it right by starting with the goal and then identifying possible tools to help achieve it.

https://www.edsurge.com/news/2014-11-16-tips-and-tools-for-involving-students-in-lesson-planning-and-content-delivery

I’ll briefly list and explain the five steps recommended by Diffenbaugh:

Step A: Knowing the Learning Objective – Every lesson must (should) have one and this is where we start.  The goal here is to help “Teachers activate students’ sense of wonder by matching student questions with the required content.”

Step B: Researching and Planning – This is the one perhaps most relevant to my question.  Here the teacher points the students towards achieving the objectives established in step A.  Diffenbaugh even recommends a totally usable website for matching lessons with Common Core standards!

Step C: Implementation – Here is where the learning comes alive and students research, create, and generally learn.

Step D: Sharing and Publishing – This step is echoed in many of the readings assigned for the week, like the Apple essay on Challenge Based Learning, which advocates for students sharing “their challenges, solutions, and reflections with a local and global audience” (Apple).

Step E: Reflection and Assessment – A typical run-through of what was learned, what went well, what could be improved, etc. with the addition of collaborative digital aspects.

In the end, Marita Diffenbaugh’s article was just what I was looking for with regard to my question regarding inspiriting students to use reflection and collaborative tools to plan and think about their learning.  Perhaps I have always thought of reflection too narrowly.  Yes, reflection at the end of a lesson can be beneficial, but perhaps it is the initial reflection upon what is to be learned and how it is to be learned that I need to focus on.  Diffenbaugh’s essay does a lot to convey the importance of that, and the digital tools she suggests to help students in this endeavor remind us all that the journey we are taking is, in fact, a collaborative one.  The more aware we are of this fact as teachers and students, and the better the tools use in our journey, the more successful we will all be in arriving at our destination.

Within my own school setting, I have seen various teachers use their “knowledge of subject matter, teaching and learning, and technology to facilitate experiences that advance student learning, creativity, and innovation in both face-to-face and virtual environments.”  We have one teacher who has experimented with “flipping the classroom” and allowed the in-class time to be used to pursue individual projects.  Even in my own classroom I have tried to advance student learning through my expertise and technology.  One example that comes to mind is a project on the process by which a bill becomes a law. Students are encouraged to use a variety of media to present their project. Some students utilized YouTube, some used Prezi, others Powerpoint, and still others used “old school” technologies like poster board or bound books.

Giving students choices in how they learn as well as informing them of the myriad of options at their disposal is not only empowering for students, but also nurtures their love for learning. It starts with us as teachers.  We can always to better, but we have to keep trying.

 

Apple. (2010) “Challenge Based Learning: A Classroom Guide.”  Retrieved from https://ssl.apple.com/education/docs/CBL_Classroom_Guide_Jan_2011.pdf

Crompton, H. (2014, May 1). “ISTE standards for teachers 1: facilitate and inspire student learning and creativity.” Learning & Leading Through Technology – May 2014. Retrieved from http://www.learningandleading-digital.com/learning_leading/may_2014#pg46

Diffenbaugh, Marita (2014, November 16). “Tips and Tools for Involving Students in Lesson Planning and Content Delivery.” Edsurge.com.  Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2014-11-16-tips-and-tools-for-involving-students-in-lesson-planning-and-content-delivery

ISTE (2008). “ISTE Standards for Teachers.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-teachers

 

 

Collapse Project: Integrating Jared Diamond’s Five Point Framework AND Technology Into the Classroom

Image result for jared diamond collapse

Jared Diamond’s treatise on environmental damage and societal collapse is a landmark work on societal issues facing the world today. As such, it makes a fantastic teaching tool for my 12th grade current world problems class, and I’ve been using the book as a text for several years now.  For my digital education leadership class, I decided to integrate technology in a more meaningful way in this project.  For my final blog post for this quarter, I will be posting my lesson plans for this semester-long unit as well as my thoughts on the lessons.  All of this will be done through the filter of Wiggins and McTighe’s Understanding by Design (2005) or UbD.

The project has proven very successful in the past, with many graduates commenting years later on what they’ve learned, but I look forward to adding the technology elements this year to better facilitate the learning and I have enjoyed the reflective nature of the UbD approach.  Agree or disagree with the totality of Diamond’s approach, this lesson is a meaningful way to get students to think about the environment, the world they live in, and the choices they make.

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