Empowered Learner – ISTE Standard #1

“Students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences.” – ISTE Student Standard #1

Given the topic this week and the triggering event question being asked – dealing with how students can leverage technology to take an active role in learning, I asked a follow-up question dealing specifically with indicator 1d.  The indicator states: “Students understand the fundamental concepts of technology operations, demonstrate the ability to choose, use and troubleshoot current technologies and are able to transfer their knowledge to explore emerging technologies.”  (http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/for-students-2016). My question, which builds on this, was if there were any best practices in the technology field to help students either troubleshoot existing technologies or transfer their knowledge of fundamental concepts regarding technology to emerging technologies?

This topic relates generally to my field as a history and government teacher, but more specifically, as an aspiring digital education leader, I am very much interested in existing pedagogies vis-à-vis technology education.  There can be little doubt that this approach to student-driven technology education is path education is on.  But even in the more directly applicable sense, every teacher has several student in each class who are the “tech guys” (or girls).  We know who they are and we often utilize their help in getting other students up to speed, helping subs in our absence, or maybe even showing us around the latest software app.  So I find this standard regarding the formalization of these phenomena to be incredibly pertinent.

With regard to the indicator itself, the ISTE defined the relevant terms within the text.  The key terms are defined as follows:

Fundamental concepts – “basic knowledge of how to use devices and software applications”

Troubleshoot – “Able to solve technical problems, for example, restart a device, install software updates, transfer work from one device to another and troubleshoot when audio/video won’t play”

Transfer – “Apply prior knowledge and technical experiences to figure out how new technologies or applications work”

Emerging technologies – “New digital tools and technologies that have the ability to enhance the learning process”

The issue of “emerging technologies” was also addressed in one of our readings for this week from The Peabody Journal of Education.  James A. Mecklenburger’s 1986 article on emerging technologies provides a valuable insight into the issue of technology and education despite being written over 30 years ago! The issues about how to integrate emerging technologies have changed little despite the fact that we are no longer talking about VHS tapes or Amiga 2000 computers.  Mecklenburger points out that the “necessity” of sitting in a classroom learning directly from a teacher is increasingly an “option” and that the old model now has to compete for “customers” in a rapidly evolving marketplace (p. 184).  Instead, Mecklenburger envisions a “classroom of the mind shared by students and teachers located far from each other but linked electronically.” (p. 185)  What must have seemed like science-fiction in 1986 is now reality and it brings me back to my question regarding the best way to help students function in this new reality to “choose, use, troubleshoot” and “transfer” what they have learned.

In looking for answers to my question, I came across a blog by the Madison Consolidated Schools digital leadership class. http://blogs.techsmith.com/for-educators/adapting-to-technology-in-the-21st-century/  This impressive cohort exemplified the ISTE indicator regarding student empowerment and has excelled specifically at my chosen issue regarding students and emerging technology.  Operating in a k-12, one-to-one school setting, this twice-weekly elective class recorded numerous accomplishments in its brief 4-year history.  They received a state Creating and eLearning grant, created a digital curriculum for elementary students, implemented a learning management system, made videos about digital citizenship (like this one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KmKFzR_eIM), hosted a student-led conference on digital identity, and received an SETDA Student Voices Award.

So how did this small group of 13 students do it?  They obviously met the standard and fulfilled the indicator beautifully.  Looking at their blog, several key elements for their success stand out:

  1. Commitment to Technological Infrastructure.  All students k-12 had devices.  This demonstrates a commitment on the part of the school to get technology in the hands of its students.  It is interesting to note that the creation of the curriculum came AFTER the hardware component, but suspect this is not an unusual dilemma.  In any case, the students had the resources to make technology an integral part of their learning experience.
  2. Commitment to Experimentation.  In addition to the hardware needs of the students, Madison Consolidated Schools was committed to being flexible in their pursuit of their educational goals.  They offered an extra-curricular class in technology, they allocated two faculty to teach a class of 13 students, they allowed students to generate curriculum, they set aside “eLearning days” (still not sure exactly what these are or how often they occurred), and in essence, they allowed students to change the system of their school.  That’s no small concession.
  3. Commitment of Personnel.  The course was team-taught by 2 teachers: Melanie Torline and Jennifer Watson.  They taught this class outside of normal school hours and they deserve much of the credit here for facilitating learning. Based on the evidence presented in the blog (all of which was created by the students themselves), these two women empowered their students – the very issue at the heart of this standard.  They encouraged them to create content, to experiment, to make a difference, to (in the words of the indicator) choose, use, troubleshoot, and transfer – their knowledge to facilitate the learning of others.
  4. Commitment of Students.  Of course none of this would be possible without the students. It was their hard work. In addition to the fact that this was essentially an extra-curricular class that met outside of normal school hours, it is notable that they were “expected to complete most assignments on our own time and virtually.” They were using technology to teach technology.  They were also pioneers.  And just like their teachers and the school board who gave them the chance, they were paving their own way.  They were empowered and they used that opportunity to achieve great things. They made a difference at their school; they made it a better place and helped others learn.  In short, they show us what is possible in ISTE standard 1.

So as I look back at my question regarding how, specifically, to enable students to achieve the standard set out in ISTE standard #1, I think the example from the Madison Consolidated Schools Digital Education program is instructive.  And for me, the big lesson is commitment; commitment to the technology and the principle of empowerment.  The school, the teachers, and the students all had to buy-in to it.  I am a big believer in this. In fact, there are many facets from my academic classes that utilize the same principle: get people to buy-in.  When I think of this idea – of the school, teachers, and students all taking a chance on this program and going all in, I’m reminded of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 film, Apocalypse Now (not a promising start to an analogy, I’ll admit).  In it, there’s a famous scene where as patrol boat is goes up the river and things get more and more surreal, Willard reminds himself, “Never get out of the boat.  Absolutely…right.  Unless you’re going all the way.”  Maybe that’s the problem for many of us.  We don’t want to get out of the boat.  We know the boat.  It’s where we feel we belong.  It’s safe in the boat.  But for many, our boat is strange waters.  The landscape is changing and is hardly recognizable. Staying in the boat and trying to make changes is a half-measure.  We can try to go half-way, to accommodate, but the reality is, we have to get out of the boat.  Embracing the technology and empowering the students to use it – that’s the first step to getting out of the boat.


ISTE (2016). ISTE Standards for Students 2016. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/for-students-2016

Mecklenburger, James, A. (1986). “Emerging” Technologies for Education. Peabody Journal of Education, Vol. 64,  No. 1, pp. 183-187

Watson, Jordyn. (2015, January 29). Adapting to Technology in the 21st Century. Retrieved from http://blogs.techsmith.com/for-educators/adapting-to-technology-in-the-21st-century/