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.

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:

Comen, Evan, and Michael B. Sauter and Samuel Stebbins (April 15, 2016). “The Cost of a Computer the Year You Were Born.”  Retrieved from:

ISTE (2008). “ISTE Standards for Teachers.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from

Patterson, Mike (2016, April 26).  “Tips for Transforming Educational Technology through Professional Development and Training.”  EdTech K-12 Magazine. Retrieved from



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:

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

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.


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

ISTE (2008). “ISTE Standards for Teachers.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from

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:

US Department of Education (2017). NETP: Introduction. Retrieved from

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


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. 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.

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.


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 (  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

Fenton, William (March 28, 2017).  “The Best LMS (Learning Management Systems) of 2017.”  PC Magazine.  Retrieved from,2817,2488347,00.asp

ISTE (2008). “ISTE Standards for Teachers.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from

Kabaker, J. (2015). Supporting deeper learning in the classroom. Retrieved from
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

O’Brien, Anne (2011, August 31). “What Parents Want in School Communication.” Retrieved from

Williams, Steve (October 26, 2015). “6 key school communication channels and how to use them.” CampusSuite. Retrieved from

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,  (

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  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.

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:

Larry Cuban’s blog:


  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

Brooks, Christopher D. (2017, March 27).  “Active Learning Classrooms: The Top Strategic Technology for 2017,” Edcause Review. Retrieved from:

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:

ISTE (2008). “ISTE Standards for Teachers.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from


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.

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

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

Diffenbaugh, Marita (2014, November 16). “Tips and Tools for Involving Students in Lesson Planning and Content Delivery.”  Retrieved from

ISTE (2008). “ISTE Standards for Teachers.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from