Final Presentation – What is dRAFT?

There are three parts to my final assignment for COETAIL: a presentation, a video and a rationale.

The presentation, seen below, is a set of relevant images that guided my 10 minute talk. As Garr Reynolds of Presentation Zen fame would say, those images are useless without the rationale or notes, and even then they are likely hard to make sense of. But for those who can follow or were there for the ‘live’ version on May 12th, it might jog their memory.

 

“What is dRAFT?”, the video, is meant to ignite some curiosity about the nature of this experiment because this was, indeed, an experiment. Take a look and then read the summary (rationale/explanation) of the presentation below.

Rationale 

This presentation was based on meeting the 10 questions asked of all participants about how they integrated technology into curriculum. Here are the questions and my corresponding answers:

What were your goals for your lesson/project (Standards)?

My goal for this project was to somehow find a way to integrate digital technology into an English classroom, where to date I have had little to no interaction. Ultimately I was open to applying any of the NETS standards for students that would suitably apply to the Year 9 English curriculum.

What tools did you use? Why did you choose this/these tools for this/these task(s)?

There are really two answers to the first part of this question; the tools I used and the tools used by the students. As mentioned in the initial post of this project, I introduced this activity using a video (from YouTube) and provided a list of activities in a Google Doc. None of these tools were that innovative, but they served the purpose well.

The students, on the other hand, were encouraged to use any tool at their disposal to complete their task. As such, there were Prezi’s, search stories (using etherpads, SlideShare and other tools), videos, powerful image presentations, podcasts, and a host of others too numerous to mention. The goal was really to have the students test their abilities to find applications that would suit the format of their presentation. It was challenging for them, but the results were interesting and clever.

How did you go about introducing your lesson/project?

The beauty of this project is that I was not the only one responsible for introducing and supporting it. Kristen Raymond, the English teacher I worked with, was instrumental in getting the students on board and working towards completing their assignment digitally. Although I was the one who set up the initial lesson, Ms. Raymond was ultimately responsible for assessing the results (I did comment on all posted projects, but the criteria being met was hers). To my mind, this was a perfect example of how I would help support or ‘coach’ the students to complete their work successfully.

How did the students react?

Initially the students were keen to try something different and break from the routine of previous RAFT activities. But after seeing past the ‘cool’ aspect of some of the examples, they realized that they faced familiar challenges. That is, as always, they really had to think about the novel they had read BEFORE they undertook to present it digitally. Disappointment was felt when a Google Search story, an In Plain English video, or a podcast really didn’t work for them.

After they had done the dRAFT twice, I surveyed the classes. You can see the results in another post, but overall the conclusion is that the majority liked having the option of completing their work digitally instead of just in the written form.

Outcome? Did you meet your goals?

Unequivocally, yes, I met the goals I had set for this project. Depending on the student, there were numerous NETS standards that were met including: communication and collaboration, critical thinking,  and creativity and innovation. NIST’s English curriculum includes a component for wider or independent reading. From this reading, students are meant to develop their understanding of different literary forms and how they are applied. RAFT (Role, Audience, Format, and Topic) has been developed to specifically address their understanding of the literature they read. The degree of understanding is part of this process.

Evidence of learning (student evidence required)?

As shown in the above video clip, the students really did push themselves to try something different. There is no doubt that this activity did took them out of their comfort zone – no ‘receive the outline, follow the format, hand it in’ for this assignment. The students had to decide how they were going to present their learning. As mentioned here (insert post link), the results were interesting as the students really took risks in their performances and presentations, though too often they were unclear about the subject matter and conclusions they were hoping to convey.

What would you do differently next time? What did you learn? (Reflection)

The reflection post goes into this in more detail, but briefly, I would try to make sure that there were more examples to be used as models for the students. These examples would be used to show some of the techniques used successfully, as well as those which needed tweaking. It became woefully evident that these students required some direct instruction in video, sound, and editing, to name but a few skills which would benefit them hugely.

Another area I would like to develop is the sharing of results with a greater audience. A push for all to comment on at least two other students’ work would be one step. Going beyond, I would like to connect with another school doing something similar and ask for feedback that our students would reciprocate.

How do/did you plan to share this with your colleagues?

Ms. Kristen has been great and she is keen to continue for the remainder of this year and into next. Now that the seed is planted, I would like to grow dRAFT into a staple activity with the other Year 9 (or even all the middle school) English teachers. I still need to develop this assignment before launching it more widely, but ultimately I hope my approach might be adopted in other English classrooms to support and develop independent reading with the students.

What was your greatest learning in this course?

Really there are so many big ideas that I take away from COETAIL. It is hard to limit myself to just one. From blogging teaching me how to think about my thinking, to reflecting upon the future of education as we know it, there is much that is profound.

However there are two things that have particularly struck me recently and that I will try and address in my role and my interactions with others at my school. The first is the naive idea that using digital technology will result in the faster completion of assignments or activities. For example, that ‘two minutes and change’ video you watched earlier (see above) took roughly 5 to 6 hours to complete: finding and editing the music, downloading or screen-casting the student projects, learning and creating the text animations in Keynote, and then editing all of it together in iMovie so that it fit the 2:31 time frame. Flippantly asking students to do a video for a simple task could really drive them over the edge. Strategies must be in place to address the time commitment such projects require.

The second major take-away I have is that this Digital Native Generation is not necessarily Digitally Literate. Some grand assumptions have been made about how our young students just know how to use technology because they have SmartPhones, a Facebook account, and use Skype incessantly. What the students know, they tend to know fairly well. But there is so much they don’t know and we, as teachers, have neglected to teach them. I am not sure if it is because many teachers are not that digitally literate themselves or if it is because we rely on the assumptions made about our current students, but the reason matters little. The point is we need to equip students with many tools to truly prepare them for the next stage in life and many of these tools just happen to be digital.

Did this implementation meet the definition of Redefinition?

The answer to this question is really up for debate. It could be argued that dRAFT is just a modification of the old RAFT assignment. Obviously dRAFT is based on the old model, so the similarities are notable and inevitable.

But it could also be argued that this is, indeed, a redefinition of the old because now almost every aspect of the task takes on a new dimension and requires a different approach. It is no longer an assignment that is given on paper and then returned in a similar fashion, on paper. dRAFT provides dozens of new ways of presenting student ideas and that presentation is now viewable by a much larger audience via the blog or the site where their work is hosted. More simply, how would a student have made a Google Search story (student version) for a character in their book prior to doing this task digitally? How about an In Plain English (student version) video perspective about the main conflict in a novel? Or a Dan Brown style (student version) rant about how the author should have written the book from another perspective or considered writing a prequel? Students had the option of doing the safe activities (PowerPoint images uploaded to SlideShare or Prezi) but they also had the option to do something that none could have conceived of doing just 3 to 5 years ago. Even that PowerPoint is being viewed by many more than it was before – impossible without going digital.

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(d)RAFT Reflection

Finishing an activity is often filled with coulda, woulda, shoulda and this (d)RAFT activity was no different. Simple things can make all the difference. For instance, of the two classes that completed this activity, one was initially far more successful at posting their work; the group that was given time in class to complete their posts.  cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by FotoRita [Allstar maniac]

As for the activity itself, much of what I predicted in an earlier post came true. The digital technology didn’t fail the students, but their true understanding of the assignment did. Too often they were describing their activity in a rationale that didn’t match what they presented in their final project. This was consistent with the English teacher’s findings in their non-digital RAFTs: the struggle and learning occurs when the students were challenged to think about the book from another perspective instead of merely describing what happened in the book.

Not to say that the digital tools were not problematic for some. To reiterate an observation made by Ms. Raymond in a previous post, “these students are avid consumers of digital technology, but not very adept at applying its uses”. We need to be less impressed by what they can do and more focused on those skills that are lacking.

For example, the simple statement made by Jason Ohler that “music trumps image” is something that became very clear as I watched audio-less ‘Google-chat’ style screen-casts. Although clever and well-done, having music would have provided the umph and emotion needed to captivate the audience. cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by photosteve101

Similarly, recording people speaking was often an issue. Hearing, ‘the 360 degree sense’, is so important that much more attention needs to be given to it while recording. Frequently students, of all ages, rush to take video without much concern for the audio. BIG mistake.

Consideration for other basic frame composition concepts like the rule of thirds, light, and attention to the background environment would also improve the final aesthetic. Visual literacy is becoming more important in our digital world and knowing how to use visuals and present them properly is vital.

To my mind, it is the above areas where we are failing our students. You will notice that none of them really are specific issues with the digital technology, just how it is used. It should also be noted that a teacher does not need to be computer or digitally savvy to recognize when the sound is unclear, the background is distracting, or the images are blurry or uninteresting. We wouldn’t hesitate to correct when words are misspelled (as is evident in the video below) or simple math is done wrong, so why are we often accepting work that is really sub-par just because it is in the digital form? It is our job to model good examples of smart uses of digital technology and to highlight when something is unacceptable.

Despite all these ‘picky’ criticisms, I was proud of the students’ work. So many students put themselves out there by taking risks with the technology, their method of communication, volunteering to assist with other projects, and with their acting. It isn’t easy to sit, by yourself, in front of a camera and hit record. From the powerful images in SlideShare to the dual role acting (in both genders) to the simple yet incredibly effective holding up pieces of paper with sentences on them (as shown below), the students dared to be different.

I learned a great deal from this activity but perhaps the biggest take-away was that these student are still developing their skills as both effective literary critics, but also as effective users of digital technology. We often forget that these students are young and still need a lot of nurturing and guidance to get things done. Assuming that they can provide succinct insight because they are good at voicing their opinion is as naive as assuming that they can edit and make a video because they use a SmartPhone to watch YouTube. They might be exposed to these tools regularly, but that doesn’t mean they know how to use them effectively.

A point from the blog post the Top 10 Things NOT to do in a 1:1 iPad Initiative can be broadly applied to our experience with dRAFT: Do NOT expect (the activity) to go perfectly on the first attempt. I take heart in the fact that  completing an activity is part of a bigger process and it is comforting to know that others are experiencing similar issues with other activities and technology.

Any thoughts from others launching a ‘digital only’ option for a class? How was it received? Did the students thrive or flounder? Were the results of attempting a new activity any different to doing an activity off-line? Curious to hear other experiences.

 

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Feedback – Feed Foreward


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by woodleywonderworks

This part of the journey that is the dRAFT project has come to a conclusion and therefore can be assessed. Feedback of the project came in two forms: an interview with the co-teacher and a survey taken by the students.

Teacher Interview

Kristen Raymond is the English teacher for both Year 9 classes and her reflection, based on questions I posed, was very insightful. Overall, she loved the dRAFT idea and project and found it to be successful on many levels. Perhaps the most beneficial aspect of the dRAFT assignment is that it easily allows for differentiation. Students that struggle to see the deeper meaning of a novel can stick to more concrete ideas and present those ideas with the tools they are familiar with. Others can delve into subtler nuances and challenge themselves with a new application. Choice abounds. cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Mark J P

Ms. Raymond also liked that there was ICT support embedded, and presented, within the lesson – it helped to have “the face of ICT” in her room. It also helped to have much of the activity front loaded with the lesson, example, and support for the first two lessons. As it was the first attempt at doing the RAFT activity digitally, the students needed the support and encouragement that two adults could give. Interviewing each student was essential to determining their topic and subsequent digital format.

When asked if the “student understanding of their novels was enhanced by using digital technology?”, Ms. Raymond said it did. Some projects were simple and others more complex, but everyone had to give some though to creatively representing their point of view and this required a return to their understanding of the novel. It was interesting to see how students transferred their knowledge into their final presentation.

Risk-taking was another feature that was a pleasant surprise. Everyone took a risk in presenting their work to a wider audience. Many were willing to work with others to help finish their videos.

Of course there were also some things that could have been done differently, or improved upon. For some, using the 3 Little Bops video as an intro was too much of a stretch. Watching a video is different from reading a novel so perhaps having a children’s story or fable that can be read quickly might make it more relevant to their dRAFT experience.

Although not a digital technology issue, some students were confused about the literary element of the project. Many fixated on the grid and took a while to realize that they could mix and match the format they used as it applied to their situation. In fact, the students could mix and match any element of RAFT to suit their needs. The dRAFT grid was just a suggestion. In tandem with this confusion was the focus on the final product instead of the literary element of their novel. Of course it is important to have a goal, but if that goal does not match the circumstances, then it is not worth pursuing. For example, many stated they wanted to make a video instead of asking the question of how they might best represent the conflict or themes in their story.

It was also interesting, from Ms. Raymond’s perspective, that her students who are avid consumers of digital technology, are not very adept at applying its use. The students just expect the digital technology to work for them. In many instances the project became a ‘one-shot deal’ with no consideration for revising or improving upon their work – a ‘just get it done’ attitude.

For future RAFT activities Ms. Raymond wants to continue to encourage students to complete their work digitally so that it challenges their skills and interpretation of the novel they have read. She also liked that this has changed the paradigm from a paper assignment that begets a paper response to a paper assignment that begets a plethora of responses in a number of different media.

Student Survey Results

Overall, the student feedback was overwhelmingly positive. To see the survey and the questions asked, click this link. The chart that shows the results is here. Not unlike the fiasco that happened with oversight in the introduction of New Coke, students wanted to keep all options open. That is, they wanted to be able to choose to do their project digitally while not losing the ‘classic’ way of handing in their assignment off-line. As you can see in the chart below, just under a third of the student preferred the change outright but when combined with the students who had no preference, 87% would like to have the option of going digital. cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by EvanHahn

Did you enjoy completing your RAFT (Role, Audience, Format, Topic) activity digitally (d)RAFT?
Yes, I preferred the change 12 32%
No, I prefer just handing in the written, non-digital, version 5 13%
No preference, I am comfortable doing either 21 55%

This was vetted out in the next question where 79% of the students, rather maturely, stated that choosing to do their project digitally would ‘depend on the novel I have read and the format I would choose.’ Of course, this is not an overwhelming endorsement of dRAFT, but it could be a case of not wanting to limit oneself to only the digital option.

Another telling result from the survey was that there was about a 50-50 split about where the difficulties of the project lay. For those having issues, they struggled with either determining what they were going to do as much as how they might undertake it digitally. Optimistically, that could mean the learning occurred with both the literary context and the digital application.

As you can see, by simply consulting the stakeholders of dRAFT there is much to do to tweak and improve this activity. Making a formal, but simple, effort to solicit feedback will be crucial to assessing the effectiveness of dRAFT.

For those reading this post and considering implementing a ‘dRAFT-like’ activity, please feel free to use any of the materials in this blog. All I ask is that you reciprocate by letting me know what changes you made and how it worked. Can anyone see another simple method for getting feedback?

 

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(d)RAFT – An Update

I have a confession to make. The students finished their (d)RAFT activity a few weeks ago and I have not had a chance to look at them yet. My reasoning: not wanting the final products to bias my assessment and review of the exercise.  Truthfully, my goals of completing this post and my reflection have been delayed. I have been interrupted by a myriad number of tasks that most teachers will relate to.

To review, (d)RAFT  (digital Role Audience Form Topic) is a format used to facilitate a student’s reflection on a book they have read for their monthly independent reading assignment. In my case, two year 9 classes embarked upon the challenge of making their RAFTs digital. What quickly became abundantly clear was that the successful completion of this activity hinged more upon their understanding and implementation of RAFT than it did upon making it digital. Of course this should have been obvious to me from the outset, but for some reason I thought the novelty of going digital would be the central focus of the exercise. Thankfully I was wrong and this proved, in a sense, that true integration should continue to allow for a focus on the material and not on the tools used.

In order to comprehend how integration supported this activity, one needs to understand RAFT more clearly. Kristen Raymond, the English teacher, uses this format to encourage students to think beyond the text that they are reading and to focus on (in reverse order): Topic, Form, Audience, Role, hence the acronym RAFT. In class I asked students about their stories and then tried to help them figure out what topics to extract which would best highlight these. Did their stories speak about great conflicts and how these were resolved or was the focus on character development and relationships? What themes permeated the pages? Were the settings crucial to the telling of the stories? Many initially focused on the digital aspect of the activity and discovered they were unsuccessful in truly completing the RAFT exercise. For example, they wanted to do a Google search story, like the famous Parisian Love story (shown below), using the Google Search Story creator but their chosen material to highlight made using this tool a stretch. As such, they re-grouped to begin focus on their book topic and then adapt a digital tool to a retelling of it.  That struggle was the learning.

Expertly, Ms. Raymond was able to question the students about their novels and force them to see their stories from a unique perspective and therefore extract a relevant topic. I feebly tried to replicate her approach but often ended up being like the grandparent described in Sugatra Mitra’s TED Talk on the Child Driven Education (a person who knows little about the subject but sits behind the child and encourages them by saying things like “oh, how did you do that?” or “show me that again”). Ultimately, the students studied their stories more closely and let these stories determine the form of their project. Completing their task thereafter became much easier.

Having not seen the final products, I am a bit skeptical about how successful they will be. Ms. Raymond is more philosophical and optimistic. She looks at this as their first attempt to digitize their RAFT. Some will thrive and produce wonderful work, others will struggle more and be humbled by their peers’ results. In the end though, everyone should have a clearer idea of what it is they have to do to successfully share their work with a wider audience. Hopefully, for the next round they will have ideas for improving their approach based on what they will have observed from others.  This is the energy that I hope we will be able to tap into and amplify.

Has anyone else tried something similar in an English classroom? Are there other successful writing strategies that work well with a digital outcome? My guess is that using audio and video might allow for some to thrive where writing has proved cumbersome.

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Three Little Bops – Final Project

Background Information

The question looming for most COETAIL participants when embarking on their final project is how to reach for the top –  ‘new things, new ways’. Depending on your perspective, this is either easy or impossible. Easy if you think, ‘wow, this is a new way to do things, and I have never seen that before’. Impossible if you think, ‘well that might be new, but really it is just an improvement on the old.’

My role as a digital learning coach at NIST allows me to support learning in every area of the school. I work with administrators when organizing big projects or new initiatives, from laptop rollouts, to switching to a digital portfolio using blogs. Parents attend bi-monthly seminars on how we work to integrate the use of digital technology across the curriculum. I teach teachers with regular digital tech training sessions or when planning to use digital technology in the classroom. And contact with students varies from direct instruction in my regular Year 9 Digital Connections class, to support work in classes in every subject, to introductory ‘crash course’ transition sessions for new students. Having this type of regular exposure to so many groups of people makes any attempt at a redefinition of digital technology use a challenge.

This is why, for my final COETAIL project, I wanted to push myself to be involved with a part of the school that tends, for various reasons, not to get too much ICT attention; the English department. I approached a teacher, Kristen Raymond, whom I knew would likely be receptive to the idea of ‘shaking things up’ with digital technology in her class.

She was.

The Task

After two meetings we decided to focus on the Independent/Wider Reading component of the Year 9 English program. There is great flexibility in this program. Students are allowed to independently select one book a month based on a pre-assigned genre. At the end of the month, they are to respond to their reading by completing a RAFT activity (explained in next section). The RAFT activity is also of their choosing, but there is a suggested list (see below) given to those who want more guidance. Ms. Raymond’s goal with the program is to get students to look beyond the text and think about the motivations of the author, connections to the real world, and how the books they read might make a difference in people’s behaviour.

y9 Raft March 2011

Although Ms. Raymond has had some students use digital technology to complete past RAFT activities, my goal was to force ALL students to think digitally when completing the task.

(d)R.A.F.T explained

Prior to my working with Ms. Raymond, I was unaware of the RAFT activity format. Briefly, RAFT is an acronym for Role, Audience, Form and Topic. Below is each section summarized:

Role of the Writer – Who are you as the writer? A reporter? Talk show host? Interviewer? An actor? A critic? – Knowing your role as a writer changes your perspective and presentation style.

Audience – To whom are you writing? Is your audience the general public? A friend? Your teacher? Readers of a newspaper? A local bank? – Always consider your audience

Format – What form will the writing take? Is it a letter to the editor? A classified ad? A speech? A poem? A screenplay? – Knowing the form of writing changes the parameters and tone.

Topic – What’s the literary theme of this piece? (For Ms. Raymond, this is both a change to the common use of RAFT and the MOST important element for the students to consider) Are you comparing and contrasting characters in the story? Analysing the tension and suspense? Showing the cause and effect of a character’s actions? Noting the use of symbolism throughout the novel?

My addition to the task, as mentioned previously, was to digitize the assignment. As such, I updated the task name to (d)RAFT. A Google doc of the updated list of projects can be found here: (d)RAFT list of suggested projects. Ultimately it will be the students who choose their task. For some this will involve practicing digital skills they may have already learned, for others it will involve learning entirely new skills. For ALL students this project will ask students to think more deeply about what they read with a goal of sharing their learning to a much wider audience than they have in the past.

The Plan

To prepare the students for (d) RAFT assignment, I plan to show a video entitled The Three Little Bops. As you can see below, it is a jazz music version of the Three Little Pigs.

Having the class watch the video will allow everyone a common experience. Using this as our story, I then plan to ask the students to do a think-pair-share in groups of 4 or 5. They would be given the list of RAFT activities and then suggest different creative ways they could finish the assignment within the parameters given (see (d)RAFT Project list linked here and earlier). The key message is can they complete the task using digital technology and can they do it in one class period.

After brainstorming a list of ideas (posted on an Etherpad or Wiki) for the Three Little Bops, the students will be given 10-15 minutes to craft their storyboard for their RAFT assignment while considering the supplies, applications, and any other logistical considerations (actors, props) necessary.

Completing Assignment

The goal of the second class is to start and finish the assignment. My hope is that after the storyboarding the students will learn complete some background work (familiarizing themselves with applications, trying out cameras and microphones, writing scripts, etc) to ensure they successfully complete their project. This is my attempt, although ever so slight, at reverse instruction. Students will be told to come prepared to finish their project in class so that both Ms. Raymond and I can be available to help.

After the students finish their classwork, they will post their results to their blog. Given that each project is digital, posting their final product should be in a format that embedding it will not be an issue.

Ms. Raymond and I have already discussed a third class where students will view and critique each other’s work.

Watch this spot for regular updates to how the process unfolds or unravels. Wish me luck.

 

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Chaos or Calm – Laptops in the Classroom

 

The issue of classroom management is one that consumes many a teacher’s time and effort. Some prefer an environment that is yoga studio tranquil, while others prefer the action and activity of a rodeo. Both can work as long as the outcome, learning, is achieved. A quick search on Google will bring you to a number of sites that focus on classroom management. The NEA (National Education Association) has a section on classroom management with these top two articles: Avoiding Power Struggles with Students – The do and don’ts of dealing with classroom confrontation and, under discipline, Are you Being Fair? Tips for avoiding teachers pets and favouritism in the classroom. Articles, books (ex. Reluctant Disciplinarian), and videos (ex. Helping Teachers Grow) on the subject can be found almost anywhere a teacher looks. The point is, classroom management is an issue that must be dealt with by all educators in order for successful learning to take place. cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by Lost in Japan, by Miguel Michán

Amplfying this concern, for many, is the introduction of the laptop as a required tool for students in their educational pursuits. From the get-go there is often great resistence to their adoption by not just teachers, but parents, administrators and, sometimes even students. One of the key reasons for this resistence is that the laptop is too much of a distraction for most students to manage, all the while trying to learn. Examples of the nervousness felt by many teachers is demonstrated in a SlideShare by Clint Hamada at the United Nations International School in Hanoi.

A quick listen to the audio accompanying the SlideShare and one can witness that Clint is really trying to help the staff at his school realize that the issue is behavioural, not technological. As soon as it is accepted as such, then the real issues of classroom managment can be tackled.

At our school, I have the pleasure, as the Digital Learning Coach, of seeing dozens of different teachers in action. Each teacher has their own approach to classroom management and all seem to work. Strategies for getting class attention, keeping students on task, randomly choosing people to answer questions, grouping students, sharing work, are used to manage and maximize the flow of learning.

Still there was resistence that compelled us to adapt our laptop rollout plans. Not all of these “speed bumps” should be considered negative. Most were in the best interest of students, or were at least sold as such. Two years ago, it was determined that the laptops would be given to those in years 11, 12, and 13. I don’t want to speculate on the reasoning for limiting to the higher grades, but I do know that when I arrived last year the roll-out of the one-to-one program was deliberately gradual so that we could learn from the mistakes made along the way. Year 10s got their machines in August, Year 9s in September, Year 8 was delayed until February and the Year 7s until March. The postponement was beneficial as we did learn a great deal about managing the change. Initially there were classroom management issues, but people quickly adapted. A number of very good things came out of the shared use of technology, namely a plan for consistency to help students organize themselves better.cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by Instant Vantage

When we did roll out the laptops for each year level, we collapsed the schedule for one day and hosted a Digital Tech Conference (DTC). Students were given their laptops at the end of the day prior to the DTC so that they could go home and ‘play’. This worked brilliantly as the students came to school both excited and comfortable with their new machines. On the DTC day, the students rotated between 6 seminars on organization and note taking (OneNote), digital citizenship/cyberbullying (counsellor), communication (Outlook, Veracross), ethical use (principal), responsibility (backing up with DropBox), and portfolio building (blogs). Although an intense day, it gave all students a sound framework and an understanding of the school’s expectations of use.

Since our rollouts last year, I have seen numerous strategies for dealing with laptop distractions, the most common of which is difficulty in getting students to stop their work on the machines when asked. Most simply say “45 degrees” (the angle of the screen) when they require student attention. Others ask students to turn their laptops around. Students quickly understand that there is a purpose to these requests and few resist. Another dynamic that has been interesting is the use of Dyknow vs. teacher management of the laptops. DyKnow is an ‘on-line learning environment’ which is really just a friendly way of saying that the machines are connected to each other via a network. Being connected allows for some wonderful options like:

  • a teacher opening a URL on all student machines
  • students handing in work that is given a student ID and stored in a new folder
  • taking quick class polls
  • sharing student screens on the projector
  • getting attention by a screen freeze
  • distributing files directly to all linked machines

Of course there are other features that some teachers like as well. Namely, the ability to see what students are doing by viewing their screens. It is this ‘Big Brother’ feature as some have called it, that can be off-putting for teachers and students alike. After the initial excitement of its launch last spring, everyone seems to have become used to the benefits and possible pitfalls of using DyKnow. (Some teachers found it devastating to find even “good” students off task for large portions of their class). Eventually, it all became a matter of trust and communication. Teachers were instructed to tell students they were using DyKnow such that the use of the tool was more transparent and less sneaky.

Ultimately, any classroom management system involves building trust through healthy communication. As long as teachers have expectations and have thought about how they plan to maintain and manage those expectations, most students will find reason in the actions taken. Where teachers tend to have difficulty is when there is an unknown that disrupts their systems of management. This is why it is key that teachers thoroughly think about how they want to manage the use of laptops in their classroom. Is the expectation that the laptop be up and ready to go at the beginning of every lesson (unless otherwise instructed) or visa versa? Is there a visual cue or sign that indicates laptops are or are not to be used? Has the teacher thought about whether the use of digital technology helps or hinders the learning in the particular class they are teaching? If a teacher does not feel confident when answering these questions, then the lessons are likely to suffer as a consequence. In my experience, as the teachers got more comfortable with the digital technology, they become more confident in their management of its use. cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by TerryJohnston

Looking forward, we are now in the process of testing the use of iPads in classrooms throughout the school. There is a blog documenting this trial at NIST and another recent post by Darren Coxon entitled Getting ready for iPad deployment: ten things I’d wish I’d known about last year. Although a great deal of what is discussed in Coxon’s post is technical, it is these technical setbacks that are often overlooked and cause the failure of full integration of new digital technology. We need more posts like these to help others learn from our mistakes.

The next step that I believe is inevitably upon us is the movement towards bringing your own technology. On so many levels this makes sense: economics, choice, merging of platforms, etc… . But with this shift comes challenges for teachers too. How can a program be consistently delivered? What applications will be used or required? Who is going to manage the shared resources, if there are any, owned by the school? Will schools become known as ‘The Tap’ where everyone goes to drink from the most reliable, high speed connection? Regardless of what this, and other changes bring, in the end it should be good pedagogy that prevails.

What are your thoughts about laptops, or any digital technology for that matter, in the classroom? Does it undermine or enhance the learning in the classroom? A bit of both?

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Blurred Vision – The Future of Education


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by samuel van dijk

The Problem

I just re-read a blog post by Lisa Nielsen entitled You can never replace the teacher. Or can you? 10 ways to learn without teachers. As an educator, it is hard not to get defensive when you read a post like this. For starters, Nielsen learned how to read and write and those skills were likely not honed without a teacher at some point in her life.

There is also the issue of motivation. When you look at her list of learning without teachers you will likely note two things; one, that there is teaching going on in some form or another (by video, by peers, by examples) and two, that there is some inherent motivation to learn the material available. As I have mentioned in a previous post (Tools of the Trade), I am astonished by how quickly we, as educators, forget our experiences of youth, generally, and high school education, specifically. Does everyone remember being driven to do well in school? Eager to learn? Keen to rush to school and excel on every assignment?  As an adult, Nielsen can now benefit from hindsight and maturity, but I would guess that when she was an adolescent she, like so many of us, didn’t know what she didn’t know and that it was often too hard to begin to make a choice about what she wanted to learn. Being given direction and guidance is not something to take for granted.

But my reaction is not meant to invalidate her argument entirely. Nielsen’s post does make a valid point, although I don’t know if ridding ourselves of teachers is really the measure to be taken. I believe the real issue is individualizing the learning experience to make it more meaningful and fruitful for the learner. To this end, Nielsen has done us the favour of listing 10 ways to learn more independently.

Solutions?

Another benefit to reading her post is that she has guided me to another blog post that more accurately sums up some of my queries and reservations about the future of education. Entitled The Logic of “Our” Arguments, Jon Becker questions the movement that advocates for change and reform in education via the adoption of “digital technology”. Becker states that: “The gist of the argument is that technology has changed the world we live in but not schools so schools need to catch up.” Key to his argument is that the change advocates are quick to mention problems within the current system (he does a good job listing, then refuting, their key complaints), but don’t really have a comprehensive solution or alternative.

An example of one such alternative is the movement for game driven education. Rick Van Eck makes some very compelling points in his TEDx Manitoba presentation – How Video Games May Transform Education. I highly recommend you watch the talk below.

Van Eck is cagey in that he cautiously uses the words “may transform education” in the title of his talk. Although not the most riveting speaker, what he has to say is worth attention. He doesn’t like the term “educational reform” because it tends to be too simplistic; why try to raise scores on a test that does not prepare students properly? I particularly like the fact that he equates the industrialization of education to the widgetizing of education. This is where the idea of economies of scale are applied to education. To quote:

…we were going to somehow mass produce learners by putting them all in the same place and teaching them all the same thing at the same time. A terrible idea but one that just persisted.

Eck’s believes using game based education could be a solution to the goal of individualized education. Games play to one’s zone of proximal development: the idea that the task is neither too easy that one is bored, or too difficult to impede progress. Games, Eck continues, also promote skills like collaboration, communication, and problem solving, all of which are found in the current NETS list.

Could gaming really be a solution to all of our educational ills, or is it just a part of the solution? Either way, what will this new way of learning look like? Will people still come to a central location to game? What about more pragmatic questions like who will watch the children while their parents work? If schools are still the community hub, then what form will they take? What roles will teachers play? How will it all be managed?

The reason I ask these questions is that there are many people touting solutions to our current education woes. For instance, you could easily replace ‘gaming’ in the above paragraph with ‘reverse instruction’, ‘the Khan Academy’, ‘community service’, ‘environmentally based’ and there will be someone presenting very convincing arguments on how it could all work. But has anyone really demonstrated a complete program that shows that any, or all, of these new approaches succeed in improving learning?

The Future

And then I started to consider the future in more broad terms. Are we, in education, really in control of the future direction of learning? I get a sense that we aren’t after reading an article in Vanity Fair (January 2012) by Joseph E. Stiglitz entitled The Book of Jobs. To paraphrase Stiglitz, it seems ridiculous to be pouring money into old economies (manufacturing, industry, and banking) when there are new (service, information,  technology, energy) economies we should be preparing for. He makes a comparison between the Great Depression and what we are now experiencing, the Long Slump. Most know, vaguely, the story of our transition from an agricultural society to a manufacturing one. This article explains it both simply and concisely. In short, it was the Great Depression that saw how destructive a change in the base/crucial economy could have on the lives of everyday people.

Perhaps we are again embarking on a change in base economy so great that the institutions that serve(d) it, including schools, will no longer be relevant. Think of all the poor farmers back in the 1930s sending their children either to factory jobs or for advanced education not having a clue how to succeed in either. Could a parallel be drawn with today’s situation? Many send their children to school because that is what they are most familiar with. What happens if what is learned in a school is no longer relevant to earning an income or being productive in society? What if getting that education is prohibitively expensive and you can’t recoup the costs of getting a degree? What if the credentials you earn end up being less important that the skills you demonstrate; and the most important skills are those that an employer values? If content is free and accessible, essentially making a content based education meaningless, how can someone be certified in sought after skills, like, a ‘synthesizer of knowledge’, or a ‘expert at networking/collaborating’ ,or a ‘strong communicator through many mediums’?

Conclusion

Stiglitz lists investment in education as crucial to helping us out of the Long Slump – “a highly educated population is a fundamental driver of economic growth”. He also suggests that support is needed for research. Both involve a commitment to learning. The question now becomes how to nurture it.

Is the system broken? Perhaps not entirely, but certainly out-dated. Are people trying to fix education? Undoubtedly many try to do it every day despite having so many systemic pressures to keep the status quo. Do we really have a clue what learning will look like in the future? I am not so sure we will have much say in the matter as there appears to be many other forces (the economy, employment opportunities, politics, competing interests) at work. The future is still blurry. cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by Darwin Bell

Any thoughts on the direction we are headed? Will we change incrementally from within, or will we be rocked by forces outside the realm of the usual education players?

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Flippin’ Out – Does reverse instruction work?


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Hani Amir

One of the latest trends in education is reverse instruction or the ‘flipped’ classroom. In short, it involves students learning some of the content at home and then doing the problems (or what is often considered homework) at school. So, for example, a mathematics assignment might be to watch a video on how to write numbers in scientific notation and then come to class and complete a set of questions to practice what was learned. Many of us have experienced this before when an English teacher asked us to read a few chapters of a novel and be prepared to discuss it in the next class. It is not necessarily new as a teaching methodology, but it is now being considered more thoughtfully in many subject areas.

The Positive

To some degree, the rationale of reverse instruction is quite sound. Why do we spend time in classrooms reading and reviewing content the students could do on their own instead of working and solving problems together? Often we ask students to do the difficult work, problem solving, with little guidance or opportunity to correct errors as they occur. The 2-minute video below of Aaron Sam’s classroom is quite convincing.

Aaron Sam and Jonathan Bergmann take it even further and have developed a program for mastery. The students need to master at least 75% of a topic in order to move on to the next part of the course. It becomes apparent that due to peer pressure and the design of the course, students are motivated to complete the work successfully. Both teachers have found that they are now freed up in class to work with students at all different levels because now it is the student who is responsible for their own learning, not the teacher.

Concerns

No doubt, any teacher who tries the flipped classroom model must be both sceptical and thrilled with the possibilities. Jonathan Martin in his post Reverse Instruction: Dan Pink and Karl’s “Fisch Flip” states the following:

Increasingly,  education’s value-add is and will be in the coaching and troubleshooting when students are applying their learning, and in challenging students to apply their thinking to hands-on learning by doing and teaming:  so let’s have them do these things in class, not sit and listen.   We know that collaboration is a critical skill set which can’t be developed easily either on-line or at home alone– let’s have students learn it with us in our classrooms.   Let every classroom be a collaborative problem solving laboratory or studio.

My heart jumps at the possibility of changing the role of the teacher from lecturer to coach. How deflating it must be to think that many teachers are just explaining the text in a text book, year after year, and missing out on the excitement of witnessing learners really understand the material. In my mind, when the learner is driving their own understanding, then we have won as educators.

However, I am also a realist. Walk into many, if not most, classes today and you will see a teacher at the front explaining the material to 20 to 40 students. Although this may be an effective way of covering the material, I am not sure how effective it is in ensuring everyone has learned. How are we to reverse the trend? So much is invested in the way we do things. Can our methods for instruction be organized so that students want to seek us out to help solve their problems instead of us asking to solve the problems we assign them?

I also wonder if young people have the motivation, drive and maturity to direct their own learning? What do we do for those who don’t ‘do school’? Too often it is the educated and the ones who have gone through the system who fantasize about classes where they direct their own learning. Reflecting on the way I grew up I remember looking for guidance and direction when it came to courses and course work. Not really knowing what I wanted to do when I was in high school, would I have had the academic sense to complete the course work on my own? I think it is very rare for a teenager to focus on things outside their own set of circumstances let alone studying for the sake of learning, even if they are bright and have interests in other pursuits. Hormones and the other physiological factors like growth spurts, the timing of which are not uniform, surely play a part. (cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by opensourceway)

The comments on the Reverse Instruction: Dan Pink and Karl’s “Fisch Flip” post mentioned above are interesting. In particular, David Hamilton states:

Of course it also makes sense to have students read a book at home and then have the students discuss it in class, but increasingly teachers are facing the problem of students not wanting to “learn” outside of class and being incapable of reading any substantial amount of literature. I think that there is an extra motivational force that is required for students to initiate a learning task outside the class in the evening. I suspect that if a student has been introduced to a concept already, they have an easier time “completing” it or putting the finishing touches on it. I even find this myself. It takes a great deal of concentration for me to learn a new piece for the classical guitar, but I can easily pick up the guitar and practice pieces to which I have already been introduced.
The strength of the social medium presented by a class situation, is that a student experiences social pressures to perform in the class – there is the fear of not doing what others are doing, the authority of the teacher – and there is the stimulating and satisfying prospect of direct and immediate interaction.
I think that the premise behind so many of these articles that argue for having students learn concepts at home and have them apply and discuss them in class, is that classes consist of one-way lectures. I would be horrified to think that that is all that is being offered in the schools of our nation.
I think the real problem faced by the world of education is the one set out in the recent NY Times article on multi-tasking students. I find that the home-life of students is a far cry from the image of a scholar’s cell, where the mind contemplates the text. In a student’s life there is no haven where the student can focus entirely on one thing. I still remember how difficult that was for me as a student at university pre-internet. On one occasion I took over a whole seminar room to myself so I could pace back and forth and write notes on the blackboard as ideas came to me. Where will today’s students find that kind of thinking space?

Linked to Mr. Hamilton’s concern about learning at home, I worry about another possible downfall of reverse instruction – getting rid of the lecture during the day allows for adding even more content to be ‘covered’ at home. With many programs adding more content there is a drive to get a great deal done outside of school. Shouldn’t the school day be contained at school? Can’t ALL of school be done at school? We have 6 to 8 hours with the students, shouldn’t that be enough?

Have I flipped?

Essentially I am sold on the idea of having students attempt to learn or understand a concept on their own and then applying that understanding in the classroom. A number of things, I think, need to change before this can really happen. First, I think the whole idea of content needs to be changed to a model not unlike those in the NETS. That is, the content is the vehicle for learning a concept and not just the material to be memorized and forgotten. Learners would demonstrate their understanding of a concept through any of a number of examples provided in the content. The key is that they are able to perform at a developmentally appropriate level. (cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by de²)

Second, I think many of the hurdles to overcome are from outside the classroom. Are communities ready to accept reverse instruction? Parents, administrators, teachers and even students would need time to adjust. Even aspects of scheduling should be considered to allow for most of these activities to happen at school. I would suggest that part of the day be set aside for students to review the material before entering the classroom, thus containing all academic activities within the school day. (cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Tim Ebbs)

Third, I don’t think that the reverse instruction model should be used as the only instruction model. It is quite possible that this method might not work for everyone. Like so many tools and methods, it is not one alone that is successful, but a variety that makes things interesting.

Ideally I would love to enter a school where students are self-motivated and driven to learn what they need to know to do well. If reverse instruction plays a part in this activity, then I am all for it. I am watching a number of people (Neil Commons and Brian Bennett) and am hoping their experimenting will provide some useful insight into a disruptive change in how we teach and learn.

What are your thoughts about the flipped classroom? Genius or another fad? Will this become a standard way of learning in a world where content is nearly free and accessible to anyone with an Internet connection? Is this the beginning of the end for the typical lecture style classroom? Would you learn better in a flipped classroom or a traditional one?

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Tools of the Trade


cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by The Daring Librarian

Today’s classroom, for the most part, has not changed all that much over the past 100 years. We have gone from blackboard, to whiteboard, to SmartBoard, but essentially, many classrooms use a variation of the same delivery methods – chalk and talk.

With the push to modernize, many schools have invested heavily in digital technology with the hope that it will improve learning. Throwing money at educational initiatives in this fashion often comes under the guise of digital technology integration. My definition of digital technology integration would be something like this:

    • when used properly, digital technology is so accepted that it is not even questioned as an option, it is just done;
    • the stealth-like use of technology, efficiently and effectively, to expedite learning;
    • the natural, and appropriate, use of digital technology to enhance learning experiences.

To my mind, we have reached the point where digital technology has become so ingrained in our everyday lives that it should constitute part of the tools of the trade of educators in 2012. To some degree, if a teacher refuses to use digital technology in their classroom, then it could be grounds for malpractice. It is becoming that essential.


cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by lewisasutton

Of course the previous sentence is not a blanket statement. Many lessons could, and should, be run without any digital technology. The rule should be, if the tool doesn’t help extend the learning, then it should not be used.

So why is there resistance?

A number of interesting scenarios have played out within schools of late. Many teachers feel threatened by digital technology. They did not learn in this manner (although it could be argued they are learning this way now, unless they have deliberately stopped learning) so the processes and methodology can seem foreign. Excuses abound for not using digital technology. John Spencer set up a blog called Adventures in Pencil Integration that did a send up on the resistance to ‘technology’ advances. This spawned numerous interpretations and some clever postings at the Twitter hashtag #pencilchat. The premise is that one should insert the word pencil in place of: computer, laptop, smartphone, or Internet, when speaking about technology use in the classroom. An example is shown below:


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by catspyjamasnz

Even more relevant to this post is this tweet:


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by catspyjamasnz

In teachers’ defence, the changes that are happening can seem quite daunting and often they come with little support. In fact, with many “Back to Basics” or “Teach to the Test” initiatives (is it an initiative if you are going backwards?), many feel the pull in directions other than technological.

It can also be off-putting to see a younger generation so adept at using the latest gizmos with such apparent ease. But one thing should be clearly stated – being a digital native does not make one digital technology literate. In other words, many of the students feel just as threatened or swamped by digital technology as their teachers.

An example of this situation has played out recently at NIST. This year, 2011-12, is the year we migrated to the digital portfolio. It was not really possible until now because this is the first year in which all secondary students have been issued a laptop computer. As the year played out, we began to realize that there was a group of students having real difficulty completing and posting to their portfolio. An outsider might guess that it was the younger students, given the transition to middle school, that would be struggling but, in fact, it has been the Year 10s in particular who have been slow to respond. After a bit of prodding it became evident that we are witnessing the digital technology gap within our own school. The Year 7s and 8s knew how to blog, but the Year 9s and 10s needed not only reminders, but direct instruction. The older students had missed the basic training on what is fast becoming an essential skill, blogging. (cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by shutterBRI)

What does this have to do with integration? Well, if teachers and, indeed students, are having trouble implementing new digital technologies, then how can using these tools be truly integrated. In many instances the forced use of these digital tools could impede  instead of enhance learning.

If it is agreed that not using, or avoiding, digital technology tools could be professional malpractice, then the next question is how do we ensure that most, if not all, classrooms are integrating digital technology successfully. I am sure there are plenty of schools where the issue is more about getting the technology rather than rejecting the tools. I can see a ‘bring your own technology’ model being part of the solution to this dilemma, but that issue is fodder for another post. I would like to assume that once access is no longer a problem, we need to look closer at the pedagogy. It is here where I see a seismic shift in the role of the teacher.

Changing Roles

Digital technology has brought about a change that could truly revolutionize the way we teach and learn. As the digital tools become the tools of the trade, the trade of teaching and the activity of learning change. I believe we are on the cusp of something really exciting: individualized learning. Once we have the tools and infrastructure that are reliable and fast, imagine the possibilities. Instead of students being grouped by their age and a subject, learners are grouped, if grouped at all, based on their understanding, interest, and skill.

What will this look like? I am not entirely sure. I am, however, envisioning a transition for the role of a teacher to something which resembles what I will call a Learning Coach (LC). The LC’s main role would be to help learners (formerly known as students) determine what questions they need to consider, the skills they need to master, and the tasks they need to complete to demonstrate their mastery of any given topic or skill. In the situation mentioned above where Year 10 students were at a loss of how to blog, they would be given the following guidance/questions from their LC:

  • what makes a good blog post?,
  • whom/what could you consult to learn the mechanics of maintaining a blog?
  • your portfolio needs to be complete by May 1, what would you consider a complete portfolio that encourages others to interact with your learning?

If necessary, the LC would provide some deadlines along the way to encourage learners to keep their portfolio updated regularly. This would only be done after the learners had organized a plan and came back with questions about the criteria for a complete portfolio. Through an exercise like this, the LCs would only be able to claim that the digital technology is integrated when the learners naturally decide to post their work to their portfolio.

Examples of digital technology integration are happening in education all over the world, just not consistently enough to answer ‘yes’ to the question ‘are we there yet?’ Some of the stumbling blocks are technological, others are pedagogical, but to my mind, we can say that digital technology is truly integrated in education when it helps individuals advance their own learning. For some (mainly adults) that is happening already when they read their Paper.li, write comments on blogs, and Skype with people they admire and respect. Hopefully this will be a regular routine for all learners when they go to a community centre where people of similar ages hang out to learn and play with one another. Is this what the future of learning and integration looks like to you? (cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by The view through my lens – Ajith)


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Caught in the NETS


cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by greekadman

I recently revisited a video most have seen at one time or another. It is entitled Did you Know 2011 – Shift Happens (see below). There have been various re-incarnations over the years. I suggest you play a game with it like I did. The focus of most of these videos is on Social Media. While watching, try inserting the word ‘Education’ for the phase ‘Social Media’ every time it appears.

Of course it doesn’t always work (ex. 69% of parents are ‘Friends’ with their children on “Education”) but there were a number of instances where the examples applied, or could apply, directly to education (ex. We don’t have a choice on whether we DO “Education”, the question is how well we do it.”) Perhaps absurd, but the point to take-away from this ‘experiment’ is that the medium for learning, and many other activities, has changed so dramatically. Educators need a new playbook to follow.

Thankfully, the National Education Technology Standards (NETS) set out by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) are a step in the right direction. These NETS are a refreshing change from the information and communication technology (ICT) inventory of skills that were once the norm in many educational institutions. Many are familiar with these skills lists that included such things as; typing speeds, word processing aptitude, and how to make a PowerPoint (whether it was worthy of presenting or not). An example of this type of model can be found on the UK based site called Teacher Talk. The premise of these types of lists is that there is a known minimum skill level that students must have in order to succeed within today’s job market, no matter the field.

At one point in my career as an ICT teacher I was involved with creating such an inventory for a school. A committee was formed to map out the scope and sequence for the skills and applications to be used from pre-school to graduation. The motivation was to make it easier for all teachers, no matter the grade level or subject, to ensure that their students were keeping up with the computer skill requirements. We were quite proud of our efforts as we felt we had done something quite remarkable; we had mapped out the ICT skills that were developmentally appropriate for the students at our school…in 2005!

Then, like most people who have attacked such a problem, we realized there were changes to be made the following year to include the new developments in digital technology. Somewhat quickly we realized how naive we had been to think our job was done. Yes, we had organized things well and it was, we thought, easy to follow, but it was apparent that it was going to be irrelevant and that those teachers who waited patiently for the demands of such a document to pass were going to be proven right.

The 2007 NETS standards show some foresight and maturity (see graphic above). Digital SuitcaseThese skills are timeless and incredibly useful as a guide for adapting to the rapid changes in digital technology. They fit quite well with the International Baccalaureate Approaches to Learning and also to the Digital Suitcase being promoted by many PYP (Primary Years Program) and MYP (Middle Years Program) schools. The graphic to the left includes the concepts that guide the integration of digital technology in classrooms. For example, a teacher would speak about organizing a project through the use of programs like on-line calendar (Google Calendars, Outlook), note taking tools (EverNote, One-Note), or for brainstorming an idea (Popplet, Inspiration)

There are a couple of issues, however, that I have with the NETS. The first may be semantics, but I think it is relevant as  language matters when describing things clearly. As mentioned at the outset of this post, NETS stands for National Education Technology Standards. Everyone seems to understand that the word ‘technology’ here really only refers to digital technology but this causes no end of confusion for those who really do teach courses that cover different types of technology. In the IB program Technology focuses on the design cycle and covers three main areas (materials, systems, and information) of which computer technology is a component. Any proper definition of the word technology would include any application of scientific knowledge from the pencil to the laser. In short, I feel the computer industry has stolen the word technology from other technological pursuits and NETS perpetuates this theft.

The other issue I have with the NETS  is that I have trouble seeing how they are limited to the study and use of digital technology. Look at the NETS list again and only the two items (digital citizenship and (digital) technology operations and concepts – italics my addition) refer specifically to digital technology. All the other standards, in my opinion, could and should be used as a guide for any assignment or project based learning.

Maybe these open and readily applied sets of standards are by design and will benefit us all. Having standards that are so broad make it much easier for all teachers to include some form of digital technology integration, which to some degree is the ultimate goal. Ideally, we would love to not have the discussion about the proper use of digital technology in the classroom. Success will be apparent when the use of digital tools is seamless and unquestioned. In the end it appears somewhat cagey that the NETS have broadened their scope to include skills that are really those necessary for becoming a successful learner.

And this brings me back to the Did you know 2011 – Shift Happens video that opened this post. Could it be that the creators of the NETS watched a video similar to this one and saw the writing on the wall? If we don’t change our ways in education then we will perish? Content is passé, conceptual understanding and digital skill development are in? Perhaps these standards are meant to be so enticing that we finally drop the futile attempt for content mastery and wilfully become caught in the NETS – I couldn’t resist.

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Janneke Hikspoors

What do you think? Are the NETS deliberately broad so that they are easily implementable? Is this a step toward real integration of digital technology in the classroom? Or is this just another layer in the implementation of curriculum? How will this approach affect the university curriculum? What about employers? Do they want people who know stuff or people who understand processes, or both?

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