A few weeks ago, I was fortunate to attend the Future Ready Summit in Raleigh, NC hosted by the Alliance for Excellent Education, the US Dept. of Education Office of Technology, and the Friday Institute team. To prepare for the Summit, our team completed the district assessment to determine our readiness level in eight areas of digital learning including personalized and deeper learning. The assessment gave me pause to consider what we are doing well and where we need to focus our efforts. We were asked to create an elevator speech about our digital learning vision. I left the Summit hoping to continue to develop my speech in a way that truly articulates how I feel about the role of technology in making our students future ready.

That same day, I came across this quote from @BluntEducator: “Some teachers taught the curriculum today. Other teachers taught students today. And there’s a big difference.” The quote points out the big difference between teacher-centered instruction and student-centered learning. How often do school and district administrators sit down with teachers and talk about changes that need to happen to prepare students for the future? Can we prepare our students if we don’t change the traditional curriculum delivery model? The quote was a call to action and I began reading about deeper learning.

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The thinking behind the deeper learning movement is that we need a new pedagogy to engage our students in learning and prepare them with 21st century skills. Rosalin Picard of MIT’s Media Lab shares some compelling evidence that we need to do things differently to get the attention of digital age learners. The brain activity of students listening to a lecture was lower that their brain activity when they were asleep. We can’t expect social, “plugged in” students to sit passively in the classroom and absorb content. More importantly, will that content delivery method prepare them to be successful in life? Can the addition of technology make a difference if other classroom practices aren’t changed?


Research continues to show that technology alone will not greatly impact student achievement. Adding on technology without changing the way we do things means that technology will be used at the substitution level and not bring about any long term change. In A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning, Michael Fullan sees pedagogy as the foundation and technology as the enabler and tool in the service of deeper learning.  The report states, “The new pedagogies require students to create new knowledge and connect it to the world by using the power of digital tools.” The underlying theme is that new pedagogies cannot be implemented without  the technology and that the technology acts as an accelerator for learning.

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Fullan’s model is disruptive. It flips our traditional way of doing things upside down and requires us to redesign lessons, the environment, and our instructional strategies for a student-centered, personalized learning environment. Making a change to student-centered environments with a focus on deeper learning will require schools and districts to engage in serious conversation. Stakeholders must agree on a common vision that includes technology as an essential ingredient for students to create and use new knowledge in the world. When technology is no longer seen as an add on, we will be ready to prepare our students for the future.

As schools and districts move to 1:1 computing and personalized learning environments, concerns about open access to resources are sometimes voiced by educators and the school community. While many educators are asking for less restrictive filtering and access to tools, other educators are concerned that too much open access will make classroom management more difficult. In addition to educator concerns, district and state policies often prevent the open access that’s needed for a blended model to be successful. To maximize the use of devices and digital tools, we need to embrace the concept that open is better than closed.

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Below are some policy and procedure changes to consider when moving to a blended learning model:

Cell phones and BYOD

Many schools continue to have policies which prohibit students from using cell phones or personal devices in class. If you’re unable to provide every student with a device, a change in policy will enable students to use their phones and personal devices for class work. A change like this will bring about new challenges including filtering and managing personal devices but these challenges are well worth addressing.

Filtering

While CIPA regulations require schools to provide website filtering, the extent to which content is filtered is decided by schools and districts. Sites like YouTube which provide a wealth of learning materials are often blocked out of concern that students will access inappropriate content or be distracted from learning. To the contrary, the content on YouTube is often one of the primary tools used by teachers in a blended learning environment. Others argue that existing bandwidth will be maxed out if everyone has access to streaming media. These concerns can be addressed by opening access for a limited time and evaluating the pilot.

Social Media

Social media tools make it possible for students to connect with other students and experts from around the world. By blocking all social media tools, we’re not giving our students an opportunity to learn digital citizenship skills. Video conferencing tools like Google Hangouts and Skype offer a wonderful way to connect learners. By strategically opening up a few social media tools for communication and collaboration, schools can help students to develop 21st century skills.

Access for Special Needs Students

Students with special needs have a need for additional resources to support their learning. Assistive technology tools for devices as well as apps that enhance the student experience enable students to fully participate in classroom activities and complete assignments. Last summer, I was introduced to a high school student who told me that device policies prevented her from downloading the software and apps that she needed to be fully engaged in class activities and assignments. To learn how you help your students, include them in focus groups to learn how you can better meet their needs.

Open Doors

In addition to providing open access to tools and resources, educators should work with school leadership to provide students with access to freely move around and outside the building to work in teams and individually on assignments. Classroom space is often limited for students who need to work together or need access to additional resources and planning space.

Professional Learning Networks

To get started on your journey to provide students with open access, connect with other like-minded educators through social media and develop a professional learning community with other educators in your school. Showcase your success and work with leadership to change policies and procedures that restrict student learning.

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