Sunday, December 27, 2015

Improving Instruction in a Digital World

The Rigor and Relevance Framework—an action ­oriented continuum that describes putting knowledge to use—gives teachers and administrators a way to develop both instruction and assessment while providing students with a way to project learning goals. This framework, based on traditional elements of education yet encouraging movement from the acquisition of knowledge to application of knowledge, charts learning along the two dimensions of higher standards and student achievement.  Capable teacher presence and teacher­ centered instruction always belong in the foreground and always underpin lasting student learning, no matter what digital tools are in use. Grounded in rigor and relevance, instruction and learning with digital tools are limitless. This is the foundation of uncommon learning.

Learning must always be relevant, meaningful, and applicable. Student engagement is a bedrock necessity of attentive and deep learning. Excitement about academic growth, in turn, drives increased student achievement, not only in terms of meeting and exceeding standards but also in terms of learning that extends into all realms of life. With the solid pedagogical foundation that the Rigor and Relevance Framework provides, digital tools and social media afford students the opportunity to take more ownership of their growth and development. Allowing students choice over which tools they will use to create artifacts of their learning that demonstrate conceptual mastery builds a greater appreciation for learning while simultaneously preparing them for the real world.

With advanced digital tools under their belts, students grow to develop their own learning tasks—such as pod­casting, blogging, or digital storytelling—that stretch their creativity, originality, design, or adaptation. These students think and act critically to curate content and apply information to address a range of cross­-disciplinary tasks that are both creative and original. This could include collaborating with others using social media, networking, or reviewing. Their work requires their ability to select, organize, and present content through relevant digital tools, which provide multiple solutions.

Education and digital have become inherently intertwined. Learners and teachers alike are immersed in digital life and need more effective, specific ways to best use digital tools in rigorous and relevant ways to support and/or enhance learning. Educators must be able to develop and enact rigorous, relevant instructional methods and formats while learning about and using effective digital tools to underpin their instruction. As long as educators are clear about the learning objectives, digital tools can be a powerful supporting asset.

As important as teachers are to the purposeful integration of digital tools to support rigorous and relevant learning, ultimate success at scale lies with leadership.  Leaders must begin to transform school culture in ways where there are actually fundamental changes in teaching and learning so that technology is not just a gimmick or tool used to engage students.  The Rigor/Relevance Framework serves as a powerful instructional leadership tool to ensure learning is at the forefront of technology initiatives.  It assists leaders in the following ways:
  • Provides a common language for all
  • Constitutes the lens through which to examine curriculum, instruction, and assessment 
  • Creates a culture around a common vision
Improving instruction in a digital world can only happen with fundamental changes to teaching and leadership. Pedagogy first, technology second when appropriate. With a firm instructional foundation in place, technology can take our students' places never imaginable while meeting diverse learning needs like never before.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Turn today’s classrooms into #InclusiveSpaces

Students spend an average of 12,000 hours in the classroom in their lifetime, and these hours are important. Not only does time spent in the classroom impact student learning, but studies show that the physical layout of those classrooms (variables including use of light, color and wall space) have a significant impact on student behavior, motivation and achievement. For example: did you know that students who are exposed to more daylight in the classroom score up to 26% higher on math and science than students who less exposure to light? Design sure does empower learning.

However, there is a gap between what studies say make a successful classroom and what teachers are able to do within their walls. Constraints such as budget, classroom size, number of students and district access to resources all play a part in whether or not teachers are able to design their classrooms to meet the needs of all students. 

USC Rossier School of Education’s online teaching degree is shining a light on that gap, calling on teachers and members of the education community to demonstrate what today’s classrooms need to become inclusive spaces. 

#InclusiveSpaces: Classroom Design for Every Learner is a grassroots campaign running throughout 2016 that encourages teachers to show how their classroom either a) meets the needs of all students or b) how their classroom could be more inclusive. Do you have a 1:1 iPad ratio for your classes? Do you have more students than desks? The first step in having equal access to resources is to demonstrate the real resources in today’s real classrooms.

How you can participate:

  • Write an original op-ed for your personal blog, local newspaper or professional organization's publication. Your article should address the following question: How can today's classrooms become inclusive learning environments?
  • Share your inclusive space on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Take a picture of your classroom (without students) and include the tag #InclusiveSpaces. Show how your classroom meets the needs of your students — or, tell us what you'd like to change about your space to make it more inclusive. Tag USC Rossier Online on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
  • Email a link to your story to for your Inclusive Space to be shared on the university’s blog.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

What Matters Most

“Forcing teachers and students to use tech because you have it will never get the results you want. Integrate when appropriate.” – Eric Sheninger

I love technology. Now, most of you are not shocked by that statement so let me explain it with some more detail.  I love technology for its ability to transform lives and professional practice.  The formation of a Personal Learning Network (PLN) has opened my eyes and mind to an array of ideas, strategies, and tools to support and enhance learning through the assistance of technology.  Society, the landscape in our schools, and the learners who we serve continue to change as our digital world evolves. This not only presents a fantastic opportunity to implement transformative practices, but it also represents a distinct call for action.

The possibilities are quite endless, but the wrong focus can and will result in disaster. Forcing students and educators to use technology just for the sake of using it will never transform teaching and learning. There are no quick fixes for the many prevalent issues in our education system. Viewing technology as a silver bullet or cure is misguided at best.  As I continue to watch districts, schools, and classrooms infuse technology at a surface level, in most cases, I am seeing no distinct changes in teaching, learning, and leadership. This is what matters most. 

As adult learners there should be an emphasis on improving instructional design and pedagogical techniques that will develop students into critical thinkers and problem solvers.  There is also a glaring need to create better means to assess and provide feedback to students as to whether or not they are meeting the higher standards that educators are now tasked with addressing.  The key to learning success resides in always focusing on building a strong instructional foundation.

With this in mind, technology does not become an add-on or gimmick just to engage students. Its role becomes integral to the instructional process through support and enhancement of learning outcomes aligned with more rigorous standards.  Technology in itself promises nothing. It is what you and your students do with technology aligned to sound pedagogy that will make all the difference. In the end technology initiatives will either flourish or flounder. The outcome is in your hands. Lessons, projects, initiatives, and culture should never be built around technology. Focus on learning first and foremost and the possibilities of technology are endless. That’s what matters most.  This is, after all, the primary role of education. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Implementing Mobile Devices With a Focus on Learning

The following post is a modified excerpt from Uncommon Learning.

Mobile learning provides enhanced collaboration among learners, access to information, and a deeper contextualization of learning. Hypothetically, effective mobile learning can empower learners by enabling them to better assess and select relevant information, redefine their goals, and reconsider their understanding of concepts within a shifting and growing frame of reference (the information context).” — Marguerite L. Koole (2009) 

No one will deny the impact that mobile is having on the world.  All one has to do is take a look at how mobile devices are changing everyone’s perception of computing as it is more accessible and personal than ever. Over the years I have written extensively on the topic, including a chapter in my new book Uncommon Learning.  As a principal I quickly saw the potential in mobile learning and as a result our school became the first to embrace Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) back in 2010. 

Mobile devices offer a new and exciting avenue to engage students and promote learning while increasing academic achievement. Research by Cristol and Gimbert (2013) found that students utilizing mobile learning devices scored, on average, 52.34 points higher on the state assessments than their peers who did not use them. Students are more connected than ever with their devices, and it is necessary for teachers to capitalize on this opportunity to drive student learning and outcomes.  With any initiative, especially BYOD or 1:1, the focus has to be on learning. 

Koole’s (2009) Framework for the Rational Analysis of Mobile Education (FRAME) model provides a more holistic framework for mobile learning. In this framework, mobile learning is a combination of the interactions among learners, their devices, and other people. Koole provides a useful checklist that schools and educators can refer to when looking to integrate mobile learning effectively as part of a BYOD or 1:1 initiative. 

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Have you considered the following in your mobile learning ecosystem? 

  1. How use of mobile devices might change the process of interactions among learners, communities, and systems 

  2. How learners may most effectively use mobile access to other learners, systems, and devices to recognize and evaluate information and processes to achieve their goals 

  3. How learners can become more independent in navigating through and filtering information; how to prepare them for that change 

Be aware of the many pitfalls that are associated with educational technology. Access alone will not translate into enhanced student learning outcomes.  At the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE) my team and I work with schools and districts to get mobile learning initiatives right before an all out rollout. It is critical to plan well ahead of any major BYOD or 1:1 initiative at least a year in advance to ensure that all the necessary elements are in place to support student learning. These elements are listed below, but I encourage you to read this post that provides more detail on each:

  • Infrastructure
  • Shared Vision
  • Strategic Plan
  • Policy Development
  • Professional Development
  • Student/Parent Programs
  • Budget Allocations

I encourage you to take a critical look at the mobile learning initiatives in your district and determine what can be done to improve them. In education there is no such thing as perfection and as such we must always look for opportunities to improve existing initiatives, not just new ones to be implemented. 

Cristol, D., & Gimbert, B. (2013). Academic achievement in BYOD classrooms. Proceedings from QScience 12th World     
          Conference on Mobile and Contextual Learning. mLearn, 15.

Koole, M. L. (2009). A model for framing mobile learning. In M. Ally (Ed.), Mobile learning: Transforming the delivery of 
          education and training (pp. 25–47). Edmonton, AB: Athabasca University Press.