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.


  1. "As long as educators are clear about the learning objectives, digital tools can be a powerful supporting tool." #preach #edtech #techintegration

    Perhaps the perspective that both access to and use of technology automatically result in technology integration and the type of learning experiences described above has shifted and continues to be transformed on a larger scale than I realize. It seems a greater emphasis continues to be placed on technology integration and the need for supporting educators in implementing best practices for technology integration. The beauty of transformation is not only the accomplishment of the end goal but moreso to see the progress toward that goal.

    There is much work to do, but the work is so incredibly valuable. Thank you for continuing to be a voice for instructional best practices over mere use of technology.

  2. Eric, with due respect, I think that you blew it with your last graphic when you included technology tools in the quadrant. To even hint, for instance, that podcasting is (usually? often? always?) in Quadrant D while a Microsoft Word document is (usually? often? always?) in Quadrant A belies the fact that either tool can be used in both low and high level ways. You and I could quickly come up with all kinds of ways to use Word for higher-level learning - and all kinds of ways to make podcasts that were pretty low level. This is true for nearly all of the other tools listed in the four quadrants as well.

    As educational technology advocates, we need to stop trying to link particular digital learning tools to particular levels of thinking. It's all in how we use them, not anything inherent to the tools themselves...

    1. Thanks for the comment Scott. The image in question is meant to provide some context as to how tools and resulting products can be used in specific ways to demonstrate conceptual mastery at a high cognitive level. The idea here is to get educators thinking a little bit about lesson design and learning outcomes. This is by no means a definitive statement that the listed tools are and can only be aligned to a specific quadrant. As you stated it is not the tool, but the outcome that matters and as such all tools can be used in low/high level ways. Thanks for pushing back.

    2. Yeah, I don't like it (obviously). :)

      The nuance that you and I see isn't going to be there for most educators who look at the diagram (and who, let's face it, aren't very deep thinkers about their own tech use). Many are just going to say, 'Oh, look, I'm doing podcasting so I must be in Quadrant D.' I guess the question is whether you agree with me on this point enough to reconsider the diagram.

      I don't think you lose anything by taking the tech tools out and addressing them separately but I do think you run the risk of some serious conceptual and implementation concerns when you include them.

    3. I definitely agree with your point and feel that our discussion can only help to improve the glaring issue in our schools - the consistent ineffective integration of technology. I don't see it as specific tools being emphasized, but rather actions/products that can result from the use of certain tools. Let's take podcasting for example. If a student were to use Audacity to create a podcast that aligns to Quad D the hope would that he/she would evaluate/synthesis/analyze while applying it to a real-world, unpredictable problem (i.e. high level thinking). But as you have correctly stated, the action of podcasting can also be used in a total opposite way. I now need to think how I would change this diagram to hammer home the same point that we both agree on, which is the topic of this post.

    4. I know we're on the same page on this. See also page 7 of Andrew Churches' Bloom's Digital Taxonomy: Like here, I get what he was trying to do but...

  3. Great discussion about the Rigor/Relevance Framework. I think we do need a caveat, that the quadrant and the tool are not locked in, and much depends on the context and task. This is helpful as a starting point, when the majority time, Word is used to replace typical paper/pencil rather than truly increasing rigor/relevance. The dialogue that is generated is where the learning takes place for everyone. Thanks for bringing this to the forefront.