Ed Tech Challenge: What is this digital shift, and how do we make it happen?

let’s talk about education technology this is my story a few years ago I was a brand new teacher at a high school I was lucky to have a lot of access to technology for my students so I quickly started working on making my class completely paperless I immediately set up my classes in a learning management system I flipped a lot of my lectures and put videos online and I had my students interact through classroom blogs and wiki’s a few months into teaching however something happened the classroom that I was sharing with another teacher acquired a new decoration that decoration was a lava lamp within minutes the lava lamp became the most popular entertainment in the room no matter what mini lesson I was covering or what video we were watching I kept catching my students watching the lava lamp some days were worse than others and one day in the middle of a lesson that involved watching a video and responding to blog questions I saw almost a quarter of my class staring at the lava lamp I was completely exasperated by this point and I finally questioned my students seriously what is so interesting about this lava lamp my students didn’t say anything at this point I figured that something had to be going on I taught high school students so I naturally assumed the worst a student had probably taken the device apart and put something inside the container that or the liquids in the container were forming inappropriate shapes something was definitely going on just tell me I pleaded I promise you won’t get in trouble no matter what you say finally one student spoke up you promised yes I promise I need you to be honest with me okay he said um it’s not the lava lamp I’m just really bored what oh well that was just one student I turned to the rest of my class who else is bored every student in my class raised their hand then I asked the bigger question do you feel like you’re learning anything every student in my class said no that was the day that I learned that technology does not engage students when I took a hard look at what I was doing I realized that all I had done was take the content I was teaching and make it digital I was running a lecture based classroom and the only difference was that i was able to individualize those lectures a little bit more here’s the problem with that model good teachers do more than just teach content I decided that I need to stop looking at what the media was telling me and I needed to start looking at the research I had a lot of great teachers and they knew how to build personalized learner driven environments before we had our current technologies the principles of effective teaching really haven’t changed and our understanding of pedagogy is built on decades of research technology is not pedagogy technology is not a learning outcome it didn’t matter if my students were making blogs or prezzies or videos what mattered was whether or not they were reaching the learning outcomes they could raise awareness by writing letters start conversations by talking and find answers by looking in a book the technology was only a means of achieving that outcome and sometimes newer technology wasn’t the most effective if I wanted my students to learn how to write an essay having them make a video about si parts was really just a gimmick the best way to teach my students how to write an essay was to actually have them write the essay and then when it wasn’t good enough have them rewrite it and rewrite it again and keep rewriting it until it was good enough I learned that what really mattered more than anything else was those learning outcomes and that summative assessment everything else came secondary the worksheets the activities the curriculum everything was secondary to those learning outcomes I also learned that it didn’t matter what that assessment was a boring essay or presentation be engaging if it was authentic for students I learned to build authenticity by providing an arc of experiences students wanted a real audience outside of just me their teacher students also wanted to create projects that had relevance projects that considered their life experiences and mattered outside of a classroom setting and finally students wanted choice they wanted options and they wanted to ownership of their work everything else came after that because all my students came in with different strengths and weaknesses I couldn’t just

give every student the same mini lesson every day I needed to have every possible intervention ready to go at the start of a unit because not every student needed the same thing I needed to be ready to provide every individual student and group of students with the activities or worksheets they needed when they needed them so I started collecting binders of mini lessons to target those strengths and weaknesses I learned that I needed to give constant targeted feedback if summative assessment was the destination then formative assessment was the car that took us there my daily lesson plan calendar was taken over by short quizzes student conferences peer feedback and exits lips the final thing I learned was that even though we were focused on the summative assessment the journey was more important than the destination what was more important than the final product was the process the student took to get there I needed my students to view their learning as a continuum and I needed them to constantly reflect on their learning journey even though there are deadlines in the real world a project is assessed multiple times before it is considered finished and if it isn’t good enough on that deadline the employer doesn’t give a bad grade and move on that project is expected to be fixed let’s fast forward a few years of my story after being coached by some of the best teachers I knew I learned more about building authentic summative assessments I was doing my best to break down all the skills students needed and I was doing my best to individualize my instruction to help students get there I was trying to give as much feedback as I could throughout the process and I became obsessed with reflections revisions and retakes essentially I had learned how to build a learner driven environment and then reality hits I found out that it didn’t matter what that project was but every student in my class would be in a different place on that rubric and every single outcome on that rubric could be broken into five different many lessons and that rubric was different for every single one of my 25 students and I had 25 students in six different classes and that rubric was for just one project in a calendar of many many projects suddenly my desk started filling up with ungraded formative assessments I started drinking caffeine a lot of caffeine I fell behind on grading summative assessments I started consuming even more caffeine in solid and liquid form I forgot what daylight look like and I realized suddenly that the best conversation I had in the past week was with the inanimate object on my desk building authentic hands-on experiences for our students is exhausting and personalizing learning for every single student is impossible but we still try to do it every single day because our job is more than teaching content our job is more than building robots who can spit out facts that can be found in a Google search result our job is to build people people with persistence and empathy and imagination and that is the real purpose of our profession it’s not about content it’s about people and sometimes we’re lucky enough that when we look back at our whiteboard at the end of the day we find a small note of gratitude from our students which looks very different depending on what grade we teach but that little reminders all we need to remember why it’s all worth it so where is the technology when we talk about pedagogy and building great experiences for our students we don’t talk about blogs or prezzies or videos we talk about learning outcomes and after I learned this that technology is not a silver bullet and that I actually had to know how to teach to engage my students I started asking the big question again why should we use technology I had a pretty good network of colleagues and I found out that I wasn’t the only person asking this question it didn’t take me long to realize that the smartest person in my network was my network and together all the people in my network provided a collective answer that I could have never formalised on my own here are some of the things that they told me one person said we’ve made collaborating easier by using digital office tools our students can build projects together and access their work from anywhere and our teachers can give feedback on student work throughout the entire process that access has allowed us to be more effective as an organization we’re using collaboration tools someone else said we have an efficient system to share files

and resources with students and parents all of our teachers use websites parents and students know where to go to find information we’re using content management systems another person said I’m using social networks to connect with other educators online I’m Way more effective because I’m finding great resources and ideas from people I can trust i’m using a Personal Learning Network someone else said we’re giving faster formative feedback by using digital quizzes our teachers don’t take worksheets home to grade anymore we’re more effective because we can give students feedback in real time when it matters we’re using formative response tools another person said I’m flipping my classroom but I’m doing it to individualize my instruction I spend a lot of time helping my students with their projects and I need a more effective way to direct them to the interventions they need I’m using open educational resources finally someone else we found an efficient way to organize and display student work we’re using website templates it’s a lot more efficient than trying to compile and track paper binders we’re using electronic portfolios and that’s when it hit me these teachers were looking at technology as a tool the same way a business would look at technology and a tool by definition is anything used as a means of performing an operation or achieving an end and the only reason a business chooses to use newer technology is if it helps them perform that operation more efficiently or achieve that end more effectively and that can be done through increasing access to data or work automating menial tasks and by organizing content in a way that is more streamlined and accessible in a classroom that looks like this here’s the first scenario a teacher wants to give feedback to students as quickly as possible he hands out worksheets over a few days since every student is ready for the quiz at a different time each night the teacher takes home a stack of multiple choice quizzes to grade in front of the TV and he hands them back to the students the next day here’s the second scenario the teacher creates a digital quiz because it’s online students can take it when they’re ready whether they are sitting in the classroom or at home students receive feedback as soon as they finish the last question and the teacher downloads a copy of all the scores broken down by each question the reason the second scenario is better is because the teacher has increased his efficiency he’s increased access to the quiz so he doesn’t have to act as the medium between the students and the work it’s accessible online twenty-four-seven he’s automated the grading process so he no longer has to complete the menial task of circling right and wrong answers and he’s also organized the data in a way that’s streamlined and accessible so he can instantly see all of the results and do an item analysis on each question the teacher wasn’t using technology because it was more engaging for students the teacher was using technology because it allowed him to be more efficient in giving students feedback that efficient probably led to greater effectiveness because one of the greatest influencers on student achievement is being able to provide feedback as quickly as possible so let’s lay it all out there if we’re asking ourselves how do we engage students with technology we’re asking the wrong question we might as well ask ourselves how do we engage students with pencils we saw this before great lessons engage students and technology should only be implemented when it helps us deliver great lessons more efficiently and more effectively here’s the real question we need to ask ourselves is this the best way to get my students to learn this concept that’s it that’s the magic question it shouldn’t be about the technology it should be about the learning and after we ask that then we can ask ourselves the next two questions can I be more effective and can I be more efficient and after we ask those questions then we look at the technology that’s available to us and consider what can help us be more effective and more efficient and there’s a lot of technology available to us right now a lot we’re in the middle of a shift right now a huge shift and it’s about as big as the shift was from using a typewriter to using a computer using digital tools and the internet are not the same as using a computer and it’s okay if it feels overwhelming because there is a lot out there right now it’s worth it though because I don’t know a single person who wants to revert back to the typewriter just like I don’t know a single person who wants to go back to

manually grading multiple choice quizzes let’s take a look at this digital shift and how it can increase both our efficiency and our effectiveness first let’s break down six of the major tasks that teachers do teachers collaborate with others communicate information find and share resources give formative feedback deliver content and facilitate student inquiry now let’s look at the digital tools we have available to us collaboration tools help us collaborate with others by giving us 24-7 access to our work our students work and our colleagues work a content management system helps us by giving us a place to easily communicate information and resources with students and parents a Personal Learning Network helps us find and share resources by providing us with relevant information and collaboration opportunities formative response tools help us give formative feedback faster by automating and organizing our assessment process open educational resources support individualized instruction by helping us deliver content electronic portfolios help us facilitate student inquiry by giving students a place to organize their goals research artifacts and reflections let’s break it down even further a little slower how do each of these digital tools specifically work let’s say a teacher wants her students to collaborate with others on a project the students type a document on one computer and then print or email it to all their group members someone gives feedback and then the document is revisited because it takes so long to move copies around a lot of time can pass between when a document is written and when a student receives feedback for group projects that also means a lot of coordination and making sure that everyone has the right version and that they remember to bring the file home with them to work on there’s an easier way collaboration tools like Google Docs live in the cloud or on the internet that means that a document exists completely online sort of like a web page for student that means that they can access their work from any device with an internet connection on their school laptop their home computer or on their mobile phone additionally the document is shared so that multiple people can work on it at the same time that means that group projects no longer require coordinating schedules and teachers can track the entire project from conception to completion now that these students are working on the project the teacher wants to communicate information about the project to her students and parents before the teacher had to coordinate ways to get that information home often that meant scattered notes across whiteboards homework agendas and newsletters the easier way is to build a content management system or a website by creating an online repository to put class work the teacher no longer has to worry about coordinating the movement of information instead parents and students can have 24-7 access to what they need from a homework calendar to announcements to even downloading files and resources for class the project is going well but the teacher wants to find more resources for her students she looks online but becomes overwhelmed with all of the information available someone suggests that she start building a Personal Learning Network so resources are vetted by other educators she creates an account on a social network and starts following other educators online instead of trying to wade through search results she now has a funnel to sort and filter quality content the project is about halfway finished and the teacher realizes that her students aren’t getting formative feedback fast enough she’s doing her best to guide student understanding through quizzes conferences and exit slips but she just can’t keep up with the grading another teacher shows her how to track student progress through formative response tools within a day her students are taking quizzes online and receiving instant feedback the teacher no longer has to waste her time taking quizzes home instead she is an instant snapshot of the levels that each of her students are at after the teacher has given a few quizzes she realizes that all of our students need different instruction however there isn’t she can do there’s only one of her and 25 students she does her best to deliver content on an individual level but she only has the capacity to address the most common issues her department works together to create a digital bin or website of open educational resources these are content specific resources that are available online such as videos

games websites and so on the teacher helps organize all of the curated resources in an easy place for students to access so on a daily basis she can direct her students the instruction they need when they need it finally the student inquiry project is coming to completion when it comes time for the final assessment the students struggled to compile all the research the planning the artifacts and the reflections into an organized binder the teacher receives a folder of student work but many pieces are incomplete or missing the teacher decides to build an electronic portfolio for the next project instead she uses a website template and creates a few pages one page for students to state their goals one page for students to compile their research one page for students to collect their thoughts one page for students to link their final artifacts and one page for students to reflect on their work the organization of the portfolio makes it easier for students to stay focused on each piece of the project because the portfolio is digital the teacher is able to access and track the students work throughout the entire project the teachers started with a great lesson now she just has more access to student work has automated a lot of her manual tasks and has better organization digital tools when used to streamline our tasks can increase our efficiency and in doing so can increase our effectiveness this shift is clearly better but an organization is really difficult to change so how do we make this happen first we need to get rid of the stigma that technology is only for some people innovators or digital natives or charter schools productivity and efficiency is for everyone and technology belongs in every classroom and if someone isn’t ready to change it’s because we either haven’t given that person a good enough reason to change or we haven’t provided the conditions for that change to occur and that point brings me to the final part of my story after a few years of teaching I switch my focus from teaching students to teaching adults and what I realized is that there were a lot of people all over the world who are trying to help teachers navigate this digital shift in fact there was a person in my job role in almost every district and every one of us was trying to support our teachers in the exact same way yet we weren’t working together that didn’t make any sense so a group of us decided to join forces and collaborate on a project together the first thing we did was determine our goal and what we really wanted to create was specific targeted professional development focused on improving efficiency and effectiveness we didn’t want our teachers to use technology as a gimmick we wanted our teachers to focus on best practices of teaching and learning and we wanted technology to support that so we broke down the six major tasks that teachers do and we turn them into lessons we took each concept and broke it down into small steps so that our teachers could start moving towards digital work the next thing that we did was put all those lessons online so that we could support our teachers with hands-on workshops and anytime learning we made a website together and we used it to house our massive open online course we put all the tutorials online and restructured it in a way so that teachers could go through the curriculum at their own pace then we started supporting our teachers with hands-on workshops all of the data shows that blended learning is more effective than face-to-face or virtual instruction alone and we know that because it’s easier to individualize instruction when we have digital tools to support us our teachers aren’t any different than our students they’re all learners and they all learn the most in a learner driven environment next we realize that our teachers didn’t have a starting point they were all coming in with different technical and pedagogical strings and they needed an assessment that would show them where to focus their efforts so we tied the framework for the course into the st standards and had teachers self-assess their place on a continuum the isty standards or the nets are the national education technology standards provided by st the International Society for technology and education we decided to use these standards as a starting point with our teachers so we created a survey off of the standards the survey was 60 questions long with three questions that related to each of the 20 performance indicators after teachers took their surveys we took all the data and added some formulas in each question on the survey related to a few other concepts so we averaged all the teachers responses for each of those concepts

that average helped us calculate results for each teacher and each teacher received an individualized survey report the first part of that report showed teachers their comfort level with personalized learning elements and with the nets we made sure to stress that this wasn’t a valid or reliable survey and it couldn’t be because it was based on a teacher self-reflection on a random day when the teacher was in a random mindset and depending on what a teacher taught the questions might not even have been wholly applicable the purpose of the survey was not evaluation it was reflection and the survey results did nothing more than that the second part of the report gave suggestions for professional development based on the survey results those professional development suggestions tied directly into the course that we built so teachers could immediately set goals and work on whatever skills they deemed most valuable this survey allowed us to reach every educator and provide both a starting point and suggestions for how to navigate the digital shift finally we realized that we needed to redefine professional development and create personalized learning opportunities for all learners what did that mean well we were preaching the importance of personalized learning for students but then we were turning around and telling teachers that they’re learning only counted if they were sitting in the traditional four walls of a classroom let’s take the second unit of our course content management systems as an example some teachers built their websites in two hours other teachers built their websites in six hours some teachers requested one on one coaching while other teachers preferred to watch the video tutorials at home when all was said and done a hundred percent of the teachers in my district built websites but almost zero percent built their entire website at a district sponsored workshop alone did that mean that the teachers who worked on their website from home didn’t deserve credit for the work they put in was their work any less significant because they watched a tutorial online instead of in person we needed to redefine our professional development so that it reflected learning rather than credit hours so we redefined it as anything that develops you as a professional we built the same portfolio for our teachers that we built first students and we gave teachers a place to self track record and focus their professional development through reflections and goal-setting child or adult all of our learners deserve the same opportunities I’d love to say that this was enough to make change happen but it wasn’t it wasn’t enough to provide professional development for our teachers because when it came down to it our teachers were only a small part of a much larger system I was really lucky when I taught every one of my students had a computer every single day imagine telling your students well we have paper and pencil available for checkout on Tuesdays and Thursdays but only in the mornings and then again on Fridays oh and a few of the pencils will be broken and we’re a little short on paper so you’ll have to share that’s not an effective tool ongoing professional learning is only a small piece of a much larger picture among other things schools also need equitable access technical support consistent and adequate funding and a shared vision so in the end this isn’t just a story about collaboration between a few educators this is a story about collaboration within an entire organization this is a story about a curriculum department collaborating with instructional coaches to define best teaching and learning practices this is a story about instructional coaches collaborating with school leaders to set expectations of digital age work this is a story about school leaders collaborating with a technology department to provide a line device and policy support and finally this is an ongoing story about school leaders collaborating with an entire organization to create the tipping points necessary to create real change this story is just one story in a much larger narrative that we all share all of our schools have a challenge and all of us are part of this digital shift so on an individual level what can we do well to start we can focus on building great lessons for all of our learners we can also share and learn from each other because we are smarter when we work together we can and we should find ways that technology increases our efficiency and our effectiveness and finally we can work together within our organizations to create systemic change and that is our ed tech challenge