Future Ready Learning: The new national ed tech plan

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on June 24, 2016

Cover of Future Ready Learning planThe first National Education Technology Plan, Getting American Students Ready for the 21st Century: Meeting the Technology Literacy Challenge, was published in 1996. This is noteworthy because prior to the release of this plan, there was little incentive for schools or other education-related institutions to invest much in the way of time or resources into developing instructional technology plans. The first national plan was built on four goals:

  1. Professional development for teachers
  2. Teacher and student classroom access to up-to-date hardware
  3. Internet connectivity for every classroom
  4. Access to digital learning materials

This early document became a catalyst for the American public to change its thinking regarding the impact technology might have on instruction. The next three plans—published in 2000, 2004, and 2010—incorporated these goals and introduced additional topics including assessment, leadership, integrated data systems, productivity, and funding. However, the 1996 plan is held up as having had the greatest impact on K-12 education—probably because federal funding for education technology was made available in conjunction with the plan’s release. Now, twenty year later, the US Department of Education has released the fifth National Educational Technology Plan.

Entitled Future Ready Learning: Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education, this latest plan incorporates five focus areas. They are:

  1. Learning—Engaging and Empowering Learning through Technology
  2. Teaching—Teaching With Technology
  3. Leadership—Creating a Culture and Conditions for Innovation and Change
  4. Assessment—Measuring for Learning
  5. Infrastructure—Enabling Access and Effective Use

These five areas support expansion of topics included in previous plans, but also allow for conversations not included in earlier documents. For example, the first focus area (Learning) features a discussion about something called the digital use divide. This is an access gap that’s created when some students’ use of technology is limited to consuming existing content while others are encouraged to use technology to support their own learning by creating content. The digital use divide has been recognized for quite some time, but not referred to specifically in prior plans.

A new twist on digital divide issues is broached in the fifth focus area (Infrastructure). In this case, it’s the need for students to have access to high-speed Internet at school and at home. Educators know that schools often struggle to provide reliable high-speed connectivity, but it’s important to remember that more than one-half of low-income students under the age of 10 don’t have any Internet access at home and even more have inadequate access. We’ve told ourselves that these students can use smartphones or get online at a friend’s home or the local library, but it’s just not the same as high-speed connectivity in every home.

And finally, the importance of leadership is heavily emphasized in this plan. This emphasis is tied directly to a related national initiative called Future Ready Schools, which promotes transformation of teaching and learning through access to—and effective use of—technology. In order to provide these kinds of teaching and learning environments, district (and site) leaders must be fully engaged in their planning and implementation. The TICAL project is a regional partner of Future Ready Schools, providing assistance to education leaders in and outside of California.

Based on the fact that previous plans have impacted design and implementation of instructional technology programs throughout the U.S. and it’s likely that this new plan will also influence future developments in education technology.  I urge you to read and use the ideas presented in the plan to broaden and update the discussion about the role of technology in education, specifically within your school or district. You may also want to watch TICAL’s Quick Take on the 2016 National Education Technology Plan.

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Use Infographics to Tell Your Story

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on March 26, 2016

Infographic about why infographics workMembers of the media are more than happy to share tales about what’s wrong with education. This reality makes it even more important for education leaders to share their positive school stories far and wide on a regular basis. In a recent post on this blog, Arkansas TICAL cadre member Susan Gilley wrote about how to use a Google Doc in lieu of a traditional Web page to keep parents and community members up-to-date on events and other school news. Infographics are another web-based tool school leaders can use to quickly and clearly share stories with members of their school community.

You’ve probably seen infographics in newspapers, magazines, or even online. Designed for readers who want to get as much information as quickly as possible, these documents pack a walloping amount of material into a few graphics and minimal text. The idea behind infographics isn’t new—in fact, this kind of visual representation has been around for hundreds of years. But it’s only been recently that free and low-cost tools that are easy enough for almost anyone to use have become widely available.

Not just for numbers anymore

Originally, infographics were used to display quantitative—or measurable—data. This made infographics a great tool for making high level reports more accessible, but recently this has changed. As the public has embraced this format for sharing information, it’s become commonplace for infographics to represent qualitative data, things that can be observed but not measured. This shift in format makes infographics even more valuable for educators.

Recently I’ve taught two online classes for school leaders. Each course includes an activity in which participants identify information they need to share on campus or in their community and then use an online tool to create an infographic that displays the material graphically. Invariably this activity is identified as one of the most useful in the course. Class members develop infographics designed to explain policies, describe instructional programs, share assessment data, and more. Here are a few examples of infographics from the Internet that were created to explain something relevant to education:

Jump in and create

The most effective way for administrators to learn how to design infographics is to jump right in and create a few. There are several websites that offer free accounts and allow users to begin with templates that can be modified for new purposes. Then, with some practice, you can strike out to create infographics completely on your own. Here are four websites that are popular among educators.

  • Infogr.am (https://infogr.am): The free version of this web-based infographic tool is the most basic of the sites mentioned here—limited to 10 infographics and 10 uploaded images—but that may be a plus for users new to designing infographics. If you decide you’d like to access more features, you can contact Infogr.am regarding education pricing or try out one of the other sites listed here.
  • Easel.ly (http://www.easel.ly/): Offering free and pro accounts ($3/month, special education pricing available), Easel.ly users drag-and-drop elements to create infographics. Free accounts offer 60 images and 10 fonts, but users may upload their own images. Tools for adding shapes, arrows, and charts are available to all users. Start a new infographic from scratch or work with one of the free templates provided. The Easel.ly blog offers tips and tricks for creating infographics.
  • Piktochart (http://piktochart.com/): Piktochart is similar to Easel.ly in that it is web-based and provides a drag-and-drop interface. Some features like Charts seem to be more intuitive in Picktochart, but overall, the two sites are comparable in terms of ease-of-use. There are free and subscription accounts with special rates available for educators.
  • Canva (canva.com/): Use the drag-and-drop features of Canva to create your own infographics or other graphic displays such as posters and photo collages. Developed as a teaching tool, the site also provides tutorials. Canva works on the web and there is an iPad app. Free and paid options are available.
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Cyber Vigilantism and Public Shaming—A Brief Overview for School Leaders

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on December 10, 2015

Cyber vigilantism: “…Online actions that are oriented toward monitoring the actions of others. It refers to individuals or groups that take grassroots action, rather than work through regional or national justice systems.” Techopedia (http://bit.ly/1SR5zKN)

A few days after the recent bombings in Paris, I heard a radio report about a 27-year-old man who had severe shrapnel injuries caused by one of the explosions that occurred outside the Stade de France. In the confusion when he was rushed to a nearby hospital, no one noticed his passport fall to the sidewalk. It was discovered a little while later, and within 24 hours members of the media posted online messages erroneously identifying him by name as a suspected terrorist. Why? It’s highly likely that the answer is because he is an Egyptian national. In reality, he’d traveled to Paris the week before with his mother and brother, seeking cancer treatment for his brother. He was simply waiting in line to purchase a ticket for the soccer game that had just started.

This is just the latest in a growing number of online incidents where members of the media as well as private citizens take the law into their own hands by using social media to post public accusations aimed at individuals or groups. This is a form of cyber vigilantism called public shaming. The problem is that it doesn’t matter if these denunciations are accurate or not—the end result is nearly always the same. Accusers use a worldwide forum to try and convict perceived wrong-doers with no due process. Guilty or not, their targets suffer consequences that are almost always disproportionate to the supposed crime.

Members of the general public are well aware of the harm that can be caused by students who cyber bully one another and there is broad consensus that cyber stalking and cyber harassment are unacceptable behaviors. But little has been done to curtail various types of cyber vigilantism, including public shaming. This is due at least in part to the fact that people who engage in acts of cyber vigilantism like public shaming believe they are doing a good thing and often receive a lot of public support.

Historic picture of two men in stocks
Public shaming c. 1900

Consider the public shaming this past summer directed toward a Minnesota dentist who killed a lion that had been lured from a game preserve in Zimbabwe for purposes of the hunt. Public outrage ran so high—thousands of people called for instant retribution—that within days the dentist, his family, and the employees at his dental office were all paying a high price for what he had done. He and his family became targets of death threats and were forced into hiding. His employees’ livelihood was imperiled when he had to close his dental practice due to threats. His second home in another state was vandalized. Later it was determined that the dentist had in fact not broken any laws. He did not know that the men coordinating the hunt were behaving illegally. But by then, the damage had been done.

How does this relate to educators and students? We encourage students to stand up for what’s right and hopefully model this behavior for them. But we need to insure that they don’t cross the line into cyber vigilantism in the process. Since members of the school community are most likely to have personal experience with public shaming, it’s a natural starting point for a study of cyber vigilantism. Here are three approaches for beginning conversations with students (and adults) about public shaming.

Begin the conversation

  1. Learn what it means to be a responsible member of an online community. By the age of 10, more than 50% of children in the U.S. are using some type of social media and most parents admit they don’t have a clue about ways to help their children learn appropriate online behavior. This is something we can address at school with both students and adults in the course of teaching digital citizenship skills. An important aspect of this concept is use of good judgment in online interactions as well as showing empathy toward others.
  2. Learn how to protect yourself online. This includes long-recognized strategies such as not sharing personal information online, thinking before posting, refraining from engaging with people who are verbally abusive online, and recognizing that social media may not be the best forum for discussions about serious or emotionally charged issues.
  3. Confront public shaming head-on through discussions and role-playing. Stocks, pillories, and other formerly sanctioned types of punishment based on public shaming fell out of favor many years ago when people realized how barbaric and ineffective these practices actually are. However, the Internet makes it all too easy to shame individuals and groups online. Some experts say that online public shaming is rising in popularity not because it is an effective punishment, but because it appeals to online crowds that delight in bullying others. Adults have difficulty refraining from this type of behavior, so it’s no surprise that students become eager participants. You can find multiple examples of public shaming by using the key words public shaming for an Internet search. Share and discuss these with teachers and students.

Educators must regularly modify or update their definition of what it means to be a good digital citizen as new, questionable behaviors show up on line. Public shaming is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cyber vigilantism, but it’s a good place to begin exploring this recent type of online behavior.

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One Size Does Not Fit All

The case for hybrid BYOD initiatives

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on May 31, 2015

Collection of apples and orangesRemember when computer labs were the solution to making technology available to all students? When most teachers had limited personal experience using desktop computers, this approach seemed to make sense. But it didn’t take long for educators to discover that limited access to computers housed outside the classroom was often more a disruption than meaningful learning experience.

Enter 1:1

The development of laptop computers meant that schools that could afford them suddenly had more options for where students and teachers could access technology for learning activities, giving rise to the concept of 1:1 programs.

In addition to equitable access to hardware, 1:1 initiatives addressed concerns related to equipment maintenance and upkeep, software licensing and updates, and monitoring how equipment was used because the laptops usually represented a single platform and belonged to the school or district. However, some of the positive elements also become the source of complications. One-to-one programs are expensive to implement and sustain thanks to on-going costs ranging from infrastructure to staffing and professional development. Furthermore, unreliable funding sources can make 1:1 a dicey proposition.

Enter BYOD

The notion of bring your own device (BYOD) programs started gaining traction in the business world in 2009. Concerns related to theft and network security (among others) made educators reluctant to embrace this strategy. In 2011 more than one-half of schools responding to Project Tomorrow’s Speak Up survey prohibited any form of BYOD. Then tough economic times and the realization that students were bringing devices to school with or without permission tipped the scales and just one year later, only 37% of participants in the same survey reported prohibiting BYOD (2013 Congressional Briefing). Does this imply a happy ending? Hardly!

Proponents of BYOD argue that students prefer to use their own devices and a majority of parents are willing to purchase devices for school use. They also say that reduced costs for hardware purchases and maintenance enable schools to reallocate funds to improve the infrastructure and increase IT staffing. On the other hand, successful BYOD requires access to a robust network—often far beyond what the school currently has in place. In addition, BYOD relies on students bringing devices that are capable of handling the demands of serious academic work and teachers must understand how to plan and implement cross-platform learning activities designed to reduce distractions and support equal access. Another concern is outdated procedures and policies for managing BYOD on campus. None of these potential barriers are deal-breakers but do require immediate action.

Then there is a heretofore unanticipated outcome of both 1:1 and BYOD programs. These days, access to just one type of device—regardless of who owns it—is probably not enough. A recent report based on 2013 Speak Up survey results states, “Just as we do not assume that students will only access one book for all classes, the idea of using only one mobile tool to meet all assignment needs may be unrealistic.” (From Chalkboards to Tablets: The Emergence of the K – 12 Digital Learner). My own experience working in schools with 1:1 or BYOD supports this statement. Mobile devices are fine for some tasks such as shooting photos and video, reading eBooks, or simple web browsing, but most students find it difficult or impossible to use tablets or smartphones to edit multimedia projects, write more than a couple of paragraphs of text, or for serious research. If instructional need drives classroom use of technology, students need access to more than one kind of device when completing various learning activities. This is where another alternative—hybrid BYOD programs—come into play.

Hybrid BYOD

In hybrid BYOD settings, students are encouraged to bring personal digital devices that meet basic minimum specifications to school. They understand that they are responsible for care and maintenance of these devices and are permitted to use them during class for learning activities. But the program doesn’t stop there. In addition to personal technology, teachers and students have access to school-owned devices such as tablets and laptops which may be available for check out from a central location or permanently placed in classrooms in small numbers. The driving philosophy behind hybrid BYOD programs isn’t to create 1:1 access to one specific technology, but to make it possible for teachers and students to select the appropriate tool for a given task from several readily accessible options. Some hybrid BYOD programs also include devices that students whose parents cannot afford to purchase something may check out either as needed or for the entire school year.

Why is this preferable to thinking of 1:1 and BYOD as either/or propositions? Although more expensive than BYOD only initiatives, hybrid BYOD programs are less expensive to implement and maintain than 1:1 initiatives, and insure that teachers and students have access to different kinds of devices as needed. When 1:1 is not the expectation, teachers feel freer to design paired and small team activities in which students learn skills such as communication and collaboration in addition to academic content. And, those students who wish to augment an activity using personal devices are able to do so. I’ve also learned that teachers new to classroom use of mobile technologies appreciate being able to learn how to use the types of devices provided by the school first and then gradually incorporate more formal use of students’ personal devices. This approach also provides the assurance that student teams will be able to use a common platform for group activities in the assurance that specific apps or programs required for the lesson will be available on school-owned equipment.

Simply adopting a hybrid BYOD program does not guarantee success—this strategy is more complex than going down one road or the other. This means that educators must be willing and able to devote the time required for intensive planning prior to implementation and ongoing monitoring to make adjustments as needed. However, given the benefits of hybrid BYOD, it is a strategy worth considering.

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Genius hour: We all need a little time!

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on March 29, 2015

Man studying computer screen.Ask any educator to name two or more impediments to innovation and creativity at their workplace. Almost without exception time and money will top the list. We may not have a great deal of influence over outside funding sources, but we do have some control over how we allocate the time we have.

In the belief that independent inquiry encourages students to engage in activities that support deep thinking and increased engagement, many K-12 educators regularly voice concern about the lack of available time for their students to pursue personal interests during the school day. One strategy that has gained traction among educators is called “20% time.” This approach comes from the technology sector where innovation and creativity are the industry’s bread and butter. I’d like to suggest that educators also need time to think, to explore new ideas, and work on projects in areas that are of interest to them; that we need to consider ways to restructure what time is available to make it possible for the adults to take advantage of some form of 20% time when needed. But I’m getting ahead of myself. What is 20% time and how does it work?

The practice dates back to at least 1948

Twenty percent time is a practice where personnel, usually knowledge workers, may opt to spend one-fifth of their regular work time tinkering with their own pet projects. Although Google often gets credit for originating the idea, this practice has actually been embraced for years in various formats by an assortment of innovative companies. For example, 3M has encouraged employees to use a percentage of their paid time to pursue new work-related ideas since 1948. Of course it’s difficult to imagine an educator being able to carve out 20% of the work week for creative pursuits, but there are ways the idea can be modified to meet the constraints of educational institutions. This lack of time for additional research and making real world connections worries many K-12 educators, leading them to seek ways to provide time during the school day for students to engage

It’s important to understand that 20% time is not usually a formal program in the business world. Participation is entirely optional and many employees never take advantage of this time. The specific design of 20% time for self-directed exploration isn’t rigid, either. The percentage of time allocated varies from one company to another. In addition to percentages of the work week, some firms offer year-long research grants (we used to call them sabbaticals) while others sponsor occasional events lasting anywhere from one day to a week (something like self-directed professional development).

Translating 20% time to education

How does this translate to education? For students, teachers are making opportunities for them to work on individual or small group projects during the school day. Often called Genius Hour, this program typically provides roughly 60 minutes per week for all students in the class to work on individual projects of their own choosing that have been approved by their teacher. Due to time constraints, the time for student Genius Hour is usually set and flexible scheduling for self-directed learning is not normally an option.

Sixty minutes, you ask? Would it be possible for the adults on campus to dedicate one hour per week for self-directed inquiry? I think so, particularly if it’s something a person can opt into, rather than being mandatory. Imagine inviting staff members who are interested to pitch an idea for an individual project that they could work on during the work day, say during PLN time or in lieu of a committee assignment. Of course, guidelines will need to be established to make this work.

Structure the program to meet the specific needs of your staff. Remember that business model schedules vary greatly. Offering sabbaticals may not be possible, but aside from that, the time frame can range from 60 minutes per week to one or more days per year. What options are available to you? Brainstorm some possibilities with staff or fellow administrators.

Some things to keep in mind

Once you have an idea of the schedule you can offer, consider the following as you develop a plan.

  • Self-directed projects are not time off. Establish guidelines that set clear expectations. For example, require that volunteers outline a project that you approve before they begin. You may even say that projects need to be related to school or district goals, or require that all projects include a tangible product and/or some type of presentation.
  • Individual projects may serve unique needs, but small group projects can allow participants to accomplish more together than they can on their own. Do insure that part of the procedure-planning process includes setting expectations for group members’ responsibilities.
  • Remember to be flexible. Even the best plans can be sidetracked by unanticipated challenges.

Part of the beauty of self-directed projects is that there is no right answer. Participants may find their inquiries lead to outcomes they had not anticipated. Encourage them to go with the flow.

Even given the scheduling constraints we live with, there are ways to support individuals who are interested in expanding and enhancing their professional skills through dedicated time for working on projects of their own design. Encouraging this level of autonomy will result in greater job satisfaction for educators and may lead to innovations you might not have thought possible.

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