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Learning to embrace student choice and voice on the pathway to personalized learning.
GUEST COLUMN | by Bailey Mitchell
Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “Nothing made by brute force lasts.” Up until recently, the brute force model of curriculum delivery ruled classrooms with a “one-size-fits-all” fist. The “sage on the stage” was the norm, and only a select few administrators and teachers broke ranks to embrace the notion of personalized learning. But according to a research report from the Center for Digital Education, this approach to education, which ties learning to an individual student’s strengths, weaknesses and interests; often lets a student work at his or her pace; and where possible, actually allows students to direct their very own lessons, is trending its way to the head of the class.
But navigating that path to personalized or individualized learning does not happen overnight or follow a straight line. I know – because I’ve been there, done that!
As the former chief technology officer for Forsyth County Schools in Georgia, I led a team that worked tirelessly in pursuit of improving the education experience, which we felt hinged on personalization. But here’s an important footnote: sometimes “personalization” is incorrectly considered to be synonymous with “individualization.” But these are distinctive terms with different pedagogical meanings.
According to the National Educational Technology Plan, developed by the U.S. Department of Education, personalized learning is defined as adjusting the pace (individualization), adjusting the approach (differentiation), and connecting to the learner’s interests and experiences. Personalization is broader than just individualization or differentiation in that it affords the learner a degree of choice about what is learned, when it is learned and how it is learned. The rhetoric is often phrased in terms of learning “anytime, anywhere or any place.” This may not indicate unlimited choice since learners will still have targets to meet. However, it may provide learners the opportunity to learn in ways that suit their individual learning styles and multiple intelligences. And we took that to heart.
We did our homework (and yes, sometimes the dog did eat it and we had to start over!) but we knew that to end this journey in the right place, we had to start the trip with a clear vision. We focused on the mantra: student choice, student voice.
From day one, we were committed to giving students a choice in how they experience their learning and how they demonstrate learning to show mastery. And believe me, student choice is not exclusive to technology use. For Forsyth, “student voice” means giving students the ability to influence learning in some way. They become a part of the decision-making process in the classroom. Let me be clear, we found this part of the mantra to be the hardest to define. We did so by imagining the possibilities. What if a student who is struggling in, let’s say, mathematics had a personalized Learner Plan that through contributions from himself, his parents, support staff, and teachers provided a path for learning to address his individual needs.
Then we envisioned him using his own technology device — he logs into his school system’s role-based portal, which provides him with a display of the most relevant data about his current math performance, including a formative assessment taken earlier in the day. The data show that he has yet to master yesterday’s standards, and his teacher, after analysis of the data, has used her connection into the data system’s Learning Marketplace to identify learning activities and resources to automatically populate his Learner Plan. These are immediately accessible for his use and to formulate a plan for his remediation of standards not mastered.
Compelling, right? But do understand – we zigged, and then zagged our way down the personalized learning pathway. Several years ago, we announced a five-year public/private partnership with the digital learning platform developer, itslearning, to foster Forsyth’s bold new instructional framework, Engage Me PLEASE (Personalized Learning Accelerates Standards-Based Education).
We were steadfast in our core belief that personalized learning was not just a fad, but a contemporary instructional model of learning which holds the promise of delivering better academic outcomes consistently.
This five-year co-development project required us to map out many goals including a “one-stop- shop” learning platform for our teachers, formative and summative assessment tools (both on and off-line), a recommendation engine, searchable content tagged to standards, and we even created an online Community of Practice designed to facilitate professional learning for teachers and leaders. We were very impressed with the willingness the company demonstrated to truly partner and co-develop significant features and functionality that were unique to our needs. (So much so, that I joined the company earlier this month.) But it’s important to note, every school and district needs that same level of personalization. No two students are alike, and either are schools or districts!
This partnership marked a true pivot point in the pathway to personalization – I know it because I have been there and witnessed that…I’ve seen firsthand when personalized classrooms work well, and it’s hard to argue against their success. More schools need to re-imagine and revolutionize education by moving away from a “one-size-fits-all” experience and embracing the “student choice, student voice” approach for this generation of teachers and students.
Bailey Mitchell is Chief Academic Officer of Norway-based itslearning, a K-12 learning management system that enables teachers to better facilitate instructional delivery and engage today’s “digitally” wired students. He is the former Chief Technology and Information Officer for Forsyth County Schools in Georgia, where he managed all aspects of the school district’s technology. Write to: email@example.com
You’ve heard of Farmville. Well, now teachers can leave the pigs and chickens behind and create and run their own schools. Students, too. The description on iTunes is pretty enticing: “Have you ever dreamed of becoming a Superhero, a Harry Potter wizard-type, a James Bond superspy , or a GI-JOE and save the world? Now you can be all these and hella more! Download SchoolVille now and experience school like you have never before!” From Philippines-based ViceAge Entertainment, version 1.5 just came out and includes:
- A brand spankin’ new graphic interface, new buildings, new students and costumes, and a new mini game.
- Jazz up your SchoolVille with the changeable background.
- Optimized for iTouch 4th Gen devices.
- Minor bug fixes for a smoother game experience.
- Platinum Blowout Sale! Get more Platinum for what you pay for!
How the 140-character social networker can help teachers and students.
GUEST COLUMN | by Emily Gover and Caitlyn Selleck
Twitter has been making headlines in 2013, and not just because of its IPO. It serves as a tool for educators to form working relationships with other professional peers through hashtag chats and professional learning networks. What’s more, it provides opportunities for students to excel in their classes and improve their critical thinking skills. This is not conjecture — a growing number of studies confirm that incorporating Twitter into instruction can help student achievement. A 2013 study in the Journal of Systemics, Cybernetics & Informatics reported that 60 percent of junior high school students use social media at least twice a week, and demonstrates young students’ comfort level with social media. One study from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project corroborates this, with a survey from May of this year that reported over 90 percent of students are sharing photos on social media, and even 71 percent share their school name or town where they live.
The report from the Journal of Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics also included details of a study where an eighth grade teacher found a direct correlation between higher test scores and students who used Twitter. How? The teacher had one group of students follow his Twitter feed, which had tweets about homework assignments, upcoming test dates and study guides; the other group had no interaction with the stream. On one test, Twitter-using students scored 6 percent higher; on another, 8 percent.
At the academic level, a professor at the University of Texas-Dallas made a large class of 90 students feel more personal and intimate by having students participate in class using Twitter. This established a common communication point for students to interact with the professor. For example, for students who might be too embarrassed or shy to ask questions in class, Twitter provides a more comfortable outlet for participation.
Identify & Understand Primary Sources
Understanding differences between primary and secondary sources is a key skill, particularly as students transition from high school to college-level research. Twitter is a conglomerate of primary and secondary sources, in the form of 140 characters or less. Students can search for tweets on an assigned topic (or a topic of their choice) and select ones that would be considered a primary source. Is a tweet an original statement or idea? Is it an interpretation, review or opinion of another person’s tweet?
With 278,000 tweets sent every minute, Twitter is a great tool to teach fundamental information literacy skills to students. Here are some ways that educators have used Twitter to teach evaluation and research skills to students.
It doesn’t take much to find mock accounts of famous figures on Twitter, so how can students determine if authors are who they say they are? Looking for verified accounts is one way, but many credible scholars, authors and journalists do not have Twitter’s literal seal of approval. Having students do background research on non-verified Twitter accounts and seeing if they can find a credible source linking to it can help them understand how to evaluate the authority of sources in a digital context.
Track Breaking News & Evaluate Credibility
Twitter came to the forefront of breaking news in 2011 during the Arab Spring, with first-hand accounts from protesters and reporters in Tahrir Square. It has continued to serve as the go-to place for immediate, breaking news. Such events are an opportunity for students to critically think about the credibility or bias of information and how quickly information spreads online. Do certain news outlets wait to confirm or re-report information from other organizations? Do they change their story over time?
The likelihood of following breaking news tweets in real-time during class is unlikely, but tweets and hashtags can be searched at anytime. Use these events to have students evaluate sources, understand primary, first-hand accounts, compare conflicting information and discuss the overall pros and cons of near-instantaneous news reports.
Twitter has 170,000,000 million active users, and 500,000,000 accounts registered. Educators can use this popular social media platform to not only network with and learn from colleagues in the field, but use it for real-world application of important information literacy and critical thinking skills for their students.
Lunden, Ingrid. “Twitter May Have 500M Users But Only 170M Are Active, 75 percent On Twitter’s Own Clients.” TechCrunch. AOL Inc., 31 July 2012. Web. 06 Dec. 2013.
Madden, Mary, Amanda Lenhart, Sandra Cortesi, Urs Gasser, Maeve Duggan, and Aaron Smith. “Teens, Social Media, and Privacy.” Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. PewResearchCenter, 21 May 2013. Web. 12 June 2013.
Miners, Zach. “Twitter Goes to College.” U.S. News & World Report Sept. 2009: 56-57. Academic Search Complete. Web. 14 June 2013.
Van Vooren, Carol, and Bess Corey. “Teacher Tweets Improve Achievement for Eighth Grade Science Students.” Journal of Systemics, Cybernetics & Informatics 11.1 (2013): 33-36. Academic Search Complete. Web. 14 June 2013.
Caity Selleck and Emily Gover work on product and content development and are in-house librarians for EasyBib.com and ResearchReady.com, and they also work on marketing initiatives for their 40 million users. Emily Gover presents to fellow information professional nationwide via webinars and at conferences and continues to serve as a part-time reference librarian at Hendrick Hudson Free Library. ResearchReady is a cloud-based learning platform enabling librarians and educators to teach ethical research and information literacy skills. Write to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Students and faculty tackle the world’s rising data challenges.
GUEST COLUMN | by Bruce Tolley
The volume and diversity of digital data has been exploding across industries and organizations of all sizes. C-level executives and employees are tapping into their company’s existing data to enhance business operations, improve customer relationships and enable quicker business decisions to drive and maintain growth. As more digital content enters our data centers, companies are struggling to meet these rising data challenges through quick, comprehensive solutions. Organizations understand the necessity to address the data eruption, but are grappling to find the talent or tools to do so – and are turning to college graduates for help.
If it’s broken, fix it
As the old adage goes, time is money. For example, in high-frequency trading environments where every nanosecond counts, IT networks must sustain the flurry of buying and selling activity. Existing solutions need to quickly access, process, analyze, and deliver insights in an efficient and timely manner, as it can ultimate make or break a company’s revenue and stock performance.
Data challenges affect consumers as well, touching every generation from teenagers on Twitter to grandparents creating photo albums on social networks. As families and individuals store more content on storage devices, in the cloud or through various web-based storage sites, managing the process of data needs to be addressed as current methods fail to meet the efficiency and speed our lives demand.
Universities and students joining in
The Obama administration recently announced plans for a $200 million National Big Data Research and Development Initiative aimed at sorting through the massive terabytes of information collected by the government to glean new insights. In particular, interest is in partnerships designed to harness the power of Big Data to advance national goals – including in the education sector.
With the Government placing priority on the next generation of data scientists and enhancing the networking technologies that work to solve the challenges that plague our world’s data, universities are simultaneously developing programs to expose students to the very issues that underscore some of the most successful Fortune 500 companies in our world. Programs are being developed and established within today’s educational institutions that provide the technical skills and know-how for the next generation of employees in today’s data-driven world.
Solarflare, a leader in application-intelligent 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GbE) networking software and hardware, recently announced the addition of its 50th member to its existing University Program, joining a list of world-renowned institutions from the Americas, Europe, Middle East and Asia Pacific region. Using their flagship application accelerator, the ApplicationOnload™ Engine (AOE), the University Program provides universities with the technology experience, expertise and best practices to address the growing data needs of today and tomorrow. The Program’s current roster includes such schools as Columbia University, Keio University, Nanyang Technological University, University of Glasgow, Imperial College London and Clemson University.
Through such programs, students build real-time data processing applications with algorithm optimization skills to solve concerns of companies in order to provide speed, latency at a low-cost. At Colombia University, students are working to complete various projects that focus on the algorithms and the use of 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GbE) in the financial market. Students and faculty work alongside each other to address the networking, security and data center issues that are key to unlocking data barriers and other latency, speed and price concerns. Programs such as these are unique as they are conducted through a contained and mentoring environment, ultimately preparing them for the complexities of the future in data science.
The next chapter
In the data world of high speeds, growing content and endless buying and selling power, it’s important to stress the role higher education can play in leveraging networking technologies to solve tomorrow’s data challenges. The same generation that brought us Facebook, Dropbox and other game-changing startups are the next generation of technical experts that can work on solutions to help tackle rising data. Starting at school, students can work with faculty to leverage data and provide scientific breakthroughs and prepare themselves – and the world around us – for a future of endless possibilities, thanks to powers of information.
Bruce Tolley is Vice President of Solutions and Outbound Marketing at Solarflare where he is responsible for solutions, technical marketing and for scale-out networking applications.