In Digital Transit

A popular MOOC especially designed for K-12 education leaders looks to the future.

INTERVIEW | by Charlie Chung

Glenn Kleiman and Mary Ann WolfDesigned for school and district leaders — superintendents, principals, curriculum directors, technology directors, financial officers, instructional coaches, library media specialists, lead teachers and others — Digital Learning Transition in K-12 Schools massive online open course for educators (DLT MOOC-Ed) will help anyone understand the potential of digital learning in K-12 schools, assess progress and set future goals for their school or

I was really impressed with the depth of the discussion, the engagement, what we were learning from it.

district, and plan to achieve those goals. Glenn Kleiman is co-teaching the course with Mary Ann Wolf starting on Jan. 20, 2014 (pictured together). Glenn is Executive Director of the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, a freestanding institute at the North Carolina State College of Education. With a Ph.D. from Stanford and past faculty at Harvard Graduate School of Education, his work in education has spanned basic and applied research, curriculum development, software development, providing professional development for teachers and administrators, policy analyses, and consulting for school districts and state departments of education. Mary Ann Wolf is a familiar name as she served as president of the State Education Technology Directors Association for nearly 8 years, among other edtech leadership roles; she is currently the CEO of Wolf Ed, an education consulting firm. With many others from school districts and other organizations throughout the country contributing to planning and facilitating the course, it promises to be an informative, useful and highly insightful experience. Glenn share his thoughts and insights with EdTech Digest about MOOCs, different types, lessons learned and a big roadblock schools are facing in transitioning to digital.

Charlie: When did you first decide to start your MOOC?

Glenn: I have a long history of working in online professional development. Starting back in 1998, I was involved in developing the online professional development resource, Ed Tech Leaders online, which is now being run very ably by Barbara Treacy. When MOOCs came along, we looked at them seriously, because their ‘massive’ aspect could help fill a huge need for large-scale, cost-effective professional learning opportunities. With new common core standards, new assessments, new technology, new data systems, there is so much changing in education so rapidly, and not enough resources to update the whole education workforce. We attend very carefully to the needs of educators and adhere to a set of research-based principles about effective professional learning, and these differ from a typical college-type class. We are talking adult learners, and they need things that are based on their own problems of practice. The research shows that collaborative learning is important to educators, that they learn from each other, and through working together. They need flexibility of time. A lot of these characteristics we could design into MOOCs.

We thought there was a lot of potential here, but felt it would be a variation on current MOOCs, so we decided to call them MOOCs for educators, which became MOOC-Ed, and built a set of design principles for them. In addition to our current MOOCs, we are looking to build a series of additional MOOCs to address high-priority needs, and are collaborating with other groups to support MOOCs that address other needs.

Charlie: On the continuum of what people refer to as ‘cMOOCs’ and ‘xMOOCs, where does this MOOC fall?

Glenn: We learn from both types, so we’re somewhere in the middle. But I think we’re truer to the original cMOOC concept in terms of it being community-based. We have a theme in a lot of our professional development work that everybody is both a learner and a teacher, and we emphasize peer-supported learning. But we are a little more structured, as I’ve found over the years that structure helps — if you just kind of open it up and say ‘everybody come and learn together’, it doesn’t get as far as we had hoped. And there are some specific things that people do need to learn about the digital learning transition. But because of our topic and our audience we are not concerned with things like testing, assessment, or accreditation. We’re more focused on addressing problems of practice, having peer feedback, and using case studies from actual examples.

Charlie: How was the first session of this MOOC that you held last September?

Glenn: The first time we offered it last year we had 2700 attendees which was quite a bit larger than we expected. To our surprise, 10 percent of them were outside of the U.S. The second time we had 1800 people. In terms of participants, the largest group were those responsible for instructional technology. We also had school and district administrators, people in charge of curriculum and instruction, professional development, technology, infrastructure, college and university faculty, consultants, people at nonprofits who work with schools. We also had a lot of classroom teachers, but who played a leadership role within their schools, perhaps on a planning committee.

I was really impressed with the depth of the discussion, the engagement, what we were learning from it. There are a large number of smart, passionate educators working throughout the country, and throughout the world, that are so committed to helping build the education system our children need for their futures. It’s very energizing to work with those folks.

Charlie: Can you tell me one or two things that people learned from the MOOC that had a big impact?

CREDIT Mary Ann Wolf DLTGlenn: Perhaps most importantly, people see the big picture and learn that a digital learning initiative has many critical aspects, it’s not just about handing computers to teachers and students. It’s about reforming curriculum and instruction, changing the culture of the classroom, setting the expectations of teachers and students, moving to a more personalized learning structure, and using more real-time formative assessment data. We know from experience that lots of places have bought a bunch of computers and then felt that it did not do them any good–because all they did was buy computers without an overall school reform plan. So I think that’s the big message that gets through. And then there are lots of specifics. Many folks said they hadn’t thought about engaging their local community, engaging parents and local businesses, and that they realized from the case studies how important that is. Others thought that you only needed to teach teachers how to use the computers (how to ‘save a file’ or ‘access a website’), instead of engaging in professional development around new instructional strategies supported by the technology.

Charlie: Why is it important to include the community, parents and local businesses?

Glenn: Schools are very public organizations; they were designed to be the carriers of knowledge, skills, and cultural norms over generations, so everybody has expectations of the school. And when things start changing, when kids start coming home with an iPad instead of a textbook, when they start taking tests where they are allowed to access a Google search engine, when they start communicating with their teachers on a 24/7 basis, these are all significant changes that make people ask “Well what’s going on there?” They wonder if the kids are getting basic skills, or if they just messing around playing games. You also have to let the community know that you are very aware of responsible use issues, possibilities of online cyber-bullying, etc. You have to get ahead of all those potential concerns. We’ve seen a lot of initiatives go downhill because they had not properly engaged the community.

Charlie: How would you characterize the state of digital learning today in the U.S.?

Glenn: Well, we’ve made some progress, but not nearly enough. Lots of schools, districts, and educators have done some very good things, but we haven’t yet made it systemic and scaled. You can’t assume that wherever you go, you’ll have children using technology effectively. Almost everyone has at least some pilot programs. In North Carolina, and I think this is true in most of the country, you have most schools taking some initial steps, using the internet for resources, bringing access into the classroom, etc. Teachers also use the Internet a lot for lesson planning.

Charlie: Do we know for sure that using technology enhances learning outcomes? It seems very intuitive, but from a research standpoint, do we know this for a fact?

Glenn: If you tell me the goal is to increase the average student’s score on a standardized, multiple-choice assessment test, I cannot say we have to get computers in there. If you tell me the goal is to increase things like communication, collaboration, critical problem-solving, creativity, and preparing students for careers, college, and citizenship, I don’t think there’s any doubt that technology is absolutely essential. There are a lot of studies, and in some areas, like writing, we see an increase in performance, while in other areas, like mathematics, surprisingly we don’t (though I would argue that the powerful graphing calculators now being used are computers). But the bottom line is we are changing the expectations of teaching and learning to include digital literacy because that is required in today’s society.

Charlie: What is keeping schools from adopting digital learning further? Is it primarily funding or is it other things?

Glenn: I think the schools will typically say it is funding, and this is certainly a challenging economic time for schools, but I would say besides funding, it is understanding the required change and leadership. This isn’t about adding a device and doing what you were doing before but doing it on a screen rather than on a blackboard. This is really about students having more initiative, moving away from a mass production model of education where students are expected to adapt to what is presented at them, where students can work much more independently, much more collaboratively. It really represents a lot of big changes to our model.

Schools are not organizations built for change, but they are in a world where change is so rapid and so constant, that they are trying to become so. Change requires dedicated, capable leaders, who can build trust, build leadership teams, and can deal with the fact that it’s not going to be smooth process. Leaders understand that when implementations are rocky and you need to get through it, not abandon it. And they need to deal with many perspectives and bring people along.

Charlie: In your MOOC, would you say that more of the value is the content or the discussions and networking?

Glenn: It varies. One of design principles is that this is for self-directed learners, so we ask people to design their own goals. We have readings, videos, case studies, expert panels (via Google Hangout), and mini-projects, where people present plans and receive peer feedback. Different learners will find different aspects most useful. The participants will be experienced, adult educators, so they know how to navigate their own learning for the most part. One thing I do want to emphasize is that the people who found the MOOC most valuable were those that worked through the MOOC together with a local planning team. So now we are recommending that. I think we will see a lot more of this blended model in the future, where a local learning experience is wrapped around a MOOC.

[Ed. note: For a short intro to the class, have a look at this video.]

Charlie Chung is a lifelong learner passionate about pedagogy, cognitive science, and MOOCs. He is Chief Course Curator at Class Central, a comprehensive, impartial MOOC directory provider. You can follow him on Twitter.

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