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Three Factors for Success in Using Technology to Support At-Risk Students



Three Factors for Success in Using Technology to Support At-Risk Students

Linda Darling-Hammond, EdD, Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education, Stanford University Graduate School of Education; Faculty Director, Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE)
Tom Murray, State and District Digital Learning Director, Alliance for Excellent Education
Molly B. Zielezinski, Doctoral Candidate, Learning Sciences and Technology Design, Stanford University Graduate School of Education

For decades, educators have sought to find better ways to close achievement gaps and better serve students at risk of failing courses or dropping out of high school. Of particular concern are the needs of students who struggle with personal challenges, such as pregnancy, mobility, or homelessness, and those who face academic challenges including credit deficiencies, are English language learners, or have special education needs. Many districts have turned to technology-driven solutions; yet in many cases, these efforts have failed to produce consistent improvements in student outcomes.

This webinar focuses on Using Technology to Support At-Risk Students’ Learning, a new report by the Alliance for Excellent Education and the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE). The report highlights examples of successful approaches to using technology to support at-risk students and identifies three important variables for success: interactive learning, use of technology to explore and create, and the right blend of teachers and technology.

During the webinar, SCOPE’s Linda Darling-Hammond, one of the report’s authors, discussed the report’s findings and the three factors for success with at-risk students. Tom Murray of the Alliance moderated the discussion and Molly Zielezinski reflected on the findings and her time as a classroom teacher in both Massachusetts and California.


> hello. I’m tom murray, the state and district digital learning director here at the alliance for excellent education. Welcome and thank you for joining us today. I’m delighted to be here for today’s webinar where we will discuss a very exciting new report on the effectiveness of digital learning for at-risk students that the alliance released just this morning entitled using technology to support at-risk students’ learning. The report is authored by dr. Linda darling-hammond and her team at stanford university. With that, let me introduce our special guests who will be discussing this great work today. I’m so pleased to be joined here in the studio by dr. Linda darling-hammond, one of the authors of this newly released report. She is the charles e. Duck come monday professor at stanford university where she launched the stanford leadership institute. She has also founded and co-directs the stanford center for opportunity policy in education or s.c.o.p.e. Established in 2008 which fosters research, policy and practice to advance high quality, equitable education systems in the united states and internationally. We are also delighted to have dr. Darling-hammond as a board member here at the alliance for excellent education as well. Joining us by phone is molly zielezinski, dr. Darling-hammond’s co-author. Molly is is a doctoral candidate at stanford and on the research team at s.c.o.p.e. Prior to starting her doctoral studies, molly taught math to fifth and sixth grade students in both a large urban district and a small charter school environment and served as a teacher coach in math and technology integration. Molly’s current research focuses on the integration of avenues into a classroom. We’re fortunate to have molly join us to provide her insights but her reflections as a recent classroom teacher. During this webinar if you have any questions please submit them using the form below this video window and we’ll work through these questions over the next hour. You can join the conversation on twitter using #all4ed. If you miss any of today’s discussion, archived video for our webinars are available on our website, within one or two business days. I’m very excited about the release of this report because for the first time data and research have been pulled together that looks systemically at the impact of digital learning for our at-risk students. This work is so important for our work at the alliance. Our desire is to have high school transition so all students are graduating with success. We’re dedicated to improving opportunities particularly for students who are under served. We fight for better measurements in high school graduation rates, to put adolescent literacy and for higher standards for all students. We believe digital learning, the effective use of technology to better personalize teaching and learning is absolutely critical to this mission. For a long time it’s been a challenge to make a solid case in the research of technology’s impact on learning. As a former principal and technology director at a public school in pennsylvania, i’ve personally wrestled with this topic many times. Many studies show no significant effects and ensuring fidelity of implementation is often difficult but today with the support of the mott foundation the alliance is pleased to release a report on this exact topic conducted in partnership with s.c.o.p.e. That reveals the findings from a comprehensive literature review on the impacts of digital learning for at-risk students. This report is incredibly important because it will help districts everywhere ensure that their efforts are grounded in both research and best practices. Welcome to both of our panelists and to you, the live audience as well. Let’s jump right in. Dr. Darling-hammond, can you begin by sharing how and why this work was completed and what characteristics were considered in being a student at-risk.

As you already said, tom, we’ve had a lot of mixed reviews about, you know, is technology effective and, you know, when, and how, and so on. Really no one has actually tackled this question before of saying particularly for this group of students what are the things that you need to have in place and in what ways can technology help? So i want to give full credit to molly, who really dug in and unearthed 70 studies that were part of the literature review, and we are putting together the broader paper for those of you who are wonks in the audience, if you want to read the full literature review, that will be coming out soon. And this is really the summary of what we found. Now we thought about students who are placed at risk in a variety of ways, and really at risk of failing courses and failing to graduate from high school is what we were thinking of in the context of secondary schools. And that can be due to a range of personal factors such as employment, necessary employment, or mobility, or homelessness, special education needs, credit deficiencies, lack of supports for learning english. There are a lot of things that can place a student at risk, and quite often schools are really trying to figure out how can we use all of our resources, and in particular are there ways that technology can help us personalize instruction and support basic skills acquisition and other skills for this particular population.

Great. Now in the report you share how the results of past literature has an impact in the classroom. Dr. Darling-hammond, will you please share with us why do you believe this to be true?

Well, i think that sometimes we lump technology into like one word as though it’s a single thing, but really the way in which technology is used is part of a whole ecosystem of different variables, and those include the things like what kind of hardware is available, what kind of band width is available, what kind of access is available, what kind of software are we using, what are we asking students to do, what are the supports in that environment. And really to understand the outcomes of technology you have to think of all of those different factors in that what we call a digital ecosystem along with the different goals you might have which are both cognitive goals but also behavioral and affective and so on. So what we’ve tried to do in the literature review is tease out what kinds of settings with what kinds of supports with what kinds of software are helpful in producing what kinds of outcomes.

You know, it’s interesting because with project 24 we study this around the nation as well and we see the implementation that’s going on there, and one of the things we notice, and i would adhere to taking a look at this being part of the reason districts are struggling, is districts are really out there often buying the stuff, bringing it in, putting it in hallways, putting it in the hands of teachers but then never considering the professional learning changes that need to take place, the curriculum, the instruction, the assessment that should start to shift, the instructional pedagogy. Simply putting this in the hands of teachers isn’t an impact. It’s a systemic change. The report indicates that children in poverty now make up nearly half of our public school students and that the nation’s 23.8 million minority students also comprise nearly half of the school’s population, and many of them are under served by their school systems. Molly, with half of our school children who are either minorities or students living in poverty, what type of trends are we seeing that relate to technology use?

We have to think about technology use in terms of that that students have access to outside of school and also within school in terms of outside of school, we found a 2013 study from the pew research center that indicates that both minority students and low income students are significantly less likely to own computers in their homes than more affluent counterpart students. Also, these populations are much less likely to have access to the internet outside of school, but those minority students who do have access to the web are likely to use the mobile phone as their only touch point to the web. And you can imagine that using the†– using a mobile phone as your only internet access really limits a student’s capacity to engage in content creation and other much more meaningful technology activities. In terms of in school access is a little bit more murky. The most recent national survey was released in 2009 and it was conducted in the†– on the years prior to that, which was before the ipad was introduced and the national explosion of tablets on the scene. What we do know though is that there is a disparity in computer access in terms of the frequency and use†– the frequency of use between high and low income students and that there’s a huge difference in the types of activities these students are being exposed to.

Molly, as you reviewed the previous research, what factors and/or types of technology were considered as part of the review?

Sure. We really cast a wide net here because we didn’t want to leave anything out, and so as we were casting this net what we determined from the literature was three categories. The infrastructure access and the digital learning resources themselves. In terms of infrastructure, we’re talking about some of those things that linda mentioned, the band width, the storage, the servers, things like this. The access is the amount and the kind of hardware that’s being used, and the digital learning resources are the actual learning materials that the students are using, and what we found as we took these categories into account, we were hoping to encounter a variety of different hardware types including tablets, cell phones, student response system, laptops, et cetera, but what we saw was that in 71% of the studies we came across schools are specifically looking at laptop and desktop use, although there were other studies who had a wider net. We also looked at different models to access computers, such as one-to-one computing, stationary labs, mobile labs and what we found was that infrastructure and access together are closely related and can be utilized as a team to provide a set of enabling circumstances when it comes to using technology for learning.

You know, molly, i think that’s a great example. And working with districts across the nation we often see just that. And i know that also goes hand in hand with the connect ed initiative in taking a look at the back end with the infrastructure and making sure we have that whether it’s the 99 and 5, with erate modernization and some things out there so that’s absolutely been a topic on the forefront. Also taking a look at getting devices in the hands of kids has been a priority as well as the high quality digital content. Districts are trying to vet what does that look like? What is something deemed high quality? What’s worth it? How do we faye for all of this. Those are absolutely things districts are wrestling with. Molly, in the report you dive deeply into something you call the learning context which is comprised of the learning community, learning goals and the learning activity. Will you please share with our viewers the learning context and its impact on technology integration.

Absolutely. As you mentioned, there’s sort of three subgroups here, the community, the goals, and the learning activity. And the learning community is†– involves factors that influence the school and local community. These are things such as the school’s values, the pedagogical approach, the level of parent involvement you have. At the classroom level this includes things about the teacher and her level of experience, her professional development background as well as her ease of use and comfort with technology. These directly are connected to the learning goals, which are used to describe the objectives for using the technology, and this can be anything from the mastery of basic skills to the development of higher order thinking skills. Learning activity also involves the content area and the level of student interaction, which we find is pretty integral. Where student interaction is a breakdown of things such as are students using the technology for content consumption or are they using it for content creation? Are they engaged with simulations and games or are they doing workbook style drills all day long? So as schools think about integrating a new technology, they think of the skills and not all the variables. It’s important to think of how each variable alliance with the resources and how those can be aligned with the objectives as a new technology is being chosen and implemented.

Great. Thanks for sharing that. I think it also†– i think it starts to get at an issue we’re seeing nationwide when it comes to all of this inside school district and how do we bring together our thought leaders, curriculum directors, tech directors, school leaders in cultivating their leadership to make sure all parts of the system are talking? We often see maybe it’s on the tech side of things and they’re pushing out these resources but then there’s no systemic shift in the way we’re professionally growing our teachers. That needs to go hand in hand and certainly the premise of project 24. I do want to remind viewers this paper has been released today. It’s been flying everywhere on social media. You can download it at all 4 ed/publications and you’ll be able to see what was released today. Dr. Darling-hammond, districts often wrestle with what effective technology integration actually looks like. Being at the heart of your report and knowing that districts around the nation spend hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars per year in technology, what is it that the research indicates is not being effective? What type of technology integration is not working? What do we need to avoid?

Well, it’s interesting. There have been a number of what we call gold standard research trials, randomized, you know, trials that have looked at technology that have no difference between teachers working with kids and technology when the technology is basically like putting a workbook on a computer, where kids are just being marched through a very passive activity, they get information, they give answers and it looks kind of like what they would be doing with a workbook at their desk. There was a big review of the research that was done a few years ago that basically summarized some of the research by saying the drill and practice activities favored in most socioeconomic status schools tend to be ineffective, whereas, the uses of technology disproportionately used in high socioeconomic status schools achieved positive results. So the question is, well, what are those, right? What in particular was not working and what did they find was working? They looked at the outcomes on the national assessment of progress, our nation’s report card, and they found that there was no or negative effect for students who were using these workbook type activities on a computer, phonics-based reading review and practice, grammar and punctuation exercises. Practicing math problems that look the same over and over again, just that kind of drill. What was working and showed up on the assessments were simulations and games where kids were taking on roles and solving problems and writing. In fact, writing as we have known for some years on the computer and, you know, revising that writing improves reading as well as writing, and then things like data analysis. So they were looking at these more active, engaging kinds of uses of technology that had a positive effect.

You know, it’s interesting. There’s various models out there on technology and integration, samr being one, tpac being another. I think what you responded there in the very beginning about samr’s model is substitution. Sometimes we have students reading from a book and writing on a piece of paper. The flip side is reading something digital and typing on a computer and realizing there’s no learning difference there, we’re using a different tool. I think a lot of times districts are getting themselves in trouble because they’re spending all of this money and changing the instructional pedagogy in the classroom. If it’s low level stuff, if we’re talking about blooms taxonomy, webs knowledge, we’re getting to the low levels, nothing instructionally will make that difference, right?

And in effect there’s another issue. While there’s some kids who will, you know, do boring work on a computer, most†– particularly students at risk would prefer to be interacting with a human being so they may even be worse off if they’re doing that at a computer rather than in some kind of setting where there’s some human reinforcement, parent work or something where there is the engagement of another human.

Yeah. Engagement certainly being the key word there for sure.


On the flip side and as the premise of this report and webinar, research indicates three important variables for success for at-risk students with variable skills. Will you share what the variables are? What type of integration is having an impact? What did the report find?

It’s very interesting that there is some real consistency around these features. You could guess at them from what i just said a moment ago. Interactivity is very important. Interactive kind of learning where the student is able to do something and see the results of what that is and it may allow them to manipulate data or change the representations of a math problem various ways by which there’s interaction in the learning process and the learner has some control over that. And the technology is giving something back that is in response to its learners. The use of technology to explore and create rather than just transmission learning, using the technology to develop websites or spreadsheets or write something, et cetera, we can talk more about t but it’s really that†– it’s what motivates human beings as learners since the beginning of time. Here we are intrinsically explorers. We are intrinsically creative and then using the technology in that way you can sneak in skills while you’re doing that kind of work. The third one is getting the right blend of teachers and technology. We have really seen that you cannot substitute the technology for the teacher, and particularly for students who needed, you know, support and problem solving and a variety of other things that it just doesn’t work so you have to get that right blend of what is going on with the teachers, what’s going on with the technology.

You know, it’s interesting because one of the things we say at the alliance quite often, at the center here as well as through project 24, is nothing will replace a very high quality teacher in the classroom. But when we infuse technology that high quality teacher gets even better with those resources. Let’s dive into each of those variants a bit. Let’s talk about the interactive learning. What does that look like in the school or classroom? Molly, what’s working here with interactive learning?

So, before i say what’s working, i just want to underscore again and i think that we’ve said this a lot and in our report, that what interactivity does not look like is the sort of skill and drill of basic mastery skills through the presentation of content and then quizzing. And while that may be effective for some populations, this is really not what’s effective for the at-risk students that we were looking at and this is what they’re receiving at a disproportionately high level. Instead, what they should be engaged with and what the research shows is actually making a difference for their learning is interaction with digital resources that allows them to engage with information in a variety of ways, and this means both exposing concept to them through multiple forms as well as giving them a variety of methods for representing their own thinking. So, in one example from an at-risk high school in texas, we found†– they presented students with a study environment for learning quadratic equations. The students were able to look at the quadratic equations in a variety of different simulations and the cycle began by asking them first to engage with the simulations and explore the quadratic equations. Once they had the opportunity to learn this new information a little bit, they were then prompted to explain and elaborate. So, the cycle goes engage, explore, explain, elaborate. And in these end two phases students were given the opportunity to share their understanding by manipulating the simulations, by filling out interactive graphs and tables, and by discussing this in person as well as giving written text responses. So what really is working here is giving the students multiple modalities for interacting with new content and allowing them to show their thinking in a variety of different forms, and this is what we think interactive learning is really all about.

You know, molly, just listening to you talk there and reading through the report, a couple of things that i note there as well is the power of the student voice. And when dr. Darling-hammond referred to engagement before, i think that is absolutely such key there, having them engaged in that high quality technology, but also their voice. You mentioned giving them multiple methods to do it. How far along is that compared to the traditional style of everybody in desks in a row, teacher centric, teacher out front. Here’s a different way to do it. You can do it this way, can you do it this way. To the child, what do you think? How do you want to do it? We cultivate that student voice and give them that voice in their education, what happens? Their engagement goes up. When their engagement goes up their learning, of course, is going to go up there as well. I think that really echos that. Let’s move to the next variable mentioned in the report. Using technology to explore and create. Dr. Darling-hammond, will you please share what the research indicates here. How are schools doing this and why is it working?

Well, we found a lot of different studies that highlighted various ways that educators who use exploration strategies are getting better achievement. This can include everything from students who are creating websites, powerpoint presentations, or digital story telling, or video production about something that they’ve researched and something that they’ve investigated. Wide range of tools and ways of exploring and creating and demonstrating. We give examples in this report of different schools and classrooms and what they specifically did, and one that i really enjoyed and we’ll talk about here is a teacher who had several classrooms of ninth graders who were at risk of failing the ninth grade reading test. And she used technology in a variety of ways, and ultimately those students outperformed the higher trekked classrooms in the school after a couple of years of work with these technologies. So what did she do with the students? She had them, for example, doing research and then creating research websites where they would take their data and their research and they would put it up in a variety of ways. She had them blogging in response to literature and then, you know, sharing their blogs and commenting on each other’s blogs and so on. Every six weeks she had a new unit that would be a new research enterprise for the students, and then she’d use the technology pretty intensively around the particular thing that they were going to explore. So, for example, when they studied the holocaust, they then investigated other instances of genocide and then they created research web pages and so on, and this continuous use of language and literacy in the ways in which they were exploring these ideas and creating representations of their learning ended up allowing them to knock the socks off of the test and to leave the†– as i say, the higher tracked students in the dust, which i thought was a wonderful example of what you said earlier, that a great teacher using technology in good ways can really do more than either of them could have done alone.

Absolutely. One of the things it really does is it flattens our world. You know, one of the things that we’re seeing across the nation is teachers really stepping outside of the four corners of their classroom. And it’s not just opening the door and going across the hallway anymore, now it’s teaching†– it’s students taking classes with people in china. Now it’s flattening and saying†– i remember last year there was a new jersey versus pennsylvania, the great homework debate. We had four classes that were debating but through the use of technology, but the focus was on high quality writing, the focus was on debate and arguments and how to do it well, but then to connect the classrooms together in something like a google hangout was fabulous. Talk about flattening the world and the learning sky rockets. What we know is when kids are feeling engaged and they have that mantra and want to be there, attendance rates start to go up, graduation rates start to go up. Those are things we’re seeing as well. Let’s move to the third variable, and in my opinion the one that might be the most complex. You’ve indicated that the right blend of technology and teachers is a key aspect of what’s working. Having been in public education for 14 years myself, i know this is something that teachers and administrators wrestle with at every level. You see extremes, areas where there is no technology integration or at the other end of the spectrum, areas where instruction is almost all computer based. What is deemed as the right blend? Dr. Darling-hammond, i’m going back to you for this question.

Well, and the right blend for learning may differ from†– even from student to student or from one group of students to another. But what we’ve seen, particularly in studies that have looked at students that we hear designated as placed at risk is that†– not only teachers but peers, other students really enable students to be successful when there’s opportunity for peer interaction and discussion about issues and topics, where there is the opportunity for the teacher to work with kids around concepts, pull groups together in things, try things out, et cetera, and then maybe use the technology as a reinforcement, as a way to use the skills or integrate them into some of the work that you’re doing. So it’s going to be a little bit variable, but those features are all important. And when kids get stuck, it’s absolutely important for†– doesn’t have to be the teacher of record, could be the peer who knows something to have access to someone who can also help them get over a particular moment in time. So all of those are important. There was one study in particular which happened in korea there was almost 2,000 students about half of whom were at risk, and some of them got the help of a teacher and peer interaction and some did not and you could see the difference in the outcomes. The students that had the, you know, right team approach far outperformed and felt much more positively about the experience that they had had than the students who were stuck with the technology alone. As i say, you have to figure out what the right mix is in different contexts, but clearly kids’ ability both to engage with others in an exciting and engaging way about the content, to debate things, to, you know, try ideas on, to perhaps work on group projects, but also to get hepatic moments are part of the magic sauce.

The blended learning, students taking online courses, making those things available as well. You’re right, that right blend, i like how you said in the beginning, is really dependent in every child. What that gets to is the heart of personalized learning for every kid. It’s recognizing the one size fits all classroom model, a very teacher centric, here’s the content in one way. If you don’t get it, i’m just going to teach it to you in the same way. When you don’t get it we’re going to try for a third time. Removes from that and gives multi ways to get it. Finally through things like this with technology with a high quality teacher, we can teach to them in different ways as well. I think that’s absolutely key. Molly, you were a middle school classroom teacher who infused technology with these high-risk students. What can you share?

Well, first of all, all of my years in the classroom have strongly influenced the type of work i’m now engaged in as a researcher. I’m going to tell you a little bit about a project i just did with a local high school that has a high population of at-risk students. We supported them in the creation of their own interactive digital history textbooks. We were sort of motivated by this national push to get digital textbooks in the hands of all students. We were wondering if it was feasible for students to create their own textbooks. What students did is use primary sources to answer self-selected historical questions. We wanted to push the higher order skill of students answering questions from a variety of historical perspectives, not just the singular authoritative voice of history. What was especially great about the project is the students were able to engage in history the way historians were able to do it by puzzling together multiple primary sources to give a rich account of history. And they were highly engaged as they were creating these accounts rather than just consuming their traditional history text. They were using cutting-edge technology to make these accounts interesting and accessible to their peers who turned out to be a really authentic audience for them to be preparing this material. This really dovetails on our findings using technology to explore and create. Students as content creators in this case increased their engagement and excitement and enthusiasm about exploring historical topics.

Molly, it’s great to have that classroom perspective and sharing that. I know a lot of those in our audience are classroom teachers. They can relate to that. That’s fabulous feedback. Thank you. I want to bring up the topic of one to one. I don’t think i can review something on a daily basis without this school going one-to-one ipad, this one going one-to-one chrome books. The project read research that’s out there, they studied 1,000 school districts related to the one-to-one. In taking a look at the studies that you guys looked at related to one-to-one implementation, what are you seeing out there with the impacts of one-to-one? What’s working? What’s not?

Well, i think what was most strongly evident in the studies that we looked at was not having enough computers was a real barrier, as was not having enough band width. Nothing more frustrating than having a great project and not being able to get the kids access to the computers, trying to schedule the computer lab. So one of the things that we recommend is that you really need in policies about get to go one-to-one access so that students can be using this tool when and as they need it. Now, are there better and worse uses of the tool? Yes, we’ve already documented that in other ways. But not having enough access is really a liability because it won’t become part of the routine. The kids won’t become familiar enough with it that they’re using it in flexible and creative ways, which is what taps the motivation, taps the other attributes that allow students to get the achievement from the interaction with the technology.

That’s great. Molly, do you want to add anything to that?

Yeah, i want to add to linda’s point about the just in time. Scheduling time, a student is grappling with something, they’d like to dig deeper on is a primary source, use a mathematical tool and having one-to-one access in the classroom allows the student be to be able to grab their device and to be able to explore and engage with content in that moment where they are really needing to learn that. We’ve seen that that increases learning as well.

Great feedback there as well. I know from the project 24 initiative at the alliance, one of the gears we look at is the use of time. Many districts that have gone one to one have started to look at their schedule, started to look at courses outside the school day and full access is the premise that we don’t want learning to stop and start with the school bells for our children, we want them to have access to 24/7, high quality digital content. Studying that is helpful to our districts because so many of them are doing that. Can we talk quickly about the topic of blended learning and any research you had done on that. I know ask ten different people what blended learning is and you’ll probably get ten different but probably similar results in what that looks like. Molly or dr. Darling-hammond, do you guys want to take a stab at what you found with the blended learning aspect of things?

I’ll say a word and molly may want to add on to that. Blended learning is any combination of teachers and technology. As we’ve said, you want to combine them, but i think what a lot of people think of when you say blended learning today is the flipped classroom, and the notion of the flipped classroom is that kids will get the content outside of class. They’ll watch a video lecture, they’ll engage in some way with the content online and then in class they’ll do something much more interactive and applied with the learning. It’s primarily been used in higher education. There’s some evidence from some studies that it does in some cases improve students enthusiasm and motivation and some small indications that learning may improve, but not a lot of research in this area yet. So we don’t really know whether that will translate to the high school setting, whether it will translate to this population of students. One of the things that was interesting to me in a review about flipped classrooms was that college students prefer in-person lectures to videotape lectures. So the video lecture is like not a magic bullet, but they actually prefer interactive classroom activities to any kind of lecture. So i think highly motivated students with the technology supported content is highly engaging. May go home and get lectures online. They’ll do their reading outside of class. When students don’t have personal space and have the opportunity to do that out of classroom learning will do that is still a big question mark, but once again, back to the point we’ve made before, whatever happens in class will be much more productive if it is interactive and if it does involve humans in ways as well as the technology in ways that transmit both the content and the opportunity to apply and talk about it argue about it.

The concept of flipped teaching has been around and there are those that have gone fully on board and this is the greatest thing in the world. Others are very much skeptical. No, i’m there to teach and that’s my role. We’ve even seen principals flip faculty meetings and professional development.

That’s an interesting idea and i think i like that. Go home and watch my speech on video.

We administrators, having been a former one, need to model those practices that we want to see from our teachers in in-service days, faculty meetings. I mentioned professional learning and let’s talk about that. Molly, i’ll go to you on this one if you don’t mind. Dr. Darling-hammond, you can certainly jump into this as well. What we’ve seen especially through project 24, one of the things we’ve seen in terms of professional learning and making sure it’s successful, we can have the tools and the broadband but at the end of the day it’s the high quality teacher that makes this work. What did the literature talk about in terms of effective professional learning to make all of this work? Molly, do you want to respond to that?

Absolutely. So i can tell you that oftentimes in the literature what we saw was the statement, teachers did not have adequate professional development to implement the technology and so that in cases when the technology wasn’t working there was discussion about sort of this lack of adequate professional learning. There wasn’t a more advanced aspect of what professional learning might be. What i think that we could recommend thinking about our digital learning ecosystem is what you’re saying is when all of the technology pieces are in place about technology’s fear with the infrastructure, access, you have the right resources, what is it that the teachers need to be successful. If you look over at the learning context, what we really see is the learning, that if you start with the learning objectives and make sure that the technology is really well-matched to that learning objective and then educating teachers on how to achieve that objective with that particular piece of technology is what they would need to know to be successful in that learning context. What that is is the teacher’s ability to teach their subject matter. That is something that’s really important to teachers professional learning in ways that are aligned with the objectives of the learning community, the school community as well as the objective of the learning activity.

I want to add a couple of points to what molly’s already said. One of the things she’s clinging to is the importance of the uses of technology to kids being connected to the curriculum content that you’re exploring, and the way that you start to infuse technology into the curriculum is in part by being able to plan your curriculum together with other people who have some knowledge of the resources that might be available around that kind of curriculum content and can with you think about ways to begin to infuse your†– some of the technological uses that might be engaging and exciting to students in that particular domain. You also need on site at the school technology specialists who can be there to make sure that you don’t run into problems with the kids booting up and getting online or, you know, problems with the hardware and the software because every teacher knows that a classroom is a yeasty soup of activity and if you can’t solve those problems pretty readily, then your efforts will, you know, be not sustained over time. The last thing i would say is often in good professional learning, in addition to the coaching on site and the opportunity for collegial planning that we’ve already mentioned, involves teachers in doing something themselves that they would later like to have students doing. So to the extent that teachers become engaged in the use of technology for, you know, blogging or, you know, e-mailing or researching or looking things up, so engaging teachers in these kinds of activities themselves in professional development and in their daily work will allow them to say, oh, if i can do that with the technology, then my kids could use it this way. I think all of those are elements of an authentic professional learning experience for teachers that is also going to be more relevant to the specific ways in which they can use technology.

I would love to†– can i build on what linda said there? From my own experience, i actually help support technology integration as a technology specialist or coach in the school, and what i saw from my experience was that that actually provides that just in time element for the teachers that we were just talking about providing for the students. So if a teacher can’t get their smart board on but they’ve spent all night preparing an interactive white board lesson and they can call a coach and say, how do i do this? Or if a teacher has an idea to prepare a lesson and they say, you know, how do i make this happen, if you have a coach that has experience in the classroom doing those things, then that person can really support that teacher to achieving their goal in the time that they need it. But oftentimes when that’s not available, they get frustrated or is the whole experience falls flat and they end up just ignoring the technology piece rather than†– rather than being able to sort of tackle it on their own without support for those early stages of technology implementation.

I think that’s great feedback and absolutely imperative for our viewers to really take to heart. Just three comments from things that we’re seeing again through project 24 and our work at the alliance. First dr. Darling-hammond had referred to the need for that technical assistance because i know firsthand that’s something districts struggle with and teachers in the classroom struggle with. Some of them are struggling, they have 5, 6, 7, 8-year-old machines that take 10 or 15 minutes to boot up. They’re starting to lose instructional time. That’s something we don’t want from the classroom. What’s that refresh cycle? How often are we refreshing? What support are we giving in house and we can turn that around in a one-to-one environment in real time. The second thing i heard was the importance of leadership and i want to relate the leadership piece to the engagement piece that we’ve talked about from a student end. I think it’s imperative that the leaders in our schools, whether they’re our principals, superintendents, teacher leaders, district office or coaches, it’s imperative that they’re also modeling this really good instructional practice that we expect from our teachers. The last thing we want from our leaders is showing them what to do and not doing it ourselves. Modeling the high quality strategies through faculty meetings, coming in and co-teaching with the teacher. That is absolutely great. Third in relation to professional learning, one of the things that we’re seeing in terms of trends is really a shift in professional learning across our nation. Some of it is attributed to the connected educators movement across the country and people pushing and banding together around states on best practices. What we’re seeing from best learning is traditional, top down, one size fits all, sit and get type model of professional learning just really isn’t working very well and it’s something that districts have really struggled with. I challenge districts to take a look at attendance rates on in service days. Do they go up or do they go down? If so, why? How are teachers taking ownership of their own learning? When we talk about integration we know teachers have different needs just like our students have different needs? How can we professionalize the personal learning for all teachers just like we expect to do for our kids? I want to share one high-quality example. It was highlighted in this report. It’s incredible results we’ve seen in talladega county in alabama, a district that the alliance highlighted during this year’s digital learning day. Talladega is a district where 73% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch, dropout rates were high and college going rates were low. When the leadership in talladega redesigned the entire school program focusing on increasing student engagement through active project based learning and training teachers to make necessary pedagogical shifts, the results were astounding. Over the course of just two years this systemic approach led to an increase in high school graduation rates from 63% to 87% and a climb in college acceptance rates from 33% to 78%. During this time period they had significant increases in suspensions, referral to schools and dropout rates preventing failures that had previously occurred. Alabama’s talladega school district is a great example that uses the right blend of technology and integration and the results speak for themselves. In your research you looked at the educational hot topic of†– let me jump through that a little bit. We began to review some of the†– let me back up here for a moment. Sorry about that. After reviewing the compilation of evidence that’s out there, your research team came up with a number of policy implications or recommendations for policy makers and educators at all levels. Will you please share these recommendations at the heart of your report? What needs to happen for us as a nation to be successful in supporting the students that we all serve?

Well, i’ll list those quickly. I know we have some people asking questions so we’ll zip through those and they’ll sound familiar. For policy makers at the federal level, the state level especially where the resources come from we really need to aim for one-to-one computer access. Some schools are there, others are struggling and are not there. I think as a matter of educational equity that needs to be the goal and the basis on which we make policy to ensure that that happens. We need to ensure speedy internet connections and thankfully the progress recently on the erate is going to be a huge benefit. Districts need to get out there and get that going so they can get the connection speed to a place where kids can do what they need to do to surf the web and so on in all the right places. Use interactive programs that allow learners to engage with data and to express ideas and so on. Use technology so they can create content as well as learning content and, finally, to create the blended learning environments that involve peer as well as teacher supports and to do that in ways that hopefully will build on what we document in this little study. And i wanted to say to those who are thinking of downloading it, you’ll be happy to know it’s short. 15†1/2 pages and have lots of good examples of how you can do that.

As our time starts to close we’re going to jump over to some questions from the audience. David from santa barbara, california, ask how might educators work to ensure high levels of student engagement in the learning and technology-based learning environment? We mentioned engagement multiple times today. Molly, can i jump back to you? As a classroom teacher, how can we ensure high levels of engagement?

I would absolutely love to underscore what we’ve been saying here already which is first by providing students with the interactive activities where interactive is different modes of content presentation as well as giving students different modalities for sharing their thinking. So you may think that throwing something up in text or having students read an example is enough, but for real engagement you want to hit them specifically with population with a variety of modalities, including audio, video, text, and simulations and let them explore and interact with each different modality so that they can become engaged in what works best for them as a learner. And then the same for methods of demonstrating their knowledge. You want to give them a variety of ways to demonstrate. So if someone, for example, isn’t feeling the most comfortable with writing, having other opportunities and other modes to share their understanding is going to lead to that higher level of engagement. And then the other thing is absolutely allowing kids to be content creators at the level that they are currently at and engaging them by asking them to create something for an authentic audience, right? Don’t just create it for the teacher to go home and read on her couch, but create it for an audience of their peers or perhaps a video to share at home with their family so that they’re doing something for a reason that makes sense in the world and that that is definitely another way to boost their engagement.

Dr. Darling-hammond. Just to add one point to that great example that molly gave. One is that while students are using their strengths and interests as a pathway in, you can also then build the scopes that they may be more comfortable to be in with. If they really are visual learners and they create a†– you know, perhaps a video story board or something around some of the things that they’re learning, then you have them write about it. You don’t let the writing go by the way side, but you use the strength of the pathway and then build the other skills around it. And i’ve seen over and over again the point that molly expresses that it’s kids that are doing an authentic product for a real audience, it will transform their engagement in a school that molly and i both worked in in the same community, which is in the highest†– the lowest income community in california near the university, and initially in this school students came with very low skills well below the grade level and not really knowing how to do work in class or homework. The first thing that got them truly engaged with creating an exhibition, a individual geography and stories and research about their community to present to people at stanford university right across the highway. All of a sudden every kid was working and revising their work because the audience was authentic, the task was meaningful, the technology was used to support the skills as well as the interests.

We’re going to wrap up with a combination of two questions that i’m going to put together. We had phil from washington, d.c., essentially say what happens for a district that has so much technology a teacher doesn’t know where to start? Like what can they do to make sure they’re doing it effectively? The flip side was a question from jolie from fresno, california, on the opposite side. What about our low-performing schools that are really struggling because they just don’t have a whole lot? One of those two sides, molly, or dr. Darling-hammond, can you respond to one of those two sides on a strategy or something that might be helpful?

Personally, i don’t know what to tell the person who has too much.


You need to make some difficult decisions there. I will say because i’ve been in the situation and worked with schools that are in the situation of trying to really, you know, spin gold out of straw and, you know, put things together with chewing gum and shoe strings, that you can begin with†– although you don’t want to end with the devices that students do have available. Molly mentioned earlier that just having access to mobile devices is not enough because you can’t really write effectively and revise your writing and do spreadsheets and other representations. There is a lot you can do with those mobile devices. You can get kids engaged in a lesson, and i’ve seen this in some wonderful classrooms. I’m an english teacher by training myself where, you know, you’re reading something. Not every kid wants to raise their hand and talk outloud or has the opportunity. They can start texting, you know, to one another. They can engage in kind of blogging. You can pose a question like do some inquiry on the web and talk about it. So there are ways to squeeze a lot of learning value out of, you know, the devices that virtually all kids do have access to. Ironically, many schools have†– we take away your cell phone policy so you don’t have a device in class, but if you can figure out ways to manage that and use them productively you can build from there so that then kids have†– i’ve seen them do clicker technologies, voting into the classroom so that when they do go, if it is only a computer lab that’s available†–


†– where they’re going to, you know, write something more substantive, they’ve had a lot of experience using the technologies available. I do hope that we are going to see†– and we see signs that this will happen, that the federal government will get back in the saddle around the kind of supports through title 1 and other avenues and through the eread program that allow all the schools to have the problem that the first caller had.


Which was too much.

Sure. No, absolutely. You know, and that concept of dyod. They’re struggling with that, do they or don’t they?

It’s not the major goal because there are a lot of challenges with dyod.


But if that’s where you have to start, there are creative and productive ways that you can begin with.

Yes. It is interesting because in today’s smart phones we have more technology in that phone than put men on the moon. If we surveyed technology that was in the lockers, that would be a start. I agree. That’s very well said. This has been a great discussion but we are unfortunately running out of time. I’d like to thank our panelists, dr. Darling-hammond and molly zielezinski and all of the others to make this paper. We’d like to thank the mott foundation for supporting and making this possible. I’d like to remind our viewers that our series of webinars is available. The next one is wednesday, september 17th on redesigning learning spaces and will feature aaron klein, ben chilton and a.j. Giuliani, founders of exploring brain friendly games. Thank you again for joining us here at the alliance and have a fabulous day.

Categories: Achievement Gap, Blended Learning, Digital Learning, Disconnected Youth, Education Technology, Equity, Students of Color

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One Comment

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    Posted 2 years ago

    Hi, I am a lecturer at a college in the United Kingdom. I have seen this webinar link and wondered where I can view it?

    Three Factors for Success in Using Technology to Support At-Risk Students

    Thanks in anticipation.

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