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Mark Schneiderman: A Digital Learning Framework for Systems Change

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June 20, 2012 04:01 pm


The following blog post comes from Mark Schneiderman, senior director of education policy with the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA). SIIA is a core partner of Digital Learning Day.

I had the great opportunity last week to speak to the CIOs of the Council of Great City Schools, representing the nation’s largest school districts. While their agenda and roles are traditionally focused on enterprise technologies, their summit focused last week on “Transforming Education through Digital Learning.”

Most CIOs recognized that their school systems were not adequately meeting the needs of students, and that technology and digital learning must be a core part of the solution. Many talked of a shift from print to digital content. Some highlighted the blending of formal and informal learning. Others were focused on online learning. All seemed to agree with the need to redesign the system through technology.

I presented on the opportunity to shift from a mass-production to a mass-customization model of personalized learning, whereby technology enables teachers and schools to vary the curriculum and instruction – as well as the time, place and pace of learning – to better meet the unique needs of each student.

As the educational challenges and digital opportunities were discussed in Minneapolis last week, a few lessons emerged for managing the systems change to digital learning.

  • PD, PD and more PD: The shift to digital is increasingly embraced, but most teachers and administrators struggle to internalize what it looks like and how to get there. They are hungry for examples, and for professional development to grow their skills and change their classroom practice. It is not possible to over-invest in good professional support.
  • Vision: Technology and Curriculum/Instruction must create a common vision and operate as a team. Silos must be replaced by communication. IT investment should not drive educational decisions, but can empower them. IT investment must be tailored to specific teaching, learning and administrative processes and be linked to key performance goals and benchmarks.
  • Focus: Along with a clear, coordinated vision should come a clear focus. It is critical to identify core learning goals, then the related changes in practice, and then the technologies and related support network necessary for effective implementation. Districts can do anything, but not everything. Technology is evolving quickly, but that should not mean a district shifts its plans simply to have the newest, shiniest technology.
  • Leadership: Identifying a vision and maintaining focus requires a sustained leadership effort. Any significant initiative to transform practice and integrate technology will require a five-year business plan that includes the key learning goals, changes in practice, core technologies, teacher supports and benchmarks. This plan must be able to survive any turnover in administration, and perhaps only when it does extend beyond one superintendent will it have the staying power to create meaningful and lasting change. Community support and leadership is therefore critical to sustain initiatives over time.
  • Balance Scale with Flexibility: As technology shifts from supplemental to core in teaching and learning, one-off programs will no longer be feasible if the result is isolated data or a requirement for point-to-point systems integration. The solution is an enterprise architecture that empowers teacher and school building decisions to adopt disparate digital resources to meet each of their student’s unique needs, while providing the district-wide platform and standards for their seamless integration into district data and other systems.
  • Staged Deployment: Large technology enhancements, as well as changes to policy and practice, must be achieved in sequential phases. Large initiatives cannot and should not be executed in short order. A staged implementation allows piloting to test and refine plans, time for educator training and adoption, and the building out of technical capabilities over time in lieu of resource limitations. Innovation of practice, people, processes, and technologies must all operate simultaneously through a plan that allows for continuous evaluation, modification and improvement.
  • Automate & Redesign: Gains can be had from shifting from paper to pixels, from physical to virtual, but most important is to accompany those with a redesign of practice that leverages the new technologies to make more efficient use of people, time and space. Students will be engaged and motivated in their learning not simply by digitizing and virtualizing, but instead by meeting them where they are, helping them understand where they need to go, and empowering them through technology and other tools to get there.

I do not expect these lessons are necessarily new for many. I do hope their reinforcement here will provide educators with a framework of principles to guide the exciting, challenging and necessary digital evolution of our education system. As you continue on the journey to make every day a Digital Learning Day for your students, be sure to pause along the way to ask: How well is my teaching and learning community applying these principles? And please share back any of your own guiding principles.

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