Monday, November 30, 2015

Factors Impacting Effective Technology Use: Teacher Readiness

What are the necessary prerequisite skills to integrate digital resources successfully into the classroom learning experience? Is viable technology integration a state of mind, a set of digital literacy outcomes, or a command over a variety of digital tools and resources ranging from social networking to interactive apps? My take is that effective technology integration is a combination of all three.

One needs to look no further than the ISTE Standards for Teachers for inspiration as to what constitutes a truly digitally-literate educator. These standards articulate five key domains that infuse skills, knowledge, and, of course, attitude.
  1. Facilitate and inspire student learning and creativity
  2. Design and develop digital learning experiences and assessments
  3. Model digital age work and learning
  4. Promote and model digital citizenship and responsibility
  5. Engage in professional growth and leadership
Ultimately, defining a set of prerequisite skills needed to maximize student learning, address each state’s content standards, and promote lifelong learning within a digitally-based learning environment is a relative experience based on one’s philosophy as to how children learn best and the resources that individuals believe are necessary to achieve the desired student outcomes. What I do know is that the same teachers that inspire students to achieve unprecedented levels of academic and personal growth do so because they are passionate and exude that “insatiable curiosity” about one or more aspects of their teaching craft, whether it be the tools, the subject-matter, or the art of teaching in general.

The release of the 20th Anniversary edition of the LoTi Digital Age Survey will provide stakeholders with an opportunity to explore which variables relating to teacher readiness stand out the most for their staff and schools as they plan their professional development. The results may surprise you.

This blog post is the seventh in a series of fourteen online entries highlighting factors that impact the effective use of technology in today's classrooms. This series focuses on each of the research variables used to conduct comparative analyses as part of the 20th Anniversary Edition of the LoTi Digital Age Survey.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Searching for Solutions Using Benchmark Data

Most homegrown or commercially-available benchmarking packages provide stakeholders with similar aggregate or individual academic growth data if using a Pre/Post model, item analyses, individual student profiles, and so forth. Ensuing data discussions based on the benchmark results typically highlight troublesome areas where student performance fell below a targeted threshold. 

Unfortunately, the interventions recommended often follow the logic of the overused definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Suggestions such as re-teaching the concept, assigning students to an after-school program, or duplicating study worksheets are all quasi-effective attempts at addressing possible voids in student understanding of the content that produced such lackluster results.

Perhaps, we, as educators, are looking on the wrong side of the equation. If we truly believe that quality instruction impacts achievement, why are we not examining the level of teaching with the same level of tenacity as we do benchmark scores? What if the issue with student academic progress is not just a content or student issue, but a pedagogy issue? In other words, perhaps the level of teaching innovation is not commensurate with what students are being asked to perform on benchmarks that have the “look and feel” of the high stakes assessments.

Consider the following set of benchmark results and Level of Teaching Innovation (LoTi) results that were captured via walkthroughs during a recent benchmarking period.
Students Completed
Checkpoint 2 Test (Mean)
Grade 5 - RST Social Studies
Grade 6 - RST Social Studies
Grade 7 - RST Social Studies
Grade 8 - RST Social Studies

LoTi Level
% Observed
Danielson Practice Score Projection
Partially Effective
Partially Effective
Highly Effective
Highly Effective
Highly Effective

Notice that based on the walkthroughs, 56% of the instruction was considered to be “Partially Effective” based on the Danielson Framework for Teaching. What impact does Partially Effective instruction have on student academic progress? Should we be surprised that the Checkpoint results were so low?

Attempting to make sense of benchmark scores requires that we consider the entire teaching/learning process; otherwise, we will continue to make certain untested assumptions about the quality of instruction as we design follow-up student interventions.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Factors Impacting Effective Technology Use: Teacher Beliefs

In her article, How Our Beliefs Affect Our Lives, Penny Parks provides a practical illustration of the physiological process comprising our belief system. Simply put, when we establish meaning a few times after a repeated experience without any conflicting information, that meaning turns into a belief.

As educators, we have our own beliefs as to how children learn best, what constitutes quality teaching, what role differentiated instruction should play in the classroom, and so forth. As professional development planners, how do we change negative or perhaps, even worse, ambivalent beliefs about the impact of digital resources on student learning and achievement? According to Parks, the brain is continually sorting and sifting events within our life experiences that confirm or align with our belief system.

If a teacher plans lessons using a class set of Chrome Books and the Internet fails repeatedly or an initial attempt at implementing a flipped classroom produces modest results on a quarterly math benchmark assessment, these experiences may confirm an existing negative belief. As Parks points out, the good news is that, "…the brain does the same diligent job with positive beliefs.”

Determining teachers’ beliefs about the role of digital resources and their impact on teaching and learning is one of the variables to be investigated in the soon-to-be-released 20th Anniversary Edition of the LoTi Digital Age Survey. If teachers and administrators have negative perceptions about the pedagogical impact of digital tool use in the classroom, what interventions—in the form of lunch and learn sessions, online courses, or mentoring/coaching opportunities—can we muster to reverse the trend and make positive perceptions about digital tool use a reality?

This question will continually serve as the fodder for future blog posts. Each of us have our own unique beliefs which, in turn, impact our decision-making and actions. Recognizing those beliefs can help us chisel professional development plans that place greater weight on the concerns and perceptions of individual educators.

This blog post is the sixth in a series of fourteen online entries highlighting factors that impact the effective use of technology in today's classrooms. This series focuses on each of the research variables used to conduct comparative analyses as part of the 20th Anniversary Edition of the LoTi Digital Age Survey.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Factors Impacting Effective Technology Use: Greatest Obstacle

What do educators perceive as the greatest obstacle to advancing the use of digital resources in the classroom? This question has been posed thousands of times since the advent of the Apple II+ and Commodore 64 computers. The responses to this question have remained steadfast: Lack of Access, Lack of Time, Lack of Staff Development Opportunities, and Competing Priorities (e.g., statewide testing, new textbook adoptions).

As we move closer to the 40th year anniversary of the first Apple computer, will the trend continue? Let’s take a second look at these perceived obstacles.

Lack of Access: 
Back in the day, a popular trend was sizing up the technology landscape in schools in terms of publishing an annual student-to-computer ratio. Today, this approach would appear archaic given the ubiquitous digital access in schools and at home. However, having access may be one thing; having reliable and consistent access (i.e., internet delays) may be another obstacle that can potentially impact effective technology use.

Lack of Time:
Do teachers have more or less planning time than, say, the last generation of educators? Obviously, there is no definitive answer as every school system has its own policies. Yet, one might argue that given the emphasis on high stakes testing as well as increased federal, state, and local mandates impacting the classroom, the amount of quality planning time may have decreased over the years. How this plays out in terms of impacting the way digital tools are used in the classroom will, no doubt, influence future decisions regarding staff development.

Lack of Staff Development Opportunities
As Lee Atwater famously stated, “Perception is reality.” How do teachers perceive their access to quality professional development? Unlike the previous generation whose primary PD was face-to-face, today’s educational professionals have access to all forms of staff development including synchronous and asynchronous online courses, webinars, video-conferencing, and peer mentoring programs to name a few. The anytime, anywhere training mind-set is happening now, yet, what percentage of teachers in your district are taking advantage of these resources?

Competing Priorities
How frequently have we heard about competing priorities as the reason for not delving into the vast potential of digital learning to inspire and motivate students and elevate professional practice? Though many of these other priorities are completely justified, the broader question is when will there ever be a time when we don’t have competing priorities?

Converting potential barriers into opportunities is the driving force behind the next wave of data collection with the release of the 20th Anniversary edition of the LoTi Digital Age Survey. Our hope is that the information collected will motivate a new breed of staff development planners to innovate how they provide professional development to their constituencies.

This blog post is the fifth in a series of fourteen online entries highlighting factors that impact the effective use of technology in today's classrooms. This series focuses on each of the research variables used to conduct comparative analyses as part of the 20th Anniversary Edition of the LoTi Digital Age Survey.