Personalized Learning

I am currently in a MOOC that is addressing digital learning in the 21st Century. Over the next set of posts, I am going to discuss the topics for each week of the course. The first week discusses Personalized Learning. What exactly is Personalized Learning? The US Department of Education defined Personalized Learning as:

“Instruction that is paced to learning needs (individualized) and tailored to the specific interests of different learners. In an environment that is fully personalized, the learning objectives and content as well as the method and pace will vary.”

At first glance, Personalized Learning could be mistaken for differentiation or individualization. This is a common mistake. True personalization  requires a shift from teacher-centered instruction to a more authentic, student-centered approach. Personalization instruction requires a program and approach that specifically is tailored to abilities, interest, preferences and other individual student needs.

When it comes to Personalized Learning, educators have discussed the main elements that are needed in any personalized program. Those elements include:

  1. Flexible, Anytime Learning
  2. Redefine the role of “Teacher” (Teacher is more of a facilitator)
  3. Project-Based and Authentic Learning Opportunities are present
  4. Student-Driven Learning Path
  5. Mastery or Compentency-Based Progression

Discussing 21st Century Fluencies (Part III)

In the final part of a three part blog about 21st Century Fluencies, I’ll examine media fluency. This is discussed in the book,Understanding the Digital Generation: Teaching and Learning in the New Digital Landscape, by Jukes, McCain, and Crockett.  Additional information can be gathered at their web site as well (http://www.fluency21.com/fluencies.cfm).

Students are bombarded daily with digital communication from a variety of media. With this steady stream of information, there is an overwhelming need for them to be able to interpret the true meaning or message that is being conveyed.  They also need to be able to recognize how the media is being used to change thinking.  However, this is simply the first part of achieving media fluency. Students also need to be able to create their own digital communication using the proper media.

With the advent of the internet and multimedia tools, digital creation has become available for all! It used to be a skill for just programmers, graphic designers, and video producers. Now, children starting at late preschool age are able to create digital content. This type of digital production by our children represents a very popular and important way for them to communicate. Thus, it is important that they are well-versed in what types of media convey their messages in the most efficient and effective manner. In the previous school model, a student who was a good writer had the market cornered on effective communication. These days, just being a good writer is simply not enough. Students of the 21st century must know basic principles of design in video, web and sound as well as print.

As educators, we must empower our students with a variety of experiences that develop and enhance their technical skills as well as their ability to communicate content. The more we allow our students to create through different media, the more comfortable and proficient they become in the art of communication.


Discussing 21st Century Fluencies (Part II)

In the second part of a three part blog about 21st Century Fluencies, I’ll examine collaborative fluency and creativity fluency. These are discussed in the book,Understanding the Digital Generation: Teaching and Learning in the New Digital Landscape, by Jukes, McCain, and Crockett. I highly recommend reading this book. Additional information can be gathered at their web site as well (http://www.fluency21.com/fluencies.cfm).

Collaborative fluency,  as it is described in the previously mentioned book, is essentially the ability of a student to work cooperatively as a member of a team in an online environment to create original works. Interacting and working with others on social networking sites and even gaming sites is second nature to the digital generation. Students need activities that allow them to build upon the skills of collaboration online with others. By creating these situations in our classrooms, we equip students with a fluency that will not only be needed but will be required for survival in the modern world. The activities don’t have to be elaborate, time consuming tasks. For example, as a 5th grade teacher back in the mid 1990’s, I was teaching my students about the United States government. Instead of giving them the “required” test on US government, I had them go online with students that we collaborated with from France and Japan. Their objective was to work with the students from the other countries and compare the similarities and functions of each other’s government. When it was all said and done, my students knew the US government better than if I had made them memorize facts for a test. The activity also helped create a better understanding for them of how the rest of the world functioned. It was a task that could only be done online because the other students were thousands of miles away! Distance was erased for this activity.

Creativity fluency, and I will quote directly from the book, ” is the process by which artistic proficiency adds meaning through design, art, and storytelling.”  Simply put, just having an answer to a question or problem is not enough. Creativity must come into play when designing solutions/answers. Students need activities/experiences that allow them to use their creativity to create solutions/answers to questions or problems. Sometimes, the solutions/answers may not be at all what the teacher had in mind. That doesn’t make it wrong. Teachers need to realize that just because they didn’t think of it or it does not conform to what they envision a solution to be, it’s not necessarily wrong. With that being said, it is still up to the student to support their creative expression and to demonstrate the validity of their solution. For this, we need to make sure we are asking students to perform on a higher level of thinking. Teachers must gear activities that go deeper into a student’s depth of knowledge. The correct answer can and should be displayed in many creative forms.

Collaborative fluency and creativity fluency are vital in the world economy today. Businesses everyday collaborate with divisions and partners in other parts of the world via many different technologies. In my days as a web designer, I literally created web sites for companies that I had never visited and/or with people that I never actually met in person. In order to do so, I had to be fluent in working through the various online technologies. With that being said, there were probably thousands of other web designers out there that could have developed websites for the same companies that I did. However, it was the creative manner in which I produced solutions that caught the attention of different companies. I had a creative fluency for telling a company’s story through a web site. Collaborative fluency and creativity fluency allowed me to be successful in this one aspect of my life as well as other aspects. As educators, we must provide students with experiences that develop these fluencies. Otherwise we risk sending them out into the modern world at a huge disadvantage.


Discussing 21st Century Fluencies

In the old days (Up until at leaset 1995) we wanted to make sure that students had a good understanding of the “3 R’s.” Actually, we still do. However, as our world changes and goes deeper into the digital age, those “3 R’s” aren’t enough to ensure survival for our children. In the book, Understanding the Digital Generation: Teaching and Learning in the New Digital Landscape, by Jukes, McCain, and Crockett, they discuss 6, 21st-century fluencies.  Two of those fluencies (solution fluency and information fluency) will be discussed in this post.

Jukes, McCain, and Crockett define solution fluency as the ability to think creatively to solve problems by defining the problem, coming up with a solution, applying the solution, and finally evaluating the process and the outcome.  My dad once told me that you need to know what to do when you don’t know what to do. That to me was an early attempt at solution fluency.  In order to ensure solution fluency with our students, we must teach them to be able to approach a situation and use creativity and apply problem solving. In the gaming world, students do this repeateldy and at a rapid pace. In the classroom, we need to give students opportunities through project based learning and authentic learning experiences.  Technology is a natural fit for those types of activities and can facilitate the development of solution fluency by providing students with just in time resources and feedback.

Information fluency is broken down in two subsets. The first is that students are able to access digital information in order to retrieve the information that they need. This is where we teach our students web surfing and web searching skills.  Being able to search the web for desired information in some cases has become almost a survival skill. The second subset involves the assessment of information once you’ve found it. Is it relevant? Reliable? Is there a bias to the information and if so why? Many times students and teachers get very good at the first subset and just assume subset two checks out OK. Obviously this is a dangerous practice.

Many times we find that there is so much curriculum to cover that there isn’t time to cover basic skills and fluencies. We should step back and really examine what it is that we’re wanting to do in education. Is the goal to cover material or is it to help students become capable members of our global society. By taking those precious few minutes of time to learn these skills and proficiencies, it will not only help your students to become more capable, but it may also assist with the coverage of the curriculum.


How Can I do it All?

The question that so many teachers have as they begin the journey of integrating technology into their practice is, “How can I do it all?” Many times teachers are “given” new technologies like an interactive white board, computers, document cameras, and response systems. Throw the myriad of software applications into the equation and you’ve got instant panic. It simply is overwhelming. Essentially, there are several things that teachers can do to calm fears and create a productive, tech integrated classroom.

Students are in school to learn. The guiding light to that learning is the curriculum. Teachers should begin with the curriculum first and foremost when it comes to technology integration. Begin with the end in mind. Ask the question, “What is it that I want my students to be able to do?” Let that drive the instruction. Once the curriculum and facilitating activities are aligned, that is the time explore what tools can help students achieve those goals. Technology might not even be part of some plans, but in our modern society, it’s a pretty safe bet that some type of tech will fit seamlessly into the plans.

Like anything, don’t try and do it all at once. Start small. Get familiar with the various technologies and applications available. Eventually a comfort level develops with certain technologies and applications and it becomes easy to see where those tools fit in instruction. Use the tools that fit and are familiar.

Utilize the help that is available. With the constantly evolving world of technology, it is impossible for one person to know how to use everything. Talk with colleagues and other experts in the field. Make friends with district technology personnel and don’t be afraid to ask questions. No question is a “dumb” question. Do searches for and utilize online resources. The web is packed with resources for teachers. Use the “Help” button in software applications. That’s why it is there! The “Help” features in many programs have evolved greatly over the years and a lot of questions can be answered there.

So step back, relax, and take a deep breath! Everything will be O.K! The students of today are very comfortable with the technologies that they’ve grown up with and love using those tools in school. Make it a part of their learning and watch great things happen!


Understanding Digital Learners

It is amazing how our world, technology, and children have changed over the past 30 years. Why is it though, when you walk into many classrooms today, that they look very similar to the classrooms of the 1970’s and 1980’s? What about the instructional strategies? Furniture? Technology? In a lot of cases… they are the same as 20+ years ago. Unfortunately, the students that are entering those classrooms are not the same as we were in the ’70’s and ’80’s. These are people who have been bombarded digitally since birth. They have never known a time without the internet. They have interactive games that give instant response and gratification to their every decision. Walking into a 20th century classroom means the students have to “power down” in a sense. So how do we get educators to embrace the use of digital tools and instructional strategies of the 21st Century?


Tech Integration PD. Will it Ever be Enough?

Over the years, reports have been made about the importance of technology integration professional development for teachers. Figures have been given as to the percentage of money that should be allocated for PD based on dollars spent for technology equipment. But what IS the proper amount of development to ensure students are utilizing technology in their classrooms? Whatever it is, will it ever be enough? Is it really about quantity? More discussion should focus on the quality of PD.

My belief is that there should be three main components for successful tech integration PD.

1. PD should be based on practical classroom integration for students. The days of coming to a class to learn what to click and how to perform operations are over. The “tech literacy” skills should be woven into the integration development that is occurring. Instead of a “How to in Word” we should be offering courses that are based in curriculum that utilize technology to enhance student learning.

2. Follow up is mandatory. Many times development is a “one shot” mission. Rarely do developers return to see the fruits of their labor. A series of follow up sessions should occur to check for understanding and application. These follow up sessions might only be a few minutes each, but they play an important part of moving teachers forward.

3. Teacher accountability is another key component. Sometimes teachers attend a PD session and expect to get a “magic bullet” that will make things automatically integrate with students for a minimal effort. After a PD session, teachers need to take the initiative to actively embed their new learning into their practice. There is no magic bullet and there is no substitute for taking the initiative to apply new skills to one’s  profession.

When planning and executing tech integration PD, make it count. With the way funding is going these days, you may not get many chances to make an impact.