Dr. Tim Clark promotes Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) and digital learning to empower students and teachers with their personal technology tools for building learning communities.
With the continual influx of digital applications available to support teaching and learning experiences in a variety of contexts and at all levels, educators have to be committed to providing a safe environment that protects students. One aspect of that protection is ensuring the privacy of student data when using those applications. It’s challenging to balance the freedom of teachers to select the best digital resource to engage student learning while simultaneously protecting student data.
How 1EdTech Can Help
Join the 1EdTech Community
By joining 1EdTech, educational institutions also have access to the TrustEd Apps Dashboard. This dashboard can be used by a district to signify which applications are preferred, approved, or denied for use, to provide technical and instructional information to teachers about the use of an application, and to enable teachers to seamlessly suggest an application to be reviewed for use in the classroom. The development of the TrustEd Apps Dashboard was requested by district leaders who found themselves overwhelmed with the process of vetting and reviewing applications and asked for teachers to be provided access to the detailed vetting results of applications.
This is part three in a series of blog posts from the IMS K-12 team focusing on interoperability and its advantages for educators and instruction in K-12 education, especially during the current pandemic. This post investigates the critical role of Student Information Systems in effectively and equitably responding to COVID and the continuity of learning. This post is cross-posted on the IMS Global Learning Impact Blog.
The Mothership of Our Data
A national snapshot shows that schools and districts with plug-and-play digital ecosystems using standards for interoperability are making the transition from brick and mortar to remote learning more seamlessly than their counterparts. Not surprisingly, these institutions were carefully designing, planning, and making these preparations for their digital learning landscape many years before COVID-19. They were strategically integrating their digital tools, resources, and curricula into a suite of various platforms to facilitate new learning opportunities. Of these platforms is the student information system (SIS). When it comes to student data, the strategic importance of the SIS has never been more essential.
In this blog, we examine five institutions that are continuing to pursue the above efforts, which helps mitigate some of the recent disruptions. Core to their design strategy is the dynamic use of student data that resides in their student information systems. As Greg Odell from Hall County (GA) states, “Infinite Campus, our student information system (SIS), is structured for managing data. In fact, it is the mothership for our data.”
Steve Buettner at Edina Public Schools (MN) echoes this sentiment. When asked about the tools that are key to their digital ecosystem, Steve mentions, “We are not unlike other school districts.”
“We use the same types of tools other school districts use, but we have seen an evolution of which ones take priority and sit at the center of our ecosystem. Currently, our SIS sits at the center of our digital ecosystem. It is so important because it has information about our students, families, the courses, the historical transcript, and all other essential information.”
Much of this information is contained in the IMS OneRoster® standard to solve a district’s need to securely and reliably exchange roster information, course materials, and grades between systems.
Now, more than ever, student information systems play a critical role in shaping state and district response to the current crisis. Major industry players build “best in breed” digital learning ecosystems by leveraging IMS interoperability standards to dominate the highly fractured, highly competitive K-12 educational technology space. Core to their strategies is the dynamic use of student data that resides in a district’s SIS. K-12 schools and districts implement various SIS providers, with some of the notable players being Infinite Campus, Follett Aspen, and PowerSchool. At the same time, some institutions even take on the task of designing their own SIS. School districts should expect to face new and complex schedule challenges to begin the new school year. The potential scenarios of hybrid online and in-person instruction will require a partner that is flexible and innovative to support the new scheduling scenarios.
One K-12 SIS, Infinite Campus, is addressing the challenges brought on by the pandemic by keeping learners connected, whether at school or home. Charlie Kratsch, Founder and CEO, is an advocate for providing connectivity to third-party learning applications. Charlie says, “Students enrolled in our SIS are scheduled into classes as in-person, remote or blended learners, and rosters are immediately updated. Learning Tools Interoperability® (LTI®) single sign-on allows learning applications to be launched with a click directly from our embedded LMS. Assignments and scores are returned via OneRoster to our SIS for review by teachers, students, parents, and administrators.” Additionally, our long-standing commitment to IMS standards benefits K-12 districts as they address challenges brought on by the pandemic.
Uniformity Is Not the Same as Interoperability
There is no one-size-fits-all implementation of an SIS, as some states utilize an enterprise solution to address the needs of the districts throughout the state. In other states, the procurement of an SIS is left up to individual districts. Dan Raylea, Director of the Office of Research and Data Analysis at the South Carolina Department of Education, says, “The drive toward interoperability is enabling their adoption of a statewide rostering solution.” Dan notes some benefits in his statewide deployment of the PowerSchool SIS. By implementing the SIS at scale, South Carolina was able to deploy the platform more economically and rapidly for the individual districts. Then Dan can visualize consistent and comparative achievement data from districts throughout the state. One issue with such a uniform deployment is that the system may not be initially interoperable with the other platforms in use by the individual districts. Dan notes that typically the SIS is used to record and maintain student attendance. Still, he sees that with so many forms of distance and remote learning occurring to minimize exposure to COVID-19, that there may be a need to recognize student participation in digital lessons. IMS Caliper Analytics®; may afford that data, and he hopes the SIS will continue to evolve for better understanding and visualization of student learning activities.
Another district example is Grapevine-Colleyville ISD (TX). The district has made significant strides in building its digital ecosystem. Its vision is to automate the rostering of users into courses and classes from their SIS to all of their platforms, tools, and apps. OneRoster makes this possible and paves the way for students to use their ecosystem right away. The leadership at GCISD is now focused on scaling their ecosystem with tools that provide insights into application utilization to visualize the impact the tools are having on a student’s educational journey. This is evidence of their digital transformation strategy. It is the marriage of their interoperability strategy and pedagogical strategy to get to the next level of their ecosystem.
As a key component of a district’s digital learning ecosystem, the SIS has the potential to contribute to the implementation of innovative instructional strategies. Such is the case in Chicago Public Schools with the district’s goal to achieve instructional equity by improving access to high-quality academic and technology resources. According to Lily McDonagh, Director of Education Initiatives for the district, “Follett Aspen is working to implement interoperability standards from IMS Global to assist CPS in achieving education equity in the district’s Curriculum Equity Initiative.” Having a positive partnership with vendor partners is essential for CPS. Lily notes, “in the future, there may be additional opportunities for Aspen to leverage interoperability for improving instruction in CPS.
An effective partnership that leads to innovation is essential for all stakeholders and the benefit of the SIS platform. To ensure that partnership, specify expectations for collaboration and interoperability in requests for proposals (RFPs) and contracts to address the educational vision, needs, and strategies. The list below includes some requirements when considering the adoption of an SIS.
|Five Essential Requirements for an SIS|
|Secure management of student data while simultaneously meeting the reporting requirements for funding purposes|
|IMS certified interoperability with existing technology tools and platforms|
|Ease of use for multiple stakeholders—teachers, students, and parents|
|Adaptability to collaborate as a partner to achieve the instructional vision and mission of the institution|
|Proven success of other implementations|
Now is not the time to overwhelm teachers, staff, and families. Keeping to essential school services will enable stakeholders to absorb the new complexities with encountering the challenges of returning to school this fall. The best way to maintain stability is to work with products that are IMS certified to ensure seamless integration and interoperability. You can view all current certifications in the IMS Certified Product Directory.
In the next post, we will explore student assessment systems in remote instruction.
This is part two in a series of blog posts from the IMS K-12 team focusing on interoperability and its advantages for educators and instruction in K-12 education, especially during the current pandemic. This post is cross-posted on the IMS Global Learning Impact Blog.
The Value of an Interoperable Learning Management System
Last week we explored how interoperability supports the transition to digital learning. In this week’s post, we investigate the instructional value of an interoperable learning management system (LMS). We recently caught up with four district leaders (virtually, of course) who are using an IMS-certified LMS to help facilitate their pivot to emergency, remote learning. These districts already implement processes to adopt digital tools and align them into interoperable ecosystems with an LMS being a key component.
Think of the LMS as mission control where the teacher can communicate with students, provide assignments, and link to resources. As a home base for online learning, it supports and connects teachers, students, and parents as a “go-to” place to begin digital learning, whether in school or from home. Essentially, the LMS has the potential to be the digital equivalent of the face-to-face, physical classroom by seamlessly integrating and making available—with the help of IMS standards like OneRoster and LTI—all of the district’s various digital tools and resources.
When asked about how the open IMS standards have impacted their transition to remote distance learning, all district leaders confirmed a significant improvement to their working dynamic, especially with the use of an LMS.
Gregory Odell, e-Learning Specialist at Hall County Board of Education in Georgia, notes that his district’s interoperable LMS, Canvas, allows teachers and students to continue school in a way that is “business as usual.” Fortunately, the district began integrating its interoperable edtech platforms before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, so its users had a bit of a head start in getting used to the technology. Michelle Eaton, Director of Virtual and Blended Learning of the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township in Indiana, makes it clear that, although the district’s LMS, itslearning, benefits teachers, the current remote working conditions are still less-than-ideal. “I think there are some really great things going on,” Eaton explains, “but emergency and remote teaching are very different from online learning. Online learning is not something that you can just ramp up in 48 hours. For us, we have been committed to interoperability for some time…it certainly helps us as we move to remote teaching.”
Eaton’s words highlight an important point. While the interoperability of digital systems had value in pre-pandemic life, it is even more critical now. Without interoperability, teachers assume an increased tediousness in their workloads, as they must repeatedly enter login credentials, search for resources, and enter data (such as grades) in multiple platforms. This administrative burden severely impacts efficiency and profoundly affects both student and teacher productivity. Those who are new to an LMS are usually pleasantly surprised at its ease of use and variety of features. Educators who are used to having to manage multiple usernames and passwords for even the most basic of tasks involving edtech are relieved to find that the experience is much smoother. Interoperability streamlines these duties and gives teachers better control of their remote classrooms. A district is also better able to support teachers through the consistent use of the LMS from both technical, instructional, and professional learning perspectives, which helps to ensure greater instructional equity and access.
Steve Buettner, Director of Media and Technology for Edina Public Schools in Minnesota, notes that interoperability with his district’s LMS, Schoology, is helping teachers in a big way. They have much better control over course activities, monitoring student progress, and designing assessments. Also, it makes it much easier for students to access information without having to alternate between multiple systems. The simplification has improved access to grade reports and increased the ease with which actions can be determined based on based grade triggers.
Considerations When Introducing a Learning Management System
The district leaders have a few suggestions for transitioning to an interoperable LMS. Odell urges to avoid settling for what you have or cutting corners concerning the integration of the necessary technology. Instead, push the district vendors and other technology providers to ensure your students are receiving the best learning experience you can offer. Daryl Diamond of Broward County Public Schools in Florida, also utilizing Canvas LMS, suggests, “Districts need to procure a learning management system as a ‘one-stop-shop’ for teachers to house all of their curriculum with the capability to align to external tools.” Diamond recommends that an LMS should eliminate “the need for learners to log in separately on external systems.” She asserts that the districts’ responsibility is to correspond with stakeholders whose duty is “to ensure the interoperability of all digital hardware and software and address any issues that arise within the digital ecosystem. This interoperability is vital to teachers’ ability to effectively manage course progression and their students, especially concerning the use of essential data such as rosters and rich outcome analytics.”
Introducing the above technological advances during the pandemic compels a district to consider what schooling will look like in the future. “The work of teachers has been dramatically changed since their first use of the LMS,” according to Diamond, “as it eliminates many basic administrative duties. Teachers will continue acclimating to the new systems to fully experience the benefits of student engagement and enhanced instructional capabilities.” Eaton is not surprised at how thoroughly interoperable features are being integrated into the various LMS platforms throughout school districts in light of emergency remote learning during the pandemic. She is, however, quite excited about future applications of this dynamic technology. “We can build on this momentum since every teacher in our district now knows how to use a digital learning platform. The basic training is done. Now we can focus on what teaching and learning look like in the classroom.”
As a result of the pandemic response, what we are hearing, and what district leaders are seeing, is that an interoperable digital learning ecosystem using an LMS is dramatically improving student and teacher experiences. Hopefully, this will continue long after the pandemic with even more widespread integration and interoperability of technology in K-12 education.
In the next post, we will explore the value of a student information system for pivoting to remote instruction.
As students and teachers continue to have increased access to digital tools and resources, there is a shift in the traditional instructional practices that have been used for teaching and learning. Textbooks are no longer the primary source of information, and students can fact check their teachers with the devices in their pockets. Also, content has to be more than just digitized textbooks and documents. Students must interact with digital content and produce new ways to show what they have learned. Here is my list of ten strategies for teaching with digital content, but please share your original ideas.
1. Develop a learning community.
I know that I talk about this process throughout my BYOT Network blog, but developing a community is essential to any digital age learning environment. Students and teachers want to feel a sense of belonging within schools and classrooms. Teachers have to maintain high expectations for student behavior and performance, and students will strive to live up to these expectations. By modeling and supporting digital citizenship, teachers can help students internalize the responsible use of technology tools. As they work collaboratively to solve authentic problems and share their original projects with others, students begin to realize a purpose that sustains a learning community.
2. Have an instructional purpose.
With all of the demands of being a classroom teacher, it is understandable that teachers sometimes need to engage student learning with digital content. However, it is better practice to have an instructional purpose for the video being shown to students within a classroom. Teachers should consider why they are utilizing particular digital content within their planning and use it intentionally to make a difference for each learner.
3. Preview all content.
As with all forms of media being shared with students, teachers should carefully preview all digital content to be shared with students. Teachers should consider the particular needs and expectations of their learning communities – the age of the students; the learning standards; the values of the parents – before utilizing digital content for instructional purposes.
4. Scaffold understanding.
Within the design of a lesson that incorporates digital content, teachers have to scaffold understanding. How are those resources being used to engage student learning? Video should be used purposefully and with short clips (less than a few minutes) to stimulate questions and critical thinking. Directions need to be clear, yet minimal, so that students are able to use their thinking to solve problems. Finally, there should be a variety of types of formative and summative assessments so that students have multiple risk-free opportunities to demonstrate learning and ensure success.
5. Plan for interaction.
After students view video or another form of digital content, they should be encouraged to interact and collaborate with each other to construct new meanings from that information. Students can participate in a backchannel discussion using technology tools to pose new questions and ideas about their learning. Teachers can use digital content to help students compare and contrast new concepts in collaborative groups, and students can create authentic products to demonstrate their learning. There is a need for students to become producers of new digital content rather than just being consumers of information.
6. Incorporate digital age skills.
Teachers can support digital age learning by incorporating the 4 Cs – Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity – within their classrooms. By collaborating with others through online discussions and assignments, students practice and learn the appropriate netiquette for communication in the digital age. By using critical thinking to build a personalized playlist of digital content, they can learn or review information. Finally, they can create original projects to show what they know and upload them to share with others as new learning objects.
7. Consider the lesson design.
As teachers plan for instruction with digital content, they are able to consider effective lesson design. Beginning with an essential question, teachers are able to prompt critical thinking about the standard or concept. They can show a video segment that encourages student learning and then link to an interactive assignment that supports student creativity as they work collaboratively to solve authentic, real-world problems. Finally, the teacher can utilize another form of digital content along with questioning techniques (involving student response) to provide opportunities for formative assessment. There are so many choices with digital content that enable teachers to be lesson designers in a dynamic learning environment.
8. Utilize a variety of content.
One of the benefits of digital age learning is that students can access a variety of content types with technology tools. Audio, images, video, interactive websites, applications, and text can all be integrated to provide students with multiple opportunities to choose how they will learn. However, one reality is that students will eventually have to learn using different modalities, and teachers should carefully plan how to develop students’ skills to make meaning from diverse types of content. Focusing on the needs of the students and their learning goals can help teachers make wise choices about how and when to use particular digital content.
9. Personalize learning experiences.
Students have unique talents, abilities, and differences that can pose challenges to the one-size fits all classroom. By personalizing learning experiences, teachers can help students identify the pathways that meet their individual learning needs and interests. A teacher could begin helping students identify their strengths through a learning style inventory or interest checklist, but digital content can also be used meaningfully to differentiate learning experiences. This personalized approach provides voice to students as they show what they know in ways they perceive as relevant.
10. Encourage multiple devices.
With the tools in their pockets and backpacks, as well as the ones provided within their schools, students sometimes have access to multiple devices, and teachers should encourage their use. Students can use a handheld device to quickly communicate or access content, but there may be times when they need to use resources from the school, such as desktops, interactive whiteboards, or 3D printers to create other products. Knowing how to choose the right device, at the right time, to interact with digital content promotes the critical thinking that students need for academic success in the digital age.
How Interoperability Supports Your Transition to Digital Learning
This is part one in a series of blog posts from the IMS K-12 team focusing on interoperability and its advantages for educators and instruction in K-12 education, especially during the current pandemic. This post is cross-posted on the IMS Global Learning Impact Blog.
A quick glance at any recent edtech news shows that the unexpected pivot to digital learning is a challenge for most K-12 schools and districts. In fact, it has been such a challenge that Steve Buettner, Director of Media and Technology at Edina Public Schools in Minnesota, suggests that we shouldn’t call it “digital learning.” Rather, it should be called “remote or emergency learning” to distinguish these reactionary practices from true digital learning. Yet some districts like Edina are making the transition from face-to-face to remote digital learning more easily than others. One key to their successful pivot? The interoperability of their digital tools and resources.
In a nutshell, interoperability is the driving force that allows you to improve opportunities that enhance teaching and learning with your digital ecosystem. Technically speaking, it’s the ability of your learning apps and tools to connect and exchange useful and meaningful data. But for teachers in K-12, interoperability can be a game-changer, dramatically reducing time on tasks and increasing student and class engagement and management. Interoperability provides students, parents, and administrators with a consistently positive experience using technology resources.
The Design of a Digital Learning Ecosystem
Edina Public Schools is one of the many school districts strategically designing ecosystems of digital platforms, content, and tools to support effective classroom instruction and enable a variety of modern learning experiences and models such as virtual learning, blended learning, and distance learning. All of these instructional models usually involve digital learning. Although districts select different educational technology resources, a core feature of an effective digital learning ecosystem is that it’s interoperable. IMS open standards are the preferred way to achieve this interoperability for instructional purposes. We connected with several K-12 leaders engaged in the work of edtech interoperability to see how the changes from the emergency COVID-19 pandemic response are affecting their districts and revealing about the future of their digital ecosystems to better assist their teachers and students, parents and guardians.
Most of the digital ecosystems designed by these districts are comprised of some configuration of the following core platforms to assist teachers in facilitating digital learning:
- Single Sign-On (SSO) Platform or Portal
- Learning Management System (LMS)
- Student Assessment Tool or System
- Student Information System (SIS)
- Learning Object Repository (LOR) of Digital Resources
- Productivity Suite(s)
Typically, the various core systems above, as well as other applications, are often accessed via a portal or platform that supports single sign-on (SSO). The learning management system (LMS) is usually the core of a district’s digital ecosystem with integration points to their student information system (SIS), a learning object repository (LOR) of digital resources, and a student assessment system. Similarly, the data, content, and assessments pass back and forth seamlessly through integration with the LMS as the usual delivery system. Interoperability among all of the above systems eliminates the need for learners to log in separately on external systems to complete learning activities, engage with digital resources, and complete assignments and assessments. This seamless interoperability also keeps teachers from having to enter grades or other information into multiple platforms and provides greater insight into useful data regarding student performance.
To understand in greater detail how districts provide such interoperable teaching and learning experiences, we had in-depth conversations with Hall County Schools in Georgia, the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township in Indiana, Edina Public Schools in Minnesota, and Broward County Schools in Florida. We asked them about specific components and implementation of their digital ecosystems. We also touched base with several other districts, to find out what they’re doing at this time. Over the next few weeks, we will continue sharing their strategies, experiences, and future plans to inform and guide you in the design and implementation of ecosystems to effectively support digital learning. We hope you will find this information useful and actionable as you adapt your technology and instruction to today’s new normal!
In the next post, we will explore the value of a learning management system for pivoting to remote instruction.
A few years ago, I wrote a blog post on The Components of a Digital Age Learning Ecosystem. Now, it’s becoming commonplace for district leaders to consider the digital resources and tools that they provide their teachers and students as the ecosystem that supports teaching and learning. When thinking about that ecosystem from a digital standpoint, reflect on what holds it together. What supports those platforms and enables them to easily share information and data? This connectedness or glue is provided by interoperability, which is most effectively and seamlessly enabled by open standards from IMS Global that any developer or edtech provider can use to ensure and validate effective integrations.
As a teacher in the classroom, it is essential that the instructional digital toolkit works together like pieces of a puzzle without a lot of wasted time and frustration. One challenge can be making sure that all of the students are able to log in to the various programs easily and securely. An open standard that is used throughout the edtech industry is OneRoster. It keeps student information safe, enables edtech suppliers to provide one-click access to programs, and ensures that students and teachers are provided with the appropriate district-provided digital resources for their classes and courses.
This may sound like a dream scenario to many teachers who are currently struggling with multiple usernames and passwords for their students that vary with each application. Teachers who are provided access to all of their technology tools directly from their district may be unable to select only those programs that implement OneRoster. However, it is possible for teachers to advocate for the use of the OneRoster standard. School and district leaders can require that their edtech providers support and implement the standard and insist that their products are OneRoster certified by IMS Global. Schools and districts can also join IMS Global and collaborate with other educators and edtech partners to improve the open standards as a community of leaders.
Being Digital on Day One of Learning means that as soon as students enter the classroom, they are ready to begin utilizing the digital resources available to begin learning. By facilitating easy and equitable access to technology tools and platforms, districts can ensure that they are making the most of their investment and providing teachers with the support necessary to focus on the instructional needs of their students instead of having to focus on the technology. By using technology resources that are OneRoster certified, districts can more effectively realize how to be digital on day one of learning.
To see an example of OneRoster in action, click here.
We’ve all heard the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” While the bears were away, the hungry little girl, Goldilocks, entered their cabin and tasted their porridge. However, one was too hot, and another one was too cold. Finally, baby bear’s porridge was just right, and she ate it all up. Likewise, as teachers design digital learning experiences based on their students’ personal strengths and interests, they need to search for the “just right” instructional resources to meet their students’ varied needs.
With the use of the technology for digital lesson design and delivery, teachers have powerful tools that make it easy to communicate with students; manage the virtual classroom; provide access to instructional resources; and track student mastery of learning standards. Yet despite all that functionality, teachers still face additional ongoing challenges.
Teachers are now engaged in a time-intensive daily process of designing digital instruction from resources they find on the Internet. A recent survey noted that teachers spend up to seven hours per week searching for instructional resources and another five hours designing their own instructional materials. (Marci Goldberg of K-12 Market Advisors)
The seamless integration of interoperable technology resources within an intentionally designed digital learning ecosystem can provide teachers with the necessary digital lesson design tools and access to curated learning objects that are vetted for quality and correlated to learning standards. This digital content may include resources licensed from publishers; curated open educational resources; and teacher-created resources that are shared throughout the district.
As districts prioritize the process of curating instructional resources and making them readily accessible, teachers can begin designing digital instruction more effectively. The following strategies are important to remember during the process of selecting digital resources while designing lessons:
Focus on the Standards – Teachers should utilize content that is correlated to learning standards to make an instructional difference for each learner. After identifying the essential skills embedded within the standard, the teachers can determine what processes or products might demonstrate understanding. Teachers should be able to conduct a search for standards-correlated content and embed it in their assignments. These assignments should be designed to help students show mastery of a particular concept or skill.
Scaffold Understanding – Within the design of a lesson that incorporates digital content, teachers should scaffold understanding. How are those resources being used to engage student learning? Online discussions can include curated content. At the beginning of a lesson, questions can set the stage for new learning and help students focus on the core components of a concept or process. Video within a lesson should be used purposefully and with short clips (less than a few minutes) to stimulate questions and critical thinking. Directions need to be clear, yet minimal, so that students can utilize critical thinking when solving problems. Finally, there should be a variety of types of formative and summative assessments provided so that students have multiple risk-free opportunities to demonstrate learning and ensure success.
Plan for Interaction – After students view video or another form of digital content, they should be encouraged to interact and collaborate with each other to construct new meanings from that information. Students can participate in discussions to pose new questions and ideas about their learning. Assignments can be collaborative to support students working together to solve problems. Teachers can use digital content to help students compare and contrast new concepts in these collaborative groups, and students can create authentic products to demonstrate their learning.
Utilize a Variety of Content – As with all forms of media being shared with students, teachers must carefully preview all digital content. Teachers should consider the needs and expectations of their learning communities – the age of the students and the values of the community – before utilizing digital content for instructional purposes. In addition to the use of video, other types of digital content should be utilized for instruction, including interactives, images, audio files, documents, and eBooks.
Personalize Learning Experiences – Students have unique talents, abilities, and differences that can pose challenges to the one-size fits all classroom. By personalizing learning experiences, teachers can help students identify the pathways that meet their individual learning needs and interests. A teacher could begin helping students identify their strengths through a learning style inventory or interest checklist, but digital content can also be used meaningfully to differentiate learning experiences. One way that this can be accomplished is by designing personalized playlists correlated to learning standards and assigning them to students based on their learning needs.
Like Goldilocks who consumed the bear’s “just right” porridge, through intentional lesson design, today’s digital age students can engage with the “just right” digital content so that they can experience academic success and make the most out of every teachable moment. Those students may even become producers of their own “just right” original content that they are ready to share with others.
In our digitally connected world, most of us have become curators of content as we utilize the technology tools in our pockets to interact with each other. We practice curation for both personal and professional reasons by saving our favorite links, images, videos, and other resources, which we have either found ourselves or have been shared with us. In turn, we usually share this curated content with each other through social media, email, text messages, etc. We can then carefully curate the information that we assemble and organize on social media, as it collectively becomes our representation of our digital selves. Even this blog is another example of curation, as I often include the links to other sources that I find valuable, and arrange my thoughts, ideas, and illustrations into a cohesive whole.
Although most of us participate in daily content curation, many people frequently make mistakes in the types of content that they share online and damage their reputations and/or digital footprints. The content in these situations may be inappropriate, lack authenticity, or distract from the intended message. These concerns are relevant to both personal and professional attempts at content curation and necessitate a purposeful, focused, and methodic approach to this task
In my last blog post, Curation for Digital Learning, I detailed the reasons why schools and districts should engage in content curation to facilitate digital learning. I also listed the activities that are involved in content curation, specifically within K-12 learning environments. Now, to better nurture digital learning ecosystems, this blog post contains an overview of some specific strategies that schools and districts can undertake to begin, execute, and sustain a successful plan for content curation. I have attempted to list the strategies in order; however, once the process of content curation is initiated by a school district, many activities begin to happen concurrently, and there may be some overlap in timing as different teams and individuals begin to fulfill their roles and responsibilities within that process.
1. Design a comprehensive strategic plan for curation.
Different departments within school and districts often pursue their own disparate plans for new initiatives and seldom have a written plan for implementation. Because content curation requires a comprehensive strategy that involves everyone in the district, it is necessary to spend some time reflecting about this process and brainstorming about the requisite curation strategies. Likewise, mutually acceptable goals and objectives should be collaboratively established for content curation. Ultimately, this plan should be continually revisited and occasionally modified to remain current, relevant, and adaptable to accommodate changes in personnel, new goals and initiatives, and innovations in instructional practices and technology. The remaining strategies in this list should be included within the district’s overall plan for content curation.
2. Specify what content needs to be curated and created.
Within a district’s plan for curation, content serves various purposes and originates from various sources. A district can begin this process by conducting an inventory and review of its current instructional content. Some of these instructional resources may be available within a digital format to better connect students to engaging content at any time and place while using their own technology tools or devices provided by the district. Districts may already be subscribing to resources that will fulfill some of their content curation needs and purposes. These resources may be provided by various publishers of digital content. Other resources may be available from open educational resources that can be found online or acquired from the content that the district or its teachers have already identified. Once district personnel have completed this inventory of available resources, there may be a need to source additional content to further address instructional needs or learning initiatives. Any content that is determined to be unavailable to procure from external sources may need to be created internally within the district and included within the overall body of curated resources.
3. Organize and train teams in content curation at multiple levels.
A school or district needs to realize that curation is a process and will require organization and training at multiple levels from district-level to school-level personnel. This organization may require that teams will need to be involved in different aspects of curation process. Some teams may need to focus on specific subject areas, grade levels, or even instructional strategies. Other teams may focus on how the different resources are being utilized to facilitate teaching and learning. District-level teams may focus on the goals and objectives of a specific department and include the on-going review of resources that are being shared by schools. School-level teams may include lead teachers and department chairs who represent grade levels and content areas and curate the resources that are utilized by teachers daily for instruction. Teams may also be composed of media and technology specialists who regularly deal with curation of learning resources, an understanding of copyright information, and the use of technology platforms and tools for curation. Content curation teams should have clear goals and objectives, and the individuals involved should have determined roles and responsibilities. Finally, each team should operate under well-defined expectations and deliverables to be accountable for its success.
4. Outline the logistics of when, where, and how to curate content.
Because multiple individuals will be involved in the district’s content curation strategy, they may need to follow a consistent set of procedures of when, where, or how they will curate content. They will need time to fulfill their responsibilities, and the district will need to consider how to provide that time. They may also require additional equipment or resources for curation that will need to be made available. These logistics should be clearly documented within the district’s overall plan for curation. Finally, it may be necessary to develop specific forms or templates for recording the logistics for how each team will complete its assigned tasks in curation.
5. Develop a strategy for contextualizing curated content.
Individual items of content, otherwise known as learning objects, may have limited meaning when each resource is looked at separately. Curators will need to consider any metadata or additional information that is necessary to provide meaningful context to those resources. This information may include descriptive details such as key words, tags, correlations to standards, intended grade level, student interests, etc. Context can also be provided with how the curated content is packaged together into a cohesive whole such as within a playlist, individual lessons, or a comprehensive digital curriculum. Determining who is responsible for completing the above tasks and providing that context is another aspect of the content curation process.
6. Construct a rubric to assess content for quality.
Because the content is curated from many sources and by different individuals, it is important that the curators are utilizing a rubric or checklist to help ensure quality. Again, the design of this rubric should include whatever specific goals and strategies that the district determines are essential for the learning objects to reflect, and should support the district’s overall digital learning initiative. Some evaluative aspects that could be addressed within the rubric include student engagement, flexibility of resources, accuracy of information, or other pertinent details. A school or district may also want to consider having different levels (school and district) of evaluation to ensure that the best resources are selected for curation.
7. Determine how content should be stored, accessed, and sustained.
There are a variety of digital platforms available for curating content. Some digital tools and resources make it easy for teachers to begin locating and sharing resources informally, but these platforms may not support an overall sustainable and equitable content curation strategy. Some platforms also focus more on instructional design or class management rather than on the curation of resources from a variety of content providers. Districts also need to consider interoperability among the digital platforms within their digital learning ecosystem to ensure that teachers and students have a seamless experience in accessing and utilizing these resources. Perhaps most importantly, districts should determine that any curated resources can be readily migrated from one platform to another, as necessary, since the needs and direction of the district tend to change over time.
8. Communicate about curated content to the intended users.
As resources are being curated for instructional purposes, districts will need to consider how they will communicate about the new resources and where they will be located for the intended users. Teachers and students are often unaware of where to find the resources that are being curated by district. The district may choose to send out a weekly newsletter of new content that has been curated and the intended purposes for those resources. They may also want to provide recorded webinars or other information about how to locate curated content. Having a consistent location and process for accessing the curated content will make it easier for everyone involved to know exactly where to search to better implement those resources for teaching and learning.
9. Provide professional learning in the use of curated content.
In addition to knowing how to locate curated content and utilize any platforms involved in this process, teachers will also need ongoing training for their role in the process of curation and in how to use curated resources for instruction. There may be different expectations for how that content is to be used, which would influence the training that is provided. For example, some of the curated objects may include interactive simulations, materials for research, specific units of study, or even digital lessons that each require their own specific training. A district may find it helpful to organize teams focused on various aspects professional learning and differentiate among training on how to utilize a platform; how to locate quality resources; or how to incorporate specific resources within instruction. An ongoing professional learning plan will help a district in achieving the instructional goals for their content curation strategy.
There is no one-size-fits-all content curation strategy that works for every school or district. Because every learning community has its own specific needs, challenges, and strengths, the above strategies may need to be modified to address those differences. In future blog posts, I am planning on exploring these strategies to provide more specific details and resources about the content curation process to benefit digital learning.
Schools and districts are now utilizing an influx of digital tools, content, and platforms with several hopeful intentions. With the use of these resources, educators are planning to better engage student learning, increase academic performance; and prepare students for an ever-changing digital world. Whether the technology devices are owned by the students and brought to school as part of a Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) initiative or provided by the district, teachers and students are using these tools and accessing online platforms to transform learning experiences by developing new ways to connect with each other and digital content.
Although greater access to technology tools and devices has increased, with public schools now providing at least one computer for every five students and ensuring high-speed Internet connections (Education Week, 2016), these resources are still not fully achieving their desired goals. There are many possible reasons why teachers are still struggling to use technology to transform instruction. While districts have rushed to provide teachers with access to technology tools, platforms, and the Internet, most have not spent time curating the digital content necessary for teachers to maximize the potential of these resources. Of course, many districts have also increased their subscriptions to digital content providers, but to strategically curate digital content is a different initiative that requires its own comprehensive plan.
In a professional learning session, a teacher once complained to me that her district was technology rich, but resource poor. However, the district had placed greater emphasis on acquiring devices and the use of learning platforms for classroom management over the curation of digital content. Consider that in the past, teachers were usually provided with a textbook that included most of their necessary instructional resources. While simultaneously reducing the expenditures on print resources and raising funds for technology purchases, many districts eliminated textbooks and provided teachers with devices. Now, many teachers are engaged in a time-intensive daily process of designing digital instruction from resources they find on the Internet, in addition to learning how to use new technology tools, while attempting to increase student engagement and academic performance.
Content Curation Activities
A district’s strategic focus on the curation of digital content for its teachers and students can help to facilitate the transition to a digital learning ecosystem. Curation for this ecosystem entails more than just collecting, gathering, and organizing. The process of curation involves the following purposeful activities:
- Selecting content at multiple levels and from diverse sources
- Evaluating content for quality, including relevance and authenticity
- Creating essential content that cannot be located externally
- Annotating content to provide meaning and context
- Organizing content to facilitate searching and productivity
- Storing content to ensure safe, reliable, and equitable access
- Archiving content that may no longer be relevant
- Deleting content that is no longer necessary
- Communicating about content to the expected users
- Sustaining the content with a thorough plan of action
Reasons for Content Curation
Although the strategic process of curation has often been overlooked by K-12 school districts, it has been a regular practice in higher education, museums, and libraries, and its necessity to business continues to grow in importance with the need to inform and educate workers and customers due to the abundance of information readily available online in the digital age. Likewise, there are numerous reasons why the task of curating content should be systematically implemented within K-12 school districts, including the following:
- Preserving instructional time
- Utilizing resources more effectively
- Providing greater access to content
- Promoting equity among users
- Protecting digital rights
- Supporting online safety
- Encouraging innovation
- Saving money and resources
- Ensuring quality in content
- Nurturing a sense of community
Without purposeful curation, it is impossible to realize the full impact of digital learning resources and initiatives. There would be no consistent approach to the acquisition and use of digital content to inform the improvement of teaching and learning practices. Not only does curation help to ensure the quality of resources that are being utilized for instruction, but it also promotes equity, especially when those resources are incorporated within an accessible digital curriculum. In my next blog post, I will explore various strategies for content curation.
Editorial Projects in Education Research Center. (2016, February 5). Issues A-Z: Technology in Education: An Overview. Education Week. Retrieved January 6, 2017 from http://www.edweek.org/ew/issues/technology-in-education/
This post is part of a series about the Building Blocks for Personalized Learning. By engaging in opportunities to make connections beyond the classroom to real-world learning activities and situations, students are better able to experience personalized learning. These connections may occur within a school’s own learning community, but they may also include local or even global pursuits that help students learn more about themselves while making a contribution; participating in a work experience; or attending an off-campus educational environment. When students make these connections, the learning is more authentic, relevant, and in turn becomes more personalized to their individual perspectives and goals.
Strategies for Connection
Encourage Service Learning – According to the National Service Learning Clearinghouse, service learning is “a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities.” Students must be provided with opportunities to give of their time and talents to improve their learning and living communities. Joe Bandy, the Assistant Director of the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University, describes several benefits for students that are directly related to the goals of personalized learning. One benefit is that by helping others, students are able to learn more about themselves and discover and develop their individual skills and abilities.
Provide Ways for Students to Serve within the School – Some schools begin the year by suggesting various ways that students can volunteer in the learning community, such as working in a school store; assisting a teacher or media specialist; offering support to an office; organizing special events or school activities; being active in a club or group; or participating in a safety patrol. Classrooms could be given a section of the school environment to beautify and maintain in order to encourage a sense of connection. Even typical classroom jobs give younger students the experience of contributing to their classroom learning community, and older students could be buddy readers for younger students or collaborators with technology and projects. Students of any age can offer technical support for their peers and teachers within a “genius bar.” This resource may be especially important as schools are implementing 1:1 technology initiatives, Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT), and new digital learning tools and resources.
Locate Experts to Share Experiences – Schools and teachers can help students develop greater connections by identifying experts to share their experiences. One way to begin this process is to utilize the expertise of parents and teachers. When students hear about the paths that professionals have taken to achieve their careers and learn about specific occupations, they are able to make more informed goals and choices for their futures. It is also beneficial for the community members as they begin to feel more connected to their local schools. The use of digital tools and resources, can facilitate the connection with experts outside of the local community. According to Lock (2015) in Designing Learning to Engage in the Global Classroom, through “this change in the learning landscape and with the advances in technology, students and educators are better able to work with other students and experts in new and meaningful ways at anytime and anywhere in the world.”
Collaborate with Local Organizations – There may be organizations within the community that can provide additional ways for students to contribute; to offer volunteer services, or to receive ongoing support. Some organizations focus on particular issues or groups with specific needs and interests within a community, for example, the Latin American Association, the food bank, churches, sports clubs, etc. Many of these organizations are already involved in some kind of local service or outreach, and as students begin interacting with them, they can better understand how a community works as a unit; is organized by its members; and collaborates to make necessary changes to benefit everyone. Observing this interaction in the ‘adult world’ reflects what we want for students to understand about interdependence in their worlds – in their schools and communities. Through these experiences, they may learn more about themselves and their passions and interests. Reaching out to these organizations can be begin with parents at the school, but it may require some careful research into what resources are available and appropriate for student involvement.
Connect with Local Businesses – By connecting with businesses, students are able to learn more about the types of local occupations that are available. Having students participate in internships can facilitate this connection. This work experience is valuable for students as they make choices about college and/or careers. Finding the right fit is important and will help students discover more about themselves and their abilities as they engage in real work. The National Research Council (2012) noted that work-based learning activities can also provide “employability” or “21st Century” skills and serve as a foundation for lifelong learning in a time of rapid technological change. Each school should develop its own database of business contacts, and connecting with the local Chamber of Commerce might be a good way to begin this database. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also provides multiple resources for high school students for career planning.
Provide Connections to Higher Education – Connecting with institutions of higher education is also another way of helping students develop greater understanding about what personally excites them concerning careers and education. Many colleges and universities offer summer youth summer programs, and with these experiences, students may discover new unique talents. These activities are often offered for free or at a lower cost for students from low income families. Colleges are also a wealth of resources for connecting with experts in in particular fields who could be good sources of information for the classroom. In addition, many colleges and high schools offer dual enrollment for students who are willing and capable to participate in classes outside of high school allowing for a district to truly personalize an educational path for a student with special needs or talents. Most districts already have information about these programs, but they need to ensure that the information is accessible and communicated to teachers, parents, and students.
Facilitate Global Connections – Students often have difficulty seeing beyond their local communities and having a clear picture of themselves as members of a global community. Beginning with their own country and expanding throughout the world, students could discover more about opportunities that exist for making global connections. This year, ISTE Connects published a blog post called 6 Resources for Fostering Global Education that provided some practical advice for educators to help students make global connections regardless of exceptions in age, language, or economics. Technology offers a variety of ways for classrooms to connect with each other throughout the world, and this provides students with a greater awareness of how they personally can participate within a global community.
Market the Success – When students began to bridge the connection between their personal interests and aspirations to the available resources within the community at large, it is necessary to begin marketing and publishing this success. Not only is the recognition from marketing positive for the school to showcase its efforts, but it also benefits the members of the community. This marketing allows community members to highlight how they are collaborating with their local schools and providing ongoing support. Some marketing strategies include publishing a video to document success; noting the activities on the school’s website; and curating student portfolios. Many schools also have their own site-based news broadcast, and these experiences can be shared via this medium throughout the school. Incidentally, participating in the production of the school news is another way that students can volunteer their talents while developing new skills! These strategies help to communicate what students have learned and what they have accomplished.
In their book, A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change, Thomas and Brown explain, “In our view, the kind of learning the will define the twenty-first century is not taking place in a classroom – at least not in today’s classroom. Rather, it is happening all around us, everywhere, and it is powerful” (17). Ideally, as students make connections, they may be better prepared to make personal choices about future careers; set goals for future learning; and find greater fulfillment in life.