Posts Tagged digital learning

Inside the Digital Transformation – Part 3

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.

Market Expectations

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.

Spurring Innovation

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.

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10 Best Practices for Teaching with Digital Content

A List of the 10 Best Practices for Teaching with Digital Content
10 Best Practices for Teaching with Digital Content

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.

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Inside the Digital Transformation – Part 1

How Interoperability Supports Your Transition to Digital Learning

by Monica Watts and Dr. Tim Clark

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 interoperableIMS 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) 
Digital Learning Ecosystem

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.

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Content Curation Strategies for Digital Learning

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.

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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.

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Curation for Digital Learning

curation for 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
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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.

References
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/

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Communication for Personalized Learning

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This post is part of a series about the Building Blocks for Personalized Learning. When teachers facilitate the building block of Communication, not only are they nurturing a learning environment that supports personalized learning, they are also helping students to develop skills that are essential for personal and professional success. Consider the following forms of communication: reading, writing, speaking, and listening and their importance in the digital age when information is so readily accessible. The use of technology can benefit the development of these skills. However, there is some concern that the connection to technology tools and devices in the classroom will lead to students being disconnected from each other or from the teacher. In my experience, this isn’t the reality of classrooms that encourage Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) or in 1:1 classrooms where students are equipped with school-provided technology resources. These classrooms tend to have more effective communication as the teachers and students have greater opportunities to communicate with each other.

Strategies for Communication

Begin with the Purpose – The five major purposes of communication are as follows: to inform, to express feelings, to imagine, to influence, and to meet social expectations (Communication, 2016). The teacher has to strategically utilize each of these purposes when communicating with students as well as ensure that students practice and develop these skills. These strategies are integral to the teacher’s ability to address the unique needs, interests, aspirations, or cultural backgrounds of individual students in the personalized learning environment. Communicating effectively for personalized learning, requires the teacher to have a good understanding of each child within the classroom learning community.

Develop Norms for Communication – Students have already been learning and practicing their own rules for how they should communicate with others, especially through social media. Teachers have to negotiate norms and procedures with the students for communicating in the personalized learning environment. Some of the communication will be happening face to face, but there will also be communication in online spaces and platforms. Discuss with the students how they need to communicate differently in different situations and give them opportunities to practice their developing skills. Realize that they will make mistakes in communication, yet it is important to know how to respond to those mistakes. It should never be acceptable for a student to demean or intimidate anyone, and those instances must have clear and specific consequences.

Vary Modalities – Students vary in the ways that they perceive and understand what is being communicated and how it is being communicated, so teachers need to present information in multiple ways. By incorporating visuals, movement, music, and illustrations, teachers are more likely to address individual student needs, interests, and preferences. The National Center for Universal Design for Learning provides an excellent graphic organizer, which includes guidelines for providing multiple means of representation; action and expression; and engagement. Remember that attention spans also differ among learners, and it is normal that the attention of participants drifts occasionally throughout instruction. Including variety and novelty, helps the learners focus on what is being communicated and providing activities that utilize movement is essential.

Consider Your Tone – Since perception varies among learners, teachers need to think about how they are sounding when they are communicating. If they have taught the same lesson several times during a day, are they beginning to sound bored or impatient? The tone of personalized instruction should sound supportive and encouraging, rather than directive, and engaging, rather than monotone. Again, having a good understanding of the students is necessary, because teachers focused on personalized learning are more likely to know what tone to use within a specific situation or with a particular student to communicate a message.

Use Effective Presentation Skills – In the personalized learning environment, the students will be communicating and presenting as much (if not more) that the teacher. By modeling effective presentation skills, teachers can teach students how to be better communicators. The following strategies are important to consider when presenting:

  • Make whole class presentations short and then work with individual students or with small groups.
  • Post a written list of steps or directions that students should follow.
  • Consider how much the teacher is talking compared to the students.
  • Model professional and appropriate communication behaviors for students.
  • Emphasize key points, ideas, and directions when speaking.
  • Provide enough time for students to respond to questions.
  • Record instruction and watch the video for feedback about communication.

Use a Microphone (if possible) – As an instructional technology specialist, I worked at an elementary school that had microphones and a sound system installed in every classroom. At first, many teachers were hesitant to wear their microphones as this was a change in traditional practice. We established some school-wide expectations for that system, and all of the teachers began the practice of wearing the microphones on a lanyard throughout the day. Each classroom was also equipped with a handheld student microphone. After an initial period of assimilating and normalizing the use of the microphones into regular instructional practices, the teachers eagerly reported that the new sound systems had a dramatic improvement on the teaching and learning experiences in their classrooms. Students were eager to share what they had learned while using the handheld microphone for communication, and this encouraged even shy and reticent students to express their ideas and opinions about what they had learned. Teachers noted that they were more comfortable in communicating with their classes as they realized that they rarely had to raise their voices to get the attention of the students, and the students attended better to instruction and class discussion.

Remember Nonverbal Communication – Listening is an important skill for communication for personalized learning. A teacher has to show openness to new ideas and strategies. If the students sense a feeling of agitation, disinterest, or confusion, the teacher will lose their participation. Likewise, facial expressions and posture can encourage or discourage enthusiasm for learning. It is important to practice patience when dealing with difficult situations or even with the subjects or topics that the teacher may not find personally interesting. One of the best practices for personalized learning is for teachers to imagine what it would be like to be a student in their classes and to consider how they would want to be perceived. Note that nonverbal communication is the first message that students receive as they walk into the classroom to begin a new day.

References

Communication. (2016). In Compton’s by Britannica. Retrieved from http://kids.britannica.com/comptons/article-198990/communication

 

 

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Collaboration for Personalized Learning

Collaboration.jpg

This post was written in collaboration with Douglas Konopelko. It is part of a series about the Building Blocks for Personalized Learning. Although it may seem unusual to connect collaboration to the practice of personalized learning, it is important to remember that students don’t learn within a vacuum. In a personalized learning environment, teachers can help students discover what individual roles they can successfully assume when collaborating with others.

Employers in the digital age are not looking at test scores; they want candidates with effective collaboration and teamwork skills. According to The National Association of Colleges and Employers in 2013, the number one skill employers are looking for in their employees is the ability to work in a team. Review the top ten qualities in this Forbes article. Collaboration is often misconstrued, and it is important to make a distinction between collaboration and group work. Think of it this way – group work is an assembly line – each worker is responsible for a portion of the final product, but they can be completed in isolation. On the other hand, an example of collaboration is the leadership team from a corporation deciding on the direction they want to take the company. Collaboration requires that there be some form of direct interaction between individuals towards an end product which includes negotiations, discussions, and valuing the perspectives of others (Kozar, 2010). Detailed below are some strategies for collaboration that teachers can facilitate in their personalized learning environments.

Strategies for Facilitating Collaboration

Scaffold Collaborative Activities – Students might not know how to begin to work collaboratively, so a teacher can facilitate collaboration by modeling strategies for sharing responsibilities while still including everyone in the overall process and success for the activity. Teachers can also suggest roles with specific responsibilities within the group.  For example, if students are developing a video based around a standard, there might be students with the following responsibilities: script writers, editors, videographers, prop designers, and actors.

Teachers are gradually abandoning roles that don’t involve content, such as “time keeper” in favor of those that keep everyone truly involved in the standards-based or skills-based learning. The following list contains some suggested new roles for collaborative learning:

  • Standard Bearer – This role is responsible for making sure that the team’s discussion and answer is aligned to the standard/scale/learning goal and steers the conversation back to that direction if it strays.
  • Clarification Guru – This role makes sure that what is being discussed/presented will be clearly stated to make it easy to understand while still remaining focused on the topic at hand.
  • Visualizer – This role is responsible for translating the group’s full process (all the thoughts and ideas) into a visual (sketchnote or graphic organizer).
  • Deepener of Knowledge – This role is responsible for synthesizing questions or an enrichment assignment based on the standard and the group’s process that will help other people dig deeper into the standard and get to a higher level of cognitive complexity.

Promote Interdependence – It is essential to have nurtured a learning community where students are encouraged to rely on each other for support. One strategy is to assign students who are experts at particular apps to be “Appsperts.”  Post the Appsperts on the wall and explain that if students are confused on how to use the particular app, they can go to the Appspert for expert advice.  This provides students with an opportunity to develop leadership skills within the classroom digitally. Another strategy for promoting interdependence is to create a classroom norm that students discuss issues with each other before bringing them to the teacher. The teacher should also adhere to this norm by not interjecting in every conversation by assuming it is off-track.

Utilize Student Expertise – Once students have mastered a standard, they can develop materials and resources to teach other students that concept.  Encouraging students to utilize what they have created to tutor or assist students who are having difficulties is empowering. This reciprocal teaching is one of the most powerful and effective ways to simultaneously offer remediation to struggling students and acceleration to students who are ready to move on at their own pace. Students can also facilitate a small group environment to teach other students a concept.  If they can do this effectively, a student-led session can be recorded for future flipped instruction. If possible, a teacher could post this as an example or evidence for parents to see the powerful learning taking place in the classroom.

Many students may know how to use the technology in the classroom better than their teachers, but they might not know how to learn with that technology. The teacher can show a willingness to learn from the students how to use those technology tools, devices, resources, and applications for new learning opportunities.

Establish Clear Guidelines – A positive strategy is to have students develop a set of classroom rules, expectations, and norms that help the class to create a sense of community within the classroom. These norms should be posted and reviewed regularly to help guide collaboration. Before students begin working collaboratively is a good time for the teacher to model examples and non-examples of appropriate behaviors. It is essential to design these norms with the students in order to empower students and to achieve their buy-in. They can also assist in the design of a checklist or a rubric for evaluating participation so that they know what is expected of them when they collaborate with others.

Model Conflict Resolution – Creating a collaborative classroom culture is essential to any transformational change.  One successful method is to implement a classroom vision statement developed by all students.  Each morning, students can discuss ways they will achieve the classroom vision, and if they were unable to the previous day, they can develop a goal on how they will improve. Students can develop an action plan together to reach that goal using the following suggested questions:

  • What will I do today?
  • What will I do tomorrow?
  • What will I do next week?
  • How will I know that we have been successful?

It should be expected that as students collaborate, they will eventual experience conflicts. When conflicts do arise, the teacher should walk through the steps and norms that have been developed by the students for resolving conflicts. The teacher’s role in this situation should be to coach the students by asking good questions that help to lead to a resolution.

More about Douglas – In addition to his role as the Coordinator of Digital Learning for Martin County School District in Florida, Douglas Konopelko is a connected educator and graphic design enthusiast (dkonopelko.com). His passion for collaboration and lifelong learning is woven into the fabric of each of these roles. As a classroom teacher, Douglas led the charge for BYOD in his district and continues to support the program as a district administrator.

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Citizenship for Personalized Learning

Citizenship.jpg

This post, written in collaboration with Diana Ryan, is part of a series about the Building Blocks for Personalized Learning. It is necessary to construct the building block of Citizenship within a classroom to better facilitate personalized learning.  Although a personalized learning environment focuses on the needs and interests of individual students, how those students operate collectively as an entity of learners can influence and even determine what they are personally able to accomplish. Teachers can purposefully help students understand the rights and responsibilities of a digital citizen.

In order to develop life long learners, teachers must provide opportunities for students to build traits of prosperous, generous, and responsible citizens. Each child has various traits that influence the development of their social personas, whether digitally or physically.  Teaching and modeling digital age skills through technology can nurture the traits of contributing citizens.  Identifying each student’s intrinsic motivation is beneficial for ensuring individual participation. Detailed below are some additional qualities of citizenship that teachers can look for in their personalized learning environments.

Qualities of Citizenship

Netiquette – Building a positive digital footprint (some refer to it as a digital tattoo) is essential for today’s students.  Many students have taught themselves how to utilize technology and have made unfortunate mistakes. They want to emulate their parents, teen brothers and sisters, and even popular celebrities they see using technology all the time.  Many adults have inadvertently experienced the problems that can arise when they post something inappropriate on social media, or accidentally copy someone on an email.  Following the “live and learn” motto with online communication can lead to difficult repercussions for our students.  It is of utmost importance that we coach students in appropriate netiquette.  Netiquette is the behavior that one uses while on the Internet. A good rule of thumb is to teach students that whatever they say online should be appropriate for virtually anyone to see because it’s so easy for someone to forward a text, email, and/or post.  “If you wouldn’t say it to their face, don’t say it online.”  Another relevant aspect of netiquette to teach students is the interpretation of a message as they consider what to post.  It’s very difficult to understand one’s tone through digital means. Teach students to take a moment and reread and reflect before posting a message online. Regular practice and feedback are necessary for developing good netiquette.

Internet Safety – My son’s best friend lives in another country, and he rarely gets to see him face-to-face. However, he communicates with him each week through online gaming. Like many teens, one of their favorite games is FIFA. As they wear their headsets, they discuss the soccer game they are currently playing, but I’ve also overheard them discussing many other topics and issues – even where they are planning on attending college one day. This is not uncommon. According to the Pew Research Internet Project78% of teen online gamers say that when they play games online it makes them feel more connected to friends they already knowThe physical world has blended into their online experiences for our students in a new contextual manner. Just as they would practice safety as they venture into a new city, they have to learn how to be safe on the Internet. Furthermore, in order to build a positive foundation for personalized learning, students must learn how to be safe online. They need to recognize that just because they read something online, it may not be true. It’s essential that they understand that a flashing message that promises a free trip or a cash giveaway will only lead to additional spam, a breach of privacy, or put themselves at risk. They also have to be wary of strangers online. Teachers have to communicate these potential dangers to students and explain how to report any situation that makes them feel unsafe. Understanding how to be safe online empowers students as they engage in personalized learning.

Participation – Listening to every voice can be difficult if teachers consistently rely on whole-group direct instruction as their primary teaching method.  Consider what happens in typical classroom full of students when a teacher poses a question to the class. As students raise their hands to answer the question, generally, the teacher selects one student to answer and moves on to the next question. How can the teacher determine how many students are truly engaged at that moment? The answer is the one student who answered the question.  Personalized learning requires the participation of every student. One strategy for increasing participation is to use a student response system. If the teacher asked questions to all students using a student response system and mobile devices, then all students could answer and ensure better participation.  Now, the teacher can determine immediately who understands the concept being taught and who needs corrective feedback. The teacher could also go back and reteach the concept immediately if the majority of the class is not understanding it.  There are additional strategies for improving participation in a personalized environment. Students could possibly answer questions at their own pace or even generate their own questions. As long as the students are participating at their own pace, we know that they are receiving instruction meeting their needs. Technology tools can provide us with greater opportunities to increase participation. To do this, teachers need to be comfortable with sharing the learning experience with the students in their classes.

Equity – There are many ways that equity can be realized within the personalized learning environment, and I have previously blogged about the issue of equity in learning opportunities. Equitable access for all students doesn’t necessarily mean each student having a device; rather, it entails the access to engaging, digital content and activities either within the classroom or as part of a course. Picture two different science classes in the same middle school.  In one classroom, the teacher is encouraging students to bring in their own devices. Even if only 50% of students have devices, there is still an opportunity to have collaborative groups that can work together to create movies, interactive presentations, animations, and more based on a particular learning standard. They can be creative together and utilize each other’s strengths. For example, one of the students might be more organized and can write the script, while the other does the filming. Now, consider the other classroom where the teacher has assigned all students to read independently a chapter from the textbook (either online or on paper) and answer the questions from the end of the chapter for homework.  In this classroom, their is no personalization of the learning experience, and the resulting two classrooms are inequitable in the learning opportunities available to students. Even in the BYOT classroom described above, there is greater opportunity to utilize the school’s technology tools and resources as students are collaboratively discovering new ways to show what they know.

Responsibility – What does it mean to be a good digital citizen?  There are certain responsibilities that each student must develop in order to become a productive, engaged citizen.  Time management, organization, and note taking are all important skills that lead to a responsible adult.  These three traits can be developed with the assistance of technology.  Many apps have led the way for building responsible behavior by removing obstacles that have traditionally impeded success for learners. In fact, Apple has essentially given every iOS user a personal assistant with Siri.  Simply by holding down the home button, you can ask her to set reminders, make appointments, or even call someone.  An app called My Video Schedule provides images throughout the day to remind users to do particular activities that could be useful within the classroom. Mindfulness is another skill that can help students become more responsible within the personalized learning environment. When students are consciously aware of their strengths and challenges, they are better able to utilize their strengths to overcome many of their challenges and to experience personal success.

There are many ways that teachers can help students develop the above traits in their classrooms. By conferencing regularly with students and helping them set short term goals, teachers can help students realize success. The amount of necessary conferencing may differ based on the personal needs of each student. If necessary, a teacher could conference with students at the beginning of each day; check midday to see how their progress has been; and have a final check at the end of the day.  Journaling at the end of the week can also help students determine their effectiveness on accomplishing goals. This practice is a good way to build self-reflection skills and leads to better citizenship.

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Confidence for Personalized Learning

Confidence

This post is part of a series about the Building Blocks for Personalized Learning. When teachers help students develop the building block of Confidence, together they can build a foundation that supports personalized learning. It takes confidence for students to begin to own the learning experience and for teachers to transform their classrooms by sharing the learning experience with their students. This confidence in the classroom can be expressed in many different ways.

Qualities of Confidence

Motivation – Motivation is intertwined with confidence because when students are motivated, they will persist in solving problems even though they may be difficult. That motivation may arise from a sense of confidence in oneself because of one’s abilities, interests, and knowledge about a particular skill or concept. Motivation can also be related to a sense of safety within the learning environment so that students feel comfortable in taking risks or trying new things to show what they know. Motivation is connected to relationships that are purposefully developed within the classroom to achieve a willingness to listen to and accept new ideas. Teachers can influence motivation by inspiring students to think outside the box. This inspiration can come from high expectations that every student will achieve but also an innate understanding of what makes students tick. When teachers know what inspires students personally, they can use that understanding to help them become motivated to achieve, to explore, and to extend beyond the basics required for competency of a learning standard. A focus on test scores may only motivate some of the academically skilled students in the room. However, focusing on what students are capable of accomplishing individually and using that information to personalize their learning can motivate everyone.

Perseverance – So what causes students to persevere when they encounter difficulties in the classroom? Learning to view obstacles as surmountable challenges arises from confidence in one’s abilities. As teachers provide scaffolding for learning new things, they can help students develop the confidence necessary to persevere. Those supports along the way include providing explanations, asking questions, and modeling as students are learning new concepts. The teacher gradually introduces new information and helps students set new goals for accomplishing learning tasks. Teachers can also help students develop their own strategies that foster perseverance. Some of these strategies may include the following: organizing thoughts about a new topic; making a plan for undertaking a task; providing video feedback and suggestions; and reflecting about a task when it is completed. When those strategies become a regular part of learning, they provide an effective roadmap for confidence. When students experience success, they develop the sense of confidence necessary to persevere.

Risk-taking – Students need to feel confident about taking risks in order to engage in personalized learning. They need to be able to expect that sometimes they will make mistakes and learn from their failures as part of the learning process. Teachers can help students develop this capacity by embracing their own mistakes and failures as learning opportunities. When teachers make a mistake they need to own that mistake; show why they made a mistake; and model how they can learn from it. This helps students attempt new things; embrace new ways of learning; and understand that they are always a work in progress. Teachers should model that they’re willing to learn alongside and even from their students because students often have their own areas of expertise. Many students may know how to use the technology in the classroom better than their teachers, but they might not know how to learn with that technology. Collaboration in this way builds confidence. The teacher can show a willingness to learn from the students how to use those technology tools and devices for new learning opportunities. Becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable is one way of demonstrating confidence.

High Expectations – When teachers maintain high expectations, they show that they believe in their students. The challenge of meeting and exceeding learning standards with a teacher with high expectations can be rewarding to students. In the personalized learning environment, one goal is to help students cultivate high expectations for themselves. Of course, because of students’ individual differences, teachers have to help them learn how to define success while still maintaining high expectations. Having high expectations involves more than solely maintaining a narrow range of success for every student. Teachers have to understand the challenges of each student and nurture a supportive environment built on collaboration. They have to scaffold supports for each child to experience success and then celebrate those successes as well as the mistakes made along the way. One of those supports may include providing sufficient time for students to process new information and answer questions. It is necessary for teachers to discover authentic ways that each student can experience success and make a positive contribution to the learning community. That raises students’ feelings of competence and affects the ways that the other students perceive them. In this way, not only do high expectations develop a sense of confidence, they also show students that their teachers really care about them. It develops mutual respect in the classroom. Students feel good about themselves, and classmates can be proud of and relate to the successes and failures of their peers

Continuous Practice – As with many extracurricular activities, continuous practice in the classroom develops and refines necessary skills and expertise. In the short term, that practice may sometimes feel tedious, but in the long term, it is essential for success. As noted above, success can lead to confidence in one’s abilities. Teachers can help students learn how to practice effectively by focusing on areas that need extra attention and development. In the personalized learning environment, how students should practice can vary depending on the individual. Typically in education, students are forced to practice by doing more of a challenging task, such as by completing rows of math problems. However, repetition and practice are not exactly equal. It may be more beneficial for a student to utilize other strengths as a different form of practice, and practice may be more beneficial if it comes from demonstrating success instead of simply repeating a task. For example, a student having difficulty with a particular math concept may practice that concept by creating a tutorial video that shows how to solve a few problems that utilize that same concept. That practice is more targeted to a student’s individual needs and encourages them to utilize strengths in creating a video or speaking in order to achieve eventual success.

Many students have become unaccustomed to showing their strengths and it takes a certain amount of confidence to express one’s own voice, ideas, abilities, and perceptions with others, especially as they are still figuring out the ways that they are unique. Developing a positive and supportive digital age learning ecosystem can encourage the confidence necessary for personalized learning.

 

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Choice for Personalized Learning

Choice

This post is part of a series about the Building Blocks for Personalized Learning. The building block of Choice helps students to feel more personally connected to their learning. Making meaningful choices engages students in determining the processes and products involved in their learning. Facilitating student choice involves more than providing options for learning that are predetermined by the teacher that marginally differentiate the learning experience. In personalized learning, the choices are intrinsically significant for each student and assist learners in understanding unfamiliar content by making the material more attainable and relatable. There are particular interconnected qualities of effective choices that teachers should consider when designing learning opportunities.

Qualities of Choice

Relevant – Relevant choices can engage students in learning by empowering them to show what they know by using their own innate or acquired strengths and abilities. A choice is also relevant when it holds particular meaning for the student. This relevancy may be encompassed by the process, the product, and/or the content involved in the learning task. When choices are relevant to students, they may create products that showcase talents, such as particular skills with art or mathematics, or they may choose to focus on an aspect of the topic that they find especially interesting.

Authentic – When learning activities possess real world significance or meaning, they can provide authentic choices for students. These experiences enable students to select from various possible scenarios that will cause them to use specific skills, strategies, or content knowledge in order to solve real problems. Choices that encourage students to utilize what they have learned to delve into meaningful issues or problems and construct original solutions, can motivate students to persevere when tasks are difficult. Students will care more about a topic when they understand and appreciate its broader importance.

Competency-Based – Choices need to ensure that students will be able to show mastery of learning standards regardless of what task they choose to undertake. By completing a learning task, students should be able to demonstrate that they understand a particular concept or skill. Teachers and students need to design a variety of tasks that encompass the targeted learning standards, so that options are equivalent. After identifying the essential skills embedded within the standard, the teacher and student can collaboratively determine what processes or products could show understanding. Considering the complexity of learning tasks will also help teachers evaluate whether or not choices are comparable.

Student-Driven – Students have to learn how to make their own choices rather than solely relying on their teachers to decide for them. They may not be accustomed to making choices because most of their schooling has forced them to be passive learners. I have heard students ask, “Can you just choose for me?” By asking guiding questions, the teacher can help students learn how to choose learning tasks that they find motivating and yet involve the targeted learning standards. Students need to develop an awareness of their personal areas of strength and how to capitalize on those strengths in order to overcome their weaknesses.

Student-Generated – There needs to be an opportunity for each student to develop a personalized learning path, and it would be impossible for a teacher to be able to be aware of every possible route when designing instruction. Therefore, it is necessary to involve students in the design process for personalized learning. By including an option to Choose Your Own among the list of available choices, students are able to tweak an existing task or to develop an original proposal that encourages innovation and individuality. Ultimately, a goal of personalized learning is for students to learn how to make their own choices for every activity as they are presented with learning standards so that they can design their own tasks to demonstrate their understanding.

It would be difficult for a teacher to design dynamic choices for students in isolation; therefore it may be helpful for teachers to collaborate with their colleagues to develop a variety of learning tasks. If teachers are to address the above qualities of effective choices for personalized learning, they have to have a good understanding of their students. This understanding arises from purposefully nurturing a learning community within the classroom. By regularly conferencing with students, teachers can help them set goals and make choices that are necessary for personalized learning. The teacher also needs to model how to make good choices for students and to share their own personal interests and strengths. Being the lead learner and an engaged participant are roles the teacher must practice in the personalized learning ecosystem.

 

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