Leading Transformation on the Digital Learning Continuum

Classroom technology can engage students and prepare them for real-world problem solving
By: | Issue: June, 2014
February 4, 2015

Instructional technology can enhance the classroom experience by delivering personalized learning to students on a greater level. Forsyth County Schools in Georgia successfully implemented digital learning content and tools that drive higher order thinking and increase student engagement. This web seminar, originally presented on April 24, 2014, featured an administrator from Forsyth County Schools who discussed how to successfully integrate technology into curriculum, keys to making the transition from print to digital resources and practical applications of technology in the classroom.

Steve Nordmark
Chief Academic Officer

Knovation has long been a leader in curating, contextualizing and maintaining digital learning resources, and in partnering with districts to develop strategies to create scalable solutions that can help lead the transformation to personalized learning. Personalized learning is not about technology, but undoubtedly there is a significant technology component in personalized learning. For example, there needs to be a high level of flexibility for devices and tools for teachers and learners. Districts need access to a variety of digital curriculum resources, especially resources that engage learners and enable creative problem solving. Although our future vision needs education models that have a greater emphasis on personal accountability at the learner level, the district still ultimately drives that accountability. To support that, we need enterprise-level or district-wide learning systems that link all relevant information and processes.

Jill Hobson
Director of Instructional Technology
Forsyth County (Ga.) Schools

Forsyth County Schools has 35 schools and nearly 41,000 students. We are the ninth-largest system in Georgia and one of the fastest growing school systems in the nation. One thing that is critical to our mission is developing a common language to describe what effective use of technology looks like. That is how you create change, because it’s a form of systemic improvement. In Forsyth, we use the spectrum of “Literacy, Adapting and Transforming,” an instructional framework created by Bernajean Porter for gauging effective use of technology. Our goal is to move more learning experiences toward the transforming level, where students are information producers instead of information consumers, where the questions guiding the learning are open-ended and rigorous and require high-order thinking.

We have had a digital learning system in place for over 10 years. We have an instructional technology specialist and a media specialist at each of our schools, each dedicated to being curriculum experts and coaches. These are certified educators. We look for master educators who have a bent toward technology, because it’s easier for a teacher to learn technology than for a technologist to learn how to educate. Also, the teacher librarians are information specialists Ñ they collaborate with teachers on designing effective instruction. This team is critical to our success. In Forsyth, our learning management system was never intended to be a fully virtual program or school; it was intended to support the traditional brick and mortar school. Our teachers have a template in the platform for each course they teach, and it’s prepopulated with the students. The teachers use this as a place to keep materials for kids, to develop engaging activities, to do assessments and to support a traditional learning experience with digital learning tools.

There are four tenets to our vision for personalized learning: Design, Teach, Assess and Reflect. Design is about having a personalized learner plan that gives immediate feedback on learning preferences. This gives us a definition of how each kid learns, as well as information about what they need to learn. In Teach, we use the information from the learner profile for something we call a recommendation engine. That engine must be populated with tons of digital learning objects so that it can give a teacher and a student ideas of what material matches the student’s learner preferences. In Assess, we use all of our assessment data to help drive the cycle of the personalized learning plan. And when we get to Reflect, we have surveys and tools to help identify learner preferences, habits and progress, and that cycles back into the learner plan.

Having all of this in place means that we are constantly seeking the best digital learning objects we can find. That certainly comes with some challenges, one of which being how you vet and curate learning resources. We don’t have the staff to be able to go through hundreds of thousands of individual learning objects for every content area at every grade level. We have to rely on trusted partners, and certainly Knovation has been very important to us in that respect. Nordmark: There are some key themes that emerged from our research on the future of learning engagement, such as fostering and enabling self-sufficiency in students, accommodating differences in learners, establishing and communicating clear evaluation criteria, understanding what the student does or doesn’t know, and receiving and delivering trusted help.

These have been critical for Knovation as we’ve continued to innovate and create new solutions to help districts effectively manage their return on learning. The foundational element in the continuum is the right content. With so many alternatives out there from publishers, and with the wide world of Open Education Resources, there are some key questions that must be answered. How do you ensure that the digital content your teachers and students are using truly is the right content to accomplish your objectives? How are they identifying which content to use? How are they aligning content to standards? How are you organizing, storing and sharing that content and structuring it around your curriculum? With the dynamic of digital and web-based content, how do you make sure that you have it current and maintained, up-to-date with the latest requirements? Also, as teachers make this shift to digital, how are they developing lessons? To ensure each teacher isn’t an island of innovation, what do you have in place to facilitate collaboration in sharing lessons and best practices?

It’s extremely important to think about your professional learning from the perspective of the shift in instructional practice, not just training on how to use technology. How are you going to equip your teachers to take advantage of the opportunities to blend instructional strategies, to move beyond teacher-centered models toward learner-centered models where the students are constructing meaning and making connections across multiple resources? It’s critical to support the teachers in this shift and to provide opportunities for professional learning communities and collaboration where they can learn from and support each other in that process.

Ultimately, that transformation must result in the right outcomes so that the district can bring their reality closer to their vision of more personalized learning to engage every student, to increase confidence and motivation, and to have an active ownership of learning.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to http://districtadministration.com/ws042414.

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