Technology offers the opportunity for teachers to become more collaborative and extend learning beyond the classroom. Educators can create learning communities composed of students; fellow educators in schools, museums, libraries, and after-school programs; experts in various disciplines around the world; members of community organizations; and families. This enhanced collaboration, enabled by technology offers access to instructional materials as well as the resources and tools to create, manage, and assess their quality and usefulness.
To enact this vision, schools need to support teachers in accessing needed technology and in learning how to use it effectively. Although research indicates that teachers have the biggest impact on student learning out of all other school-level factors, we cannot expect individual educators to assume full responsibility for bringing technology-based learning experiences into schools.1, 2, 3, 4, 5 They need continuous, just-in-time support that includes professional development, mentors, and informal collaborations. In fact, more than two thirds of teachers say they would like more technology in their classrooms,6 and roughly half say that lack of training is one of the biggest barriers to incorporating technology into their teaching.7
Institutions responsible for pre-service and in-service professional development for educators should focus explicitly on ensuring all educators are capable of selecting, evaluating, and using appropriate technologies and resources to create experiences that advance student engagement and learning. They also should pay special care to make certain that educators understand the privacy and security concerns associated with technology. This goal cannot be achieved without incorporating technology-based learning into the programs themselves.
For many teacher preparation institutions, state offices of education, and school districts, the transition to technology-enabled preparation and professional development will entail rethinking instructional approaches and techniques, tools, and the skills and expertise of educators who teach in these programs. This rethinking should be based on a deep understanding of the roles and practices of educators in environments in which learning is supported by technology.
Roles and Practices of Educators in Technology-Supported Learning
Technology can empower educators to become co-learners with their students by building new experiences for deeper exploration of content. This enhanced learning experience embodies John Dewey’s notion of creating “more mature learners.”8 Side-by-side, students and teachers can become engineers of collaboration, designers of learning experiences, leaders, guides, and catalysts of change.9, 10 Following are some descriptions of these educator roles and examples of how technology can play an integral part.
Authentic learning experiences are those that place learners in the context of real-world experiences and challenges.11
Educators can collaborate far beyond the walls of their schools. Through technology, educators are no longer restricted to collaborating only with other educators in their schools. They now can connect with other educators and experts across their communities or around the world to expand their perspectives and create opportunities for student learning. They can connect with community organizations specializing in real-world concerns to design learning experiences that allow students to explore local needs and priorities. All of these elements make classroom learning more relevant and authentic.
In addition, by using tools such as videoconferencing, online chats, and social media sites, educators, from large urban to small rural districts, can connect and collaborate with experts and peers from around the world to form online professional learning communities.
Building Communities for Educators: International Education and Resource Network (iEARN) Fosters Global Collaborative Teaching and Learning
Through technology, educators can create global communities of practice that enable their students to collaborate with students around the world. Technology enables collaborative teaching regardless of geographic location, as demonstrated by the global nature of the Solar Cooking Project organized by earth and environmental science teacher Kathy Bosiak.
Bosiak teaches at Lincolnton High School in Lincolnton, North Carolina, and is a contributing educator for iEARN, a nonprofit organization made up of more than 30,000 schools and youth organizations in more than 140 countries. iEARN offers technology-enabled resources that enable teachers and students around the world to collaborate on educational projects, all designed and facilitated by teachers and students to fit their curriculum, classroom needs, and schedules.17
In addition to its student programs, iEARN offers professional face-to-face workshops for teachers that combine technology and continued engagement through virtual networks and online professional learning opportunities. The workshops focus on the skills needed to engage in Internet-based collaborative learning projects, including peer review, team building, joining regional and international learning communities, and developing project-based curricula that integrate national education standards.
Educators can design highly engaging and relevant learning experiences through technology. Educators have nearly limitless opportunities to select and apply technology in ways that connect with the interests of their students and achieve their learning goals. For example, a classroom teacher beginning a new unit on fractions might choose to have his students play a learning game such as Factor Samurai, Wuzzit Trouble, or Sushi Monster as a way to introduce the concept. Later, the teacher might direct students to practice the concept by using manipulatives so they can start to develop some grounded ideas about equivalence.12
To create an engaging and relevant lesson that requires students to use content knowledge and critical thinking skills, an educator might ask students to solve a community problem by using technology. Students may create an online community forum, public presentation, or call to action related to their proposed solution. They can use social networking platforms to gather information and suggestions of resources from their contacts. Students can draft and present their work by using animated presentation software or through multimedia formats such as videos and blogs. This work can be shared in virtual discussions with content experts and stored in online learning portfolios.
A school without access to science labs or equipment can use virtual simulations to offer learners those experiences that are currently unavailable because of limited resources. In addition, these simulations are safe places for students to learn and practice effective processes before they conduct research in the field. Just as technology can enhance science learning for schools lacking equipment, it can enable deep learning once students are in the field as well. Students can collect data for their own use via mobile devices and probes and sync their findings with those of collaborators and researchers anywhere in the world to create large, authentic data sets for study.
Educators can lead the evaluation and implementations of new technologies for learning. Lower price points for learning technologies make it easier for educators to pilot new technologies and approaches before attempting a school-wide adoption. These educators also can lead and model practices around evaluating new tools for privacy and security risks, as well as compliance with federal privacy regulations. (For more on these regulations, see Section 5: Infrastructure). Teacher-leaders with a broad understanding of their own educational technology needs, as well as those of students and colleagues, can design short pilot studies that impact a small number of students to ensure the chosen technology and the implementation approach have the desired outcomes. This allows schools to gain experience with and confidence in these technologies before committing entire schools or districts to purchases and use.
Teacher-leaders and those with experience supporting learning with technology can work with administrators to determine how to share their learning with other teachers. They also can provide support to their peers by answering questions and modeling practical uses of technology to support learning.
Evaluating Technology Through Rapid-Cycle Technology Evaluations
As schools continue to invest heavily in education technology, there is a pressing need to generate evidence about the effectiveness of these investments and also to develop evaluation tools that developers and practitioners can use to conduct their own evaluations that take less time and incur lower costs than do traditional evaluations. The U.S. Department of Education is funding a rapid cycle technology evaluation project that will design research approaches for evaluating apps, platforms, and tools; conduct pilots and disseminate the resulting short reports; and create an interactive guide and implementation support tools for conducting rapid cycle technology evaluations to be used by schools, districts, developers, and researchers.
Rapid cycle technology evaluations will help provide results in a timely manner so that evidence of effectiveness is available to school and district leaders when they need to make purchasing decisions.
Teach to Lead: Developing Teachers as Leaders
Teach to Lead, a joint program of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, ASCD, and the U.S. Department of Education, aims to advance student outcomes by expanding opportunities for teacher leadership, particularly opportunities that allow teachers to stay in the classroom. With the help of supporting organizations, Teach to Lead provides a platform for teacher-leaders and allies across the country (and around the world) to create and expand on their ideas.
Teach to Lead participants are invested personally in the development of their teacher leadership action plans because the ideas are their own. Participants identify a current problem within their school, district, or community and develop a theory of action to solve that problem. Since its inception in March 2014, Teach to Lead has engaged more than 3,000 educators, in person and virtually through its online platform, with more than 850 teacher leadership ideas spanning 38 states. Teach to Lead regional Teacher Leadership Summits brought together teams of teacher-leaders and supporting organizations to strengthen their teacher leadership ideas, share resources, and develop the skills necessary to make their projects a reality.
Marcia Hudson and Serena Stock, teacher-leaders at Avondale Elementary School in Michigan, identified a need for teacher-led professional development at their school and created a module for teachers to collect and analyze student outcome data to drive new professional development opportunities. The teachers now are holding engagement meetings with teacher-leaders to develop and fund professional development and data collection further.
Chris Todd teaches at Windsor High School in Connecticut and is a Teacher-Leader-in-Residence for the Connecticut State Department of Education. Chris’s team is developing the Connecticut Educator Network, a database of teacher-leaders who are readily available to advise on policy development. The group intends to provide training and policy briefings to continue to hone the teachers’ leadership skills.
Educators can be guides, facilitators, and motivators of learners. The information available to educators through high-speed Internet means teachers do not have to be content experts across all possible subjects. By understanding how to help students access online information, engage in simulations of real-world events, and use technology to document their world, educators can help their students examine problems and think deeply about their learning. Using digital tools, they can help students create spaces to experiment, iterate, and take intellectual risks with all of the information they need at their fingertips.13, 14 Teachers also can take advantage of these spaces for themselves as they navigate new understandings of teaching that move beyond a focus on what they teach to a much broader menu of how students can learn and show what they know.
Educators can help students make connections across subject areas and decide on the best tools for collecting and showcasing learning through activities such as contributing to online forums, producing webinars, or publishing their findings to relevant websites. These teachers can advise students on how to build an online learning portfolio to demonstrate their learning progression. Within these portfolios, students can catalog resources that they can review and share as they move into deeper and more complex thinking about a particular issue. With such portfolios, learners will be able to transition through their education careers with robust examples of their learning histories as well as evidence of what they know and are able to do. These become compelling records of achievement as they apply for entrance into career and technical education institutions, community colleges, and four-year colleges and universities or for employment.
Deepening Student Understanding: Using Interactive Video to Improve Learning
Reflective teachers can search for new ways for their students to engage with technology effectively, especially when students are not optimizing their learning experiences. Every year at Crocker Middle School, Ryan Carroll would ask his sixth-grade world history students to watch a variety of online videos for homework. He found that no matter how entertaining or interesting the videos were, his students were not retaining much of the information being presented, and often they were confused about key concepts. After learning about Zaption, a teaching tool funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Carroll realized his students could get more out of the videos he assigned. Using Zaption’s interactive video platform, he added images, text, drawings, and questions to clarify tricky concepts and check for understanding as students watched the video.
Zaption’s analytics allow educators to review individual student responses and class-wide engagement data quickly, giving greater insight on how students are mastering key concepts as they watch and enabling teachers to address misconceptions quickly.
Educators can be co-learners with students and peers. The availability of technology-based learning tools gives educators a chance be co-learners alongside their students and peers. Although educators should not be expected to know everything there is to know in their disciplines, they should be expected to model how to leverage available tools to engage content with curiosity and a mindset bent on problem solving and how to be co-creators of knowledge. In short, teachers should be the students they hope to inspire in their classrooms.15
Co-Learning in the Classroom: Teacher User Groups Provide Peer Learning for Adult Education Educators
Recognizing the power of virtual peer learning, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education has funded projects that have established teacher user groups to explore the introduction of openly licensed educational resources into adult education. This model of professional development recognizes that virtual peer learning can support teachers to change their practice and provide leadership and growth opportunities. The small groups of far-flung teachers work with a group moderator to identify, use, and review openly licensed resources in mathematics, science, and English language arts.
Reviews referenced the embedded evaluation criteria in OER Commons, a repository of open educational resources (OER) that can be used or reused freely at no cost and that align to the College- and Career-Readiness mathematics and language arts and Next Generation Science Standards. They also included practice tips for teaching the content to adult learners. The reviews are posted on OER Commons and tagged as Adult Basic Education or Adult English for Speakers of Other Languages to facilitate the discovery by other teachers of these high-quality, standards-aligned teaching and learning materials.
Learning Out Loud Online: Jennie Magiera, District Chief Technology Officer and Classroom Teacher
Planning a lesson on how elevation and other environmental influences affect the boiling point of water, Jennie Magiera realized that many of the students in her fourth-grade class in Cook County, Illinois, had never seen a mountain. So Magiera reached out to her network of fellow educators through social media to find a teacher in a mountainous area of the country interested in working with her on the lesson.
Soon, Magiera and a teacher in Denver were collaborating on a lesson plan. Using tablets and online videoconferencing, the students in Denver showed Magiera’s students the mountains that they could see outside of their classrooms every day. After a discussion of elevation, the two teachers engaged their students in a competition to see which class could boil water faster. By interacting with students in the other class, Magiera’s students became engaged more deeply in the project, which led them to develop a richer understanding of ecosystems and environments than they might have otherwise.
Educators can become catalysts to serve the underserved. Technology provides a new opportunity for traditionally underserved populations to have equitable access to high-quality educational experiences. When connectivity and access are uneven, the digital divide in education is widened, undermining the positive aspects of learning with technology.
All students deserve equal access to (1) the Internet, high-quality content, and devices when they need them and (2) educators skilled at teaching in a technology-enabled learning environment. When this occurs, it increases the likelihood that learners have personalized learning experiences, choice in tools and activities, and access to adaptive assessments that identify their individual abilities, needs, and interests.
Connected Educators: Exemplars
Technology can transform learning when used by teachers who know how to create engaging and effective learning experiences for their students. In 2014, a group of educators collaborated on a report entitled, Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom. Not a how-to guide or a set of discrete tools, it draws together narratives from a group of educators within the National Writing Project who are working to implement and refine practices around technology-enabled learning. The goal was to rethink, iterate on, and assess how education can be made more relevant to today’s youth.
Producing Student Films With Online Audiences: Katie McKay: Lights, Camera, Social Action!
In Katie McKay’s diverse, fourth-grade transitional bilingual class, encouraging her students to work together on a project helped them build literacy skills while simultaneously giving them the opportunity to pursue culturally relevant questions related to equity.
McKay recognized that her students were searching for the language to talk about complicated issues of race, gender, power, and equity. To address the competing priorities of preparing her students for the state test and providing them with authentic opportunities to develop as readers and writers, McKay started a project-based unit on the history of discrimination in the United States.
Students worked in heterogeneously mixed groups to develop comic strips that eventually were turned into two videos, one showing micro-aggressions students commonly see today and one about the history of discrimination in the United States. The movie on micro-aggressions portrayed current scenarios that included characters who acted as agents of change, bravely and respectfully defending the rights of others.
According to McKay, students who previously were disengaged found themselves drawn into the classroom community in meaningful and engaging ways. While reflecting on this unit, McKay wrote:
We were not only working to promote tolerance and appreciation for diversity in our community. We also were resisting an oppressive educational context. In the midst of the pressure to perform on tests that were isolating and divisive, we united in collaborative work that required critical thinking and troubleshooting. In a climate that valued silence, antiquated skills, and high-stakes testing, we engaged in peer-connected learning that highlighted 21st century skills and made an impact on our community.18
Just-in-Time Learning: Janelle Bence: How Do I Teach What I Do Not Know?
Texas teacher Janelle Bence was looking for new ways to engage and challenge her students, the majority of whom are English language learners from low-income families. After observing her students’ motivation to persist through game challenges, she wondered if games held a key to getting them similarly engaged in classwork. After attending a session on gaming at a National Writing Project Annual Meeting, Bence was inspired to incorporate gaming into her classroom. She did not know anything about gaming and so, as is the case for many teachers seeking to bridge the gap between students’ social interests and academic subjects, she had to figure out how to teach what she did not know.
Bence started by reading a book about using video games to teach literacy. As she read, she shared her ideas and questions on her blog and talked to other educators, game designers, and systems thinkers. Through these collaborations, she decided that by creating games, her students would be required to become informed experts in the content of the game as well as to become powerful storytellers.
As she explored games as a way to make academic tasks more engaging and accessible for her students, Bence found it was important to take advantage of professional learning and peer networks, take risks by moving from a passive consumer of knowledge to actually trying the tasks that she planned to use with students, and put herself in her students’ shoes.
Bence shared that “finding a way to connect to students and their passions—by investigating what makes them tick and bridging [those passions] to academic tasks—educators are modeling risks that encourage the same behavior in their learners.”19
Building Student Agency: Jason Sellers: Text-Based Video Games
Aware of the popularity of video games among his students, and as a longtime fan of video games himself, teacher Jason Sellers decided to use gaming to develop his 10th-grade students’ ability to use descriptive imagery in their writing. Specifically, Sellers introduced his students to text-based video games. Unlike graphics-based games in which users can view graphics and maneuver through the game by using controller buttons, text-based games require players to read descriptions and maneuver by typing commands such as go north or unlock the door with a key. Sellers decided his students could practice using descriptive imagery by developing their own text-based games.
Using tutorials and other resources found on Playfic, an interactive fiction online community, Sellers created lessons that allowed students to play and eventually create interactive fiction games. Prior to the creation of the games, Sellers’s class analyzed several essays that skillfully used descriptive imagery, such as David Foster Wallace’s A Ticket to the Fair, and composed short pieces of descriptive writing about their favorite locations in San Francisco.
Students then transferred their newly honed descriptive storytelling skills to the development of an entertaining text-based game. Because Sellers’s students wanted to develop games their peers would want to play, they focused on ways to make their games more appealing, including, as Sellers described, “using familiar settings (local or popular culture), familiar characters (fellow students or popular culture), and tricky puzzles.”20
According to Sellers, this project allowed students to work through problems collaboratively with peers from their classroom and the Playfic online community and motivated them to move beyond basic requirements to create projects worthy of entering competitions.
Rethinking Teacher Preparation
Teachers need to leave their teacher preparation programs with a solid understanding of how to use technology to support learning. Effective use of technology is not an optional add-on or a skill that we simply can expect teachers to pick up once they get into the classroom. Teachers need to know how to use technology to realize each state’s learning standards from day one. Most states have adopted and are implementing college- and career-ready standards to ensure that their students graduate high school with the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed.
For states that have voluntarily adopted the Common Core State Standards, there are more than 100 direct mentions of technology expectations, and similar expectations exist in states adopting other college- and career-ready standards. Many federal, state, and district leaders have made significant investments in providing infrastructure and devices to schools. Without a well-prepared and empowered teaching force, our country will not experience the full benefits of those investments for transformative learning.
Schools should be able to rely on teacher preparation programs to ensure that new teachers come to them prepared to use technology in meaningful ways. No new teacher exiting a preparation program should require remediation by his or her hiring school or district. Instead, every new teacher should be prepared to model how to select and use the most appropriate apps and tools to support learning and evaluate these tools against basic privacy and security standards. It is inaccurate to assume that because pre-service teachers are tech savvy in their personal lives they will understand how to use technology effectively to support learning without specific training and practice. This expertise does not come through the completion of one educational technology course separate from other methods courses but through the inclusion of experiences with educational technology in all courses modeled by the faculty in teacher preparation programs.
Aligning Education With Technology Standards: University of Michigan
Pre-service teachers at the University of Michigan School of Education are experiencing the kind of learning with technology their students will one day know. The curriculum addresses each of the five ISTE Standards for Teachers21 and aligns with skills from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.22 Each standard also has related course projects designed for teacher candidates to use technology actively to demonstrate their understanding of the material through practice and feedback. For example, teacher candidates are asked to design and teach a 20-minute webinar for fourth graders that is based on Next Generation Science Standards and to design and teach a lesson that uses technology and meets the needs of their learners as part of their student teaching placement.
Preparing to Teach in Technology-Enabled Environments: Saint Leo University
A 2006 survey of Saint Leo University teacher preparation program alumni showed satisfaction with their preparation with one notable exception—technology in the classroom. As a result, the education department established a long-term goal of making technology innovation a keystone of its program. Saint Leo faculty redesigned their program on the basis of the Technological Pedagogical and Content Knowledge model, in which pre-service teachers learned to blend content, pedagogical, and technological knowledge in their PK–12 instruction.23
Faculty developed their expertise with different technologies so that every course models the use of technology to support teaching and learning. The school built an education technology lab where teacher candidates can practice using devices, apps, and other digital learning resources. Students regularly reflect on their experience using technology to increase effectiveness and efficiency as well as its value in the learning process.
Perhaps most notably, Saint Leo ensures all pre-service teachers have basic technologies available at their student teaching placements. Each pre-service teacher is given a digital backpack with a tablet, portable projector, speakers, and a portable interactive whiteboard. A student response system is also available for pre-service teachers to use in their field placements.
Advancing Knowledge and Practice of Assistive Technologies for New Teachers: Illinois State University
Illinois State University’s Department of Special Education is one of the largest special education training programs in the nation. Recognizing the value of assistive technology in meeting the needs of each student, the special education teacher preparation program at the University includes an extensive emphasis on selection and use of assistive technologies.
Classroom learning is brought to life through ongoing clinical and field-based experiences in schools and at the university’s Special Education Assistive Technology Center. The center provides hands-on experiences to pre-service teachers enrolled in the special education programs at Illinois as well as opportunities for teachers, school administrators, family members, and businesses to learn about assistive technologies. Furthermore, faculty work in partnership with a variety of public, private, and residential schools to enhance student field experiences and provide opportunities for students to work with learners with a range of disabilities and in a variety of settings, including rural, urban, and suburban areas.
Building Digital Literacy in Teaching: University of Rhode Island (URI)
A critical aspect of ensuring that young Americans learn appropriate digital literacy skills is equipping educators at all levels with the same skills. To that end, URI offers a graduate certificate in digital literacy for graduate students, classroom teachers, librarians, and college faculty. By targeting a broad audience to participate in the program, URI is expanding the number of educators with the professional capacity to help students to learn, access, analyze, create, reflect, and take action using digital tools, texts, and technologies in all aspects of their lives.
During the program, students are introduced to key theories of digital literacy in inquiry-driven learning and given time to experiment with and explore a wide range of digital texts, tools, and technologies. In collaboration with a partner, they create a project-based instructional unit that enables them to demonstrate their digital skills in the context of an authentic learning situation. Throughout the program, students participate in hands-on, minds-on learning experiences; participants build a deeper understanding of digital literacy while developing practical skills and have time to reflect on the implications of the digital shift in education, leisure, citizenship, and society.
In its evaluation of the program, URI has found that participants experienced a dramatic increase in digital skills associated with implementing project-based learning with digital media and technology. Their understanding of digital literacy also shifted to focus more on inquiry, collaboration, and creativity.
Fostering Ongoing Professional Learning
The same imperatives for teacher preparation apply to ongoing professional learning. Professional learning and development programs should transition to support and develop educators’ identities as fluent users of technology; creative and collaborative problem solvers; and adaptive, socially aware experts throughout their careers. Programs also should address challenges when it comes to using technology learning: ongoing professional development should be job embedded and available just in time.16
Increasing Online Professional Learning: Connected Educator Month Builds Collaboration Across the Country
Connected Educator Month, part of the U.S. Department of Education’s Connected Educators project, began with a monthlong online conference that included a centralized guiding structure, kickoff and closing events, engagement resources, and an open calendar to which organizations of all types could submit professional learning events and activities. Educators used these resources and the calendar to create their own professional development plan for the month. Available activities included webinars, Twitter chats, forum discussions, and actively moderated blog discussions based on personal learning needs and interests.
In the first year, more than 170 organizations provided more than 450 events and activities, with educators completing an estimated 90,000 hours of professional learning across the month. More than 4 million people followed the #ce12 hashtag on Twitter, generating 1.4 million impressions per day.
Now led by partner organizations from the original Connected Educators project—American Institutes for Research (AIR), Grunwald Associates LLC, and Powerful Learning Practice—Connected Educator Month features more than 800 organizations and has provided more than 1,000 events and activities. Australia, New Zealand, and Norway hosted their own iterations of Connected Educator Month, and educators in more than 125 countries participated in some way.
Putting Learning in Teachers’ Hands: Denver Public Schools Personalizes Professional Development
In 2014, 80 teachers from 45 schools engaged in the pilot year of Project Cam Opener, an initiative of the Personalized Professional Learning team in Denver Public Schools. Now in its second year with 425 teachers and leaders, Project Cam Opener allows educators to record their teaching with customized video toolkits and share those videos for self-reflection and feedback within an online community of practice.
In the program’s pilot year, the first 80 teachers recorded hundreds of videos using tools such as Swivls, iPads, high-definition webcams, and microphones. The videos were uploaded to private YouTube channels and shared via a Google+ community for feedback. For many of these teachers, it was the first time that they had seen the teaching practices of other teachers in their district. The videos sparked daily conversations and sharing of ideas.
Three measures are used to determine the effectiveness of Project Cam Opener: engagement, retention, and observation. In the first end-of-year survey, 90 percent of respondents said that taking part in Project Cam Opener made them more engaged in their own professional learning and growth. In addition, not a single teacher from the pilot group left Denver Public Schools after their year with Project Cam Opener (the overall district rate of turnover is 20 percent). Although teacher observation scores are harder to attribute to this project specifically, the growth of this cohort of teachers outpaced that of their non–Project Cam Opener counterparts, according to the district’s Framework for Effective Teaching.
Micro-Credentialing Teacher Learning: Kettle Moraine Introduces Teacher-Led Professional Learning
Kettle Moraine School District in Wisconsin is creating a professional learning environment in which practicing teachers can be the masters and architects of their own learning. Using the Digital Promise educator micro-credentialing framework as a guide (for more information on Digital Promise’s micro-credentialing work, see Section 4: Leadership), teachers in the district take a technology proficiency self-assessment, which they use as a baseline for their personal professional growth. The teachers then work by themselves and in collaborative teams to develop specific professional learning goals aligned to district strategic goals, which they submit to district leadership for approval.
Once these goals are approved, the teachers establish measurable benchmarks against which they can assess their progress. Both the goals and benchmarks are mapped to specific competencies, which, in turn, are tied to micro-credentials that can be earned once teachers have demonstrated mastery. Demonstrations of mastery include specific samples of their work, personal reflections, classroom artifacts, and student work and reflections, which are submitted via Google Forms to a committee of 7 to 10 teachers who review them and award micro-credentials.
Currently, 49 staff members are working to earn a micro-credential for personalized learning, which requires them to conduct their own background research and engage in regularly scheduled Twitter chats as well as blogging, networking, and other forms of self-guided learning using technology. Many also have begun to engage with teachers across the country, allowing them to give and receive ideas, resources, and support.
Embracing the Unconference: Going to Edcamp
An educator attending an Edcamp event engages in a professional learning experience vastly different from traditional professional development. Sessions are built on the interests and needs of the people who attend and are created on the day by using a cloud-based collaborative application that is open to all (including those unable to participate in person). Each teacher chooses which sessions to attend on the basis of individual interests or needs.
Because using technology in learning effectively is one of the challenges facing teachers, sessions frequently are organized around sharing practices and overcoming common challenges when improving practices around the use of technology. Teachers collaborate to overcome challenges together, often making connections that lead beyond the single session or day, as partnerships are formed to engage their students with each other. The shared documents created at these events become an archive and resource for whoever attended, in person or virtually.
The first Edcamp was organized in Philadelphia by a group of local educators interested in new unconference (self-organizing) approaches to a conference for professional learning. The model took off, and five years later there have been more than 750 Edcamps all organized by local educators. The enormous popularity of the format has led to the formation of the Edcamp Foundation, a nonprofit organization that will formalize much of the ad hoc support that has been provided to Edcamp organizers until now.
Provide pre-service and in-service educators with professional learning experiences powered by technology to increase their digital literacy and enable them to create compelling learning activities that improve learning and teaching, assessment, and instructional practices. To make this goal a reality, teacher preparation programs, school systems, state and local policymakers, and educators should come together in the interest of designing pre- and in-service professional learning opportunities that are aligned specifically with technology expectations outlined within state standards and that are reflective of the increased connectivity of and access to devices in schools. Technology should not be separate from content area learning but used to transform and expand pre- and in-service learning as an integral part of teacher learning.
Use technology to provide all learners with online access to effective teaching and better learning opportunities with options in places where they are not otherwise available. This goal will require leveraging partner organizations and building institutional and teacher capacity to take advantage of free and openly licensed educational content such as that indexed on LearningRegistry.org. Adequate connectivity will increase equitable access to resources, instruction, expertise, and learning pathways regardless of learners’ geography, socio-economic status, or other factors that historically may have put them at an educational disadvantage.
Develop a teaching force skilled in online and blended instruction. Our education system continues to see a marked increase in online learning opportunities and blended learning models in traditional schools. To meet the need this represents better, institutions of higher education, school districts, classroom educators, and researchers need to come together to ensure practitioners have access to current information regarding research-supported practices and an understanding of the best use of emerging online technologies to support learning in online and blended spaces.
Develop a common set of technology competency expectations for university professors and candidates exiting teacher preparation programs for teaching in technologically enabled schools and post-secondary education institutions. There should be no uncertainty of whether a learner entering a PK–12 classroom or college lecture hall will encounter a teacher or instructor fully capable of taking advantage of technology to transform learning. Accrediting institutions, advocacy organizations, state policymakers, administrators, and educators have to collaborate on a set of clear and common expectations and credentialing regarding educators’ abilities to design and implement technology-enabled learning environments effectively.
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