Living in the information age, with all the power of technology at our fingertips, has impacted the daily learning experience in our schools and classrooms. We now have the opportunity to offer every child a first-class, student-centered education through personalized learning. However, it seems that there are issues in how educators define this progressive, anytime/anywhere methodology for learning. There is no shortage of buzzwords in education, and currently two terms are trending: blended learning and personalized learning. The terms are often used interchangeably or without thorough understanding. They both promise to use technology to deliver instruction to meet the unique needs of students, but when various descriptions and words are used interchangeably, there is a problem that could impact implementation in a negative way. We are on the brink of transforming how we educate our future citizens with the use of technology, but it is important for educators to have a common understanding of these terms and methodologies so that we can learn from each other.
Personalized learning is a concept that has varied and sometimes controversial meanings, depending on how it referenced. The term personalized learning has been used by online schools and companies selling online learning programs to K-12 public schools that are designing and implementing new school designs. In some educational circles, blended learning (the practice of using both online and in-person learning) is used interchangeably with personalized learning. The difference between personalized learning and other concepts such as next generation learning and blended learning has not always been clear. The definition of personalized learning continues to evolve as funding provided by foundations such as the Gates, Dell, and Broad Foundations focuses on furthering personalized learning models through efforts such as the Next Generation Learning Challenge (NGLC).
The NGLC was created to accelerate educational innovation through applied technology to dramatically improve college readiness and completion in the United States. NGLC defined personalized learning as the approaches that individualize learning for each student based on specific strengths and needs, student interests, and/or individualized goals. It funded regional partners and proposed that next gen learning incorporate personalized learning, and that seamless integration with technology was necessary to implement it effectively, affordably, and at significant scale. Technology advocacy groups, with contributions from educators, developed a working definition of the attributes of personalized learning that included competency-based progression, flexible learning environments, personal learning paths, and learner profiles.
In high schools in which students’ courses have a flipped classroom model, students use school-issued Chromebooks to read and research primary and secondary texts online outside of school. This frees up school-based learning time for greater concentration on meaningful project-based and experiential learning. Students are empowered to progress in their learning as they demonstrate proficiency over broad competencies through projects, research papers, social media, and multimedia presentations that reflect ways in which they will have to demonstrate mastery in real life, often before panels of teachers, students, parents, and community members. Advances in technology provide us with an opportunity to reimagine school and personalize learning in ways that will benefit our students now and in the future.
Most students still learn using a method that has existed in our schools for over 100 years. In a typical classroom setting, students sit at desks in rows and the teacher “teaches” from the front of the room. The typical student has been trained since childhood for someone to give them information while listening and taking notes.
While the traditional classroom is adept at preparing students for industrial and knowledge-based jobs, it has not kept pace with preparing students for an economy that employs a greater share of workers in service and innovation-based economies.
Today, new learning methods are available to give students an expanded skill set needed for their future. Many schools today are utilizing project-based learning (PBL) and computer-based instruction in the form of online and blended learning to fill the gaps left by traditional instruction. These initiatives are expected to grow as research studies indicate that families want more technology-based instruction and less use of teacher-driven instruction.
However, given that students have been conditioned to learn in only the traditional model, schools and students typically struggle when online courses are made available. Suddenly students must control the pace of learning, show initiative, and make choices about where to invest their time and energy.
Our students and kids are growing up in an increasingly digital world. As soon as parents and teachers catch up in one area, new technologies have already emerged, bringing with them new opportunities and challenges. Staying on top of what’s best for kids can feel like an insurmountable task. How can we as parents and teachers prepare children for their digital futures while also setting appropriate boundaries to keep them safe? Enter Common Sense Media.
Started in 2003, this independent, non-profit organization proves to be an invaluable resource to both parents and teachers. As their website states, their mission is to “…empower parents, teachers, and policymakers by providing unbiased information, trusted advice, and innovative tools to help them harness the power of media and technology as a positive force in all kids’ lives.”
I teach middle school. That means that I teach students a lot of content, but I also teach students about what it means to be human. Part of teaching students to be human is about teaching them to be responsible.
At San Jose Christian, we have a 1:1 laptop program in our middle school, where students all have their own MacBooks. We use Google Classroom to offer students tools, resources, and a management hub for classroom work.
However, Google Classroom is not just for middle school. It’s great for students to use to turn in work at almost any level. They have a great app for iOS and Android as well, which makes it easy for students to use on any device or even across the multiple devices they have.
Recently, Brandon Helder led a CSI Webinar and two CEA sessions entitled “Making the Most of One Classroom iPad.” This session, which is shared with you below, is a collection of some of the best tools and tricks he has for teachers with limited technology. Check out his presentation below.
Code is the language and grammar used to produce the apps and software we use every day. While real life coding can be complex, introducing students to coding in the classroom doesn’t have to be. However daunting it may seem, you can present coding to kids in second grade and even earlier. Best of all, there are great free resources you can use to jump in without much prep or expertise required on your part.
- I’m in!
- Show me what you mean.
- I’m not convinced.
- Not in my classroom!
It’s not easy to meet the needs of all these types at the same time, so the way I introduce new tech ideas varies. It is my goal to meet teachers in their comfort zone and take them the next step. When I know whole-school PD days are on the horizon, I start asking my teachers what they want to learn in the area of educational technology. Our curriculum director and I then map out an EdCamp experience for our teachers that includes not only technology options but a variety of helpful authentic “take this back and make it work” ideas. Teachers are offered three or four choices of learning topics every 30 minutes. This format allows the teachers to quickly digest something they might want to learn more about and also allows them some choice in their learning path.
When we set up the day, we often ask teachers that are exceptional in different areas to share or demonstrate. This makes them feel affirmed, and it grows teacher leaders as resources as well. I’ve found teachers are much more receptive to learning from each other than from me, the technology person, telling them how great an idea is – especially when I don’t have a classroom of students with which to try these concepts. I enlist early adopters to lead sessions so that teachers see it from their real-world perspective, and anytime teachers can take an app/website/idea for a “test drive” alongside someone who has used it makes it far less scary. Setting up those opportunities during professional development days is a plus. While this is a brief introduction time, it allows me to ascertain who sees value in the concepts and to follow up for more one-on-one instruction with specific teachers.
This year, we introduced some required curriculum changes to the teachers. Unfortunately, it was during the back-to-school rush. I tried to make the experience as hands-on as possible, with the goal of each teacher leaving a session with a lesson plan in hand. I often will introduce the concept with a hook that they can use in their classrooms as well. For instance, to introduce a day of project-based learning curriculum writing, we used a BreakoutEDU game to encourage rapid learning of the basic concepts. Not only did our teachers learn about project-based learning but they also found out I had a BreakoutEDU toolbox available that they could utilize for critical thinking opportunities.
If you want teachers to try new things and to teach using different methods, you have to model that in professional development opportunities! Look for ways to create small group, station rotation, flipped learning, inquiry-based, hands-on, connecting concepts to tasks type things that aid teachers in thinking outside their norm. The phrase professional development often incites moans of despair, but it doesn’t have to. Find the pul se of your teachers, engage them, and then ask for reflection to so that future professional development days will be seen as opportunities rather than a burden.
A former accountant, Julie Davis has been an educator for 14 years. She earned her master’s degree in instructional technology and serves as a technology coach and lower school technology coordinator at Chattanooga Christian School, the largest private K-12 school in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This school is knee-deep in technology integration and a 1:1 computing initiative in grades 5-11. She enjoys helping teachers integrate technology into their lessons while giving them the support and tools to be successful. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.