A summer reflection: Harnessing Digital Literacy

With the unprecedented experience of COVID19 that we all have juggled over the last months, and the complexities we all are living with today, our days have been intense. As part of the Pearl of Wisdom protocol of the Principal Training Center, I, as a trainer at the PTC reflected on my own experience as an education leader working and facilitating with digital literacy and fluency in an international school setting and navigating the dynamics of the COVID19 pandemic. A 20 minute share out.

Is there a new kid in town?

leanringIn todays international learning landscape the role of e-Learning -On-line learning is providing more and more opportunities for International Schools to leverage a greater capacity to provide a differentiated venue for learning to support their respective learning communities.

The growth of this learning medium in education and industry is significant, the number reflect this “ 5.6 million students took at least one on-line course in the Fall. of 2010 based on research by the Sloan Consortium” and according to US News Online Education report “65.5 percent of all chief academic officers reporting that on-line education is critical to the long-term strategy of an institution in 2011.”

Many international schools have embraced blended learning in an effort to provide resources, information, lessons, assignments and discussions outside of the traditional classroom, to enhance and support the opportunities for students to interact with the curriculum. This blended approach often facilitated through Moodle, Blackboard, Haiku and other Learning Management Systems.

In certain areas of the world these Learning Management Systems have played a critical role in supporting International Schools to deliver their curriculum and classes when the school has had to close due to environmental issues and political instability in the host country. There are many cases of this happening over the years, and this has provided essential continuity of learning, communication and support  to their respective learning communities. These experiences by different international schools have given these venues greater importance and air time by schools. There is the World Virtual School Project  consortium, of the 8 International School regions that over the years has been a key player in building capacity of collaboration and implementation of Learning Management Systems to support international schools around these 8 regions. There is also the Virtual High School and http://www.k12.com/ two of the many growing offerings available to schools to supplement and tap into this growing area. The IB has http://www.pamojaeducation.com/ a full IB authorized on-line learning platform which many schools are adopting to supplement their own face to face course offerings and giving smaller schools the flexibility to offer a wider scope of topics to their communities.

Today it is almost an non negotiable for International Schools not to have some presence and resource to support on-line or blended learning. The flexibility, and opportunities to extend the learning experience outside of the school walls, and ability to support students that are sick, absent, or out for personal reasons, allows learning to continue beyond the school walls has become a key ingredient to a school’s culture.

On-line learning is here to stay, and in its various forms  blended learning or fully On-line learning comes in two flavours: Synchronous is live, the learner and course facilitator (teacher) interact live in real time, in a virtual classroom setting, in many ways a simulation of a real classroom live on-line, through a video feed, or a video conferencing environment such as Adobe Connect.  Asynchronous is not live, but  allows the learner to work at their own pace within a time-line and not at the same time as other participants or the course facilitator (teacher) often with little live interaction.

Many Universities adopting on-line learning called MOOCs (Massive open on-line course) have been getting a lot of attention in the media. Today more and more universities are adopted these eleanring platforms to deliver a variety of courses (Massive open on-line course MOOC) options some of these are free and others are fee paying. The MOOC model  is set up to facilitate learning at a big scale in an open access format. This is a growing area in higher education, and something which long term will also impact International Schools. This model is already being used with a variety high schools ( an example: http://ohs.stanford.edu/) which are now offering an on-line high school in different venues and is becoming a rapidly growing market.

In industry On-line Learning has also been adopted and more and more companies and organizations are using this medium to support their workers for training and professional development purposes. The advantages of this medium for these companies and organizations are cost saving and the ability to replace in person training with on-line training.

A couple facts to help frame this growing industry;

  • There were an estimated 1,816,400 enrollments in distance-education courses in K-12 school districts in  the USA 2009 – 2010, almost all of which were online courses. 74% of these enrollments were in high schools. (Queen, B., and Lewis, L. (2011). Distance Education Courses for Public Elementary and Secondary School Students: 2009-10 (NCES 2012-009). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2012/2012008.pdf)

In the context of these dynamics, and the huge growth, and use of on-line learning ecosystems worldwide, for International Schools this has become an area which cannot be ignored. There is already an on-line international school in Switzerland at the International School of Bern  The conveniences of these on-line ecosystems which can include schedule flexibility, ease of access, student’s having the option to control their learning,  multimedia tools, potential for differentiated learning, and the costs savings are all factors to be considered.

For International Schools on-line learning is and going to continue to become an important part of our learning ecosystem. As this industry grows and continues to gain capacity, both locally and globally, to provide a robust engaging education, International Schools will need to provide this resource to their community. As educational institutions part of the 21 century learning landscape it is something we need to harness, understand and be able to deliver to our own communities of learners. If we do not, someone else will!

John@ http://beyonddigital.org

break on through

In my experience there is an odd side to international schools when it comes to the issue of making sure to teach the virtues of freedom of expression, studying great leaders, thinkers, philosophers, mathematical theories and ensure our students get a balance in the way we approach learning.  We believe generally that an open door philosophy towards different opinions, perspective and views is important. I would say we are quite passionate about this, and feel it is a critical element of many of our school’s missions.  The goal to ensure that our students get exposed to as many different perspectives as possible allowing them to construct their own knowledge. That is nice and of course something most parents and educators would find difficult to argue against. Then comes Web 2.0 Social Networking and/or some other technology and the general first reaction and approach is BLOCK IT! Now many will argue that social networking or blocking certain technologies is not the equivalent of teaching the virtues of freedom of expression. I disagree. Okay in my situation at my current school, we block facebook, twitter and others on our wireless network, a decision by the collective leadership team. On the two labs and one library lab we do not block it on the machine connected to our LAN network, the rational is that there generally is always someone there to supervise. This situation is flawed in my mind. In some ways I am to blame as IT Director for not pushing or developing a strong enough argument with my fellow administrators to have the conversation to unpack what we are doing, and exploring the pedagogic value of such blocking. Always easier to reflect in hindsight.

What happens then is when students sneak through our firewall via proxies, or have their own independent connection to the internet through a USB modem from the local cell phone company that they plug into their laptop, the blocking becomes useless. The times a teacher catches someone then the issue is brought up, and we the IT department have to again explain that however much we block the chance is that some student will find a hole. This is the flaw, we are focusing on the blocking and the events where students get around it and not on the more important issue what, how, why and when are they using this. We avoid the  opportunity to leverage this tool to engage both student and teacher into a conversation on the pros and cons of using this, and how and what might be responsible use of such tools in a school setting. This whole dialogue and dynamics is completely swept under the carpet.

Most educators would argue I assume that the issue of Facebook (Social Networks) as a teachable moment has no place in the classroom, and blocking it is good, as this allows us then to focus on the important task of teaching the lesson at hand. I challenge this perception and view. There are about 500 million plus folks on this planet involved on a regular basis in social networks in different shapes and forms. Attached to this is a huge industry developing to take advantage of this new form of communication. With this dynamic there are big economic opportunities for individuals, companies, organizations and institutions to generate incomes. This is something that will continue to develop and the reality is it will become more and more part of our own social communication fabric both on a personal and institutional level. Some would say it has already happened.

So……I think with this shift there is now a critical role for educators to start exploring how to integrate social networks into school curriculum.  We have a responsibility to share, educate and develop an understanding of the intricacies and options of using such communication mediums in our day to day lives. If Grade 2-3 students are setting up Facebook profile you cannot expect them to clearly understand the privacy setting tools on their own, you cannot expect them to read the fine print of an agreement. It has come to the point where instead of blocking this, and letting them work things out on their own undercover, we as educational institutions need to develop a robust set of learner outcomes for our students on the dynamics of social networks. It needs to be not the responsibility of some IT department technician or counselor but part of  the day to day fabric of each teachers tool kit: sharing, exploring, facilitating, and mentoring our students how to be responsible users of social networks. We need to let them explore these mediums with a critical mind unblocked, as we would expect them for the ~French Revolution, Plate-tectonics, a perspective on Macbeth or the Israeli- Palestinian situation.

The world changed yesterday! Today we need to engage ourselves in a clear understanding that social networks, youtube, chat, texting, virtual worlds, and the current digital landscape are now an integral part of our day to day fabric both socially and professionally. With this there are a whole host of issues, learning, understanding and perspectives that we need to equip our students with to be able to survive effectively with balance and as critical learners.  In today’s world, we as educators,  have an important ethical responsibility to take charge of this, and engage throughout our day within our own lessons what this all means, and how to develop a critical understanding of how best to use these: when, where, and appropriately….. if we do not, basically we are ignoring today’s world that we all live in. I would find it hard to believe that any of us would want this as part of our own educator’s philosophy.