By: David Haglund
The introduction of information technologies into virtually every aspect of our lives has led education leaders, parents, and students to think differently about where and how learning takes place. Traditional concepts of schools, classrooms, and learning are being challenged as technologies introduce new ideas and capabilities into the system and new school models are emerging (e.g., Riverside Virtual School www.rvslink.net). Beyond the school walls, the global business market is demanding a new set of skills from college graduates and has an increasingly growing pool of workers from which to draw the best qualified employees.
At the same time, the rate of change in both business models and related technologies makes identifying the specific skill-set difficult to articulate, let alone plan for. But we must do the hard work or risk losing relevancy to our 21st-century student population.
This change is being driven by four factors:
- The technologies we use are increasingly cloud-based and access decentralized; information is accessible at any time from almost any location.
- There is a growing shift in the way education is viewed: Moving from transmission of knowledge (teacher-centric) to the process of learning (student-centric).
- The abundance of resources and relationships via the Internet is challenging the accepted definitions of teacher, class, textbook and school.
- People expect to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever they choose and are increasingly resistant to arbitrarily established restrictions relating to time and place.
At RUSD, we acknowledge this changing environment and have begun the process of transformation that is reaching across the organization and into the homes of constituents. We acknowledge that the economy is struggling and we simply cannot do what we have always done. We must find ways to become more efficient while at the same time increasing our effectiveness in raising student achievement. We accept the understanding that we live in a different world (i.e., reality, era, environment) than we grew up in; one in which digital natives rely on digital immigrants to understand their emerging learning styles and personal academic needs. We also recognize that the business community is seeking graduates with a new set of skills (e.g., global awareness, complex problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, active learning, and intellectual curiosity), which challenge existing school and district instructional models.
Our newly adopted Technology Use Plan (find it http://rusdit.ning.com) outlines a shift in focus of the organization from standardization and compliance to innovation and experimentation; from value attached to “presence” (attendance) to one based on outputs in which value is placed on growth as measured against student learning goals.
The plan promotes personalized learning in which instruction is paced to learning needs (individualized), tailored to learning preferences (differentiated), and tailored to the specific interests of different learners. Learning objectives focus on creating environments and activities that support engagement and motivation as determined solely from the learner’s perspective. Each teacher is continually guided by student-specific learning data that is gathered on a daily basis (if not more frequently) and used to inform instructional decision making at the student level.
We have initiated a system redesign in which connected learning replaces learning in isolation for both teachers and students. By leveraging the ubiquitous nature of blended and hybrid learning spaces, we have promoted an environment where learning is the constant and time and space are the variables. By promoting learning as borderless (time, place, resources, opportunity) schools and structures are defined only by student learning and productivity – by where the learning takes place. All learners will have 24x7x365 access to learning (resources, opportunities, experiences). The plan outlines processes for finding the optimal teacher, learning environment, and learning resources matched to each student’s need.
By focusing on the learning – and therefore the learner – our plan redefines the role of the teacher as a facilitator of student-directed inquiry and learning. This represents a shift from teachers as “solo practitioners” to educators as well-connected lead learners. While there is a need for certificated, professional teachers; learning is not bounded by teacher certification. The plan defines how blended and virtual learning environments will engage experts from the field and supports a means for their voices to be delivered into the learning process. The same will be true for engaging and incorporating voices of students and educators across the globe. The activities within learning environments (e.g., traditional, blended and online) are moving from a transmission or passive learning model to a transaction or active model of learning – one that supports global awareness and connectedness at both the adult and student levels across the organization.