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Tag: online and blended learning

What I Am Learning from Anthony Kim

August 14, 2015 by
Instructional Models

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Sometimes I’m a little slow.

I loved the ideas that Anthony Kim, CEO of Education Elements, put together in his post Interested in Innovative School Models? What to Consider to Make Sure They Are Successful – merging together 1) depth of learning, 2) acceleration of learning, and stages of student independence or student agency.

But it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to hear Kim present at the New Hampshire Educators Summit last week (click here for video) that I actually started to really comprehend what this all means. And honestly, my guess is that these ideas are so profound that I’m just starting a journey of understanding what this means for competency-based schools. (I might call these types of inquiries a “learney” – a journey of learning.)

One of my huge pet peeves is that a lot of writing about blended learning only talks about the tech part and fails to provide an overall picture. Rarely does it talk about what is needed for blended learning  to address the tremendous change that is happening with the introduction of the Common Core – moving from a focus on recall and comprehension, the first two levels in most knowledge taxonomies, toward the higher (and deeper) levels of analysis and application. Much of the knowledge base on blended learning focuses on models, products, and the necessary tech infrastructure….but not about what needs to be happening the rest of the time in the classroom to provide deeper learning.

Kim did not fall into this trap. Instead, he illuminated how blended learning can help us build capacity for deeper learning. By using the three-part axis of depth of knowledge (such as Bloom’s or Webb’s), stages of independence (students move dependent on direction from the teacher and toward self-directed learning), and acceleration (students start at different points and progress at different rates, meaning a student who is behind grade level may actually be learning at a much faster rate of learning), he provides a robust picture of what schools need to be able to do and how they can best do it using technology. (more…)

Summer Reading: What Does Competency Education Look Like?

June 30, 2015 by

Summer ReadingHere is a list of examples of what competency education looks like in different districts and individual schools (over-age/undercredit/high school/middle and elementary/online). My dream (which requires funding that is hard to come by, as we have so many organizations now supporting competency education) is to bring these schools together with a number of experts (assessment, engagement, motivation, learning progressions, design, student agency, social emotional learning, etc.) to try to understand the commonalities and unpack the differences. There isn’t any one right or better model at this point (it may still be too early to do that kind of evaluation…and again, we would need funding), so the best we can do is understand our options.

Please note: There are many more high school examples than elementary and middle school. This is partially due to the country’s focus on college and career readiness and big investments by big foundations into high schools, and also because high school raises some unique issues. Finally, I’m more familiar with high schools and deeply concerned about how we educate kids who are over-age and undercredited. I will do my best to focus more on the younger years to build up our knowledge there, but I need your help in identifying great examples of elementary and middle schools that are competency-based.

Please, please, please…leave in the comments any other great examples that you know about. Competency education is expanding rapidly, and it is very likely I am missing the best examples. Or there may be descriptions of schools that are missing from this list that will be very useful to others.

Districts

Chugach School District: One of the most developed districts, Chugach has figured out the ways to manage quality control and organize content and skills in ways that are meaningful to students and teachers without relying on courses. This is a seven-part series.

Lindsay School District: This district is shaping our understanding of competency education, as so many districts have visited them. They are on a rapid process of creating their 2.0 version with deep thinking about the competencies adults must have, lifelong learning competencies, and powerful information management systems to support pace and progress. We offer a five-part series about their process.

Pittsfield School District: This district began a transformation to become student-centered at the same time the state was advancing competency-based credits. The result is a strong infrastructure that supports high levels of personalization. Their four-series is listed here.

Sanborn School District: A district that has been consistently improving its capacity for instruction and assessment for over a decade, they are now participating in the powerful efforts in New Hampshire to establish common performance assessments and a new accountability model. You can hear directly from their leadership by going reading the pieces written by Brian Stack, principal at Sanborn Regional High School, and Jonathan Vander Els, principal at Memorial Elementary. There is also a three-part case study series outlined below.

School Models

Designed for Students with Large Gaps/Over-Age and Undercredited

Boston Day and Evening Academy: There has been a lot written about BDEA. The case study on CompetencyWorks is listed below. It is included in two reports describing competency-based schools: Making Mastery Work and Springpoint’s new paper Inside Mastery Based High Schools: Profiles and Conversations. It is also the focus of Jobs for the Future’s Aligning Competencies to Rigorous Standards for Off-track Youth.

Bronx Arena: This is a transfer school in New York City that is very comfortable breaking down the walls of the traditional system and re-constructing in ways that meet the needs of students.

(more…)

Fulton County Schools Completes “Back Room” Infrastructure to Enhance Technology in Classrooms

June 17, 2015 by
Fulton County Schools

From the Fulton County Schools Website

Leading with learning instead of technology is a recipe for success, as exemplified by metro Atlanta district Fulton County Schools. With 99 schools and 95,000 students, the district has made a point of starting with infrastructure and following with the right technology to support its goal of personalized learning. “We always want to use tried and true technology in innovative ways,” says Serena Sacks, Chief Information Officer. “We don’t want to worry about whether the technology works– we just want to use it better.” Investing in a bunch of iPads can be exciting, but Fulton had the foresight to first ask what infrastructure is required for devices to work properly, and instead invest in that process. “We started with the classroom first, asking, ‘What type of experience do we want to create for students?’” says Dr. Scott Muri, Head of Academics. Fulton envisioned a personalized learning environment where students could access multiple types of media and multiple devices simultaneously, which would require a very robust network and the implementation of many new wireless access points. After speaking with technology consultants about the realistic requirements of building such a system, the district formulated a ‘backwards design’ plan, which included laying new overhead cables and upgrading the hardware closets in schools with new switches.

With the help of Layer 3 Communications, an Atlanta-based company that designs network infrastructures for schools and offices, Fulton began building a complex infrastructure in 2003 that was recently overhauled. Now, the network can support two devices per student accessing a network simultaneously. In addition to strengthening networks, Fulton’s schools doubled the number of Aruba access points to almost two per classroom, and added much denser wireless coverage in common areas such as media centers and cafeterias. They also increased bandwidth from 1GB to 2GB, and installed new Brocade network cables and switches in the computer room with the capacity to expand bandwidth to 10GB in the future. These infrastructure upgrades cost about $18 million, part of Fulton Schools’ $189 million technology upgrade budget funded by Fulton County’s SPLOST 1% tax. (more…)

Pushing the Envelope with Student Centered Learning at VLACS

April 14, 2015 by
Steve Kossakoski

Steve Kossakoski

There are a handful of schools pushing past the concept of organizing learning based on credits to take advantage of the incredible flexibility that a framework of competencies of standards allows. Virtual Learning Academy Charter School  (VLACS) is one of these innovators, showing us a possible direction for a personalized education system. (Chugach School District and Bronx Arena are other credit-busters.)

I recently spoke with Steve Kossakoski, CEO of VLACS, to learn about how they are working to redefine what it means to learn and go to school in the twenty-first century.

Reflecting on Innovation and the Power of Student-Centered Learning

Kossakoski started off the conversation explaining that by embracing the tenets of student-centered learning (personalized; competency-based; anytime, anywhere; and learners exerting ownership over their learning), they have started to push the envelope of their own thinking.

He remarked, “In my opinion, competency-based learning alone will not significantly change the model or the outcomes of today’s school. There are a lot of schools converting to competency-based frameworks, but without significant structural change, it will be difficult for these schools to take advantage of the opportunities that a student-centered learning model offers. For example, some schools have created broad overarching competencies while curriculum and instruction still looks the same. Other schools are integrating competency-based approaches within the traditional curriculum while continuing to expect that all learners will master the same set of competencies within a 180-day academic year. I’m a bit concerned that schools will only tinker around the edges of possibility and end up reinventing the traditional model but with a new coat of paint.”

“As an online school, we have a great deal of freedom to innovate, so, as we designed our services based on the tenets of student-centered learning, we worked from the perspective of what’s possible when the limitations of a time and place-based system are removed. We realized that until you provide students with the opportunity to design their own learning pathways, they won’t really own their learning. Offering learners a choice of courses and projects provides kids with some ownership. But how much ownership is it, really?”

He explained that they began to examine the continuum from individualization to personalization. He explained the difference, “Schools tend to individualize by providing learners with a limited set of options. However, personalization requires engaging the learners in a conversation and asking, ‘What do you want to do? Where and how do you want to learn?’ Learners may want to learn in a traditional class, online, in the community, through self-study, or by participating in a project. We are trying to dig deeper into what it means to personalize learning and to extend the capability of our school to fully personalize education. We don’t want learning to be bound by the courses we offer.” (more…)

Keeping the Focus on Learning in a Tech-Rich Classroom

March 31, 2015 by

StudentQuite often, the focus of technology use from a student’s vantage point in a proficiency-based system is the production of evidence. Students are encouraged to use their devices to create products that demonstrate mastery of a standard. They do that with creativity and regularity. There are pages and pages of ways you can suggest they do this (check out Andrew Churches and Kelly Tenkley). Students love it and engagement often increases. So what’s the problem?

It’s the focus. Oftentimes, the technology becomes the center of the project. The evidence of learning takes a back seat as students get dazzled with “cool” transitions in presentation software or the multitude of effects they have available when video editing. Content moves from the center to the sidelines.

How do you keep this from happening? By helping students define the role of the technology they will be using. It is either part of the process of learning, or the production of products that show learning. Sometimes these two overlap—sometimes they don’t. In either case, most standards do not require you to assess technology use any more than you would be assessing the use of a pen over a pencil. Here are some tips to keep you and your students on track:

Address the learning goal first. (more…)

It Starts with Pedagogy: How Lindsay Unified is Integrating Blended Learning

March 30, 2015 by
Elements of a Blended Learning Environment

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This is the fifth post in a series on Lindsay Unified High School. See the firstsecondthird, and fourth posts. 

The first thing you need to know about blended learning at Lindsay Unified School District is that they never use the term blended learning.

Joe Vagt, Director of 21st Century Learning and Technology, explains:

In our process of developing a personalized, performance-based system, we have had rich conversations about pedagogy, instruction, and assessment. We didn’t see blended learning as something new or different – it’s just a way for us to use technology in a way that provides even more opportunities for our learners.

When I went to the pre-conference workshop with Heather Staker at the iNACOL Symposium, it confirmed for me that we had the pedagogical pieces in place. We also already had a strong orientation to learner ownership, offering students choice in how they convey their learning. Essentially, the philosophy of performance-based learning was the same as that of blended learning.

The question we have to ask ourselves now is how to leverage technology to make our philosophy even more viable throughout the district. Technology is another tool to make PBS (performance-based system) a reality.

How is LUSD thinking about using technology to support learning and teaching?  (more…)

Maximizing Competency Education and Blended Learning

March 17, 2015 by

Insights from Experts Paper

Today, CompetencyWorks released a new paper, Maximizing Competency Education and Blended Learning: Insights from Experts. The paper is based on a two-day conversation with twenty-three incredibly insightful people who work in competency education, personalized learning, and blended learning – and the paper only captures a small portion of the rich conversation. (See A Mountain of Knowledge to Climb for more background) There are several parts to the paper, including:

  1. an exploration of the relationship between personalized learning, competency education, and blended learning and the concerns about equity that arise in each;
  2. issues that district leadership will want to consider in managing change, such as providing greater autonomy to schools;
  3. guidance for competency-based schools to enhance their instruction through blended learning; and
  4. how districts that have integrated blended learning can take the next step towards becoming competency-based.

Blended learning can help in competency-based schools in so many ways – sometimes with a tidbit of risk we need to guard against. We all know that high quality adaptive software can be helpful for students to develop their foundational skills.  Blended learning can also help to offer  students the opportunity to take what they are learning and go deeper, or begin to use what they are learning in knowledge creation. These aren’t discrete activities such as extra credit or helping peers. This is the opportunity for students to be highly challenged. Blended learning can be used to offer additional challenging projects that students can take on (call them honor projects, if need be) to strengthen their learning by asking them to further apply their skills to new situations (Level 4 Depth of Knowledge). Students will be able to access the challenges or problem-based learning independently so teachers can stay focused on supporting students who are still struggling to reach proficiency. The risk here is that schools only offer deeper learning to the high-achieving students, which is totally unacceptable. So we need to create both/and – embedding Level 4 work for all students into the school design at some point in the schedule and curriculum, and offering Level 4 work for students who have advanced to proficiency in the unit or course.

Another way blended learning can be helpful is to allow students to advance to the next level of learning once they have reached proficiency on a unit or course.  This requires us to strip the ceiling off the education system by offering units online so students can advance. The risk is that that this will turn into a dynamic that so-called faster students are considered the better students. I’ve already visited schools where students talk about faster and slower students – it was done respectfully but was definitely a way for some students to differentiate themselves from their peers.

There are also challenges in using certain types of online learning in competency-based schools. These are raised in the paper and hopefully vendors will take these into consideration as they further develop their products.

We’d like to hear from you — How is your district/school using blended learning? What are the lessons learned and insights? What would your advise be to districts/schools about how to best implement blended learning to support students build and apply their skills?

 

 

A Mountain of Knowledge to Climb

March 16, 2015 by

Mountain to ClimbTomorrow, CompetencyWorks releases a new paper, Maximizing Competency Education and Blended Learning: Insights from Experts. I thought you might be interested in the background that led to the paper.

How can an emerging field of work advance quickly and with quality? It’s a question that foundation staff are constantly talking about, not to mention state and federal policymakers as they try to advance new ideas rather than enforce compliance with the old.

When Susan Patrick and I started talking about this idea, we realized that the model of state policy + supports certainly was a strong approach. However, it is unlikely that every state is going to be ready to to take the leap and invest in a high quality approach to helping districts convert. Furthermore, we think of competency education as a primarily bottom-up strategy – educators turn to it when they come to the conclusion that the traditional system is actually undermining their efforts to help students learn. So how can we advance the field when it requires voluntary leadership…or ownership of the idea? (more…)

Using Blended Learning in the Classroom

March 9, 2015 by

ChairsYou don’t have to be part of a proficiency-based learning (PBL) environment for very long to see the benefit of using technology. PBL shifts learning from the “sage on the stage” method to one where students are direct stakeholders. They are asked to be in charge of their learning, making decisions about how, where, and often when they will work through content.

Many schools in Maine are making this transformational leap. My district is one of them. We recognized right away the importance of providing an “anytime, anywhere” learning platform that gives students access to standards and content around the clock. What we haven’t given enough time to, however, is dealing with the difference between posting information in the school’s learning management system and structuring the blended learning environment to maximize learning rather than access.

Blended learning is more than just making a website, posting assignments, and waiting for the magic to happen. It’s a model of teaching and learning that helps move the walls of the classroom and provides learning opportunities (as opposed to homework opportunities) both in and out of the classroom. It is designed intentionally to require students to engage with the content in a variety of ways that suit their learning style. Collaboration is essential. Good blended learning uses strategies that provide opportunities for students to revisit their learning, reflecting on what they’ve learned, and that allow time to think about how all this becomes personal. It helps students apply what they learn rather than memorize facts. The tools and resources available in a blended learning environment maximize learning, plain and simple.

In a perfect world, developing a blended learning environment would look like this: (more…)

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