Digital Sandbox

This Blog is designed to provide the reader with information on how to adopt technology into the classroom by relooking at traditional classroom tools and transitioning into new ways of teaching and learning. The Digital Sandbox explores the future of learning through the recreation of 21st Century learning environments.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Redefining Literacy in the Digital Age

To help students gain an edge on employability, schools will need to model, design, and simulate co-creative learning environments. These are the participatory learning environments that promote web-found knowledge that use information as a source for the expansion of knowledge. These are the new spaces of web found knowledge where digital media is remixed into text and visual compilations. These are also the virtual spaces that students need to efficiently navigate with skill sets that are appropriate to the environment.

To fulfill a deep learning experience students need skill sets to access information, know the media literacy language of the environment, apply ethics, and understand the knowledge competencies to navigate virtual spaces. To avoid a dysfunctional disconnect between educators and students, the education community must correct the current asymmetry in the classroom around media literacy. Moreover, cultural modes of communication are changing outside classroom walls, and to adequately prepare students to engage in meaningful dialogue across multiple media platforms, educators must become transliterate.

Transliteracy teaching is a way to support students in becoming critical consumers and conversers in a digital environment. "While multimedia experiences are becoming more important, classical, text-based instruction is still essential. Communication and coordination still occurs in written words, and a rich vocabulary and textual literacy hasn’t become obsolete. Indeed, as society navigates its way among these new modes of communication, it will need to draw on the insights of communication modes that have matured through centuries of use. If textual literacy isn’t fostered outside the classroom that’s simply more reason it should be given attention in the classroom. Educators must still realize, however, that students are not coming in with the textually literate foundation they once may have had."

These productions are created by individuals using open source software tools assisting them in media creation -- media reproduced in visual forms supported by text and sound. These are the collaborators who share knowledge through networks of individuals who believe ideas do not belong to one individual. These are the creators of curated knowledge who believe knowledge belongs to us as a culture. These are the innovators of a learning culture educators must embrace; a culture whose ideas are founded on digital media compilations shared on an open network for everyone to use.

Defining digital literacy is about understanding how to access information, and use digital tools to create new forms of media. The three domains of digital literacy include using digital tools to access information, use of digital media tools to create digital content, and the skills needed to produce multimedia compilations into consumable content. Digital literacy in this context requires three levels of skill development. The first domain is knowing how, when, and where to locate useful information on the Internet. The second domain is the development of understanding the use of digital tools as these tools are applied in the creation of content. The third domain of digital media literacy is in producing and sharing digital compilations into a medium for knowledge consumption. These mediums for knowledge consumption can take the form of an eBooks, online open source learning resources, or can be produced in a web based format. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Culture for Change and Instructional Improvement

The goal of every school must be to create and maintain a true culture for growth and instructional improvement. A culture of growth and instructional improvement has its foundations in a "culture for change." A definition for a culture of change permeates within an environment where individuals throughout the system contribute to a plan designed to improve student learning. The plan is flexible and has room to evolve, as determined by student needs. In order to meet the challenge of a culture for change, the teachers, administration and support staff must adapt decisions and behaviors with one question in mind: What will best fit the needs of students? This takes a commitment to all areas of school improvement, ranging from professional development and curriculum to discipline and agreed-upon values. It, most importantly, requires a plan, as well as a leader willing to take the first step towards developing a culture for change. People will be involved in the school’s progress at different levels and in different ways, but everyone will contribute to the process. A culture of changes will come to the school as learning goals are met by individuals, groups and by the system as whole. 

The plan, however, is useless unless all staff members believe it is important to support and to contribute to the changing culture.  A true culture for change allows its stakeholders to contribute to the process, as well as to the school’s vision. Essentially, the teachers “own” the culture of change, and therefore make a commitment to its every-changing improvement. The principal must make a conscience effort to foster this environment of ownership, pride and unity. In any school across America, one would find a staff comprised of individuals with different beliefs, values, education levels and talents. The individual teachers have developed their own classroom and teaching philosophies, whether on their own or through the help of another educator or mentor. In a culture where growth is continuous , the teachers support and compliment one another’s efforts –despite their diverse personal and professional philosophies. They overcome their differences through trust and communication, as well as through their unified commitment to their students. Throughout the school year, the teachers, together, will tackle common – and uncommon – student and curriculum issues.

When situations or outcomes require changes, the staff – as well as their plan – must be flexible. Schools, and their staff members, must be willing to be progressive and anticipate needed changes. A culture of change is proactive in every aspect of school life, especially curriculum. A learning school strives to never be reactive and very much favors a site-based management plan.

For example, when we look at future growth models for education, what we want to obtain is the ability to stretch the learning curve every time the teacher sets foot into the classroom. In order to accomplish this task we must bring the fundamentals of professional pedagogy to the forefront of how instructional interaction supports leaning. To accomplish this task, teachers must know with crystal clarity, the effects they have on student learning through questioning, checking for student understanding, providing meaningful feedback and designing high engaging lessons; and definitely knowing and understanding the principles of constructivism through the Zone of Proximal Development.

The key to a successful learning experience is not at the standalone knowledge level which in many cases classrooms of today formulate through mastery of concepts and to a lesser degree on the idea of scaffolding for reasoning. To ensure that students are prepared for the 21st Century we must continue to revisit these practices and grow with experience. The professionalism is in the language, and in the language we define practice and in practice we experience tipping points of growth in pedagogy. The science is clear.

Nothing within these definitions of instructional practices should be mandated or insisted upon by a school or district through the art of standardization. Regulating schools under the art of standardization is a way to control how individuals behave, think, and act indirectly by standardizing the work they do. Those who practice the art of standardization rely on their ability to be direct supervisors, although in many schools this methodology is found to be a less effective way to educate students. This type of methodology has its basis from the old school of Fredric Taylor. If one applies Taylor's management theories, decisions about school effectiveness are based on standardizing all teaching, learning, curriculum, assessment, and management.

The art of standardization, or the "assembly line" approach, encourages the development of instructional expectations with measurable outcomes that are identified and tightly aligned to a set curriculum and to specific methods of teaching. Once instructional delivery systems are in place, teachers are closely supervised to ensure that the mandated curriculum and methods of teaching are being implemented. Students are tested to ensure that the approved outcomes are achieved. However, the "assembly line" theory works clumsily at best.

What we do know about the culture of instructional improvement is that there must be a focus on how to develop the teaching skills required to help all students meet more rigorous standards and master the curriculum. Unless school districts focus on instructional improvement student achievement is unlikely to improve more than marginally. To accomplish this task there must be a common professional language developed within each school that fosters a clear understanding of pedagogical practices that are understood by all practitioners.