A PD model that creates experts, not robots
Why one ELA department dropped sit-and-get seminars in favor of a model of real, ongoing courses that turn out experts.
N.C. district targets online, blended learning solutions
Edgenuity, a provider of online and blended learning solutions, announced that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), North Carolina’s second-largest school district, has selected Edgenuity as the district’s primary online and blended learning solution.
Edgenuity will provide access to its full curriculum and offer Blended Learning, Instructional Services, initial credit and credit recovery to the district’s 78 secondary schools.
“CMS has always been a leader in online learning and we believe that all students should have access to the best education available anywhere,” said Hope Kohl, Director of Virtual Learning and Media Services at CMS. “Working with Edgenuity, we know that we will be maximizing the impact of our online and blended learning program and we look forward to seeing significant improvement in student performance this year.”
CMS’s review process was extensive and the district selected Edgenuity in part because of its rigorous content, real-time analytics, flexibility, scalability and its potential to grow with the changing needs of the district. Edgenuity is currently being used in the district for summer school and will be fully implemented for the 2015-2016 school year.
“Edgenuity has seen tremendous growth this year and is currently being used to power online and blended learning for more than 1 million students annually,” said Sari Factor, CEO of Edgenuity. “We are pleased that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is the latest district to embrace Edgenuity’s engaging and personalized learning experience to help drive better academic outcomes.”
With technology, schools try to level the economic playing field
In the middle of one of Miami’s poorest and toughest neighborhoods, there is a computer lab with free wireless internet for Liberty City residents who would otherwise go without the technology.
But when Cecilia Gutierrez looks at how residents are using the web connection her nonprofit provides, she’s disheartened.
“They’re going to social media sites. They’re not using it to get ahead, unless they’re being guided by us,” said Gutierrez, CEO of the Miami Children’s Initiative.
Gutierrez has zeroed-in on a problem researchers are only now beginning to understand: access to computers and the web is not enough to solve the problem of the digital divide.
Researchers are learning that not all access to technology is equal. In fact, a growing body of evidence suggests that more technology may contribute to opportunity gaps between the rich and the poor. For example, a 2014 University of Connecticut study found that lower-income students were worse at locating and evaluating online information than their higher-income peers.
“The digital divide still exists. It just exists differently than it ever has before,” said Susan Neuman, a professor of early literacy at New York University who has studied the issue.
The findings have dramatic impacts on schools as technology becomes ubiquitous in classrooms. Florida students are required to take at least one online class to graduate, and students are expected to take computerized tests that can mean the difference between a diploma or repeating a grade.
“Technology is a necessary part of a modern education. I don’t see how kids can learn in this world without the use of technology,” said Miami-Dade Assistant Superintendent Sylvia Diaz, who is in charge of instructional technology.
Worries about the digital haves and have-nots have grown right alongside the popularity of the internet. The response has largely been to make technology more available — in libraries, schools and community centers — and now almost half of the world has access to the web.
Do smartphones make for smart students? That depends
Googling, tweeting and texting are an integral part of Professor Andres Caiaffa's classroom’s culture.
“As our student population changes, we need to change with them,” said Caiaffa, who teaches at Miami Dade College’s Benjamin Leon School of Nursing. “Everything around them is related to the use of the Internet, so I’m using to my advantage that they like to be connected, they like to be online.”
Caiaffa is not alone. An increasing number of educators in both college and grade school have built cellphones and social media into their curriculums.
South Florida K-12 schools initiated a “Bring Your Own Device” policy in the fall of 2014, allowing students and staff to use their own technology during the school day “to enhance the learning experience.” Miami Dade College, Florida International University and the University of Miami also all have progressively seen a shift in professors encouraging their students to do the same.
“It brings me closer to my students,” Caiaffa said, whose students use Twitter to follow classroom lectures and text messaging to communicate one-on-one with him. “I encourage them to use the phone as a source of information, to find credible, reliable sources. By having access to it during class, they can find the right answer, right there, right in their hands. No excuse.”
Stewart Pulley, an aviation professor at the School of Aviation at Miami Dade College, has made Twitter engagement a requirement in his class. His students are required to post or “tweet” at him (on classroom material) once a week.
“Anecdotally, I have found that those that actually go on Twitter do better on the exams and in their final grades,” Pulley said. “I tie my exams to what I post on Twitter. If we have an exam coming up, I put up some questions that are on the test. I post material they need to know and expect them to interact.”
The use of cellphones as a teaching tool is spreading, despite continuing concerns that they post a distraction for unfocused students. A number of studies have shown students active on social media and cellphones during class tend to score lower than students not using them.
Kids can tweet, but many lack digital literacy skills
Sure, teens can text and tweet. But can they read search engine results and pick out reliable digital sources for school work?
For all the tech savvy that seems to come innately to digital natives — a term coined for children who grow up using gadgets their parents never even imagined — many school kids are sorely lacking in crucial skills that comprise another emerging concept called “digital literacy.”
“They’re great consumers of media and they’re great at all sorts of electronic communication,” said Sylvia Diaz, Miami-Dade County’s assistant superintendent who oversees instructional technology. “But they don’t necessarily know how to create a spreadsheet.”
There is no single definition for what it means to be digitally literate. Broadly, it refers to the ability to find information in the digital world, analyze that information and use it to create something new — like a research project. In many ways, it’s not much different from what educators have for years been calling media literacy or information literacy: knowing where to find information, and how to use it.
But digital literacy also requires at least a basic understanding of how technology and the internet work – and just because kids are quick to download the latest app doesn't mean they know how Google settles on its top search results. That can be problematic when kids choose which websites to trust, a skill that can’t be learned simply by picking up an iPad or having internet access.
“Those with limited technical literacy aren’t necessarily equipped to be powerful citizens of the digital world,” author Danah Boyd writes in her book It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. “Teens view Google as the center of the digital information universe ... They uncritically trust Google.”
Consider: At a time when almost half of the world has access to the internet, a University of Connecticut study in the process of being peer-reviewed found that merely four percent of 13-year-olds could evaluate whether a website was credible. A majority of the seventh-grade students involved in the study couldn’t identify the author of a website, the author’s credentials and whether the writer had any bias or point of view.