Five Proven Pathways to Attaining Whole-School Transformation With Technology
From credit recovery to PBL, these best practices use 21st-century tech tools to give students 21st-century learning opportunities.
By Don W. Brown
Everyone in schools is talking about technology, 1:1 programs, and student learning. The problem is that often school district planners think adopting technology is just like purchasing a textbook: First review the offerings and rate them, then purchase one and roll it out. But to effect a whole-school transformation, this process is not enough.
By “transformation” I mean bringing in 21st-century technology to give students 21st-century learning opportunities. This would ultimately be in the form of blended learning models, but adopting a blended learning model is a huge shift in both equipment and methodology.
To truly and permanently transform schools through technology, the technology purchase has to be rooted in the genuine needs of students. In addition, teachers must have time for both professional development and collaboration to make the innovation work. Below are five entry points I have seen successful schools use to begin a whole-school transformation.
- Credit recovery. Credit recovery is one of the things online learning addresses best. First of all, nearly every alternative program allows students to work at their own pace, a key element for successful online and blended learning models. Further, a good credit recovery software will have a pre- and post-test model, giving students credit for what they remember from the course, but then assigning work for topics they did not remember or for topics whose instruction they missed.
Credit-recovery programs also tend to draw teachers who naturally embrace blended or enhanced virtual models. They are focused on the students’ success, know the struggles students face outside of school, and are willing to go the extra mile to support them. A word of caution here: This does not mean that the best outcomes come from lowering expectations for students. Students know when they are given “dumbed down” work, and this reinforces a negative self-concept, which leads to failure.
- Skill-based instruction, remediation, or acceleration. Focusing on skills with technology can yield big results in many ways. Based on research supporting Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development, teaching students individually, “where they are,” is extremely effective. Students who are able learners will not stay motivated when faced with content they find easy or redundant. Students who are significantly behind need skill remediation in order to feel successful and retain the content they study.
- Direct instruction/digital textbooks. There are many sources of digital content, and odds are good that any teacher has found his or her personal “treasure trove” of online lessons to draw from. In this case, the teacher is using an online resource as the primary source for lesson material, whether for whole-group, small-group, or intervention-based instruction. Digital content ranges from entire textbooks online to collections of lessons that are searchable or developed in a specific content area.
- Content and assessment customization. To achieve mass customization for students, you must know three things:
- What prior knowledge does the student have? How will this be measured and applied?
- How much time is appropriate for this student to gain the knowledge and skills you select?
- Will you measure progress using curriculum-based assessments, benchmark tests, interim assessments, or statewide/CCSS assessment test results? Each measure has different uses and value.
The most important decision here is pacing. Will your teachers allow students to move at their own pace, or will they try to keep everyone “on the same page”? Keeping students in lockstep is counterintuitive for online learning, and freeing students to work at a variety of paces can yield high motivation for traditionally underachieving gifted and talented students.
- Project-based learning. This strategy moves learning from the academic realm to its real-world application, making lessons more “hands-on” and purposeful. Seeing direct applications of knowledge can give a huge boost to students’ motivation and self-esteem. Online learning can support understanding by making customization of content easy, by providing an online collection of evidence, or even by connecting the student to people in the working world to gather information and advice or organize field experiences.
As you go forward, remember to base your schools’ transformation on real student needs. If teachers witness student success and see a way to support the full range of the students they teach, they will embrace the change. Allow the change to take place over time, and be strategic about which teachers are early adopters, which are joiners, and which are going to need individual help. Finally, be sure to support the change with professional development for teachers and administrators. If they share feedback along the way that can lead to full adoption of technology for learning, you will be on the best path to success and to getting the full value of your investment.
Don W. Brown, Ed.D, is the West Region Client Services Manager at online curriculum provider Oddysseyware. In his long career working with educational technology, he has been the Director of Gladstone Center for Children and Families in Oregon, a music specialist in Oregon City Public Schools, and an instructional technologist for Lane Education Service District in Oregon.