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Lyme-Old Lyme (LOL) Public Schools in Connecticut has a long tradition of providing excellent education preparing its students for college and professional career-based endeavors. With a district of over 1,440 students serving a primarily Caucasian populous and a low student-to-teacher ratio, LOL “focuses on enabling children of all ages to reach full potential as scholars, artists and athletes of character” (“Lol at a”, n.d.). With over 95% of graduates pursuing higher education, LOL seeks to continue this trend as well as meet new standards and requirements outlined in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) (“Lol at a”, n.d.).
These new standards will challenge LOL to increase rigor and student achievement and allow for different types of student evaluation. In part, this paper will focus on how teachers use technology to engage students and foster independent learning. The need for a formal Learning Management System (LMS) will be investigated as well as a sustainable solution to professional development for teachers. The middle school will serve as the subject of this critique as it applies to current technology employed, its impact on students and teachers, and an outlined plan for bridging the gap between student achievement and the integration of technology by teachers.
Historically, the middle school has scored well on the Connecticut Mastery Tests and has received high ratings when compared with other middle schools throughout the state. Grades are divided into teams where content driven instruction can occur with support from qualified paraprofessionals and teaching assistants. Acquired directly from the web site, the Lyme-Old Lyme middle school (LOLMS) mission statement claims:
Lyme-Old Middle School is a 6-8 grade school of 351 students located in the historic district of Old Lyme and its philosophy is guided by the following mission statement: Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School is dedicated to providing a safe, nurturing and respectful environment to meet the unique intellectual, social and emotional needs of pre-adolescent students. This middle school community will strive to provide rigorous and appropriate academic challenges as well as appropriate social opportunities. We will work with parents and the community to maximize each student’s potential as a lifelong learner and caring, responsible citizen (“Lyme-Old Lyme middle”, n.d.).
With this mission statement serving as the guiding document for the middle school, it is appropriate at this time to discuss how current technologies referenced from the NMC Horizon Report: 2013 Higher Education Edition have impacted teaching and learning. Most notably the influx of tablet computing has begun to change how teachers plan and deliver instruction. With fourteen iPads currently distributed to volunteering teachers as part of a year-old grant, this technology is only used as an organizational tool to accomplish instruction-related tasks. And in fact, only a few of the classrooms even have this technology to display the iPad over the projection/smart board system. Tablets like these have not been supported for full integration nor has the administration implemented a clear position on its fiscal commitment to these tools as they relate to student use.
An additional underlying technology pervasive in many of the Horizon Report’s referenced sections is the utilization of a learning management system (LMS). Whether engaged in a MOOC or registered in more formal learning online with a university for credit or certification, many students outside of LOL experience academic life via an LMS. A portal where students can work independently, collaborate in multiple ways, post material for teacher or peer review and use as an electronic portfolio, an LMS provides the student with a vehicle to interact from anywhere and anytime, not simply from within the constructs of a traditional classroom. At LOLMS there are several teachers that utilize a self-created web site (i.e.Weebly) or LMS (i.e. Edmodo) however there has been minimal support to learn new technologies nor has there been any formal requirement from the administration for teachers to communicate pertinent information to students, parents and the community. The result is an inconsistent mixture of web-based tools used by only some of the staff to interact with some of the students. A student may experience a consistent technology-rich LMS from one instructor, however may receive no technology integration from other instructors.
One plausible way to address these needs at LOLMS is to consider pertinent trends in education and how they might impact students and teachers. The first major trend is how the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) will change the way teachers teach as well as how students learn. Driven in large part by district policy as well as economic and budgetary decisions, the CCSS will affect education at all levels. The second is how there is a tremendous need for media literacy for students as well as teachers needing greater professional development and training. These trends present a multitude of challenges and require new ways of thinking and planning. Attention must be paid to how students learn and what motivates them to excel.
According to the NEA Today, Walker (2010) shares how CCSS has been created in part to help all students be more prepared for college as well as the workforce. Walker also points out how these new standards promote learning across all disciplines. These assessments are designed to be more rigorous and more applicable to real life experiences. All testing occurs in an online format as different consortiums are currently competing to offer the best solution for students. As this implementation occurs, resources, journals and a plethora of literature have inundated and overwhelmed the educational community. Teachers continue to search for concrete examples of lesson plans and videos they can reference as they incorporate these new standards into the lives of their students. Like any other new initiative there must be support to enable teachers to not only understand the new standards but to alleviate stress throughout the entire process. Professional development and training is imperative to help teachers prepare for online activities and evaluation as well as create a new digital learning environment in which our students can thrive (Wasley, 2013).
In LOLMS, the Math and ELA teachers have been working to create similar type performance tasks for their students to practice. Teachers have been challenged not only to create rigorous content with high-level questioning, they have had to learn new technology skills such as embedding video and audio clips into various documents. The learning environment is beginning to change as teachers consider ways to incorporate digital media into their curriculum. CCSS is forcing the traditional ways of educating students to change. Lecturing is beginning to occur less frequently but to ensure this progress there must be a strong commitment from the administration and Board of Education to foster growth so all teachers can learn new skills related to technology (Wasley, 2013).
The budgetary process is occurring right now as the technology department for LOLMS has been identifying current and future needs. The state mandate of CCSS can serve as the driver of new technologies and training for all teachers and this approach should be adopted by the existing Board of Education. It has been suggested that the board members sit down and engage in the online testing. Perhaps parents can take the test as well so all parties can fully understand the new demands students are being asked to perform. Once the individuals in authority fully grasp this shift in learning, they will be more likely to take responsibility for educating and training teachers on a consistent basis. According to The School District Budget Process (Edsource, 2006) “The bulk of school district expenditures go to employee salaries and benefits-more than 80% in most districts. A districts response to budget cuts or even flat funding almost always includes eliminating personnel” (p. 1-2). As this rings true in many districts, there ultimately isn’t a lot of new money to invest in real, productive and meaningful professional development for teachers. School administrators and staff as well as parents and community groups must convince district and town leaders that a shift in education is occurring and the gap between students, teachers and new technologies is too vast. Means (2010) outlines and recommends several necessary components that contribute to student learning with the most significant being professional development for educators that is ongoing and collaborative.
Another meaningful trend for LOLMS to consider is exemplified in Michael Wesch’s 2008 video lecture A Portal to Media Literacy. The theme of creating a digital learning environment for students came to life in a different approach Wesch took with his classes. He first questioned his students about learning and discovered that all the students enjoy learning but not within the confines of an institution like a school or college. The students felt what they learned in general was not relevant to their lives nor applicable to everyday problems. Wesch also went on to discuss how the infrastructure of a large classroom is not conducive to discussion, problem-solving or collaboration. Rather, it serves as a place where an expert stands at the front of the room and disseminates information. With this valuable information Wesch decided to explore how he could create meaningful connections and significant experiences for all students.
First, Wesch explained how any instruction must be relevant to the students. One of his students was quoted as saying “students learn what they care about, from people who they care about, and who they know care about them” (Wesch, 2008). Second, Wesch believes it is important to leverage the students in terms of knowledge and experience they can offer. Creating environments through technology that is collaborative in nature and fosters responsibility is one that creates more ownership for the student’s learning experience. Lastly, Wesch argued that teachers need to harness media and the Internet to improve and enhance the learning environment. Utilizing social media like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter can make learning relevant and meaningful if the purpose and direction is clear. With this in mind Wesch tried to create this type of environment by developing what he referred to as a ‘platform for participation’. Essentially he formed a LMS full of social media, web-based applications, blogs and discussion threads where online learning could occur for all students. Students had the opportunity to create audio and video to share or to embed within various documents. The ultimate goal for Wesch was to convince students and teachers to ‘go beyond the grade’ and to search for real meaning and solutions to real problems.
As LOL and many other districts begin to examine trends such as these, it becomes necessary to investigate and research to ensure future choices best fit the students and teachers. Futuring allows for thoughtful contemplation about educational strategies for learning, budgets, facilities assessment, student goals and outcomes and delivery of information. In an effort to adjust to the diversity of a given population or sect of students, educational institutions must engage in futuring to help predict how they can better meet the needs of their learners and solve complex problems. According to David Houle (2008), futuring is crucial because the process of solving problems allows for people to transform and progress into a new age. Realistically, getting to Houle’s ideal state requires brainstorming and collaboration to analyze historical trends and data. The development of specific scenarios and scanning are two vehicles to allow for futuring to take place.
Scenarios “…augment understanding by helping to see what possible futures might look like, how they might come about, and why this might happen” (Meitzner & Reger, 2005, p. 235). This process of evaluation serves educators richly if they are open to looking at each student’s unique needs and allowing each student to become “independent individuals” (Moorcroft, 2007). Moorcroft further emphasizes how social relationships act as the foundation to the strengths of any organization, like education, that focuses on training and educating its people.
Conversely, there are pitfalls to scenarios that might impede the ability for futuring to occur. In Clardy’s Six Worlds of Tomorrow (2011), the notion of a utopian future that solves all of our problems simply because it is an accepted plan or course of action is dispelled. “Rather than looking clear-eyed at all the evidence, analysis shades into selective perception and, instead of following trends and other analyses where they lead, the effort becomes one of shaping the available evidence to fit the theory. In this way, paradigms can bias interpretation and assessment rather than inform it” (Clardy, p. 48). This is a clear warning how the absence of empirical data can lead to false conclusions.
Another potential drawback for using scenarios revolves around the necessary amount of time and resources an organization has to create well-constructed, plausible ideas. Often in education, the intent may be positive but the desired goal is not sustainable for various reasons. For example, planned learning communities (PLC) have become commonplace in many districts as they seek to allow educators to engage in visioning and scenario driven exercises. The issue, according to Mietzner and Reger (2005), is that “…actual decisions in future-oriented fields invariably take a long time to make and a very much longer time to have an effect. Secondly, there are not the organizations or individuals around who are properly equipped to undertake such an evaluation” (p. 233). As a result, scenarios often become ideas or plans without enough supporting evidence or follow through to impact the organization as intended.
Scanning is another extremely valuable futuring tool in the field of education and could be of particular value to LOLMS. According to World Future Society (n.d.), scanning is “The initial and continuing process of reviewing and analyzing current literature, web sites, and other media to identify and describe noteworthy trends and their possible development and future impacts” (“World Future Society”, n.d.). The collection of information should encompass observational as well as research-based data that analyzes trends and includes projections (Sobrero, 2004). Also included in this process would be information acquired from local, state, and national levels as well as investigating the social, political, and economic developments that may impact futuring outcomes.
The success or failure of the scanning process is dependent on many individuals and groups within an organization to maintain its focus and relevance. Giving ownership to whom Sobrero refers to as ‘Extension’ faculty and staff is crucial for the futuring process to prosper. These insiders often have direct observation and insight to programming and can identify new trends and patterns within the educational environment (Sobrero, 2004). Often, however, these individuals may have limited power or authority to present any findings. In addition, the gathering of pertinent information can be a long and cumbersome process for school districts that may not have the resources to perform these initiatives thoroughly. And finally, while many new projects begin in good faith, it may be hard to sustain the monitoring needed on a regular basis to realize the value of any significant data.
Clearly, the process of futuring with scenarios and scanning techniques can provide LOLMS valuable information to make the most appropriate decisions. With this data in mind, it is now appropriate to discuss a five year vision for how LOLMS will most likely respond to these trends and the potential obstacles they might face. With ample financial support and strong leadership at LOL, the integration of technology at LOLMS will only continue to improve over the next five years. With the introduction of their first Instructional Technology Specialist in 2013, LOL has recognized the need for teachers to infuse technology into everyday lessons and units of study. The task of the specialist, in part, is to align national and state standards to existing curriculum while providing everyday support for teachers. As existing budget meetings are occurring right now, there is more discussion of creating positions and less of buying product. This marks a noticeable shift in how the technology department plans in conjunction with educators and administrators. It is predicted that LOLMS will move toward a more one-to-one environment or at least perhaps a ‘bring your own device’ initiative. Either way students will leverage their own technology, or technology that is provided for them, more consistently with teachers who are supported with consistent professional development and training.
All classrooms within the next five years will have some sort of cart with either tablets or laptops. True integration of technology which includes software and various apps can only occur when there is reliable accessibility at any given time for a teacher. There will be less reliance on traditional computer labs as the technology will be available in every learning space and classroom. It is also predicted that within five years a LMS will be utilized primarily to alleviate stress and confusion amongst teachers and to allow for one common multifaceted tool to be supported. Giving students the opportunity to experience and LMS will only strengthen their readiness for college or career aspirations after high school.
None of this occurs, however, in five years unless the current system of professional development changes. According to Bates and Watson (2008) “Instructors and students grapple with learning the technology for online courses: e-mail, Web assignments, games, course software, mailing lists, bulletin boards, blogs, and multi-media” (p.38). Opportunities to learn in a non-threatening and highly collaborative and supportive environment will be crucial for this five year plan to succeed. Phillips and Olson (2013) state “The most important ingredient is the opportunity for teachers to collaborate and reflect together. To get common core implementation right, school and district leaders must take the time to ensure teachers have adequate resources and support to collaborate on the enormous shifts in instruction they are being asked to make on behalf of students” (p. 37). The plan is to offer one-hour training sessions once per month at LOLMS’s second staff meeting each month. Dividing teachers by content area will allow the facilitation for differentiated learning across multiple disciplines. Priorities to be identified can be content specific or district wide initiatives, such as teacher evaluation or CCSS can be addressed. The idea of a flexible learning opportunity that meets the specific needs of its members is something envisioned to benefit all learners, especially the intimidated or reluctant. With an LMS and sustainable professional development, it is predicted that within five years teachers will be able to infuse technology more to satisfy CCSS. “Effective professional learning encourages collaboration among teachers over a sustained period to tackle the challenge of Common Core implementation” (Phillips & Olson, 2013, p. 36).
There are many challenges for LOLMS over the next five years and several different ways to prepare. A strategic committee must be created with members and representatives from throughout the district and community. All stakeholders must be able to contribute to the vision and direction of the district by identifying and prioritizing student needs and desired learning outcomes. Taking into account how students learn and different types of intelligences is also recommended. Jackson explains “the use of technology should not occur without thinking about how people learn best… The instructor must also be able to structure learning activities to meet their learning needs” (Jackson, et. al., 2009, p.71). Discussions on this committee should initially include an LMS, restructuring professional development for teachers as well as what kinds of devices can support these goals. The administration and Board of Education must take fiscal responsibility for these decisions if this vision is to succeed. Taking fiscal responsibility for these decisions will be a decision administrators in the Board of Education must make. It is also advised that additional instructional technology specialist positions be created to help further facilitate integration into the classroom. All of these initiatives will cost a considerable amount of money and more than likely other areas will have to be cut back. Further, investigation of a planned learning environment or LMS should be researched as well as pertinent trends that could impact this vision. Gathering information via survey from students, teachers, administrators and community members is also advisable to ensure the agreed upon direction is unbiased. Finally, identifying national and state standards will allow for common, measureable concepts to be assessed and evaluated for each grade level and individual. CCSS and The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) are the most applicable and appropriate standards for this vision project to consider.
An additional potential roadblock to this vision project could be the teachers. There are many that do not desire to use technology and do not recognize the need to fully prepare our students with technology skills. This may be the case due to fear or simply a feeling of being overwhelmed with other existing initiatives that demand so much time and energy. But, if enforced by the administrators of the district, using an LMS or attending professional development on a regular basis could be promising for both teachers and students. Finally, one last challenge LOL will face could be the downsizing of their district. Initial reports have shown a downward trend in population over the next eight years and it is likely that one of the elementary schools will be closing within two years. If is the case, the district may focus existing resources on this restructuring process in effort to alleviate any loss of positions were initiatives. Planning for this move now as it pertains to technology will also be important in determining any of course of action particularly for our elementary schools and students. Dialogue about this structural change is a way to prepare but again all stakeholders must be present to determine the most appropriate steps for the future.
This five-year vision plan has several obstacles, however the strategic planning committee is the key to identifying student and teacher needs as they pertain to technology. Support from the community will only strengthen the argument for more technology as professionals outside of education have a unique understanding of the skills students will need. In addition to the formation and prosperity of this committee will be the commitment by administrators to allow for professional development to occur on a sustainable and consistent basis. If these expectations can be met within the next five years, LOLMS will be well on its way to infusing technology into instruction and thereby preparing all students for the challenges of CCSS as well as the ever-changing technology demands from society.
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