Category Archives: Technology in Schools

Trend Spotting: The Evolving Role of Museums in Education

On the Horizon, an international journal that explores emerging issues as technology changes the nature of education and learning, has released a concept paper titled, Museums and the Future of Education. Co-authored by Scott Kratz, vice president for education at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., and Elizabeth Merritt, founding director of the Center for the Future of Museums, the paper explores the vibrant role that museums could play should education experience a profound shift from traditional teacher- and school-centered models to more informal, personalized, “passion-based” models.

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Learning uninterrupted

A growing trend in education over the last two decades has been exploring ways to use educational technology to maximize classroom time and extend learning opportunities beyond the classroom. The idea of a “ubiquitous learning environment,” where students can learn at any time and in any place, has long been a dream of many educators and goes back over one hundred years—correspondence courses, phonographs, radio, filmstrips, and television have all been re-purposed for learning.

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Online Instruction that Works: The environment is different, but the strategies still deliver

Learning with computers isn’t what it used to be. Most of us knew them as a classroom tool; now, they are the classroom. A total of 1,500,000 K−12 students enrolled in online courses in 2009, almost double the number in 2006, according to the International Association for K−12 Online Learning. Alabama, Michigan, and Florida require online learning for students to graduate, and others, like Idaho and Utah, are considering similar changes. Students, parents, and teachers alike appear to be embracing online learning. In a fall 2011 EducationNext article, students report better engagement when learning is differentiated and accessible through multiple venues, and teachers often report better relationships with students and the ability to provide one-on-one guidance that face-to-face classrooms cannot afford (“The Highs and Lows of Virtual School: One Teacher’s View”).

But knowing how to instruct online effectively is not automatic. The first time I delivered professional development virtually, in spite of knowing better, I lectured more, used fewer multimedia resources, and did not provide ample time for participants to interact with one another. It seemed that all the lessons I had mastered in face-to-face instruction suddenly had to be relearned in an online environment. I didn’t have the physical cues (e.g., eye contact, facial expressions, off-task conversations) to help me adjust my lessons accordingly.

So I went back to the nine research-based strategies of Classroom Instruction that Works (CITW) that I know so well and realized that, tweaked for virtual application, they still provide the framework I need for effective instruction. They reminded me to do the following in an online classroom:

  • State explicit objectives for each session and make them accessible to all.
  • Provide feedback to each participant and allow them opportunities to give their peers feedback and self-reflect.
  • Offer multiple avenues to help participants develop understanding of new concepts.
  • Provide ample opportunities for participants to interact in groups.
  • Provide opportunities for participants to apply what they learned in real-world situations.

6a010536aec25c970b015437bd01db970cTime and again, we have received feedback from readers and workshop participants that the CITW strategies provide clarity and purpose for how to create an environment conducive to learning and how to scaffold student learning from initial understanding to deep knowledge (see figure below)—whether they’re teaching science or social studies, in an urban or rural setting, or in an ELL or mainstream classroom. Though the delivery method of online learning is different, we have every reason to believe the CITW strategies will deliver for teachers in virtual classrooms like they do for teachers everywhere who want to be the most effective they can be.

Elizabeth Ross Hubbell is an educational technology consultant at McREL

Top 12 priorities for implementing a one-to-one program

It’s one thing for school to have technology and a very different thing to implement it—and do so effectively. As McREL’s Howard Pitler wrote recently in THE Journal, data gathered from observations in 60,000 schools showed that, even in classrooms with numerous technology devices available, 63 percent of teachers used no technology at all.

So, before you embark on a one-to-one laptop initiative, here are some tips for getting the most out of your school’s program.

    1. Do your homework. Read up on lessons learned from Maine’s one-to-one initiative, for example, and what the NSF-funded study of Henrico County Public School’s one-to-one program found.
    2. Decide if the school has the funding to purchase all of the computing devices or will allow a mixture of school- and student-owned computers. Student-owned computers will save you some money but will require a technical services department with the capacity and skill to support multiple devices.
    3. Decide upon a nucleus of cloud computing services and software tools that will be consistent across the school. This will help teachers spend their time teaching content not software applications. Look for free, high-quality services such as Google Apps for Education.
    4. Integrate the school’s curriculum with instructional technology applications and 21st century pedagogy. Identify research-based software/applications/games that can support learning in core content areas. They need to be compatible with the operating system on the computing devices and supported by technical staff.
    5. Plan for regular, specific, mandatory professional development. Integrating instructional technology is an ongoing learning curve that never ends. Teachers need help in learning how to use and integrate effective technology tools into the curriculum.
    6. Monitor and evaluate progress. Teachers will pay attention to what their leaders pay attention to. If leaders keep a close eye on the types and frequencies of instructional techniques, data-driven decisions can be made that will focus the school, teams, and individuals on what is working and what needs to change.
    7. Decide how much access students will have to the network. Internet filters are essential, but they should not inhibit real-time learning. Trust the teachers to block/unblock resources under the oversight of the school/district technical staff/leadership. Sanction misbehaving individuals rather than taking access away from the masses.
    8. Plan for obsolescence of software and hardware. It is critical to have a plan to replace or update computers and software as they age. This plan should include the development of a way to assign financial and technical resources. Sometimes long-term leases are more cost effective than hardware purchases.
    9. Develop a plan to repair and replace broken equipment, batteries, and printers. A good insurance plan goes a long way.
    10. Provide other technology to supplement the core devices. These include presentation devices and peripherals such as headsets, microphones, etc.
    11. Plan for a robust wifi network. You must assume that all devices will be on the network at the same time. When you think you have a good estimate of the bandwidth needed, double it so it will last into the future.
    12. Last but certainly not least, have on-site technical support. A lack of support will be the biggest complaint of teachers and will negatively impact the learning program. This can include a mix of school staff and student volunteers.

What priorities have we missed? Do you have lessons to share from your one-to-one experience?

Matt Kuhn is an instructional technologist with McREL.

Turning classroom instruction on its head

The classroom lecture. It’s been criticized, despised, even lampooned. An entire generation  can probably recite the lines to Ben Stein’s dead-pan, droning lecture in the 1986 film, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. (“Anyone?… Anyone?”)

But lectures aren’t necessarily bad. In fact , they can be an efficient way to help students acquire new knowledge. The problem with lectures, though, is often a matter of pacing. For some students, the information may come too slowly or repeat information they already know. Result: boredom.

For others, a lecture may provide too much information too rapidly or presume prior knowledge students don’t have. If students zone out for a moment, they may miss important content and be lost for the rest of the lecture. Result: confusion.

After a hit-or-miss lecture, teachers often give homework assignments, which students perform in what may be a private hell of frustration and confusion. What did my teacher said about cross-multiplying? Comma use in compound sentences? The Laffer Curve?

A new generation of enterprising teachers is beginning to turn this classroom model on its head, creating what are called “flipped” or “inverted” classrooms. Using simple web software, they record and post their lectures online, creating mini-lectures similar to what Salman Khan has created with his Khan Academy collection of more than 2,000 online lessons. (Click here to view Khan’s recent TED talk).

In these inverted classrooms, students watch the lectures at home, where they’re able to speed up content they already understand or stop and review content they don’t get the first time around (and might be too embarrassed to ask their teachers to repeat in class). The online lecture also incorporates visual representation, such as animated graphs or photos of important historical events.

Now, when students come to class, they can ask their teachers clarifying questions about the previous night’s lesson and engage in guided practice on problems they might otherwise have struggled with at home in tormented isolation. During class time, teachers can provide students with real-time feedback and correct misperceptions before they become deeply ingrained.

Jamie Yoos, last year’s teacher of the year in Washington state has created his own “inverted classroom” (see below).

Click here to view some of Yoos’ lectures on TeacherTube.

Similarly, two Colorado teachers, Jonathan Bergman and Aaron Sams, have also “flipped” their classrooms with vodcasting (i.e., online broadcasting of videos).

Students of these innovative teachers say they love the new format and are more engaged in class. Sure, there may be a few students out there who still delight in a 50-minute lecture, but for the rest, inverted classrooms just seem to make … anyone? … anyone? … perfect sense.

Move over technology, make room for liberal arts

Americans always have been obsessed with time. In his book, Faster: The Acceleration of Just about Everything, James Gleick wrote over a decades ago that American society was moving ever-faster forward toward a pace that is so accelerated, we can’t slow down enough to realize it isn’t working. We are not saving time, using time more wisely, or creating more leisure time (although we like to think we are); we are just doing everything faster. And as author Nicolas Carr asserts in The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, technology and other advancements are now crowding out time we might otherwise spend in prolonged, focused concentration. Carr writes that our increased dexterity with technology comes at the loss of our ability to spend time in reflective thinking, thus producing a country of shallow thinkers, which is a very scary thought, when you really think about it.

And that is why this recent headline in The Denver Post was so striking: “It’s old school—and it’s the future.” The article profiles Thomas MacLaren School in Colorado Springs, where single-sex classes, Latin classes, and reading the classics are the norm. All of the school’s 110 students follow the same liberal arts curriculum, including learning how to play a stringed instrument. This is not an elite school, curriculum, or group of students. One-third of students are on free or reduced lunch, and one-third belongs to a minority group. School leaders say they simply aim to attract and keep students for whom the curriculum and approach is a good fit.

Similarly, educator Mike Schmoker’s new book, Focus: Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning, calls for a return to the essentials of providing students opportunities to engage in authentic literacy practices. This, too, sounds “old school,” but it’s hard to believe that today’s generation will be ready to lead globally until it has mastered the skills we most often need and use—not the ability to multi-task, but the ability to read widely, think deeply, and question courageously.

Read about China’s entry into the liberal arts arena here:

Can we predict the future of education?

“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” ~ Yogi Berra.

Clearly, change is in the air these days in education, whether we’re Waiting for Superman, racing to the top, dotting our three i’s, or wondering how tea party politics may change the face of Washington.

In light of all these changes and uncertainties, the question on many minds is likely, where is it all leading?

The most truthful answer anyone can give to that question is this one: nobody knows for sure.

It’s simply not possible to predict how all of these various trends will come together to shape a new future. That doesn’t mean, though, that we can’t prepare ourselves for it. The trick is to consider multiple, alternative futures and begin to envision how we—or our districts, schools, or students—might flourish in each.

In a new book from McREL to be released this month by Solution Tree Press, we analyze current and emerging trends in a wide array of areas, including politics, the economy, technology, and society. After analyzing these trends, we offer, not a prediction of the future, but four, very different scenarios for what the future may hold.

The scenarios in the book, titled The Future of Schooling: Educating America in 2020, are designed to provoke readers to ponder many “what if,” questions, including:

  • What if the current, multibillion-dollar federal investment in education succeeds in identifying and scaling up numerous innovations that transform schooling as we know it?
  • What if, on the other hand, investing billions of new dollars fails to create dramatic improvements in education? Will the public continue to support public schools as we know them?
  • What if online learning becomes as commonplace in the schools of tomorrow as chalkboards were in the schools of yesterday?
  • What if technology allows students to proceed at their own pace along individualized pathways, measuring their progress in real time at each step of the way?
  • What if the world’s best teachers are able to broadcast their lessons to thousands of students each day?

The reality is that the world of education is changing rapidly. While we don’t know exactly what lies ahead, it’s nearly impossible to imagine the world standing still and education in 10 years looking exactly the same as it does today.

The good news is that when confronted with this uncertainty, we don’t have to throw up our hands in hopeless desperation (or stick our heads in the sand). Rather, we can begin preparing today for what tomorrow may bring.

Learn more or purchase a copy of the book on the McREL website here.

Bryan Goodwin is McREL’s Vice President of Communications and Marketing.

Catch a glimpse of real 21st century skills

Last week, I caught a glimpse of the future and realized that, like my own parents, I’ll probably have no idea what my kids actually do at work when they grow up.

This glimpse came courtesy of a Minnesota Public Radio story, which covered McREL’s NSF-supported “nanoteach” initiative to bring instruction in nanotechnology to high school classrooms nationwide.

In case you’re not familiar with nanotechnology (I’ve only recently learned about it myself), it’s the science of creating structures and manipulating matter at the molecular level. It promises breakthrough innovations for “everything from improved cancer treatments to more effective sunscreen,” reports MPR’s Dan Gunderson.

If that sounds farfetched or like something out of Star Trek, consider this other tidbit from Gunderson’s story: “the government predicts nanotech will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs in the next five years.”

The challenge, then, is getting today’s student students prepared for these jobs of the not-so-distant future. Moreover, nanotechnology will likely change our world. That means that students, even those who have no interest in pursuing nanotech careers, should understand both the promise and peril of this rapidly emerging technology.

Read the MPR story.

Visit the Nanoteach Website.

Bryan Goodwin is McREL’s Vice President of Communications and Marketing.

Technology Literacy Assessment

Recently McREL assisted Wyoming’s Department of Education in determining how their districts and other states
assess the technology literacy of 8th graders as required by No Child Left Behind. The requirement to assess technology literacy does not specify how or by what criteria. Therefore, states are all defining it in different ways and using various assessment instruments. Some states have put a lot of effort into the assessment while others have given it little attention. Below is a summary of what we found. We know it is not a complete picture. What have we left off? Does your state have a different method of technology literacy assessment? Are there errors below? We welcome your comments.

State/Organization: Colorado

Link to Criteria: Levels were not found. Grade band profiles are found here.

Standards Basis: 2007 ISTE NETS-S

Assessment Instrument: TLAP

Strengths: Recently pilot tested and revised. Free to Colorado districts.

Weaknesses: Grant funded for Colorado only.

State/Organization: North Dakota

Link to Criteria: Unknown – you have to purchase the assessments to get the rubrics.

Standards Basis: 2007 ISTE NETS-S

Assessment Instrument: Atomic Learning – Tech Skills Student Assessment

Strengths: Focuses on how to use technology and how to apply it and allows easy identification of areas of greatest
instructional need. Includes customizable curriculum projects to target technology gaps.

Weaknesses: Unknown

State/Organization: Montana-based but used nationwide

Link to Criteria: Unknown

Standards Basis: 2002 ISTE NETS-S

Assessment Instrument: TAGLIT

Strengths: Includes assessments for administrators and teacher as well as students.

Weaknesses: Needs updating to the newest NETS-S.

State/Organization: South Dakota, Arizona, South Carolina, Georgia, Wisconsin, and other states

Link to Criteria: Technology skill set for 5th grade and 8th grade

Standards Basis: 2007 ISTE NETS-S

Assessment Instrument:

Strengths: NETS-Aligned Resource. Blend of interactive, performance-based questions and multiple choice, knowledge-based questions to measure and report technology literacy and skills for elementary and middle
school students.

Weaknesses: Does not seem to support portfolio assessments.

State/Organization: New York (south central)

Link to Criteria: Unknown

Standards Basis: Unknown

Assessment Instrument: Tech Literacy

Strengths: This is a good example of what a Regional Education Service Center can accomplish.

Weaknesses: Small in scope with little background information.

State/Organization: Florida

Link to Criteria: Criteria found here.

Standards Basis: 2007 ISTE NETS-S modified for Florida.

Assessment Instrument: Student Tools for Technology Literacy

Strengths: After extensive feedback, indicators were modified. In April 2008, the complete tool was field
tested with over 1300 8th graders in several representative districts resulting in minor revisions prior to its availability statewide.

Weaknesses: Unknown – Florida only

State/Organization: Washington

Link to Criteria: Tiers of 8th Grade Technology Literacy Indicators

Standards Basis: 2007 ISTE NETS-S

Assessment Instrument: Washington Assessments for Education Technology

Strengths: Project based and integrated across content areas.

Weaknesses: Only social studies and the arts at this time.

State/Organization: North Carolina

Link to Criteria: Little found. Example report with some criteria found here.

Standards Basis: 2004 Computer/ Technology Skills North Carolina Standard Course of Study

Assessment Instrument: Test of Computer Skills

Strengths: Strong development process.

Weaknesses: Does not seem to incorporate project learning.

State/Organization: New Jersey

Link to Criteria: NJTAP-IN Rubric

Standards Basis: New Jersey Educational Technology Standards 8.1.

Assessment Instrument: No specific instrument has been identified, but the state has issued an RFI for one.

Strengths: Integrated with state planning and support structures found here.

Weaknesses: No specific instrument has been identified.

Other assessment sources used by schools:

State/Organization: InfoSource Learning

Link to Criteria: Unknown

Standards Basis: 2007 ISTE NETS-S

Assessment Instrument: Simple Assessments

Strengths: Used in over 1,200 districts nationwide. Free and easy to use.

Weaknesses: Seems oversimplified.

State/Organization: Intel

Link to Criteria: Each project has a rubric on the specific project guide page. An example can be found here.

Standards Basis: 2007 ISTE NETS-S

Assessment Instrument: Technology Literacy

Strengths: NETS-Aligned Resource.

Weaknesses: Unknown

State/Organization: State Educational Technology

Directors Association (SETDA)

Link to Criteria: Framework for Assessment of Technology Literacy

Standards Basis: 2007 ISTE NETS-S

Assessment Instrument: No specific recommendation. Analysis can be found here.

Strengths: A larger group of stakeholders from multiple states designed the toolkit.

Weaknesses: Based on older NETS-S standards.

State/Organization: National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)

Link to Criteria: 2014 NAEP Technology and Engineering Literacy Framework – Pre-Publication Edition

Standards Basis: NAEP Standards developed by four cooperating organizations.

Assessment Instrument: NAEP Technology and Engineering Literacy Assessment (TELA)

Strengths: Large effort by national experts with collaboration from the International Society for Technology
in Education (ISTE)
International Technology and Engineering Educators Association (ITEEA), Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), and the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA).

Weaknesses: Incorporates Engineering from STEM. (Some would consider this a strength)


In a report entitled Tech Tally: Approaches to Assessing Technological Literacy (Gamire & Pearson, 2006) it was determined that “doing” is central to students gaining technological literacy, traditional assessments will not work; technological literacy must be assessed in ways that are more authentic. According to the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), a knowledge-based assessment is insufficient on its own. If such an assessment is used, it should be used as a base in combination with a performance-based, portfolio-based or project-based assessment. The report developed six principles for guiding the development of assessments of technological literacy:

  1. Assessments should be
    designed with a clear purpose in mind.
  2. Assessment developers
    should take into account research findings related to how children and adults
    learn, including how they learn about technology.
  3. The content of an
    assessment should be based on rigorously developed learning standards.
  4. Assessments should
    provide information about all three dimensions of technological literacy—
    knowledge, capabilities, and critical thinking and decision making.
  5. Assessments should not
    reflect gender, culture, or socioeconomic bias.
  6. Assessments should be
    accessible to people with mental or physical disabilities.

Educational Technology Standards for Administrators (NETS-A)

McREL recently presented at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Conference in Denver, CO. It appeared that not many attendees knew about ISTE’s newest National Educational Technology Standards for Administrators (NETS-A).  Take a look at them below and tell us where you think leaders in your schools are strong and where more focus in needed in a comment to this posting. The NETS-A include:

  1. Visionary Leadership. Educational Administrators inspire and lead development and implementation of a shared vision for comprehensive integration of technology to promote excellence and support transformation throughout the organization.
  2. Digital-Age Learning Culture. Educational Administrators create, promote, and sustain a dynamic, digital-age learning culture that provides a rigorous, relevant, and engaging education for all students.
  3. Excellence in Professional Practice. Educational Administrators promote an environment of professional learning and innovation that empowers educators to enhance student learning through the infusion of contemporary technologies and digital resources.
  4. Systemic Improvement. Educational Administrators provide digital-age leadership and management to continuously improve the organization through the effective use of information and technology resources.
  5. Digital Citizenship. Educational Administrators model and facilitate understanding of social, ethical, and legal issues and responsibilities related to an evolving digital culture.

You can find the detailed version of NETS-A here.