Shift to Digital World

This past November election, voters in Eagle County passed ballot questions 3A (mill levy override) and 3B (bond), which will provide significant dollars for instructional and construction needs in Eagle County Schools. I take every opportunity available to thank taxpayers in Eagle County for this tremendous gift for our schools, kids and staff. It will have a genuinely transformational impact on our community and educational opportunities for our children.

With 3A and 3B, one key initiative we will be moving forward is called Connect2Learn, which will (over time) put a high quality device, such as a Chromebook or iPad, into every student’s hands. I’m sometimes asked how this initiative will be implemented and what impact it will have instructionally.

While 3A funds will provide funding for the devices and eventually reach every student, there isn’t enough funding in the first year to fully implement Connect2Learn. So, we’ll be rolling them out throughout the next few years and then move to a regular replacement cycle. For example, kids might get their own device in the fifth-grade and keep that through the eighth-grade, then get an updated device in the ninth grade and keep that through the rest of their high school career. In this possible model, we would implement Connect2Learn in grades five through 12 in four years.

This is just an example of how the implementation could be rolled out and we are looking at other options as well.

This would not mean that only students participating in Connect2Learn would be grades five and up. For younger grades, we would rely on classroom sets of iPads or Chromebooks that teachers could use in instruction.

Implementing Connect2Learn well involves more than just buying devices and passing them out. In fact, schools that have pursued a “ready-fire-aim” approach when it comes to implementation have (predictably) experienced a rough beginning. The massive failure associated with the L.A. Unified School District is legendary in education circles on how not to move forward an instructional device program.

Devices should not be looked on as an end in themselves. They only really matter if they profoundly change the learning experience in positive and meaningful ways. What is necessary is a true transformation of teaching and learning both with the teacher and student.

Eagle County Schools frames this transformation through something called the SAMR Model (I know you are shocked that we use another acronym!). SAMR originated with Dr. Ruben Puentedura, an education technology consultant and thinker. SAMR stands for “substitution, augmentation, modification and redefinition” and it relates to how we frame the student task — what we are asking the student to do or demonstrate in their learning experience. When it comes to using technology in instruction, the model would work like this:

• Substitution — technology acts as a substitute for paper or analogue information, with no functional change. More bluntly, cramming what we used to do on paper over wire — such as an electronic version of a worksheet.

• Augmentation — technology acts as a substitute, but with functional improvement. For example, you might imagine students working together on a paper, but using Google tools to collaborate instead of passing back and forth marked-up paper drafts.

• Modification — technology allows for significant task redesign. Here we get into things that are just not possible in a paper world. This might include transforming a class paper into a multi-media presentation with accompanying documents, artifacts, videos and connections to similar work.

• Redefinition — technology allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable. Examples include publishing a blog on a topic important to the student and connecting it with several sources of information, and then engaging in a global conversation on the topic with other interested people — effectively transforming task by globally broadening both the audience and participants in what the students are doing.

The SAMR model presents a framework for both teachers and students in how they might change student task using technology. While we work toward changes that are more in the higher levels of modification or redefinition, we might also imagine educators and students moving back and forth across all of these levels, depending on the goal (or desired outcome) of the learning.

An important aspect of our Connect2Learn initiative is developing the technology-focused curriculum and training that goes hand-in-glove with the acquisition and distribution of devices. How to use and care for the device is important for kids to understand, as is age appropriate learning about Internet safety, digital responsibility, and acceptable use in school and at home.

I have sometimes imagined that a hundred years or so ago, a predecessor of mine in Eagle County made a profound decision — all school buildings are going to have hot and cold running water. This decision would have resulted in retrofitting older school buildings and fundamentally changing architectural and design decisions going forward for schools in our community.

Again, the technology is not an end in itself, but a means to learning. Adults are already required to work, communicate, collaborate, publish and think in a digital reality and, to a large degree, kids are already in that world as well. Similar to the hot and cold running water decision, it is time that education make this shift to a digital world and teach kids how to use technology appropriately and productively.