Avoid magical thinking: ‘Design for online’ this fall

As coronavirus cases continue to increase across the country, numerous school districts are reluctantly announcing that they will be doing ‘remote learning’ again this fall. Although we had the summer to prepare for this eventuality, unfortunately we have instead seen a lot of magical thinking from educational leaders and policy makers. 

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As much as we want our children to go back to school in person, we can’t underestimate how harmful this magical thinking can be.

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We are seeing a wide variety of school schedules being proposed for the fall, even in locations that are leading the world in infection rates. Many of them center learning in person at school as the main modality, with accommodations perhaps being made for students, families, and educators who are rightfully concerned about becoming infected with a deadly virus.

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Given that every time a place opens up we seem to have a surge of infections there, centering a school’s fall reopening plan on in-person instruction sure feels like magical thinking. We aren’t providing schools with the funding or supplies necessary to keep students and educators safe and, even if we did, there are a number of other issues for which we don’t have very good answers

Many of the schools that are still planning to be face-to-face this fall will have to switch over in the next couple of weeks. It’s also likely that a surge of cases in their area will shut them back down again soon after opening. Even those that are planning to start in person – either entirely or with a staggered schedule – realize that many families are going to keep their children at home. And schools may have to dip in and out of in person, online, and hybrid modalities throughout the year, depending on what happens with the coronavirus.

This is what I have been recommending to the schools and educators that I am working with this summer:

Design for online this fall. Even if you’re lucky enough to have students in person in your classrooms at some point, use that precious time to work on technology skills, social-emotional resilience, building students’ capacity to be self-directed learners, creating classroom community, etc. Given that you have some of your students learning remotely anyway, design for online instead of asking teachers to do double work for both in school and at home. Even the kids that are sitting in front of you in class should do their learning work online – the same learning work that the kids at home are doing. It’s incredibly likely that you’re going to have to be wholly remote at some point this school year anyway. Designing for online as your primary modality allows you maximum flexibility and a more seamless transition when you almost inevitably have to shift over to remote instruction. It also protects your staff from burnout, and most communities will support you.

I don’t see any other reasonable way to do school this fall. Anything else seems like magical thinking. Magical thinking that our schools and communities will be free of the virus despite inadequate safety protections. Magical thinking that students and parents will engage in appropriate mask wearing, hand washing, and social distancing precautions. Magical thinking that teachers can operate simultaneously in face-to-face, online, hybrid, and/or hyflex modalities all year, even with scant training on how to do so. Magical thinking that the decisions that we make this summer about in-person instruction are going to somehow hold for an entire school year. And so on… 

Students and families are going to pay the price if they are in school systems that haven’t invested heavily this summer in professional learning for teachers to teach effectively online. Students and families are going to pay the price if they are in school systems that haven’t figured out how to remedy device and Internet bandwidth inequities. Students and families are going to pay the price if they are in school systems that continue to prepare primarily for in person learning and have neglected online learning.

Magical Thinking 09Magical Thinking 11I also think it’s worth considering what we are fighting for this fall. Are we fighting for compelling visions of learning and teaching in person, or just child care so that people can get back to work?

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Our families gave us grace in the spring when we did remote learning because it was an ‘emergency.’ If we squandered the summer by engaging in magical thinking about returning in person this fall instead of making the organizational investments that we needed to make, they’re not going to give us the same grace again. And they’ll be right. We had our chance this summer to get better at online learning. And many school systems didn’t do nearly enough.

Is your school system ready to ‘design for online’ this fall and do it well?

P.S. We need to do this in higher education too…

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New book chapter in Multimedia Learning Theory!

Multimedia Learning Theory: Preparing for the New Generation of Students (edited book)I am pleased to announce that my book chapter in Multimedia Learning Theory: Preparing for the New Generation of Students is now available!

My chapter is titled Multimedia Learning and the Educational Leader. Here’s an excerpt from the Systemic Improvement section of the chapter:

One important role of principals and superintendents is ensuring that employee position announcements, job descriptions, hiring processes, mentoring systems, training, and evaluation criteria all enforce school organizations’ need for robust multimedia learning and teaching. Few school systems currently have powerful technology integration as a core competency for classroom teaching staff. Educational organizations’ omission of digital teaching proficiency and the ability to facilitate students’ higher-order thinking as essential, required skill sets for teachers and administrators sends clear signals to current faculty, job candidates, and educator preparation programs about institutional values. Until this changes, meaningful and authentic uses of multimedia technologies in P-12 classrooms will continue to be isolated aberrations rather than routine observances.

Over the past several decades, school systems have slowly instituted a variety of technical systems to facilitate the management of lower-level cognitive work. Student information systems, online gradebooks, electronic formative assessment tools, and data warehouses are all examples of technologies that help educators input, manage, analyze, and present student learning data (Wayman, Stringfield, & Yakimowski, 2004). Most of the data in these institutional systems focus on student demographic information, letter grades, test scores, and daily assignment tracking.

As educational organizations transition to student learning environments that place greater emphasis on higher-order thinking skills, they will need more robust technology tools that allow them to facilitate, collect, and evaluate more complex, abstract, open-ended student learning. Most of these tools do not yet exist, so it is difficult to envision at this time what they might look like. They are likely to include evolving features such as sophisticated document and portfolio management (including archiving and tagging of multimedia student and teacher work products); deep cross-artifact text, image, audio, and video analysis; infographic-like presentation of underlying patterns and meaning; and the ability to easily but selectively share through a variety of information and social media channels.

Other tools to facilitate effective learning and teaching will include system-provided technologies such as open access content repositories, streaming multimedia servers, online adaptive learning systems, and robust, social media-driven collaboration channels for students, classroom teachers, and administrators. Strategic partnerships with state and federal governments, corporations, foundations, nonprofits, and others will become more prevalent as school systems face inevitable gaps in funding and resources. Growth in these and other technology systems must be accompanied by concurrent growth in organizational thinking as well as administrative and societal permission and encouragement to utilize these tools.

Hope the book is useful to some of you. Happy reading!

Citation

McLeod, S. (2019). Multimedia learning and the educational leader. In P. M. Jenlink & B. D. Knight (Eds.), Multimedia learning theory: Preparing for the new generation of students, pp. 129-143. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

10 building blocks for the future of schools

As Dean Shareski and I worked together on our new book, Different Schools for a Different World, (released this week!), he encouraged me to update my list of building blocks for the future of schools. Here’s the new list (now 10 items instead of 8):

  1. Project- and inquiry-based learning environments that emphasize greater student agency and active application of more cognitively-complex thinking, communication, and collaboration skills.
  2. Community projects, internships, digital simulations, and other problem- and project-based learning experiences that foster students’ ability to engage in authentic, real-world work.
  3. Competency-based education and standards-based grading efforts that shift the focus of assessment from seat time to learning mastery.
  4. 1:1 computing initiatives (and concurrent Internet bandwidth upgrades) that give students powerful digital learning devices and access to the world’s information, individuals, and organizations.
  5. The expansion of digital and online (and often open access) information resources that increase the availability of higher and deeper learning opportunities.
  6. Online communities of interest that supplement and augment more-traditional learning communities that are limited by geography and time.
  7. Adaptive software and data systems (and accompanying organizational models) that can facilitate greater individualization of learning content and pace.
  8. Alternative credentialing mechanisms that enable individuals to quickly reskill for and adapt to rapidly-evolving workforce needs and economic demands.
  9. Flexible scheduling that moves students away from 50-minute time chunks – and a prescribed number of hours and days in a prescribed location – and toward opportunities for students to learn longer, deeper, and in more places about important life skills and concepts.
  10. Redesigned learning spaces that accommodate flexible, student-centered grouping and learning tasks rather than classrooms that are dictated by instructor or janitorial needs.

What would you add or change?

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The weakest area of most school computing plans is the leadership

Alan November said:

Perhaps the weakest area of the typical one-to-one computing plan is the complete absence of leadership development for the administrative team – that is, learning how to manage the transition from a learning ecology where paper is the dominant technology for storing and retrieving information, to a world that is all digital, all the time.

via http://novemberlearning.com/educational-resources-for-educators/teaching-and-learning-articles/why-schools-must-move-beyond-one-to-one-computing

No argument here! See, for example:

If the leaders don't get it, it's not going to happen

7 building blocks for the future of schools

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If I had the chance to build a new school organization (or redesign an existing one), I would start by attending to the educational movements listed below. Every year we see these initiatives gain further ground in traditional educational systems. I see these as basic building blocks for the future of schooling and think that leaders and policymakers should be working toward greater implementation of all of these, both individually and in concert…

  1. Competency-based education and standards-based grading efforts that shift the focus from seat time to learning mastery.
  2. Project- and inquiry-based learning environments that emphasize greater student agency and active application of more cognitively-complex thinking, communication, and collaboration skills.
  3. 1:1 computing initiatives (and concurrent Internet bandwidth upgrades) that give students powerful digital learning devices and access to the world’s information, individuals, and organizations.
  4. The expansion of digital and online (and often open access) information resources that increase the availability of higher and deeper learning opportunities.
  5. Online communities of interest that supplement and augment more-traditional learning communities that are limited by geography and time.
  6. Adaptive software and data systems (and accompanying organizational models) that can facilitate greater individualization of learning content and pace.
  7. Alternative credentialing mechanisms that enable individuals to quickly reskill for and adapt to rapidly-evolving workforce needs and economic demands.
  8. ADDED: Simulations and problem-based learning experiences that foster students’ ability to engage in authentic, real-world work. (hat tip: Trent Grundmeyer)

What did I miss here? What would you revise or add to this list? Most importantly, how well is your school organization doing at paying attention to these 7 key components of future learning environments?

[I’m five days late with this, my own Leadership Day post. I figure that’s okay; we’ve always accepted stragglers! Thank you, everyone, for your fabulous posts to celebrate this annual event!]

Big Brother would love the Amplify tablet

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A recent New York Times story said:

[Joel] Klein, the former chancellor of New York City schools and the current chief executive of Amplify, News Corporation’s fledgling education division, will take the stage for a surprising announcement. Amplify will not sell just its curriculum on existing tablets, but will also offer the Amplify Tablet, its own 10-inch Android tablet for K-12 schoolchildren.

In addition to tablets and curriculum, Amplify will also provide schools with infrastructure to store students’ data.

An early look at the Amplify tablet revealed a sleek touch screen with material floating against a simple background. If a child’s attention wanders, a stern “eyes on teacher” prompt pops up. A quiz uses emoticons of smiley and sad faces so teachers can instantly gauge which students understand the lesson and which need help.

“We wanted to use the language of the Web,” said Stephen Smyth, president of Amplify Access, the division that produces the tablet, which is manufactured by Asus.

Outside the classroom, children can use it to play games, like one in which Tom Sawyer battles the Brontë sisters.

I predict (hope) this whole venture will be a complete bust. Not just because the market isn’t exactly clamoring for another Android tablet. Not just because the Android apps ecosystem isn’t as robust for P-12 students as Apple’s. Not just because having historical literary characters battle each other is both educationally dubious and less than engaging to today’s students. The ‘eyes on teacher’ announcements, the built-in ability to monitor students’ screens at all time, the student response system features, extensive back-end ‘data’ collection and analysis, the push-out from the teacher to all students’ screens, pre-loaded tools, filtering software, teacher-created content playlists, one-button device tracking / locking / erasure … nearly everything about this initiative screams replication and amplification of traditional instructional techniques in which teachers are the focal point and students are passive recipients. All of the features touted by Amplify are ones that amplify control over students’ learning with computers. Need further evidence? Here’s a quote from Klein:

The teacher can personalize (the tablet.)  A teacher can also click on and see what skills (the student) has mastered.

Notice who’s ‘personalizing’ the device. Notice who’s using data analytics to monitor skill mastery. Not the student, that’s for sure.

Who’s going to buy these devices? My guess is probably some large, vulnerable urban districts with deep pockets who 1) are susceptible to the big-time sell from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, 2) think that Joel Klein’s work in New York City somehow was successful and worth adopting (despite lots of evidence to the contrary), and 3) think that a desirable feature for student technologies is the ability to lock them down and control them as much as possible. That means even more instances where poor kids will yet again experience being programmed by computers rather than having the ability to use technology in meaningful, authentic, relevant, and powerful ways.