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Michael Robbins

A Backpack, a GPS, and a Sherpa for Learning

February 27, 2015 | By | No Comments

To fully realize the potential of the digital learning revolution, schools must come to terms with a Copernican shift where students, not schools, are the center of the digital learning universe. Effectively supporting students at the center of this universe requires collaboration among schools, families, and community partners to equip young people with three tools for navigating learning in a digital world:

  • A Backpack to own their learning data, carry it with them, and securely share it across school and community environments.
  • A GPS to help figure out where they are on their learning path, where they want to go, and ways to get there.
  • A Sherpa to guide them as they chart their course toward learning success and help them navigate challenges across school, home, community, and online environments.

Backpacks for LearningA Backpack for Learning

Schools and other institutions generate vast amounts of education data on students, but rarely are students and their families using that data to own and chart their learning paths. To shift this, we need to develop digital backpacks for students to store and access their learning data. These backpacks will go beyond traditional student records by incorporating learning profiles, support needs, recognitions of anytime/anywhere learning such as digital badges, student goals, and online portfolios of student work. Young people and their families will be able to keep these and securely share their learning information with others.

We have components of self-owned and managed Backpacks for our work lives (LinkedIn) and higher education (MyEdu), but the ones for K-12 are siloed in schools or community-based programs and are controlled by institutions instead of young people and their families. There are some promising models for backpacks and emerging state legislation to enable them, but we’ve yet to see this vision fully implemented in a community.

GPSs for LearningA GPS for learning

Like a GPS for navigating a city, a GPS for learning will help young people understand where they are on their learning paths, show them different places they can go, and chart pathways to get there. We have comparable navigation tools for other parts of our lives – not just online maps but also resources such as Waze, AirBnB, Yelp, OpenTable, Amazon, and even municipal 311 systems. What would it look like if we could extend these models as supports for anytime/anywhere learning?

Sherpas for LearningA Sherpa for learning

Young people need guides to navigate the new world of anytime/anywhere learning. These guides are analogous to Sherpas, the expert mountaineers that guide and support adventurers through challenging terrain. We need to evolve the roles that adults serve so they support student-centered learning experiences that aren’t constrained within individual institutions and programs. This will include engaging counselors, librarians, mentors, afterschool professionals, and parents in new ways to forge paths across school, community, home, and online learning environments.

Join the Conversation

At Span Learning, we are working to develop these supports through District of Learning, the D.C. site of the national Cities of Learning movement. Hive Learning Networks in several cities that are also advancing these approaches.

We’re making progress, and need the engagement and assistance of others that are working on these solutions to support young people at the center of a new universe of learning. Reach out to us to join in the conversation. We’ll also be at SXSWedu and would love to connect there if you’re attending.

Beyond E-rate to support anytime/anywhere learning

February 20, 2015 | By | No Comments

The Federal Communication Commission’s historic decision to expand the E-rate program means an additional $1.5 billion annually for broadband access in schools and libraries. We need corresponding investments in internet access in homes and communities for all students to fully benefit from the digital learning revolution.

According to research by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), 82% of schools do not provide students with any off-campus internet connectivity. Only one in ten districts participate in discounted service programs sponsored by internet providers such as Connect2Compete. This and similar offerings can be found through Everyone On, a national nonprofit dedicated to expanding internet access and digital literacy. The school district in Huntsville, Alabama has teamed up with their local housing authority to subsidize one of these offerings, making WiFi even more affordable for low-income families.

Ten percent of school districts report that they have community/business WiFi hot spots available for students. Initiatives such as this one in Forsyth County, Georgia expand access for students and provide an opportunity for the entire community to support anytime/anywhere learning and build a culture of education success.

Access alone isn’t enough, which is why the Sprout Fund and Allegheny Partners for Out-of-School Time launched a Digital Corps to build the digital literacy skills of students in out-of-school time settings in Pittsburgh.

The site Donors Choose has helped fulfill over 160,000 technology-related requests – many for digital devices in the classroom. Schools should also post opportunities for donors to fund WiFi hotspots or other solutions for out-of-school internet access for low-income students.

This month the FCCs plans to vote on classifying the internet as a public utility. Next they need to address the issue of expanding out-of-school internet access to fully support digital learning.

Advancing data sharing and security for learning

February 10, 2015 | By | No Comments

The gap continues to widen between investment in education technology and investment in the systems, supports, and social practices we need for successful edtech implementations. This edtech investment gap is starkly evident with how we collect, share, and use student data.

Edtech increasingly blurs the lines between learning in school, home, community, and online environments. Data systems must extend beyond school walls to effectively support this anytime/anywhere learning, adding new layers of complexity. As student data systems become more advanced, concerns about privacy, security, and use are snowballing. Scores of bills on student data privacy have been introduced into state legislatures, the edtech sector is grappling with the issues, companies are attempting to respond, and the Feds are considering action.

Amidst the focus on data privacy, advancing how we use and share data to support learning is getting shortchanged. This is why I was eager to participate in a national task force that StriveTogether convened on effective data protection and use. The report from our task force was released last week. Student Data Privacy Best Practices: Five Ways Community Organizations Can Ensure Effective and Responsible Data Use, includes recommendations for how schools and community organizations can protect student privacy while using data to collaboratively support student learning.

As schools and community partners implement these best practices it is critical that families and students are included as equal partners in data sharing. We need to evolve beyond data systems being something that are done to and about students and their families and instead have systems be implemented with and for students and their families. Applying these 7 Principles to Shift the Pendulum on Testing to data systems is a good place to start.

Collaboration among schools and community organizations is essential, but we need to go further to ensure data systems put students and parents in the driver’s seat for learning.

Student Data Privacy Best Practices Report