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family partnerships

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.