Recently, I attended my child's back to school night, and I saw something that scared me. One of my child's teachers opened up one of their digital content platforms in their class, and the first thing that came up was how many questions students had answered. What does that tell you about a student......NOTHING. It also gets down to one of the things that really scares me about digital content. Are those platforms really worthwhile? I am not convinced.
The concept of digital content platforms is a good one, but there are some major issues that I really struggle to get over. The first comes down to the platforms themselves. I guess maybe it's my own trust issues, but the only person I trust to put content together for my students is ME. Who put's together the content that goes in these platforms? Are they politicized as badly as the content that goes in textbooks. Really, if the content is bad it could be as damaging as having no content. Are we really willing to take that chance?
I am also very skeptical that teachers really know how to use these platforms correctly. It goes back to my own child's teacher i the opening paragraph. Who cares how many questions a student actually answer. That tells me NOTHING about what a student actually knows. I also don't trust teachers to actually use the data that comes off of these platforms to inform their instruction. Most teachers see it as a supplement for instruction, where as it should be just a data point to further enhance instruction. Districts and schools can push digital content as a data point strategy over and over again, but its so easy to make it be a form of instruction that teachers will still fall into that trap.
The other thing that concerns me is the fact that teachers will be held responsible for teaching the standards and seeing mastery of them, but these platforms could literally have students working on standards from lower grade levels. They could even be dramatically lower. While I agree students need to work on gaps, how do we bridge that gap? If we give teachers a digital content platform that puts a student on content from lower grades and they are still responsible it becomes very frustrating. That frustration makes it easy turn digital content into a checkbox.
I also disagree with the strategy that many of these platforms employ. Most are multiple choice questions that are supplemented by games and video content. There are MUCH better ways to really have students show what they know. You could have them create. You could have them use something like Osmo which actually has them manipulate real objects. While digital content platforms are easy, do they really help students in the most effective way?
So I think the question becomes, what would I like to see instead? I would like to see something that kicks out student creation based on a students needs. So I think the dream platform is something where students can be assessed, and then it kicks out a directions for student creation projects based on a students gaps. I would also like to see a platform that lets teachers input all of the content, rather then depending on pre-made. I think both of these could be the way to go. Now it's just up to the ed tech developer community. If you make one...kick some funds back this way.
As I start what amounts to my third year at KSU Iteach, I think it is a good time to reflect. I joined Iteach in October of 2014, and I began my work almost immediately in Fulton County Schools as a coach during their personalized learning push. This was a position I had been looking for, but I did not realize what a change it would be from my previous 10 years working as a high school teacher.
My new role was that of a coach. I had been in the education technology community for a few years, and I thought I knew what this would really look like. I was very wrong. While I did some good things those first few months, I also struggled a bit with these new coaching challenges. Iteach gave me room to grow. To me, that's the first thing I truly love. I judge my jobs by what I have learned from them, and Iteach gave me the room to learn how to coach.
It also gave me all the great things about teaching without the things that most teachers hate. I still get to be in classrooms helping both students and teachers. I don't have to worry about things like testing, grading, and the paperwork that drags teachers down. I also feel like I am continuing to help kids by helping teachers make their classrooms better. In the end, my scope is bigger because I get to not only help the kids in my classrooms, I get to help many classrooms.
Leach also lets me do what I really want to do in the education technology , and that stays on the cutting edge. I am a huge believer in maker spaces, and Iteach is moving that way. We just purchased almost any maker space tool that you can think of. We are putting together maker camps. We also just purchased a Ricoh Theta to do 360 videos and VR. This commitment to the cutting edge makes me love my job even more.
Iteach is what I wanted in a job. It gives me all the great things associated with teaching without the bad. It's taught me something new. It stays on the cutting edge. All of those things make me very excited for the future. This year will bring change as we move past the initial personalized learning groups, and I can't wait to see where that goes.