My 4th grade son came home from school the other day excited about a new web-based application his school introduced. The program, Destiny Quest, enables students to write, share, and review books for their grade level. He pulled up the screen and proudly showed me his list of friends and a review that he had written. I asked my wife, who teaches first grade at the school, if the school had discussed use agreements with the kids and if someone was responsible for overseeing the kids’ postings. She was not sure the school had done that. I had a feeling that things might get sticky, since the school had not established agreements with the students, and also that the school had not informed parents of the new tool.
Sure enough, the next day my son returned from school to report that two students had written inappropriate reviews. He genuinely could not believe that some of his classmates would do that. The school would now read all of the postings and carefully monitor student activity. Where the day before, he was brimming with enthusiasm about the possibilities of the new application, he now was confused and uncertain about the participatory culture the school was trying to create for students.
This is the perfect learning moment for the school and the community. The possibility for collaboration, through peer to peer sharing of books, and the chance for students to get their feet wet with social networking, needed to be matched with communication and education for parents so that the home environment could support the school setting to accomplish the same learning goals for kids. School no longer ends at 3:30 and in the words of one school administrator, “there is no longer such a thing as a day school.” Parents and schools need to partner to ensure meaningful learning with technology and foster a seamless transition from the end of the school day to the home.
My son’s school is now back on their heels, reacting to student transgressions, instead of positively guiding students and parents through how to leverage the power of a web-based application to build community.
What could the school have done differently?
First, review appropriate use agreements with the students, anticipate potential problems that might arise, and arm the students with strategies to overcome potential obstacles or concerns. Have students create the norms for use and develop consequences if there is a violation of the norms.
Second, communicate the goals of using the new tool to parents. Hold a parent meeting to introduce the application. Have students and parents come together to use the application together, with students showing parents how to use the application.
Third, provide ongoing communication and support for students and families.
These three simple steps would go a long way toward helping students and parents maintain a positive outlook toward technology in schools. Parents and schools need to work together to help students stand in possibility with technology.
And the winner is…no, it’s not the Academy Awards, it’s the college admissions letter that soon awaits millions of high school seniors across the country. The suspense aches the hearts and minds of high school seniors. The long, torturous college admissions process reaches its conclusion in just a few weeks, and some students will finally understand the importance of chronology in history: “If I’d only studied harder in 9th grade and gotten an A in history class, then I would have gotten admitted.” The realization that their footprint matters dawns on millions of students. However, increasingly, it is a student’s digital footprint that can doom a student’s fate. There is more and more discussion and examination of high school students’ Facebook profiles during the college admissions process. An errant Facebook post can fast derail a student’s hopes for admission.
Instead, colleges should be asking students to submit their Facebook profiles as part of the admissions process. The Facebook profile should be a portfolio of student work, with careful, deliberate choices made on what to share with the colleges. The time honored essay that asks students to write about or reflect upon a major change or challenge they overcame needs to go into the dustbin. Those “old” and “worn” approaches to the application process are no longer relevant and do little to allow students to express themselves originally and authentically.
Having students submit their Facebook profiles also serves the twin purpose of helping high schools and parents see how students use social networking. As part of the admissions process, colleges can see what posts students put up on their wall, what photos they select, and which Facebook applications they use. These “choices” can illuminate who a student is, and give a deeper window into their interests, creativity, and ability to harness technology for learning. And, Facebook accounts are FREE.
Tufts University opened the door this year to YouTube video submissions. Lee Coffin, dean of undergraduate admissions at Tufts, acknowledges the technical interest and savvy of this generation of applicant. In a New York Times article, he explains: “We’ve got some who are really good with the technology,” Mr. Coffin said. “There’s a real technical savvy out there in this generation, and this lets them show off their splicing, their stop action, their animation. Some of the engineering applicants show us what they’ve made. One kid is talking, and then all of a sudden, he’s in the water, to show off his underwater camera.”
In the same article, Mr. Coffin continues: “Kids who are 17 and 18 are very facile with new media,” he said, “and one of the challenges for colleges right now is to stay ahead of that curve.”
Sadly, Tufts is alone at the moment.
Colleges charge an arm and a leg to apply. With the economy still in a tailspin, colleges could help many families by moving their applications onto Facebook. Prospective students could build networks and groups, and the colleges could see what types of groups they form. This could also get in front of the roommate dilemma and help colleges group and organize first year housing, based on student interest and connectivity, well ahead of time.
And, on the off chance prospective students post inappropriately the colleges gain deeper insight into an applicant and can make an easy decision about admission. It can be hard to dispute the evidence from a Facebook post, but it at least gives students a chance to play fairly in the game of the admissions process.
Student interests can shine on Facebook – art, music, community service (how quickly a student can organize fundraising for Haiti, for example) – and colleges get information in real time. No Fed Ex packages needed.
Or, to snap up another social networking tool, colleges could ask students to set up a Twitter feed for a week, and students would have to tweet for a week, and then submit their tweets as part of the application. Again, another FREE web-based application could yield valuable insights into a student’s approach to social networking and learning with digital tools.
There is one caveat to opening up the gates of social networking or YouTube video production to college admissions. Bob Sweeney, a high school counselor at Mamaroneck High School in New York writes in a letter to the New York Times: “I can’t help but wonder if this initiative will give rise to one more cottage industry in the lucrative college admissions business. Video producers and directors can now join private college consultants, SAT tutors and essay editors raking in high fees from families willing to pay whatever it takes to gain an advantage in the college admissions race.”
Sweeney is right to point to the potential development of yet another “cottage industry” to the college admissions game. But, the upside of innovative, authentic, technology-based, free applications for college admissions is that students get to play on a level field. There is no astronomically priced test prep course for building a social network, or posting tweets.
The display of digital learning and mastery for a college application should be the culmination of an education filled with digital portfolio development by students in schools. Digital portfolios have been around since the early 1990s, when they were first developed. According to David Niguidula, a “pioneer” in the field of digital portfolios, there are three pillars that buttress the portfolio: “vision, purpose, and audience. A portfolio should not contain everything that a student does in school, and determining the purpose and audience for the portfolio will help students and teachers focus on what they want to collect and select.” (p. 155, Jacobs) In a digital portfolio, students upload “word-processed documents, images, presentations, audioclips or videoclips – that contain their actual work.”
The limitation of digital portfolios in schools up to this point in time is that they stand as dusty file cabinets behind a labrynthine school network server. The value of Facebook or Twitter, or a locked down social network like Ning (to allay the fears of privacy and security folks), is that students are held accountable by the audience of viewers of their portfolio pages. There is real-time interaction and feedback, with questions and responses. Students are forced to explain or elaborate on their portfolios and are required to stay current, with new posts of work, photos, or videos.
At different stages of child development, from first grade through 12th grade, there can be different benchmarks for children to clear. Obviously, schools and parents would not want a first grader to post on Facebook or Twitter. However, the first baby steps could be a contained network of teacher, parent, and student. Then, in second grade, a relative, like an aunt, uncle, or grandparent, could be added. In third grade, another teacher could be added. In fourth grade, a peer could be added. And so on all the way up to 12th grade, when students are ready to “graduate” into the real world. They would receive guidance and training on what to post, when to post, how to post, why to post, and where to post at each stage of development.
The Tufts experiment with YouTube video application options is likely the first salvo in the soon to shift no man’s land of college admissions. Instead of recoiling in fear or hoping that the Tufts experiment goes into the dustbin of failed innovations, school communities need to seize the mantle of opportunity and recalibrate digital learning, all the way from kindergarten through graduation. It is the right thing to do for students and students have been waiting for the opportunity to be given license to share and receive feedback on their work from authentic online audiences.
Just watched the Digital Nation Frontline documentary – came out last week. Disappointing on the whole – still gripped by fear and problems of digital media, and not enough on possibility. Great story about a school in the Bronx that moved to 1 to 1 learning and how that model transformed student learning and teaching through Nings, blogs, and building a participatory culture. From Korean Internet addiction clinics to the perils of multi-tasking, based on brain scan research at Stanford, the filmmakers sadly do little to move the conversation about digital media and kids forward. They can’t escape the noose of fear-based tactics and approaches — they take small steps to escape the stranglehold. Maybe the next and third (the first film in the series was Growing Up Online) film will finally break free of adult centered views of digital media use, and approach the topic from the inside out. For now, Digital Nation is yet another in the broad spectrum of film and books that captures adults on the outside trying to peer into digital youth culture.
Tom Friedman has an interesting article in today’s NY Times about teaching innovation and entrepreneurship to kids. He highlights two programs: National Lab Day, and The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship. Friedman lays out the call to action for schools and enlisting kids in start-up endeavors. Going one step further, Friedman could’ve tied these initiatives to the crisis in Haiti and asked for kids and schools to launch teams to figure out innovative ways for communities to engage with and change the situation in Haiti. Have each student invent a product or service, write up a service learning plan and then do it.
One of the most inspiring outcomes of the Haiti crisis is the outpouring of innovation among talented digital citizens. The crisis has galvanized groups into texting, social networking, and collaborating to take quick action to help heal a wounded nation. Crisis Camp Haiti brought together tech innovators to help figure out fast, functional ways to get aid to Haiti. CNN reported that “results included a digital map to help relief groups in Haiti coordinate their efforts and applications for the iPhone and other smartphones, including a Creole-to-English dictionary.”
What a great example for kids and schools to follow. Sure, there are schools trying to figure out to mobilize community support for Haiti, through bakesales, and jogathons, but how many schools are out there enabling kids to figure out solutions with digital media? Why not put kids into working teams to devise innovative solutions, using technology as a vehicle? This can turn their energies toward humanitarianism, it inspires civic engagement, and it speaks to their abiding interest in media.
Schools can invite adults into the projects and use this as an opportunity to build community around media. And, most importantly, figure out ways to help those in need.
THE FUTURE OF HIGH SCHOOL – Fieldston School Conference, 1/15/10
Interesting conversation about the future of high school at the Fieldston School
Tinkering, fearful of significant change – moving beyond tinkering, to make significant changes?
Ted Sizer – shopping mall high school – comprehensive missions – problematic issue – what exactly are individual school communities wanting out of school? A lot of assumptions people bring to school – when you lack a defined set of values, you are at the mercy of what people want that place to be – be specific about what you are good at and what they are doing; consequences for program based on mission – all school settings struggle with this – feel at the mercy of greater society and competing forces; embrace tinkering quite fully? Corporate level pushing the limits of innovation – rapid prototyping – IDEO – before you implement – students and teachers being the tinkerers
Pedagogical risk-taking is counter cultural – fear of the guinea pig feeling from students and parents; changing a curriculum is like moving a cemetery – Woodrow Wilson; sometimes it’s a matter of will – what we have been doing has been working and we need to be aware of that; we need to capture occasions of brilliance – build from that which is working well
Whole sale change is a risky operation; we do become tinkerers – not so terrible – we are doing good work – examine the edges and look inward; work slowly and carefully; impediments? There needs to be a real long conversation with higher ed and the secondary schools – mixed messages going out to schools; college admissions process places limitations on what we can and cannot do; there is a disconnect; make sure there is permission to try new things, move forward with curricular change – empower faculty
What are the levers for change?
Change ought to begin in the classroom with teachers specifically; impediment is that folks are already working hard – will ask more of us; we become researchers and teachers – we need to provide evidence that the work we are doing are worth their taking the risk with us; need to create time for teachers to conduct extra research projects
Culture of permission is tangible – the whole community can decide this is possible; you have to go to the teachers to play part – a serious part in a process of change; one assumption – quantity over quality – we want to do a lot of things and that’s better – app process puts stock into this – glass if half full – if we want regurgitation not a demanding cognitive function – that’s aiming too low; what can we not do? The workload has increased significantly, so need to make decisions on what not to do; not enough to try and you need systematic way to hold people accountable for innovation – we need to see that we have made an impact and had an effect
A battle of public relations – if we are running into difficulties with board then we need to change the conversation; we need to do a better job of selling the concept; we may be losing the battle in terms of what’s important; we need to lay the groundwork publicly for the conversation to happen – need to take advantage of technology to reach people
How do you deal with tests – APs and SATs – how do you engage with the colleges?
Colleges are moving toward optional standardized test scores; students do not take standardized tests at Carolina Friends until they apply to college – no number or letter grades – narrative performance reviews – no prizes awarded – thick folder for colleges – the admissions officer knows the child better – a diversity case or edge; student scores are a bit lower than other independent schools, but students are self-directed and self-motivated
Moving away from AP designated courses – you need to move away – they establish de facto rigor – backward designing from those courses; certain exams promote thin coverage of material at the expense of deep understanding and thinking; easy way for colleges to read folders; you have to deal with standardized testing like SAT IIs; benchmarking outside of the schools – college work and readiness – critical thinking assessments – CLA, CWA online assessment for kids
Public sector – not a lot of movement away from standardized testing – race to the top monies from government – many different requirements – tying teacher evaluation to student achievement – we are still going down the road of evaluation based on assessment – will only worsen situation; good teaching, rich content will get kids through state assessments; autonomy and freedom with rich curriculum; examining getting rid of a gpa – pushback is huge; don’t always need to give the colleges what they want; the colleges will need to read the narrative in the file – takes bravery – look at different ways to present kids – force their hand
Harvard has a freshman program based on quantitative knowledge; statistics is an essential skill, but we don’t get a chance to teach kids that; the science program in the AP track is to focused on content coverage; Harvard – two year science program is now more issue based – those kids are doing better in more advanced science courses
Range of student abilities – how do you meet their needs and for whom does revision need to happen?
CFS includes students who go to community college – wide range of learning styles – there is no excellence without diversity, including diversity of learning styles – differentiated instruction emphasis
The middle – a lot of energy is going to high achieving and those students who struggle – we need to spend some time on the middle; real change happens between a teacher and a student – the energy needs to be on teacher training, innovation, supervision, evaluation, professional development – that’s where change begins;
Need for structural change?
It is about every student. The system infantilizes students – put responsibility back on students and families – we should expect more of every student; APs shunts kids into tracks – you lessen expectations for some – up the expectations – redefine rigor – we’ve misplaced it – Tony Wagner, Harvard; what does it mean to be intellectually engaged? Not, jump through hoops – reinforces fixed mindset; grad requirements are based on seat time vs. mastery; portfolios and exhibitions and performances – how do you put that in a school setting?
Find the structural support to make change happen
Sustainability as guiding principle to break the logjam?
What is the vehicle for the dialogue with higher ed? Right now it’s happening in scattershot
We’ve given up the moral high ground as far as academic work – schools should be about social change – microfinance – kids should be involved – disengagement – how to improve the world – you need to do that in tangible ways – the class goes out and does something
Right now admissions officers have been talking with higher ed admissions offices – we need to connect with teaching faculty – take the college admissions folks out of he equation – link educators with educators
What is the purpose of high school? Real world vs. college prep?
Urgency is the operative word; Haiti provides a dramatic example, much smaller examples – we have the opportunity build teaching and learning around real problems – urgency – it matters that much
If we listen to business, is that good for education? Liberal arts experience vs. industry
How to achieve audience buy-in to non-traditional teaching?
Redefine rigor – it’s not as rigorous as it could be – we give a lot of work but does that work have enduring value – essential skills for life – de facto rigor is defined by doing well on standardized tests; IB program is different than the AP – given a poem, and they have to go in front of a panel to explain their interpretation – authentic and high end; we need to demand that on a regular basis – our kids can perform at a higher level
The chem teachers regive the same exam they gave in the spring in the fall again – same group of students – 50 percent failure rate – AP/SAT II scores were great, but they were not coming out with enduring understanding; have faculty sit down and look at student work – in groups with blind assessments – we need to give time to that
We need to examine student work – what does that result look like?
Include college folks on secondary school accreditation teams
In a lot of schools, faculty members are skeptical of college admissions process; reframe process as self-actualization – create an interesting profile for a student
Students are outsourcing their knowledge – wikification of knowledge – value of internalizing of knowledge – the brighter they are the more they outsource; the need for efficiency outpacing the need for knowledge
Education for action – “the ultimate aim of education is not knowledge, but action”
Apply knowledge – inert knowledge – so much knowledge in your head but you never use it; value and use in their daily lives – schools need to push them
- AP (Advanced Placement)
- Cell Phones
- Diversity in Schools: No Time for Cowards
- Education Policy
- Facebook Foils: Schools Need to Help Parents and Students
- iTunes Schools: Customized Learning for the 21st Century
- Kids Online: Lying as the New Social Norm?
- NCLB – Keep Your Hands Clean
- or Not Fast Enough?
- Poor Harvard
- Rich Mr. Duncan
- Schools and Facebook Filters: Ice Age
- Schools and Facebook: Moving Too Fast
- Smart Parenting in the Facebook Age
- The Dignity of Savana Redding
- Will Private Schools Survive?