Call it what you want; the digital revolution, the cloud migration, one-to-one. The move to pervasive use of computing as the medium for education is underway. Schools around the world have moved beyond teacher websites, and are empowering students to both access curriculum and create products to demonstrate their learning entirely in the digital medium.
To derive benefits from the move to the digital environment that go beyond the known merits of increased messaging between learning community members, schools must be able to access, save, and store student work in a way that provides meaningful insight to educators. Portfolios are an example of a meta-product that requires a student to curate his own efforts, and can help learners to extend their understanding by offering them an opportunity to make connections between the learning experiences they have had.
Portfolios existed before the cloud, but the barrier to adoption was high because of the organizational demands required for an institution (or individual teacher) to support students in maintaining the work to create the portfolio. Some of those barriers are removed in the digital environment, and we are likely to see more schools encouraging students to curate their own work and share it with others.
Blogs and social media sites like Google Plus present significant opportunities for student work to be painted with meaning when an authentic audience gathers around the fruit of student effort. The simplicity of models like that employed in New Zealand’s Mainaiakalani project, Learn-Create-Share, bring the missing piece into the student endeavor by closing the learning loop with a showcase. Manaiakalani's student blogs allow students to introduce their work to the world and experience what happens when you take the risk of putting yourself out there. Blogs and other social media can be a challenge for schools to safely manage, however.
A teacher in a typical one to one classroom may have students generate as many as five or six documents in her class each week. If students attend five different classes in a day, as is the case in most middle and high schools, the number of documents begins to get quite large. A single core subject teacher with 150 student contacts may be managing as many as 150 contacts x 5 documents/wk x 36 weeks = 27,000 documents per year! If an institution of 1,000 students would like to systematically make this work visible to all of the educators involved, something better than simple drop folders must be implemented.
A similar challenge presents itself when we encourage students to share their work in blogs and through social media. If the number of interactions students have begins to match the number of text messages that Pew Research indicates happen for teens each day, the total number of interactions for a single teacher to monitor approaches a million in a given year! Walled gardens -- digital spaces that are closed to anyone but educators and students -- are one solution, but often exclude family and the riskier, but sometimes more rewarding, interactions with unknown people with similar interests on the web.
Part of our task as educators who are preparing students for 21st century careers is to train students in digital citizenship. To be able to properly guide them in the digital labyrinth they are entering we must know when they confront the minotaur so we can help them contextualize their interaction and see them through an appropriate response.
To be sure, these numbers are no different than before. It’s just that now, we have to manage that information differently to derive benefit from the opportunity the data presents. Many educators excited about the transition to the paperless classroom become somewhat disenchanted when they realize that the time they may have saved making copies is now re-allocated to file management. To do right by them, we must deliver on the promise of greater insight into student activity.
Jack West is a public school teacher in the San Francisco Area, and he also works for Hapara, makers of Teacher Dashboard for Google Apps. Read more of Jack's posts on his personal blog, chronicling edtech in high school.
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