Keys to Digital Education Success

Perspective
The final installment on the traps that can block a digital transition strategy
By: 
LeiLani Cauthen

So much digital content available is making it harder to find and use. Schools are reporting that, despite all their best intentions to gather bajillions of the free resources together, and dedicate large staffs to custom build courses (which are not digital courseware but lesson-plan-like with links and photos or Youtube videos,) they are not used.

Instead, teachers are largely still “Googling for content.” Why? It’s easier than remembering the rather arcane click-around that one has to do to find or re-find files inside repositories. I have first-hand knowledge of what this does to just the staff of Learning Counsel trying to share folders in the cloud and the fights that break out when “someone messed with my spreadsheet!”

Teacher Overwhelm

The prospect of getting lots and lots and lots and lots of discrete learning objects, bits of knowledge in link or paragraph or video form, and then building a lesson plan around those curated bits can be daunting. Things have gotten more complex and there are many more decisions to be made. Plain and simple—lesson planning can be a lot of work. Even for one lesson plan. And if you’re in the lower grades where you have every subject, well it’s a recipe for disaster. A teacher can’t do it and carry on with the other things they have to do.

So here is what you do if you’re being bull-whipped into going digital – you hedge. You pick out a few things, write a few lesson plans, and you do those. That, hopefully, makes it look like you have digital down. It’s very cute, doing things like inking out an assignment on a whiteboard for students to research civil war costumes using a narrow list of sites, but is this rigorous? It’s not a full-coverage model by any means. You are now scrambling daily to try to do something to make use of a bunch of new hardware, while filling in the subject or topic gaps with old materials. You have to because you can’t possibly build every single lesson plan or keep them all up to date while having excellent time management and classroom control – and sleeping once in a while.

OER versus paid professional resources.

It’s important to remember the fact that the free discrete digital object world, also known as “Open Education Resources” or “OER” is full of links and wordy html text and photos. It’s pretty cool, but many times the links don’t work because no one is baby-sitting them. It also free because it is not usually technically developed. It’s curated, true, but it isn’t usually high-styled technologically. For some subjects and certainly teaching the students to lesson-plan-themselves-into-learning-something using OER is perfect. In fact it’s probably giving education back an essential missing element of non-fully-curated loose bits that can be pulled together as part of the actual journey of learning.

Another thing about OER though—it’s often not really “free,” because it’s the discrete bit of knowledge element that is “open” and licensed to be mutated at will, but you still have to pay to access it and keep it up to date. This is an interesting definition of “free” by anyone’s estimation.

The end reality of a whole bunch of non-scope-and-sequenced finished products as learning resources, though, is definitely one of overwhelm. The pendulum swinging so far away from professional resources to free has been particularly over-sold as the supreme solver-of-all-problems, but in this over-idealization a major fact was missed: free is never totally free. Someone has to work at keeping it up to date, putting it there in the first place, making it known and distributing it widely, and more.

This is paid-for by someone even it if appears to be “free,” in time or other effort. That’s taxpayer money paying for what used to be private-sector professional jobs as well, even while more than 6,000 new small digital curriculum entrepreneurs have fielded their wares. So, there is a hidden economic suppressor being created that few executives and government officials are confronting.

There is a reason for the Paid Professional Resource (PPR). It reduces overwhelm by giving back to teachers one of their most valuable commodities – time. Oh, and probably a bit of rigor and value professional-wise too. With digital curriculum professional resources, there is something of a quantum leap in sophistication as well. You have to look to know.

It is true, though, that we have a multiplicity of ways to go digital, no doubt about it. A way to avoid the trap of overwhelm is to seek a balance of how you will approach resources.

Before I end, there is one last trap I want to mention—Pride. It’s one of the 7 deadly sins, did you know? One’s ego that one is the “source” of knowledge is perhaps the greatest trap. It precludes looking. It precludes caring. A teacher who will not change will confess to an over amount of pride in past accomplishment, or a firm belief that standing in front and lecturing—whole group learning—is somehow best despite all evidence to the contrary.

How do you get out of this trap?

Lead with love like we learned the educators in New Jersey do when we held our event there. They hold a celebration of sorts, exhaust their teachers with long listening tours of past wins, validate them with hugs and vast praise, and once the story-telling is all done, all-all-all done, they wait a few heartbeats – and ask them to now try something different. To join a new mission, a star-high goal, one of such challenge and fearsomeness that truly failure could occur, and some may not make it, but it’s to save the kids, to make sure their way is safely transited into the future.

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LeiLani is well versed in the digital content universe, software development, the adoption process, school coverage models, and helping define this century’s real change to teaching and learning. She is the author of the newly released book, The Consumerization of Learning.

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