Raleigh Area Leaders Share What Works in Their Digital Transitions


Earlier this spring, the Learning Counsel held a Digital Transition Discussion event in Raleigh, NC. The city is home to the nation’s 14th largest school district, Wake County Schools, so it gets its fair share of attention in the education world. In addition, because of the area’s Research Triangle, Raleigh is known for being a hot bed of innovation, a well-deserved distinction that is evident in its schools.

One of the most popular features at the Learning Counsel’s Digital Transition events is the Top Educator’s Panel, where local education leaders get together to discuss issues that affect the digital transition in education. This year’s Raleigh panel had a particularly interesting take on the issues.

With the aid of technology, education is being transformed into more of an experienced-based environment. Nichelle Harris, IT Director at Sugar Creek Charter School in Charlotte has witnessed the transformation first-hand. “I do see education changing,” said Harris. “It changes the mindset of the student as well as the teacher. The way education is now, it's basically flat. There's not a lot of interactivity with education. A lot of education should be student-centered more than teacher-centered. I think that will help culturally, it will help the environment change and move students forward towards being accountable for their own learning and be responsible for their own destinies. They are beginning to understand that they can do whatever they put your minds to.

Sadania Miller, IT Administrator at Sugar Creek Charter School agrees. “It will help the teachers focus more on the issues in class,” said Miller. “If you have kids more focused on the technology piece, then you can measure the kids better if you have personalized aspects of the teaching or the learning process for the kids. You can focus on more of the behavior of the kids more because you can see it better. Then you can target more or ask more questions while the other kids are learning. It won't be as much of a distraction as it was before with simply regular teaching without the technology included in it.”

Melissa Thibault, Vice Chancellor for Distance Education and Extended Programs at the NC School of Science and Mathematics in Durham said, “we have an opportunity, with personalization, to open up education to some extent to other players. The opportunity to do more with workplace-based and experiential learning so that students have access to people from the workplace, people who have careers that they may aspire to. And if we have more of a personalized learning approach, they may have more agency and be able to really explore those possibilities as they find them interesting. So, they get to choose more about how they want to go through their day and who they're going to interact with.”

Emma Braaten serves as the Digital Learning Initiative Specialist at the North Carolina Department of Instruction. According to Braaten, “I think we bat around the terms term student ownership and student advocacy quite often. But really, what personalized learning does is it deconstructs it for us to better understand what the student is supposed to be doing and what behaviors look like for a student who is actively engaged. So, when we think about it from the state's perspective, from our definition of personalized learning, that student is involved in setting his or her goals based upon what their interests are, their learning needs, their preferences. What needs to happen for them to be able to continue to meet those goals? That's the learner profile. We talk a lot about what a digital portfolio might look like for students. Really this is the next step of that where we have that full picture of that student both academically and personally. Once we have that information and those students have set those goals,” said Braaten, “then they can move down their learning paths. And that's the individualized learning pathways for students where they're working towards that learning, accomplishing those things. It's always being monitored by the students themselves and by the teachers as well. And as they hit those learning marks, that's that competency-based progression that they're moving through. A lot of times we see that in week-to-week or unit by unit. And really what our big scale idea for this is that it would be beyond even the grade levels where students are assigned. And that's a big hairy, scary kind of preposition to think about cause that's totally disrupting our system. All that needs to be in that flexible learning environment, which is digital and face to face. It's also about how you group students. It's about how you have students have access to the right types of people, the staffing each other in order to progress through their learning.”

This was only the beginning of a very rich discussion, and the group continued in a frank and open manner to discuss the many aspects of technology that were working for them at both state and local levels.

Watch the video

The Top Educators’ Panel uncovered some surprising ideas and shared some real nuts and bolts ideas to capture what’s really working in education. This is a video you’ll want to watch with pen (or keyboard) in hand, taking copious notes. You’ll find plenty of pearls of wisdom – pearls you can string together to enhance the learning in your own school or district right away.

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