Students First, Technology Second


In a recent panel discussion held at the Learning Counsel’s 2019 Detroit event, some of Michigan’s top curriculum and technology leaders talked about the way technology can focus on the student for greater outcomes. The group began with some broad-brush ideas, but then quickly got into the specifics of how a real focus on students and student-centered learning has increased the effectiveness of technology.

Dr. Gregg Dionne is the Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction at the Michigan Department of Education. He’s quick to say that you can do personalized learning without technology, but can also make a strong case that you can do it better with technology. “From the state education agency, we have been focused on the correct use of technology. As we see more technology infused and it becomes more ubiquitous in schools, we’re starting to learn more about how to effectively use that technology and how we can leverage it for student ownership. The role of the teacher has been evolving. That’s not to say it has become any less important. In personalized learning and competency-based education it actually becomes more critical – but it’s different than it was.”

Anupam Chugh is the Instructional Technology Manager for Wayne Regional Education Service Agency, a regional educational service agency that provides a broad spectrum of services and support to Wayne County, Michigan’s 33 school districts. “What really excites me,” said Chugh, “Is the fact that we’re talking about the student at the center of instruction. When I started 25 years ago, my lesson plans were around the class. To talk about this student-centered approach, it’s really nice to see the student at the center of the conversation, and to really imagine what that looks like. I don’t think we have given ourselves the autonomy to do that. To put that conversation out there, to reimagine space in the classroom, to reimagine learning strategies based on research and what works is exciting. We have to be careful not to overwhelm the teacher and to provide appropriate support structures. But it is an exciting time. We really don’t have a choice right now. We have to do this, and we have to do it well.”

Dr. Joe Freidhoff, Vice President of the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute has been working in online learning for the past decade. He says it’s amazing how much has changed. “When things first move online, it’s only information,” said Friedhoff. “Information is not instruction. To see the transformation of schools moving through that process, and get to areas where we say, ‘Oh my gosh, this is actually working for kids,’ it’s achieving the outcomes you want. It’s both exciting and frustrating. How do we bring that to scale? That focus on the student allows us to have very different conversations.

According to Chris Stanley, the Director of Instructional Technology at Grosse Point Public School System, “Students are ready for this. And the immediate feedback is such a great component to add to the classroom. A quick example, we just adopted a learning management system and one of our teachers was using an assessment feature. She said she loves the fact that it allows her to adjust her instruction for the very next day.” Gross Point is focusing on learning goals. “We tell our teachers always focus on the learning goals first, and then see if the technology can tie into that,” said Stanley. “We ask, What are our learning goals? Can this extend? Can it enhance? Does it allow our students to engage with the learning targets that are out there?

“Another thing we’re doing is reaching out to our community to talk about finding a healthy balance. We get concerns from parents asking, ‘How much screen time is too much screen time?’ We have conversations with parents. We’ve had a parent night. We’re really trying to figure this out together. And the interesting part is we all don’t have the answers.”

The panel continues with a fascinating discussion, always focusing on the student. Key questions, including the role of the teacher in online learning are discussed. Learn about the successes in Michigan, how they did it and why. By clicking on the video below, you’ll gain real, practical applications that you can view today and use in your own districts, schools and classrooms tomorrow.


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