Reimagining Learning: Richard Culatta TEDx Talk

July 15th, 2014

Category: Student-Centered Learning

This summer the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) is providing an online professional development course through eLearning Delaware called “Personalized Learning 101.” eLearning Delaware is the DDOE’s online platform for professional development for educators. The course is focused on introducing the concept of personalized learning to teachers, DDOE staff, and others by providing resources, fostering discussion, and the completion of a final project. I’m registered for the course, and during the duration of the program, I’ll be sharing some of the highlights on the Rodel Foundation Blog.

This week, I’m sharing a TEDx Talk by Richard Culatta, the Director of the Office of Education Technology at the U.S. Department of Education. The talk is about 15 minutes long and focuses on how technology can enable a truly individualized learning experience for all learners.

My favorite segment of the talk is the metaphor Culatta uses to explain the way we sometimes think about using technology in classrooms. He gives the example of a document scanner used to convert a paper document or photo into a “digitized” version of that document or photo. The scanned version is really just a digitized version, and doesn’t capitalize on potential added benefits of technology. He extends the metaphor to technology in classrooms, and how many teachers and schools have so far used technology to “digitize” education (i.e., through SmartBoards or online textbooks), but there is additional room for technology to truly transform students’ and teachers’ experiences in school.

Culatta goes on to briefly examine three challenges often observed in classrooms today that he thinks can be overcome by the use of technology in schools:

  • Challenge 1: We treat all learners the same despite unique needs and challenges.
  • Challenge 2: We hold the schedule constant and allow the learning to vary.
  • Challenge 3: Performance data (a.k.a., grades) come too late to be useful to the learner.

These challenges are rooted in the current design of school (including the school day, school year, classroom structure, the role of teachers, and how students progress and advance through their coursework). Right now, with a few exceptions, students are taught the same way, during school hours, and on a fixed schedule. They typically receive grades at the end of a unit or a semester, by which time it’s often too late to go back and truly master the material or the concepts.

Culatta’s talk continues as he discusses how, by using technology to personalize students’ experiences, all three of these challenges can be addressed. He explains and shows examples of how technology:

  • Allows students to have real-time feedback and access to their performance data
  • Allows students to work through content at their own pace
  • Gives students ownership and agency over their work
  • Creates creators with access to the same tools as professional writers, engineers, or videographers
  • Enables mass customization
  • Radically improves access to rich content from around the world

The examples he provides illustrate how reimagining school and learning can have a profound impact on student outcomes. When students are at the center of a reimagined school system and students have access to technology-enabled coursework, they are more engaged and more successful at school.

See the link above for the full video! I’ll be back next week to share more about what I’ve learned through eLearning Delaware’s “Personalized Learning 101” online course.

Rachel Wiggans Chan



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