Zack Morris Shows Delaware the Way

February 28th, 2013

Category: Policy and Practice

This is the conclusion of our blog series on education technology for Digital Learning Day. To read the first post in this Digital Learning Day blog series, “A New Vision for Education,” click here. To read  about the role of technology to support personalized learning written by Howard High School of Technology teacher Ashley Sorenson, click here. To read about preparing our schools for digital natives written by Vision 2015 Chair Ernie Dianastasis, click here. To read the about the big steps Delaware schools and districts are making to improve the use of technology to increase student learning, click here.

As we wrap up our blog series on education technology for Digital Learning Day, I keep coming back to one of my favorite television shows growing up, Saved by the Bell. In the show, the main character, Zack Morris, was notorious for carrying around a big, clunky cell phone. Looking through those pictures, it’s clear that technology has made unparalleled strides – so much so that a little over 20 years later, we don’t know how our lives would exist without a cell phone.

To me, Zack Morris’ phone represents the core premise behind efforts throughout Delaware districts and schools to improve the use of technology within classrooms. Because today, what might seem innovative and revolutionary, such as expanding access to online coursework or utilizing technology to enhance students’ learning experiences, will no doubt be looked upon 20 years from now as just the tip of the iceberg. Here at Rodel, we are zeroed in on the unearthing parts of the iceberg that lie underneath the water, which are no doubt significantly larger than any of us are capable of fully grasping at the moment. As we’ve begun to explore this new territory, we’ve come to realize that technology is only one, albeit critical, piece of this much larger iceberg. With that in mind, we’ve expanded our scope beyond the traditional digital learning towards a more ambitious and critical goal, which is expanding access to “personalized learning” experiences for all Delaware students.

The idea behind personalized learning is simple enough – every student is unique. We all have different abilities, interests, and learning styles. The goal of personalized learning is to both recognize and act upon this reality in order to provide tailored instruction to each student. In order to do this well, we must move away from the “one size fits all” approach and empower students to learn at their own time pace, place and approach. This means moving away from our industrial model of education towards more dynamic environments where students receive content in a variety of formats and move through content at their own speed – enabling those who’ve mastered the material to move ahead and those still struggling to receive additional support.

Looking at this, it’s clear that great teachers do this inside their classrooms every day. However, it requires an almost Herculean effort on the part of the teacher to do this well. In order to equip all teachers with the knowledge and skills to do so, we must embrace the role of technology and its ability to fuel this innovation. Technology will open up access to high-quality, student-specific content, facilitate collaboration between students and teachers (per Ashley’s post), and give educators more flexibility and control around how to reach each kid.

If embraced, teachers would reap the most benefits because it allows them to work with students in a more individual or small-group fashion while not losing sight of how the whole class is progressing. In addition, technology connects educators like never before, allowing them to collaborate on their lessons, monitor student development in order to identify problems early on, and engage families through enhanced communication tools. Together, this can help turn teachers into facilitators of students learning.

I’d like to think we’re in the Zack Morris phase of this work – one in which we recognize that what is in our classrooms today is version 1.0 of something much larger and more impactful. With that in mind, Rodel has put together a brief that summarizes personalized learning and jumpstarts a conversation on how all stakeholders throughout the state can think about this work to craft solutions that ensure all students benefit from the potential and promise of personalized learning.

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Brett Turner



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