12 Months to Becoming a Digital Age Educator

12 Months to Becoming a Digital Age EducatorDo you feel like Dorothy? Are you looking around the educational landscape and talking to your dog? “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Education is changing. Of course, it always has and always will. We change as we grow in understanding of how people learn. We change as we forgot how people learn. We change at the demand of regulating bodies. We change as we strive to best prepare people for living in the  contemporary world. We change as new possibilities, technologies and opportunities arise.

So, where are we now in the 21st century? Ask a dozen people and you’ll get two dozen answers. The answer depends upon your beliefs, values and convictions about education. It is a question of educational philosophy as much as that of practice. Nonetheless, here are 12 approaches that I offer as especially valuable for those engaging in education in the 21st century. I call this the twelve-month curriculum for becoming a digital age educator. Devote one month to exploring and experimenting with each one over the next year and you should have a pretty good grasp of some of the newest developments. Along the way, you will find yourself thinking about teaching and learning differently, adding a new measure of experimentation and playfulness to your work as an educator, and I guarantee that your students will notice.

Before we get started, I want to point something out. You will only see reference to a few specific technologies in this list. That is because being a digital age teacher is not about knowing how to use specific technologies. It is a mindset and approach to teaching and learning that embraces the spirit of collaboration, creativity, personalization, connectivity, innovation, exploration and experimentation.

I have one more thing to note before sharing the 12-month plan. If you really want to become skilled and not just informed about these different things, you have to do something. Experiment, reflect, experiment more, and then reflect more. Without that, you will have the appearance of a digital age teacher without the substance of one. This is not just about acquiring new knowledge. This is about cultivating new skill (mental and otherwise). With that out of the way, let the learning begin!

Month 1 – Project-based Learning

There is nothing distinctly 21st century about this approach, except that it is gaining popularity and interest. Advocates point out that PBL, done well, helps student learn to explore something in-depth, doing more than just learning in blocks of 45-60 minutes. Rather, students get the time to devote hours to exploring a single question or problem over a course of days, weeks, or months. Spend a month looking at the examples, articles, videos, templates and guides at the Buck Institute’s web site and you should have a solid introduction to the topic. While BIE focuses upon K-12 PBL, the concepts can apply at almost any level.

Month 2 – Self-directed Learning

This one gained traction in the 1970s, but the emergence of the web and increased access to information and resources amplifies its importance. This is about doing more than giving a man a fish. It is about teaching a man to fish, or helping students gain the competence and confidence to learn on their own, well after they are in a classroom or school. I have a number of articles on this subject. For an initial primer, check out the one about helping students develop personal learning networks. The embedded one-hour video introduces the topic further. For another read on the subject, check out this list of templates for self-directed learning projects with your students  or this article on Why Self-Directed Learning?: Making the World Your Classroom.

Month 3 – Game-based Learning and Gamification

There are fascinating developments in the application of game principles to education environments. There is game-based learning, which is creating or using games in which students learning something. Check out the Edutopia videos and blog articles for a primer (although the purist in me has to tell you that they sometimes confuse gamification and game-based learning). Then there is gamification of learning, where you take principles of games and use them to enhance non-game learning experiences. Or, for a twist, you can hack game-based learning. Check out the sources for a couple of weeks and then try them out. Gamify some of your lessons and see if you can find or create a game-based learning lesson or unit that would work for your teaching and learning purposes.

Month 4 – Blended Learning

This is more than just the flipped classroom. For an excellent introduction to the different approaches to blended learning, check out the resources at the Clayton Christiansen Institute web site. You can get a quick intro here and then head over to the Blended Learning Universe for real world cases and examples (It was under construction at the time of writing this post, but check back because it used to be great, so I’m sure that their updates will make it even better). My article on the flipped classroom is a favorite on my blog, and one that might be a helpful read as well. In addition to explaining the concept, it gives you a three-part planning graphic for flipped classroom lessons.

Month 5 – Moving Beyond Integrating Technology

Integrating technology is not 21st century teaching and learning. Check out this article to understand why I say that. However, part of moving beyond integrating technology is getting informed and skilled at using different models of teaching and learning with technology. I suggest taking time to familiarize yourself with three: SAMR, TPACK, and LOTI. Take time to understand and experiment with applying each of them. Explore the benefits and limitations. Along the way you will develop a much more advanced understanding of teaching and learning with technology. Gone will be the days of thinking that using an iPad, SmartBoard or Twitter makes you a tech-savvy digital age teacher.

Month 6 – Adaptive Learning Software & Learning Analytics

Adaptive learning involves software that adapts to the needs of the learner. Read the Wikipedia entry on it and then spend time trying out some of the adaptive learning software packages catalogued on EdSurge. Get demo copies of the software and try them for yourself. Then consider what role in a real-world learning environment. If you are a math teachers, you are in luck, because that is where much of the adaptive learning software is presently focused. If not, take heart and focus on the other part, learning analytics.

Along with adaptive learning, I included learning analytics in this category. You can also start by reading the simple article on Wikipedia, but to get a balanced view, I also suggest Audrey Waters’s 2012 blog post. Browsing the 2014 Learning Analytics Conference site might also help, but you’ll then want to start searching for some of the current and emerging learning analytics software packages that even allow for more real-time data to inform classroom teaching (online, blended or face-to-face).

Month 7 – Learning Beyond Letter Grades

I led a MOOC on this topic last year. All the content is still freely available here. It will introduce you to formative/summative assessment distinctions, narrative feedback, competency-based education, portfolio assessment, standards-based report cards, digital badges for learning, peer feedback, and more. It is a helpful primer of what is possible beyond some of the traditional practices. While the course is not open, it even includes suggested “assignments” to experiment with each of the ideas. Do this for a month and you will have a great start at understanding assessment and feedback possibilities in the digital age. By the way, the course was designed to be completed in a month!

Month 8 – Peer-to-Peer Learning / Peeragogy

This is a vast topic, but collaboration across networks, peer feedback, and the like is a critical 21st century skill and a promising 21st century teaching approach. To see something specific, check out my article on collective essay writing.  For tips and resources on teaching digital age collaboration, go here. Read this for recognizing some of the differences between traditional cooperative learning and digital age collaboration, or go here for an introduction to digital collaboration fluency. Then you might want to use this month to explore opportunities for collaborative teaching and learning with wikis, learning management systems, synchronous online communication tools (like Skype and Google Hangouts), and Google Drive. Don’t focus on just how to use the tools. The power in thinking about how to promote and understand new forms of collaboration and connectivity that make new approaches to teaching learning possible.

If you really want to have a deep dive into this subject, check out this only text on the subject.

Month 9 – Experiential and the Maker Movement

Learning by experiencing and doing is just as powerful as it has always been, but there are more resources than ever to help us do it well. This site gives you a good introduction to experiential learning. Then you can go a little different direction and check out the fast-growing movement called place-based learning. After exploring and experimenting with those a bit, you might want to wander into learning by doing and the maker space movement. Sylvia Martinez’s podcast/show on the subject is a good start. Once you have a basic understanding, check out the Maker Education Initiative for next steps.

Month 10 – Personalized Learning

Here are 5 books to get you started on the subject. Stop at the first two and you’ll have a wealth of ideas to explore and apply. Simply stated, personalized learning is adjusting pedagogy, learning experiences, learning environments, curricula and the like to the individual needs of learners. If you made it this far, you’ve already learned about forms of personalized learning in past months, but dedicating this month to a couple of great reads on the subject will help you build some valuable connections. Yes, there is cross-over with the adaptive learning software, but this is a certain feature of future education environments, making a dedicated month definitely worth the time and effort.

Month 11- Competency-based Education

Without question, the best resources on the web for this topic is the Competency Works Clearinghouse. You will find explanations, resources, worked examples and a ton of great stuff on their wiki. And for a balanced perspective, you might also want to check out my 6 CBE dangers article.

Month 12 – Choose Your Own Adventure

This is the digital age and there will always be more to learn. So, pick one or two of the following and do some research, experiment, and/or try it out in your class: inquiry-based learning, passion-based learning, problem-based learning, case-based learning, online learning, learning in-depth (LID), connected learning, open learning, digital badges for learning, the slow learning movement, self-organized learning environments…or find and explore something else.

If you take the initiative and do something of substance in this 12th month, then you’ve captured the true spirit of the digital age teacher. Congratulations!

BONUS – The PLN Challenge – As I just stated, there is always something new to learn. So, how will you learn it? That comes from building a robust personal learning network. If you want to have an amazing one, try out the PLN Challenge that I make here. Earning this badge will put you in one of the most exclusive clubs on the web. It is not for the faint of hear, but that isn’t going to stop you. You’re a digital age teacher!

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About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is an author, professor of education, Vice Provost of Curriculum and Academic Innovation, podcast host, and blogger. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, The Pedagogy of Faith (editor), Adventures in Self-Directed Learning, and Digitized: Spiritual Implications of Technology. He is passionate about futures in education; educational innovation; and social entrepreneurship.