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Technology in Education and Opportunity Cost

During a regional principal’s meeting today, our conversation steered toward the integration of technology within instruction. Smartphones were a frequent topic, especially from the secondary school leaders. Distractions and inappropriate use seemed to be the common reason for some of the administrators’ disdain for students’ mobile devices.

I empathized, as a former junior high school assistant principal. My administrative career began in 2011 which is around the time that iPhones started to come into prominence. From the beginning of my secondary tenure until my shift to an elementary principal role four years later, smartphones grew in frequency and in use in school. I always had a few of them on my desk or in a drawer. Many of them were more advanced than my district-issued smartphone.

Today, every educator seems to have a different perspective on the use of technology during classroom instruction. Each one of us seems to have a nuanced point of view about digital tool integration. This perspective can change based on the content, the task, the students’ developmental level, and the technology itself.  For example, one administrator today stated that she does not know the best approach for managing smartphones in schools, yet she did believe that high school students needed more than a Chromebook for engaging in creative, original work.

We will not get to a point of consensus in the near future regarding “best practices” when it comes to technology in education. So how do we address these types of challenges with more intent? One approach when preparing a lesson or unit of study for our students is to consider the opportunity costs of the inclusion or exclusion of technology within our instruction.

The concept of opportunity costs comes from the financial world. Whether you spend money on something or you decide not to, there is a cost. Say you are saving up for a family vacation. Every purchase you make from the moment you create this goal to the moment you go on vacation has a cost. Should we go out to eat? Yes means you can enjoy a meal out with family, but you are not saving that money toward the vacation. No means you are saving that money, and the cost is not enjoying a night out at a restaurant. 

I think the same principle of opportunity cost can apply when considering whether or not to integrate technology with instruction. Next is a process as an example:

  1. What is the goal of the lesson/unit of study? These are the essential learning outcomes, usually aligned with a standard, a competency, or a larger understanding, i.e. “conflict” within a study of U.S. history. Really not a lot of opportunities to incorporate technology into the lesson (unless the instruction is focused on learning how to use the technology itself).
  2. How will I know that my students have learned? We are looking for ways to evaluate understanding with the best tools available. Deciding how to assess student learning might be a better opportunity to incorporate technology. For example, if we want to know if students truly understand the concept of conflict through the lens of U.S. history, a multiple choice test or a written essay may not cut it. What if we designed a performance task such as creating a podcast in which two students debated in a respectful manner over a decision made in our country’s past? We could hear whether or not students used the strategies for a persuasive argument, both the language they use and in the way they used that language. They could also self-assess their work.

So what’s the opportunity cost? The benefits of incorporating technology within the assessment may include but are not limited to:

  • a better representation of student’s understanding of conflict,
  • a more engaging activity for students to create a podcast vs. taking a traditional test,
  • an opportunity to publish work for a wide audience, further increasing engagement, and
  • the integration of 21st-century skills into instruction.

The cost of this opportunity to integrate technology into assessment may include:

  • possible implementation challenges for the teacher to do the work well,
  • potential lack of access to the appropriate number of devices needed, and
  • more time spent working on this project, which can impact future instructional plans.

So should we integrate podcasting into our performance task? Here’s the thing: there’s no clear answer. We cannot say “four to three” in favor of the inclusion of technology. Every school and every teacher are unique. Maybe one teacher doesn’t feel comfortable introducing podcasting as an assessment tool by herself, but she has a library media specialist who is more savvy about these tools and happy to co-teach this part of the unit. 

Educators have to use their professional judgment when it comes to classroom technology integration. This requires both an open and a discerning mind, a mix of strong pedagogical knowledge along with enough social imagination to understand that teaching and learning are in a constant process of change. If you try out this process, of analyzing the opportunity cost of technology implementation within your instruction, let me know how it goes. 

In my book 5 Myths About Classroom Technology, I tackle five misconceptions regarding the integration of digital tools in schools. You can purchase my book through ASCD here.

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Book Signing Today: Barnes & Noble, Madison West @ASCD @bnbuzz

Today, Saturday, January 20, 2018, I’ll once again be selling and signing my two books published by ASCD at Barnes & Noble – Madison West.

I am scheduled for 1-3 P.M., maybe longer. It is Educator Appreciation Days – most items are on sale at 25% off for teachers and school leaders. Be sure to bring your school ID.

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If you are in the Madison area today, I’d love to chat educational technology with you!

 

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Digital Portfolios in the Classroom: Interview with Karen Fadum via @FreshGrade

On the FreshGrade blog, you can read my initial interview with Karen Fadum, a helping teacher in British Columbia, Canada. This text is reprinted from my book Digital Portfolios in the Classroom: Showcasing and Assessing Student Work (ASCD, 2017).

When I signed the contract with ASCD over two years ago to write this book on digital portfolios, I realized that I had a lot more learning to do. Unlike my last book on the topic, this resource would be directed toward teachers. I had not been in the classroom for almost a decade, although I have observed many classrooms in that time as a school principal. Still, it is not the same as having the main responsibility for student learning.

It was educators such as Karen who provided essential knowledge and experience for me to write any type of #edtech guide worth a teacher’s time to read. I am thankful!

-Matt

P.S. FreshGrade has been giving away free copies of my book. Check them out on Twitter for more information.

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Digital Portfolios in the Classroom – Introductory Video

Below is a short video I recorded to promote my new book through ASCD. Below the video is the transcript for the hearing impaired.

Have a great weekend,

Matt

Digital Portfolios in the Classroom – promo video from Matt Renwick on Vimeo.

Assessment is messy.

We try to make school and learning clean by attaching numbers, grades, and levels to evidence of learning. But what do we lose when we take the messiness out of assessment?

I think we lose quite a bit. Maybe it’s the visible enthusiasm of the student presenting the final project, or the curiosity in the students’ voice when they pose an important question to research. This information can be just as important as any quantitative assessment results.

Let’s embrace this messiness and capture students fully as learners with digital portfolios. The ability to use video, audio, images, and text can make evidence of learning come alive. The opportunities for content creation with the possibilities afforded by today’s technology is hard to pass up. Digital portfolios can reframe assessment as a way to see the whole child and not just as a number.

Assessment is messy and complex. Instead of trying to simplify this important process to teaching and learning, what if we accepted and even honored all the ways students are smart? Digital portfolios, these online collections of artifacts that represent student achievement and growth, can be the answer.

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Digital Portfolios in the Classroom: Now available!

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This was a nice surprise to come home to yesterday. ASCD is great to work with.

It’s great to see my book finally in print. I signed the contract for this project almost two years ago to the day. In that time, our family moved to Mineral Point, took on new positions in education,  and became a part of a new community. Exciting times and something I don’t need to experience again for the foreseeable future!

Here are some book-related updates.

  • Right now, the book is only available in print and only through ASCD. The publisher and I prefer orders through them directly, although I realize Amazon can be more convenient. As for print only, I am checking with ASCD on that. Stay tuned.
  • If want an overview of my book, click here to check out the archived webinar I did through ASCD.
  • In our Google+ Community on the topic of digital portfolios, I am giving away three books to anyone who +1’s this post. You have to request to join first.
  • I’ve written a draft curriculum for an online course on digital portfolios. It will likely be a companion to the book and provide multimedia content that can’t be delivered through a book alone. If you have suggestions for what should be in the course, leave your feedback in the comments.
  • While I am working full time as an elementary principal, I do have some availability to facilitate teacher workshops on digital portfolios. Click here for a description and feedback from a workshop I led this summer (scroll to the bottom of page). Here is what one attendee said about this professional learning experience:

What I liked most about the workshop is the wealth of web-based resources the instructor shared with us to help support technology-based student activities and projects. I am not very tech-savvy, so giving me the sites and time to explore the applications for building technology integration into my class was very beneficial.

  • I’ll be speaking on digital portfolios and technology integration at the following events this school year (so far). If you are able to attend, let me know and we can connect!
    • October 5-6, 2017 – Wisconsin ASCD 2017 Fall Conference (Wisconsin Dells, WI)
    • October 25-26, 2017 – Illinois ASCD Lead & Learn 2017 (Schaumburg, IL)
    • February 21-23, 2018 – AcceleratED & IntegratED (Portland, OR)
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ASCD Webinar: Digital Portfolios in the Classroom

DigitalPorfolioOn Tuesday, August 8 from 2-3 P.M. CST, I will be hosting a free one-hour webinar for my upcoming book Digital Portfolios in the Classroom: Showcasing and Assessing Student Work.

I’ll go over some of my favorite tools for facilitating digital portfolios and share teaching strategies for making this authentic approach to assessment work in the classroom.

Time at the end will be provided for participants to ask questions and discuss technology integration and student-centered assessment.

Click here to register. I hope you can join us!

-Matt

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Think you’re doing digital portfolios? Think again.

At the risk of sounding like a know-it-all, I have wanted to point out a misconception that some educators have regarding digital portfolios and what is facilitated in classrooms.

This post comes from the idea that by merely publishing student work online for families and a wider audience to view, that students now have a digital portfolio. This isn’t accurate. Digital portfolios are defined as “a multimedia collection of student work that provides evidence of a student’s skills and knowledge” (Niguidula, 2010). This collection is not as simple as baseball cards or dead bugs. Student work within a digital portfolio has been carefully selected by a student and teacher and is accompanied with some sort of reflection, self-assessment, and goal setting. The online space in which a digital portfolio exists matters less than the learning acquired made evident by the content.

Here are three situations in which educators may think they are doing digital portfolios but actually are not.

  • Social Media

If a teacher can get families to join a classroom Facebook page or follow a teacher-directed Twitter account, that is great. Teachers can model for students how to create a positive digital footprint and what it means to be a citizen in the 21st century. Pictures, video, and text that are shared in this way provide parents a window into the classroom. Most families also seem to like this way of staying connected with the classroom, especially if they already use that social media.

Why it’s not a digital portfolio: Social media is a popular way people communicate in today’s world. But it is not a useful tool for collecting and curating important artifacts of student work. Students need more permanent digital spaces to call their own when sharing their learning. In addition, social media might have unreliable security settings and can be susceptible to hackers.

  • Home-to-School Digital Communication Tools

A number of applications that used to do one thing are now proclaiming that they also have a digital portfolio component. For example, Class Dojo, a behavior management app, allows teachers and students to share images and video with parents in addition to the points they accumulated for positive behaviors. Families can comment on what is posted and engage in a conversation about the work.

Why it’s not a digital portfolio: We are getting closer here, as each student has their own account for the teacher or student to post their work. The missing component is in how it’s used. Typically, the teacher is the one posting pictures and video for parents to see. Technology providers that advertise a digital portfolio function often do not see it as an assessment tool. There is little guidance provided for students or the teacher to reflect or self-assess on their work. The work and effort are usually owned by the teacher.

  • Single Year Digital Lockers

In these situations, a teacher might actually be having students lead the digital portfolio process, including uploading their multimedia work and reflecting on it. The free version of digital portfolio tools such as FreshGrade or Seesaw is integrated into instruction. Over the course of the school year, families and the student can see how they have grown from fall to spring. This type of work can have a positive impact on learning.

Why it’s not a digital portfolio: Simply put, the student’s work disappears at the end of the school year, like cleaning out the lockers on the last day. There is no plan for maintaining past artifacts of learning from year to year. Students cannot look back on prior years to better understand their learning journey. Teachers cannot look at student work from the previous year to assess their needs for the current school year. There is no learning legacy for a student in these situations.

So what is a digital portfolio, for practical purposes? An online space that students maintain throughout their school career. It is directed by the student with guidance and support from their teachers. Students identify their best work to publish in a variety of areas that better represent who they are as a person, not just a pupil. True digital portfolios serve as a mosaic of their educational experience. It can even follow them beyond the K-12 years and serve as a professional portfolio for college applications or a job search.

Here are some ideas of what they could look like, year after year:

Of course, all of the posted artifacts of student learning are accompanied with reflection, self-assessment, and goal setting for the future. Otherwise, it’s only sharing content. Nice, but not necessary for students’ education.


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My new book, Digital Portfolios in the Classroom: Showcasing and Assessing Student Work, is now available for pre-order through ASCD! Click on the link below for more information and read the first chapter:

http://www.ascd.org/Publications/Books/Overview/Digital-Portfolios-in-the-Classroom.aspx