What I'm Thinking

Technology Integration: It Should be Messy

Last week I flagged down a parent as she and her son were leaving the parking lot at the end of the school day. “What did your son think about the learning management system? Has it helped you as a parent be more involved in his school experiences?” We talked about how her son likes the system, but there were problems with the log in process. It wasn’t said, but I also suspect that more scaffolding from staff involved might be helpful. This is a new tool (Epiphany Learning) that guides students to document and facilitate self-directed projects. It’s a step in the right direction from your typical LMSs toward more personalized learning. We tried it on a small scale, only a couple of kids.

I am getting a sense from school leaders and educational articles online that the more fluid and streamlined the process is for integrating technology in schools, the better the outcomes. The most recent entry I’ve read on this topic comes from an article in the District Administration magazine. The writer, a digital integration specialist, talks about how smoothly handing out the 750 Chromebooks went to ensure all students had 1:1 access to technology in their classrooms. They cite evidence from the classroom to support the success of this initiative:

The level of engagement and collaboration for students—in and out of the school environment—has increased significantly. In the first month after device distribution, utilization of our learning management system to distribute and collect electronic assignments—as well as to facilitate classroom discussion and collaboration—increased more than 65 percent.

I’m all for a smooth rollout of technology in education. The last thing I would want to do is frustrate teachers and students when introducing something new. Yet…are these outcomes the results we would want? For example, how the LMS is being used (I suspect Google Classroom) seems more about paper chasing and facilitating conversations that could just as easily happen in the classroom, face-to-face. I don’t want to assume, but this seems like technology integration lite, in which a digital veneer has been laid over traditional instructional practices and then calling it 21st-century learning. In addition, my suspicions peak whenever I hear about a one-device-only rollout. If Chromebooks are the tool of choice, will that make every learning challenge conform to Google’s platform?

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I believe technology integration should be a bit messy. True change in education is a hard process, digital or otherwise. This is primarily because we are asking adults to change their habits for the better as much as our students. Examining beliefs about teaching and learning, creating a vision for what’s worth learning in schools today, and exploring different technologies to make that vision a reality should be occurring before going digital at a schoolwide or districtwide level. It’s an arduous process, something I have personally gone through and documented in my first book on digital portfolios. In my experience, it’s a 3-5 year process. Mistakes and hiccups are a prerequisite for success.

As we think about next year, I hope we consider a value-added approach to technology integration in our classrooms. A primary question might be: How can digital tools help us realize our school’s mission and vision on behalf of our students? Parents, students, staff, and the community should be involved in the planning. One way to measure the effects is by developing indicators of success. I list several guiding questions as indicators in my last book, 5 Myths About Classroom Technology (ASCD Arias, 2015, pg. 48-49):

Figure 2. Technology Benefits: Necessary or Nice?

  • Are learners an active part of instruction through modeling and guided use of technology?
  • Does the technology accommodate and differentiate for all learners’ needs?
  • Can the technology help facilitate reflection and deepen student understanding?
  • Are students and the classroom part of an authentic learning community?
  • Can learners create content and develop new ways to present information?
  • Does the technology bring in an audience for learning, both near and far?
  • Are students provided both voice and choice with technology, thereby increasing ownership and engagement?
  • Are there opportunities for students to engage in peer feedback and collaborative work?

Technology integration is not about ensuring the sailing is smooth; it should be about successful navigations of uncharted waters in the name of improving student learning.


If you are in the southwestern or western part of Wisconsin this summer, I am facilitating technology workshops through CESA 3 and CESA 4. Check out my Workshops and Events page for more information. I may also be available this summer and in the future for personalized learning experiences for teacher teams and schools. There is a contact form on the page previously linked.

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Exploring Classroom Innovations at the AWSA/WASDA Summit for Data-Informed Leadership in Green Bay

Data is a four letter word, literally and sometimes metaphorically in education. Educators need data to drive instruction and making informed decisions about student learning. When students have information about their own learning progress, they know themselves better as learners. Yet when data does not serve an important purpose, it can also monopolize our time that is better spent teaching and learning.

I was grateful for the opportunity to speak about the challenges and promises of this topic at the Wisconsin Summit for Data-Informed Leadership this week in Green Bay. This event, co-facilitate by WASDA and AWSA, gave administrators and teachers the opportunity to develop a better understanding of data in the context of schools today.

Beyond the Gold Star: Strategies for Nurturing Self-Directed Learners

This first session guided participants to explore innovative classroom approaches that gave students more autonomy in their learning. Data in this context wasn’t necessarily a number or letter; video, audio, and images can also serve to inform teaching and learning.

Educators tried to create a story using an unknown digital tool with little direction. This activity gave participants, especially school leaders, an opportunity to experience the anxiety that teachers and students might feel working with technology. Some of our tensions are healthy, as we sometimes don’t challenge ourselves enough.

Attendees were directed to a simple Google Site with several pages devoted to innovative approaches for classroom instruction: http://bit.ly/classroominnovations. Right now it is pretty bare bones; I hope to add more ideas and resources to it as time goes by.

Digital Student Portfolios in Action

This session was much more technology-focused, around one approach to facilitating qualitative assessment. Our goal was to “rethink our plates” instead of trying to add one more thing to our busy days.

Participants had a lot of time to explore different digital portfolio tools, as well as new ways for students to represent their learning. This group already had a strong understanding that data was not limited to quantitative information. They offered smart questions and creative ideas for making their classrooms more student-centered.

Having studied and experimented with digital portfolios for students for almost five years, it was probably the most comfortable I have felt presenting on informational technology. It was a good way to prepare for my presentation on the same topic at the ASCD Convention in Anaheim on March 26.


I will be facilitating a number of workshops this summer on these two topics at CESA 3 and CESA 4. If interested in learning more about classroom innovations that work, as well as having time to effectively integrate technology into the curriculum. please reach out!

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Digital Student Portfolios: An Interview with Trevor Mattea and New Books Network

In August I spoke with Trevor Mattea about my first book on digital portfolios. Below is the summary of our conversation. Click here for a link to the podcast. Enjoy!

Most of the time, school performance is not like performance in other arenas. In music, we want people to play something for us. In sports, we want people to show us our skills. Performance in school is filtered through test scores and letter grades. When we ask students how they are doing in reading, we do not expect them to actually read to us or share their thoughts on a recent books they have finished. We expect to learn them to tell us a reading level or point to wherever they are on a rubric. But what does that mean? Have we lost sight of the actual value of the things we are attempting to measure and quantify? What if we looked at school work the way we attend practices, games, and recitals?

In Digital Student Portfolios: A Whole School Approach to Connected Learning and Continuous Assessment, Matt Renwick, outlines the rationale for portfolio work in the twenty first century, including how portfolios can motivate and empower students, provide evidence for report cards and school conferences, guide the instruction of teachers, and share school language with families.

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Digital Student Portfolios: Site License for Teacher Professional Development

Thinking about your school’s professional development plan? Are you looking for a focus for your grade level or department inquiry? Still searching for that textbook for a college course you are teaching on technology integration? Then consider this offer for a powerful, year long learning initiative.

Digital Student Portfolios School Site License

Possible questions:

What is a “site license”?

A site license means that a school or organization has unlimited access to an author’s content. This can be a big money saver if considering a whole staff book study. The site license would be a one time fee, no recurring subscription.

What is included in this offer?

  • Unlimited access to digital copies of my text (ePub, Kindle).
  • A PDF version of the book for printing out and reading on paper.
  • An original study guide with thought-provoking questions and links to powerful learning activities.
  • Access to our Google+ Community on digital portfolios for students, to host asynchronous discussions and to connect with over 400 other educators with similar interests.

What is the author’s background?

  • B.S. Elementary/Middle Level Education, 1-8
  • M.S. Educational Administration, PK-12
  • Licensed as a Director of Instruction, PK-12
  • Currently leading a school in a digital portfolio initiative (2011 – present)
  • Training: Online professional development, connected coaching

Sounds great! How do I sign up?

Please fill out the form below to register. If you have questions, please include them in the form.