Tagged “Connecting Digital Learners”

ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Moving Toward Mobile: Using Technology to Become Globally Connected

Post submitted by Whole Child Blogger Tymeesa Rutledge

Moving Toward Mobile - 2011 ASCD Annual Conference

Acalanes Union High School District in Lafayette, Calif., allows students to use mobile technology in traditional courses like biology and English. Students are able to watch YouTube videos about immigration reform or listen to NPR podcasts discussing the political uprising in Egypt because the district passed a bond, Measure E, which allows schools to "replace and update instructional technology and create dedicated 10-year technology fund to keep classrooms up to date."

In their session "Moving Toward Mobile: iPads, iPod Touches, E-Readers, and More," Cheryl Davis and John Nickerson led a presentation about how their district incorporated technology like iPads—"the first tablet computer"—and iPod Touches into the classrooms of high schools like Miramonte, Las Lamos, and Acalanes, and how the technology matches their mission as a district.

"[We want] students to be able to use today's tools in learning," said Cheryl Davis to an engaged crowd of onlookers.

Some audience members voiced concern about students using mobile devices to engage in personal activities like social networks or checking personal e-mails during class time. Nickerson gave a response that made audience members laugh.

"If we believe that they engaged for the 50 minutes without iPads ..." Nickerson didn't finish the statement because many of the audience members were laughing.

Technology may be one way of grasping the attention of high school students who may use mobile devices outside the classroom. Through funding, the high schools in the district have iPod Touch and iPad learning labs. Students can use iTunes U, an Apple program that allows students to watch free educational movies, lectures, and more with just the touch of the screen. But the students aren't the only ones using the new technology. The staff and teachers are using mobile devices more efficiently and effectively. For example, the teachers in the Acalanes district have a summer institute in which they learn how to use the devices their students are using. The teachers are encouraged to take the devices home and develop ways to incorporate the use of technology into their curriculum.

"Put technology into student hands," said a technology specialist to presenter Cheryl Davis.

Wendy Steward, of Bassett Unified School District in San Gabriel Valley, Calif., believes that students should use technology in classrooms.

"I think kids will become more engaged," said Steward when discussing why classrooms should embrace technology. "Kids are already using their phones in class; [they] might as well use it toward [education in] the classroom."

"[Students are] already plugged in; we [teachers] need to catch up. We need to meet them where they are," said Judith Boyle of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.


ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Maximizing 1:1 Computing in the Classroom

Post submitted by Whole Child Blogger Hunter Holcombe

Try telling Gary Stager that there's not enough money in your school budget for personal laptops, and brace yourself for an education. Given just a few minutes, he can convince most that to deny a child her own computer is tantamount to bad education.

With more than 28 years in the field, Stager has worked in schools throughout the world, helping them capitalize on the use of laptops in and out of the classroom.

In his morning session, "Twenty Lessons from Twenty Years of 1:1 Computing in Schools," Stager shared 20 of the most critical lessons he learned by witnessing how children learn through computers. One of the most memorable: "The laptops go home." Stager explained that, when students are given the responsibility of keeping their own laptops with them at all times, their computer-based learning increases considerably as they continue to work on projects at home in their free time.

This practice is also financially advantageous because of a greater risk of laptops being stolen from the school after hours than being damaged by students. In addition, letting students personalize their own laptops by decorating them gives them a greater interest in using the computer, just like any personalized backpack or binder.

One of the more controversial claims Stager asserted was that there is no benefit to giving teachers laptops before students receive them. He says that it's more important that the teacher actively witnesses how the individual students interact with and learn from their own computers. What the teacher personally understands about the workings of the computer is much less important.

Sprinkled throughout the session, Stager relayed a number of anecdotes from his time in the field consulting with schools to illustrate his points. He played a video of a 5-year-old in an underperforming Australian school who was interested only in being a ballerina. By using a basic computer program that controlled motorized LEGO structures, she was able to build and simulate a dancer’s pirouette.

On his personal website, Stager offers up a wide range of blog posts, recommendations, and advice for incorporating 1:1 laptop programs and maximizing those already running. Information relevant to Stager's presentation can be found at www.stager.org/ascd.

Below is his list of 20 lessons:

  1. Determine who has agency.
  2. What type of laptop school are you?
  3. Set high expectations.
  4. The laptops go home.
  5. Behave as if the laptops are personal computers.
  6. Kids need real multimedia portable computers.
  7. Laptops make good teachers better.
  8. The network is not the computer.
  9. Every child's laptop is a studio, laboratory, publishing house.
  10. 1:1 is cost-effective; nobody washes a rental car.
  11. Every laptop needs open-ended creativity software, but less is more if fluency is the goal.
  12. Seize the impossible.
  13. That's what it looks like if students have the time.
  14. Entire cohorts of students need to get the laptops at once.
  15. Zero benefit in giving laptops to teachers first.
  16. Professional development must be focused on benefiting learners.
  17. Work with the living and do no harm.
  18. You need sustainable leadership and vision.
  19. Expect everything to change.
  20. We are done arguing.


Klea Scharberg

Watch and Learn from Home

ASCD will live stream select sessions from the 2011 Annual Conference and Exhibit Show in San Francisco. All times indicated are Pacific Time.

You can view all livestream sessions on ASCD EDge. To participate in live chat during the sessions, you must log in to EDge or sign up for a free EDge account if you don't have one. You can also view the sessions on Android and Blackberry mobile devices. You will not be able to watch the livestream on the iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch.

Interactive sessions have an online moderator to guide the discussion. Onsite and virtual participants can ask questions, add comments, or reply to comments on the session's chat wall. You can also download presenter resources from the session's livestream page.

Saturday, March 26

8:00 a.m.–9:30 a.m., PT

Heidi Hayes Jacobs - Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World (interactive)
We do not need reform—we need new forms for teaching and learning. What year is your school preparing your learners for: 1990 or 2025? In this provocative and highly practical session, based on the presenter's ASCD book of the same name, the presenter will lay out steps for transforming your school into a contemporary learning environment.

3:30–5:00 p.m., PT

Harvey Silver - The Strategic Teacher (interactive)
Bringing together 35 years of research on effective instruction and 30 years of experience in helping schools address student diversity, the session will provide educators with the tools needed to help all students meet today's rigorous standards.

5:15 p.m.–6:15 p.m., PT

Bob Sullo – The Motivated Student: Five Strategies to Inspire
Successful teaching requires you to create an environment that fosters academic success by engaging and inspiring students rather than trying to control them. In this session, learn how to manage your classroom effectively, and identify five strategies that will inspire academic achievement and unlock your students' natural enthusiasm for learning.

Sunday, March 27

8:00 a.m.–9:30 a.m., PT

Urban Education Panel
In this session, hear from three distinguished principals who are making a difference in the lives of urban high school students: Linda Nathan, founding headmaster, Boston Arts Academy (Mass.); Baruti Kafele, principal, Newark Tech (N.J.); and Tim King, founder and president, Urban Prep Academies (Ill.).

10 a.m.–11:30 a.m., PT

Peter Reynolds – Make Your Mark, and See Where It Takes You (General Session)
Creativity champ Peter H. Reynolds is a New York Times best-selling author and illustrator and founder of FableVision Learning, creating technology tools to inspire young writers, artists, and thinkers. Join Peter as he shares his uplifting message, and hear more about how you can inspire learners through his philosophy and vision. (This session will not be archived.)

1:15 p.m.–2:45 p.m., PT

Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey - Responding When Students Don't Get It (interactive)
How teachers respond to an incorrect answer significantly influences students' eventual understanding. Resolving errors requires an interaction between students and teachers, with the goal of ensuring that students experience success. Participants will explore questions to check for understanding, prompts for cognitive and metacognitive processes, cues to shift attention, and direct explanations and modeling.

Monday, March 28

8:00 a.m.–9:30 a.m., PT

Geoffrey Fletcher - From Islands of Excellence with Technology to Every Classroom: An Optimist's Perspective
A few schools and districts have been able to garner the right mix of hardware, bandwidth, tech support, and professional development to change instruction, truly engage students, and increase student achievement. This session will look what is driving change in the purchase and distribution of content and how this missing link will be a major catalyst to changing our schools.

10:00 a.m.–11:45 a.m., PT

S. Lawrence Lightfoot – The Third Chapter: Adventure-Passion-Risk (General Session)
In this presentation, author and philosopher Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot will envision a much-needed cultural shift in our attitudes toward youth and age—a need based on simple demographics. She will examine the challenges educators face in their search for meaningfulness and purposefulness after their careers have ended. (This session will not be archived.)

12:15 p.m.–2:15 p.m., PT

Betty Garner – Getting to "Got It!": Helping Struggling Students Learn How to Learn
Why do some students get it while some don't? This session will help educators learn how to help students develop cognitive structures needed to process information for meaning, such as finding patterns, formulating predictable rules, and abstracting generalizable principles that transfer and apply learning.

What sessions will you be watching?


Klea Scharberg

Connecting Digital Learners Roundup

In February, we looked at what it takes to meaningfully integrate technology into students' lives to help them achieve the academic, social, and emotional learning and development key to their success and ensure they are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.

Unfortunately, unchecked and unfocused use of technology can result in students disconnecting from the "why" of learning and from the real-time relationships that are key to their development and success. Alternatively, high-quality integration of technology has the potential to not only prepare young people for their futures, but enhance and expand learning and connectedness.

Listen to the Whole Child Podcast with guests Heidi Hayes Jacobs, author of Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World, founder and president of Curriculum Designers Inc., and executive director of the Curriculum Mapping Institute; Juliette Mersiowsky, instructional designer and instructor of education and technology at Germanna Community College in Virginia; and Ena Bentley Wood, technology integration specialist with Arlington (Va.) Public Schools.

Think about how technology can challenge at-risk students to achieve and excel with Cyndy Woods-Wilson, an educator passionate about enhancing the learning experience for at-risk learners.

Explore what "screenagers" need from teachers today in February issues of Educational Leadership magazine and ASCD Express. Find resources to enhance education and engage children and youth who are defined by their technology and media use, their love of electronic communication, and their need to multitask.

Read educator and expert perspectives on "connecting with the connected":

Consider the true promise of technology and our obligation to students with Chris Lehmann, the founding principal of the Science Leadership Academy, a progressive science and technology high school in Philadelphia, Pa.

View archived webinar discussions with ASCD authors Heidi Hayes Jacobs, who asks us to replace our dated curriculum with contemporary content and skills in a deliberate process called "upgrading," and Frank Baker, an advocate of teaching media literacy skills to engage students and meet teaching standards.

Learn what a digital high school looks like and how it combines effective pedagogy and current technology.

Find ways to connect digital learners in their education from whole child partners the American Association of School Administrators, American Association of School Librarians, International Society for Technology in Education, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Association of State Boards of Education, National Middle School Association, National Parent Teacher Association, and National School Boards Association.

Join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and ASCD EDge to find more resources, research, and stats, including links to

  • A look at iPad use in a San Francisco 8th grade algebra class.
  • Video, discussion guides, interviews, and more from PBS Teachers' Digital Media: New Learners of the 21st Century.
  • A paper outlining a a four-year high school program, 21st Century Skills and ePortfolio, that focuses on providing students with 21st century skills while also preparing them for the Ohio Graduation Test.
  • An ASCD EDge blog post by Erik Palmer on helping teachers think about what skills and information are being taught in lessons and if keeping traditional curricula is best serving students.
  • A discussion of "augmented reality"—using mobile devices to access digital information that overlays or infuses the real world around students—with research findings and examples from schools.
  • An ASCD EDge blog post by Mike Fisher about Social Justice LIVE!, an online 8th grade social justice research project.
  • The Digital Youth Network, a hybrid digital literacy program that creates opportunities for youth to engage in learning environments that span both in-school and out-of-school contexts.
  • A principal-facilitated discussion on allowing cell phones in school and incorporating their use in lessons.
  • The archived webinar presentation on "Starting and Growing A Successful Online Learning Program" sponsored by Education Week.

In this video, educator Cheryl Lemke shares her thoughts on the use of social networking tools to create new and challenging environments to engage students.

How do your school and community meaningfully connect digital learners to their peers, teachers, and communities; to rich and challenging learning; and to their futures?

ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

The True Promise of Technology

Chris Lehmann

Post submitted by Chris Lehmann, the founding principal of the Science Leadership Academy, a progressive science and technology high school in Philadelphia, Pa. Connect with Lehmann on his blog, Practical Theory, and on Twitter @chrislehmann.


"Nobody can make you feel inferior without your permission."

—Eleanor Roosevelt


There has been, over the past decade, an increasing trend to push technology into schools. Everyone, it seems, knows that kids should use computers in schools, but we don't often ask why. Larry Cuban, among others, has written a great deal about how technology in our school has failed to reach its promise. Schools have spent millions of dollars on computer labs and interactive whiteboards to find new ways to do many of the things that schools have always done.

And today, many people are arguing how technology and "online learning" can transform student learning so that kids can learn from anywhere. But kids have learned everywhere for generations. What online learning can do is recreate the construct of a classroom anywhere, anytime.

And we wonder why we have not seen technology truly revolutionize education.

The true promise of technology does not lie in being able to reproduce—in shinier ways—the things schools have always done. If all we can imagine is how technology can "deliver instruction" in new ways, we will forever be limited by our own lack of vision. What technology can allow us to do is to realize the promise of many of our best ideas of progressive education. It can allow students to inquire, collaborate, and connect in ways that allow us to realize the promise of John Dewey's dream. Moreover, it allows students and teachers to see themselves as real people, defined not just by the power dynamic of the classroom, but through the social networks that should and will and must cross.

Technology Can Realize Dewey's Dream

For years, teachers have worked with students to help students learn to construct knowledge through project-based learning and the creation of authentic artifacts of learning. But the tools we had at our disposal made student creation more difficult and time-consuming, and the tools often lagged far behind what a professional would use. (I remember the times in my career as a student when they didn't.) It was what made shop class so incredible. We were using the real tools ... even if I made what might be the worst birdhouse in history. Today, the tools at our students' disposal allow them seek out the answers to their questions and then create powerful artifacts of learning that can be as polished as what a professional might create. And once they have created their work, they can share with the world. The progressive educational idea of the exposition can be ongoing and can extend far beyond the walls of the classroom and the school to the world at large.

Technology Can Humanize Us

There is incredible debate right now about whether or not we should let students friend us on Facebook ... or if we should follow students on Twitter. I am not naive enough to not understand the issues around it. However, at root, what social media can allow us to do is to see a much greater range of each other's human existence. When teachers and students can see themselves as more fully developed people, we can relate better in the classroom. When we know more about each other's lives, it is that much harder to create that sense of "otherness" which can poison a classroom. We should not run from the opportunity to see each other for the whole people we are.

Networking Can Change the World

2011 may well be the year that social media grew up and became a force in the world. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we allowed our students to be a part of the global change we see around us? Right now, we are at a moment in time when the echoing voices of every people are affecting change all over the globe. In that moment, how can we continue the soft illusion that learning is contained solely in a classroom? Why would we? When we help our students develop their expert voices for the world, who knows what they can build, create, and change? When students' voices live in the world, they can both change that world and be changed by it. We have an obligation to let them try.

For years in our schools, teachers have told students that school is preparation for real life—a statement that divorced the meaning of school from the lives kids led in that moment. With the research, creation, and networking tools at our disposal, we have the ability to help students see that the lives they lead now have meaning and value, and that school can be a vital and vibrant part of that meaning. We can help students to see the powerful humanity that exists both within them and all around them. And technology can be an essential piece of how we teach and learn about that.

Don't we have the moral obligation to try?

Photo credit: Emma Hohenstein, Science Leadership Academy junior

ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Learning and the Jungonauts

Susan Ballard

Post submitted by Susan Ballard, director of library media and technology services for the Londonderry (N.H.) School District, chair of Whole Child Partner the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) Standards and Guidelines Implementation Task Force, and an emerging Jungonaut.

Some years ago, during a presentation, I mentioned the Descartian observation: Cogito, ergo sum, or "I think, therefore I am." When break time came, one of the attendees shared his version for the Internet age: Jungo, ergo sum, or "I link, therefore I am." This really struck a chord with me. Upon arrival home, I printed up a sign and slapped it on the side of my trusty computer as a reminder of the power of connectivity.

When I first heard the phrase, I thought of the "link" only as hardware, infrastructure, and files, but today I see how Jungo, ergo sum perfectly describes students who interact with ideas, information, and one another through immediate access to digital content, social networking, and virtual spaces. And because of this phenomenon, like the mariners of mythology, Jason and the Argonauts, we find ourselves and our students setting out on a new voyage of discovery. We are linked, connected, and joined up in an adventure of uncertainties and possibilities presented by the digital age.

From our perspective as school librarians, highly qualified to navigate the sea of information in all formats, to organize and manage delivery to the end-user, and provide instruction in the effective, efficient, and ethical use of resources, we struggle to make the best choices. To keep up and do the right thing, we familiarize ourselves with research and best practices. We read professional literature and participate in electronic discussion lists, wikis, and webinars. We attend face-to-face professional development opportunities. We set up RSS readers to ensure we don't miss anything on a must-read blog or from a favorite news service. We design our library websites to make them relevant and interesting. We use every means to keep abreast of developments and stay on course. But just when we seem to have a sense of direction and an idea of where to head, something new comes along that alters the learning compass.

When this happens, I reach for a set of navigational charts to guide me. AASL's Standards for the 21st-Century Learner, Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Programs, and Standards for the 21st-Century Learner in Action set my course and direction. It is no accident that we have branded our implementation of them as Learning4Life (L4L), as that is what we are striving to achieve.

From their perspective, 21st-century students are likely to throw caution to the wind and sail straight ahead without second-guessing a device, service, site, or an app. We marvel at their lack of temerity and defiance of hazards that we regularly anticipate and plan for. "Watch out," we caution them. "Dangers are lurking, and here there be monsters." To which they seem to retort, "This is how we learn—by doing, by experiencing, by reaching out to the crowd and participating! What's wrong with that?" Truth be told, we don't appear to have an answer, other than we are concerned for their safety and their wallets. But perhaps by trying to reconcile our experience with our students' natural curiosity, and their growing expertise in using technology and social media, we may find common cause. We must meet them where they are and share our knowledge and wisdom to convince them that they really do need to be cautious at times, to be strategic in how they use today's incredible resources. We can help young people make those resources work for them while spending their time and money wisely.

Connecting with the connected means consideration of where 21st-century students learn. They are not so much place-based as virtual-space-based. They learn everywhere. We need to understand their comfort zones and new habitats, and remain connected ourselves. We are not the only ones asking them to pay attention in class anymore. We have serious competition 24/7 from the virtual world-at-large.

So how do we embed the concepts that L4L represents into students' consciousness? Connecting our services and the global knowledge economy with students offers many challenges, but we have incredible multi-modality tools available to help them access the curriculum and to individualize and transform the learning experience.

There is still a compelling a need for us to travel with and alongside these intrepid Jungonauts, and ensure they complete their quest, find their own personal Golden Fleece and achieve their goals. It is our role as skillful navigators of the education and information world to help them make necessary course corrections on their voyage. Through L4L, AASL is committed to ensuring that learners develop the skills, dispositions, responsibilities, and self-assessment strategies needed to ensure they are learning for life and reach their full potential.

ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Laptops, Work, and Students

Pamela Livingston

Post submitted by Pamela Livingston, product manager of OnDemand PD at Tutor.com, author, and adjunct professor at Chestnut Hill College, Philadelphia, and the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Livingston has spent seventeen years directing education technology programs and helping teachers integrate technology at public, private, and charter schools. Connect with Livingston on her blog, 1-to-1 Learning, and on Twitter @plivings.

Like many of us, I sometimes go to a gathering and meet people for the first time. Here's paraphrased dialogue from one such event.

Person in business attire: "What do you do?"

Me: "I help schools with 1-to-1 laptop programs for students."

Person (laughing): "You mean laptops for KIDS? Really? For KIDS?"

Me: "Yes, that's right. Do you use a computer in your profession?"

Person: "Yes."

Me: "To access this computer, do you walk to another area of the building to sign up for a 40-minute session and then leave the computer for the next person—and hope all your stuff is accessible after and that you remembered to print your work?"

Person (laughing): "No."

Me: "Is that computer rolled to your office on a cart that is shared with other departments and which sometimes has all working computers but sometimes is booked by other departments or has mostly broken computers?"

Person: "No of course not."

Me: "Is that computer also used by two or three others at your job?"

Person: "No, I don't share my computer at all. It's mine all the time. But ... that's because I have WORK to do."

Me: "Exactly! That is why I help schools with 1-to-1 laptop programs for students! One student using one laptop, not shared, available for the work they need to do, with all the resources required and their own documents and projects, to use at school and at home."

There is a dichotomy that exists for some between what "kids" do at school and what is "real work." Yet why isn't what happens in school considered real work by some? As a teacher and as a parent, I know there is much learning to be done for students as they move through kindergarten to 12th grade. Learning math, English, science, social studies, and languages takes time, effort and hard work.

Imagine shadowing a middle school student from class-to-class, being exposed to varied subjects, teachers, textbooks, approaches to instruction, assessments, lessons, and activities. Now imagine doing all this with a pen and notebook or binder to take notes and collect handouts and papers given by each teacher. You also have to keep track of homework and tests and project deadlines. Then at the end of the day you may have sports, perhaps music lessons or time with friends, dinner, and homework. And you have to get enough sleep to be up and ready, with all the papers and materials stuffed into your oversized backpack filled with textbooks for the trip back to school where it all begins again. Which students thrive in this environment? It would seem that the students who can work with paper, are organized, take good notes, pay attention, and can call up the information they learned for the test or project are the ones who succeed.

Reframe this now and imagine moving from class-to-class of different subjects, teachers, and varying assessments, lessons, and activities—but this time you have a laptop or tablet and so does the teacher. Your lessons and projects have an electronic component in that the material can be downloaded and viewed later. You have a better method of taking notes because the laptop or tablet allows you to type or write and there are tools you can use to search or organize your notes. Many of your textbooks are on your laptop and have links to updated websites where you can see information newer than the textbook publish date. There is an electronic learning community for communication with other students and your teachers. You can send your work directly to your teachers and they can comment on your work and send it back. You can view upcoming assignments, projects, tests, and deadlines in all of your classes. And all this is done on your very own, unshared computer, personalized and organized by you, packed with the resources you need, available from home or school or anywhere in between. Which students thrive in this environment? I propose more than in the paper-and-textbook environment because they are able to customize their learning and choose the right tools for work and because the device with their multiple electronic resources as well as their own files is at their fingertips at school or at home.

Of course this means the school has made a teaching and learning shift to ensure that laptops are not just an add-on, viewed as an option when there are "laptop projects" and put away for "real schoolwork." It means that educators have their own laptops and are provided enough time and professional development to develop and hone projects and assignments that maximize the use of laptops in their classrooms. It requires educators and leaders with vision and the drive to help their school or district accomplish this new dynamic; committed to empowering their teachers and students; and providing resources, time, and funding for sustainability. It means rethinking assignments so they are not just about regurgitating information, but also about synthesizing information, solving problems, and creating new ideas. The school technology and the technology staff must be solid in terms of infrastructure and day-to-day support.

I didn't ask that person in business attire about using notebooks, pens, and paper to keep track of ideas and how to organize—there is likely some use of these tools—but notebooks, pens, and paper are not collaborative vehicles. And today's businesses are all about collaboration, joint problem-solving, cross-departmental teams, adherence to goals and deadlines—elements that require electronic tools for sharing, communicating, creating, publishing, and presenting.

It's my opinion that providing a laptop or tablet to children helps them create better work, become more engaged with school, and allows them to learn an important foundation for their future academic and career goals. Thoughtful parents and teachers know their overarching goal is to launch children into life equipped with understanding, skills, and knowledge for the path their students will choose. I feel providing laptops or tablets provides the solid footing into the next phase of learning or work needed by children and is worth the time and investment for their future—and ours.

ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Remote Access

Will Richardson

Post submitted by Will Richardson, author and advocate for school reform that encourages integration of technology in learning. Connect with Richardson on his blog, Weblogg-ed, and on Twitter @willrich45.

Seventh/eighth grade teacher Clarence Fisher has an interesting way of describing his classroom up in Snow Lake, Manitoba. As he tells it, it has "thin walls," meaning that despite being eight hours north of the nearest metropolitan airport, his students are getting out into the world on a regular basis, using the Web to connect and collaborate with students in far flung places from around the globe. The name of Clarence's blog, "Remote Access," sums up nicely the opportunities that his students have in their networked classroom.

"Learning is only as powerful as the network it occurs in," Clarence says. "No doubt, there is still value in the learning that occurs between teachers and students in classrooms. But the power of that learning is more solid and more relevant at the end of the day if the networks and the connections are larger."

Without question, Clarence imbues the notion of the "connected learner." Aside from reflecting on his life and his practice on his blog, he uses Twitter to grow his network, uses Delicious to capture and share bookmarks, and makes other tools like Skype and YouTube a regular part of his learning life. In other words, he's deeply rooted in the learning networks he advocates for his students.

"It's changed everything for me as a learner," he says. "I teach in a small school of 145 kids, so I don't know what it's like to have a lot of colleagues. I can't imagine closing my door and having to generate all of these ideas on my own."

So Clarence helps his students create these networked interactions at every turn. A few years ago, his students collaborated with a classroom in Los Angeles to study S.E. Hinton's novel The Outsiders, using Skype for live conversations and blogs to capture their reflections on both the story and the interactions. More recently, his students studied The Book Thief by Markus Zusak with a class of Ontario students, listening online as their teachers read the book aloud while conducting a chat in the background filled with questions, reflections, and predictions as to what would happen next. Over the years, his students have worked with kids in Australia, Brazil, Argentina, and China, just to name a few.

But here's the thing. While Clarence may be the conductor of these connections at the outset, most of the networking quickly starts coming from his students. As he was beginning to explore the idea of the "thin walled" classroom back in 2006, he wrote on his blog:

The connections have had very little to do with me. I've provided access, direction, and time, but little else. I have not had to make elaborate plans with teachers, nor have I had to coordinate efforts, parceling out contacts and juggling numbers. It is all about the kids. The kids have made contacts. They have begun to find voices that are meaningful to them, and voices they are interested in hearing more from. They are becoming connectors and mavens, drawing together strings of a community. They are beginning to expect to work in this way. They want to know what the people in their network are saying, to hear about their lives and their learning. They want feedback on their own learning, and they want to know they are surrounded by a community who hears them. They make no distinction about class, about race, about proficiency in English, or about geography. They are only interested in the conversation and what it means to them.

That's a very different picture from what happens in most traditional classrooms, but it captures the essence of what student (and teacher) learning can look like in schools these days. "Thin walls" expand the classroom, and in the process deepen our understanding and practice of all of those "21st Century Skills" that we examined earlier, the critical thinking, the problem solving skills, and the rest. And as students begin to experience the powerful pull of connection to other students and teachers outside of their physical spaces, they also begin to see the world writ large as a part of their daily learning lives. Just as Clarence says that these networks "changed everything for me as a learner" they also change just about everything about our interactions with the kids we teach, the way we think about classrooms, and the way we see the world. Those are big statements, but these shifts are being played out every day in profound ways. And more and more they reflect the real world of learning that our students will graduate into, whether we help them get there or not.

No doubt, all of this has huge implications for us as educators. In fact, even those of us living at the heart of these changes feel some discomfort trying to think through all the ways that the Web challenges the traditional structures of schools and classrooms and learning. But here's the thing: given these opportunities for connection that the Web now brings us, schools will have to start leveraging the power of these networks. And here are the two game-changing conditions that make that statement hard to deny: right now, if we have access, we now have two billion potential teachers and, soon, the sum of human knowledge at our fingertips.

That, in no uncertain terms, is different.

Most schools were built upon the idea that knowledge and teachers are scarce. When you have limited access to information and you want to deliver what you do have to every citizen in an age with little communication technology, you build what schools are today: age-grouped, discipline-separated classrooms run by an expert adult who can manage the successful completion of the curriculum by a hundred or so students at a time. We mete out that knowledge in discrete parts, carefully monitoring students progress through one-size-fits all assessments, deeming them "educated" when they have proven their mastery at, more often than not, getting the right answer and, to a lesser degree, displaying certain skills that show a "literacy" in reading and writing. Most of us know these systems intimately, and for 120 years or so, they've pretty much delivered what we've asked them to.

But, what happens when knowledge and teachers aren't scarce? What happens when it becomes exceedingly easy to people and content around the things you want to learn when you want to learn them? What happens when in the next decade or so, almost everyone gains access to these profoundly different learning spaces, filled with teachers and content outside the walls through the devices they carry in their pockets? What happens when we don't need schools to manage the delivery of content any more, when we can get it on our own, anytime we need it, from anywhere we're connected, from anyone who might be connected with us?

In a word, things change.

For each of us as learners in the world at large, the fundamental change is that we can be much more in control of the learning we do. It's not about the next unit in the curriculum as much as it is what we need to know when we need to know it. And it's not so much even what we carry around in our heads, all of that "just in case" knowledge that schools are so good at making sure students get these days. As Jay Cross, the author of Informal Learning, suggests, in a connected world, it's more about how much knowledge you can access. "'What can you do?' has been replaced with, 'What can you and your network connections do?' Knowledge itself is moving from the individual to the individual and his contacts." If we have access to our networks, we're a lot smarter than we used to be. In fact, "connection with others in a network is of prime importance in having access to a wide repository of knowledge," according to Vance Stevens of the Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi. In other words, if we want to make the most of our brains these days, we need to connect online.

What hasn't changed is this: learning, online or off, is still social, and that's good news for all of us. If you're seeing a vision of students sitting in front of computers working through self-paced curricula and interacting with a teacher only on occasion, you're way, way off. That's not effective online learning. What is possible, however, is that because of the connections we can now make on the web, there is as much potential (if not more) for meaningful learning to occur in the interactions between people online than in their face to face places. Why? Primarily because online, we can connect to others who share our passions to learn in extended, deeper ways that in many ways can't occur offline. That's not to say that face-to-face learning isn't important or valuable. It is. But so is the learning we can now do on the Web. And it's the melding of the two that will shape our schools in the 21st century.

Excerpted with permission from R. Mancabelli & W. Richardson (in press), Personal Learning Networks, Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Klea Scharberg

Changing School Culture: Commit to Action

In rethinking how to approach the study hall period, Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, Ill., devised the "option period," which allows students to choose between working in a study hall, the library, the computer lab, a writing center, or a common area sitting against their lockers, or conferring with a dean or counselor. The choices "allow students to have freedom" within the confines of the building, say school officials. The option period also fosters independence among students and builds trust between students and staff.

Learn about other innovative ideas and how they have been implemented in ASCD Express.

ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Engaging Learners with Emerging and Connective Technologies

Michael Riggle and Ryan Bretag

Post submitted by Michael Riggle, superintendent of the Glenbrook (Ill.) High Schools, and Ryan Bretag, coordinator of instructional technology at Glenbrook North High School. Connect with Riggle on his blog and with Bretag on Twitter @ryanbretag or visit his website, Metanoia.


"We should expect them to learn more while being taught less. Their personal engagement with their own learning is crucial; adults cannot 'give' them an education. Too much giving breeds docility, and the docility of students' minds is a widespread reality in American high schools."

—Theodore Sizer


"What did you do in school today" is a common question educators encourage parents to ask of their student. The responses can vary, but sadly, too often they demonstrate just how disengaged many learners are in school. This reality is a concern long noted by many leading thinkers such a Dewey, Sizer, Wagner, Gordon, Pink, and Robinson and calls for engagement to become a critical focus for education reform efforts.

To understand the scope of this problem, we must look beyond students who are bored to determine accurate levels of engagement. Walk the halls, visit classrooms, and talk with learners. If you observe closely and listen carefully, you'll find learners who appear to be engaged by their physical signs and activity but are, in reality, intellectually and emotionally removed from the learning environment.

As Schlechty notes, these are the strategically compliant or ritually compliant students who have learned to play the game: guided by outcome and grade, enticed by the path of least resistance, focused on superficial thinking, grounded in minimal risk-taking, and an absence of learning transfer. Too often, we fail to recognize this reality as problematic and remain satisfied by the realities of these students simply because they match the common definition of a "good" student. It is time to address the current problems of engagement and begin reconnecting these learners.

Reconnecting learners is a difficult but achievable goal that schools must make a priority in order to remain viable. It will require the interplay of engagement, learning theory, generational learner traits, and formative assessment to properly influence instruction. A focus on learning immersed in emerging and connective technologies is required, along with an understanding that some students will initially resist a student-centered, engaged learning environment focused on what Prensky calls "Partnering."

Tools Focused > Instruction Focused > Learner Focused

The social media phenomenon is currently demonstrating a heightened level of personal engagement across blended spaces: physical and digital spaces, social and working spaces, and formal and informal spaces. These blended spaces are being shaped by the ability to navigate and interact with hyperspeed information flow, to design and maintain networks, to create and share content, and to socialize and engage in customized and personalized ways.

One only needs to look at how educators are embracing these technologies for their self-designed and personalized learning to see why they are important for use with students. Through the use of social media tools, educators are becoming increasingly self-directed, personalized, collaborative, and more fully engaged in their own learning. They are using these technologies to enhance their own learning in a context created and framed with the influence of other learners. They are now capable of exploring without mandate or constraint from any formal institution, which will influence how they interact with students and colleagues.

Imagine learners in our classrooms experiencing flow the way many educators online do—powerful, passion-driven learning occurring independent of time, space, place, path, or device. Many have gravitated toward this "different," blended environment in society yet our learning environments have not.

Why are learners in our classrooms not afforded the same opportunity to design and personalize their learning? The answer clearly identifies a gap between personal experiences available to a learner inside and outside of school. It is time for schools to engage learners as designers of their learning and eliminate restrictions that inhibit creativity, risk-taking, thinking, and growth.

It is important to recognize that an increasing number of educators are exploring these tools and some have already shifted from a being tool-focused to instruction-focused. While this provides wonderful new contexts for instruction, it is slow in evolving and falls short of what is really needed: a fundamental shift in our use of these technologies toward learning and learner-centered contexts.

The next big move that is needed to close the gap is from an instructional focus to a focus on the learner and learning. Focusing on the learner and learning are essential if we are to begin leveraging the power of emerging and connective technologies for student engagement. These technologies provide a wealth of opportunities to self-select the tools used to construct meaning, represent understanding, and transfer learning in ways that makes thinking visible. The fundamental shift from instruction-focused to learner- and learning-focused will promote intellectual freedom and gives life to creative and critical thought.

Creating such an environment requires difficult conversations about current instructional practices: "If we aspire to create learning environments where all students are engaged in using and developing 21st century competencies, however, a much deeper approach may be required; one that provides for inclusive and sustained work with ideas and practices that disrupt prevailing assumptions about teaching, learning, and educational outcomes" (CEA).

At the core, this requires us to not only find ways to infuse technology into our instruction, but also to engage learners with opportunities and technologies that empowers them to design and personalize passion-based learning through choice, voice, and network construction.


  1. Depart from the one tool, one path, one choice, one outcome philosophy (e.g., everyone must create a poster using Glogster).
  2. Focus on self-determination theory and social media as a mechanism to personalize and customize the learning environment.
  3. Use design thinking and Challenge-Based Learning through proposals and conferencing that empower learners to contribute to the construction of learning paths: learning outcomes, content, process, products, tools, and assessment.
  4. Guide learners in the selection and diversification of technologies that meet their learning needs and the demonstration of learning.
  5. Foster responsibility by establishing choice and flexibility in due dates, learning outcomes, content, process, and assessment.
  6. Develop learner-owned spaces that are independent of a course, support multidisciplinary interaction, and evolve with the learner.


  1. Equip learners with their own digital authorship tools: a blog, video suite, audio suite, photo suite, and a think tank space.
  2. Make thinking visible using digital authorship tools and other self-selected web 2.0 tools.
  3. Promote self-authorship, 21st century enlightenment, and critical thinking through creation, contribution, and mash-ups.
  4. Reallocate classroom time for collaboration, inquiry, and prosumtion with a foundation in argumentative literacy, digital literacies, and partnering.
  5. Root assessment in performance and process focused on deep learning that transfers.
  6. Provide space and time for metacognition, critical self-examination, and self-awareness to develop more autonomous learners and thinkers.

Network Construction

  1. Build a learning community rooted in empathy, risk-taking, and innovation.
  2. Establish and maintain a culture of creation, sharing, and transparency.
  3. Model the power of networking and connectivism in your own learning and teaching.
  4. Expand notions of learning to networks and connections that leverage human expertise and resources to support collaboration, active participation, social- and passion-based explorations, service learning, and partnership development.
  5. Expose learners to sharing and networking tools and allow them to leverage the mobile learning devices that make this possible.
  6. Blend the role of teacher and student to just learners through the use of networks and knowledge commons, including the creation of a toolbox of technologies built by the learning community.

Ignite Their Passions

My own commitment is to pursue this question: How do we create conditions for learning that reinvite, reignite, and reconnect? If we can invite children to engage in their burning questions and give them the resources to do so, they can achieve remarkable results.

—Stephanie Pace Marshall

On a recent visit to the Museum of Play, I (Bretag) became enamored with children exploring in an obvious state of flow, lost in the moment physically and mentally. In that moment, I leaned over to a father who was equally enamored as his children explored butterflies and exclaimed, "Imagine if all their moments were like this." He retorted, "Imagine if their classrooms were like this."

Our schools need to become environments where teachers and students are both recognized as learners, where digital and physical spaces combine to form a multidimensional learning space, where learner-centered activities promote deep learning. When will choice, authorship, and network construction become part of the norm that empowers learners to engage socially, passionately, and intellectually?

Customization, passion, play, and exploration need to be accepted as interconnected with engagement and learning. These are nonnegotiable if we are to capture and shape the hearts and minds of the whole child. We live in a time that is unparalleled in providing learners support to ignite their passions and become engaged learners. Schools cannot continue to function as walled environments with a one-size-fits-all, linear model of curriculum, instruction, assessments, labels, and spaces when the potential for customized, autonomous learning environments exists.

It is time for schools to foster learning environments that empower learners with the tools that allow their voices and ideas to touch the world; embrace their choice of path, creation, and representation of learning; and provide them with environments to support the development of 21st century habits. It is here we will come to know engagement that fulfills the purpose of education: ignite and support the passions of learners while developing the skills, habits of mind, experiences, and dispositions that foster the whole child and qualities of genius.


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Schmoker, M. J. (2006). Results now: How we can achieve unprecedented improvements in teaching and learning. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

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