What Connectivity Could Mean?

The other day I had a surprise meeting about some future possibilities surrounding technology integration in our district. I scrambled home, took out a piece of paper, and started drawing. It was more of a doodle than an infographic. The outcome was some clarity for my meeting, but I realized last week that it was still on my legal pad, and it had become trapped wisdom that I should be sharing.

I talk a lot about releasing trapped wisdom into the system. Placing ideas, knowledge, and even trivia in the field sparks new connections and possibilities. We all have a responsibility to release the trapped wisdom of our learning, the learning in our classrooms, and the gems of our schools. The remainder of this post is an effort to turn my notes into something to consider.

The global learning marketplace, and the possibilities for our students that exist this space, are all about connectivity. This includes the speed of connectivity that comes from broadband access as well as the ease of connectivity that comes from devices. More private, independent, and wealthy public schools have recognized the advantages that come with connectivity, and they are sprinting forward to give their students that best opportunities that they can. Others, many others, are being left behind as the digital divide grows. Connectivity, in the way of speed and ease, may be the greatest challenge that we have in moving our schools and students in poverty to places of opportunity.

The advantage that students with connectivity have begins with the opportunity to create and connect. Watching students create video, music, and digital stories that showcase their learning is an amazing site as it maximizes engagement and drives an internal motivation in students. Once these demonstrations of learning are complete, students are connecting with learners and leaders throughout the country in an effort to find authentic audience and make a difference in their community and beyond. Students that aren't involved in demonstrating their learning in this way are sliding backwards into a place where they aren't ready for college, career, or their future communities. This lack of connectivity is an educational cliff that we are already watching kids fall off.

In addition to this crisis, we are also seeing a misplaced effort surrounding big data in our schools. So much time in PLC, team meetings, and department meetings is being spent looking at data that will never change learning. We are all talking big data, but so few of us are finding the leverage points in data that make a difference. We are caught in the spreadsheet when the answer may come from the 10,000 foot view. There is still so much work to be done to make us data informed. Recently, I have been looking at the quality data that comes from the Clarity product from Bright Bytes. Clarity allows for real data review that can help schools focus on how technology integration efforts can truly leverage change in a system. We need more of these forms of data that can make real sense of the mountains of data that are collected in schools each year. For parents, this could mean providing visually stunning data that showcases the growth and learning at a school in the form of video, audio, and infographic. It could mean real-time e-mail and communication as students mastery skills, earn badges, and move to the next level. For students, it could mean greater focus on goals that matter and a way to truly track growth over time. We have the technology to do this well, but so many places are struggling to use the data to inform, motivation and shape future learning. For teachers, data has to be exciting, engaging, and in real-time. The future of big data for schools must hold power for change and power for schools to do their work not better, but different.

It seems like so many of the incredible ideas in connectivity are sitting there waiting for the courage of the masses to implement them. Think about how incredible schools and learning could be if we created MOOCs for high schools in regions and states. This would allow students to take rigorous courses that were based on their passion. What if each school that wanted to participate for free had to offer three classes, think of all of the learning opportunities that would exist for a huge number of students. The idea of unleashing cross school learning in a deep and meaningful way has tremendous potential. Every example of this that we see has students gaining so much insight, developing empathy, and desiring to learning in this way again and again. The K-12 system is always looking for ways to bring real-life meaningful connection to the classroom, but so many places aren't involved with the citizen science projects that are available everywhere. Crowdsource our data collection, build new scientists, and solve big problems by allowing our students a chance to be citizen scientists. Technology integration in classrooms is great, but let's move technology in the field, and build permeable schools where kids are learning outside, outside in the community, and outside of the community.

Connecting kids through the 24-hour access through speed (broadband) and ease (devices) allows for students to tap into incredible banks of knowledge. No matter if kids are connecting through tablets, laptops or phones, their connectivity will not only prepare them for college and career, but it will foster a fresh sense of play, wonder, curiosity, creativity, and empathy. Implementing this vision is a duty that we all should have moving into a new year. The duty includes looking for ways to unleash this power of connectivity for all students in all spaces because if the harsh realities of the achievement gap seemed intolerable, the realities of the digital divide will be even worse for social fabric of our country.