Monday, December 8, 2014

The 14th Friday: Reimagining Learning

…there’s a more serious digital divide in the country and that is the divide between those who use technology to reimagine learning and those who simply use technology to digitize traditional learning practices.”
Richard Culatta

This post is a reflection on a powerful TED Talk I watched last week by Richard Culatta, the Director of the Office of EducationTechnology with the US Department of Education. I first met Richard in person last January when I heard him speak at Educon. Ironically, I have viewed this talk before; however, when I re-visited his TED Talk just last week, I was stunned by the degree to which it resonated with me now. Perhaps this is because our district is in its first year as a fully 1:1 school district and I am starting to observe first-hand how learning is being “reimagined,” as Culatta suggests, in many of our classrooms. Still, in our district and in every other school district around the world that is using technology to enhance learning, Culatta’s question remains and is one which we must continuously re-visit:

Are we using technology to replicate traditional learning in a digitized way or are we using technology to truly reimagine learning experiences for our students?

I urge you to view Richard’s talk and see if it resonates with you like it did with me. I’ll let his message speak for itself on this video, but here is just a quick preview: Culatta suggests that we, in education, face three key challenges that technology can actually solve:

Challenge #1: We treat all learners the same despite their unique needs and challenges.
Challenge #2: We hold the school schedule constant and allow the learning to vary.
Challenge #3: Our performance data comes too late to be useful to the learner.

Obviously, we will not solve these challenges—even by implementing a 1:1 environment—alone or overnight. I do concur wholeheartedly, though, that over time we will see technology dramatically impacting the way we address these three very real challenges around our nation, as we begin to truly reimagine how our students learn and how we teach. Ultimately, technology allows us to solve these three particular challenges.

We solve these challenges by making learning for students more “personalized,” meaning providing learning experiences, instructionalapproaches, and support intended to address the distinct learning needs,interests, aspirations, or cultural backgrounds of individual students. When we personalize learning with technology (as, Fullan says, the "accelerator," not the "driver"), Culatta sees several benefits:

  • We can provide real-time feedback to students, an “LPS” version of a GPS system in which we—and our students—know where every individual learner is currently at and where each needs to go next.
  • We can tailor the pacing of instruction to the needs of each learner.
  • We can provide students with agency, empowering them to make decisions about how they want to learn.
  • We can “create creators” more effectively and efficiently, allowing our students to become not only meaning seekers, but meaning makers.
  • We can radically improve access to a wide variety of learning opportunities to an increasing number of students who need and want them.
What would you add to this sampling of Richard’s list; how else can technology exist to personalize learning for our students? I hope you enjoy this video as much as I have; let me know what you think:

Reflecting on what we currently do and imagining how we might do it even better to meet the needs of our students in a rapidly-changing society is yet another example of how we Teach with Passion each day!

Book Bits…

A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades by Ken O’Connor

As I have mentioned previously, O’Connor devotes a chapter each to 15 “broken” grading practices, offering a “fix” for each problem. This week, we look at the fourteenth problem, along with his fix:

Grades are broken when learning is developmental (likely to improve over time with practice and repeated opportunities) and the final grade does not recognize the student’s final level of proficiency.

The fix for this type of broken grade is that for any developmental learning we must emphasize the more recent evidence and allow new evidence to replace, not simply be added to, old evidence. “What matters is not what you have at the starting point, but whether and how well you finish” (Gardner, 2002).


  1. Jeff, a truly compelling post. The video you shared reminds me of when we first introduced interactive white boards as an option for teachers, soon to be a permanent fixture in each and every classroom. And while some teachers have always and will always use them in a way to push the outer limits, others still revert to using theirs as a glorified chalk board, or worse, not at all.

    The truth of the matter is, there's an our need for strategic differentiation, student-by-student and tem-by-item. So this is less about "the technology" and more about what can be accomplished, if teachers and schools are willing to embrace the potential for what they can bring, in terms of empowering our students and as important, our teachers. True gap-closing for students is only possible if adults are willing to close gaps in what we are willing to do, and what we are capable of accomplishing. If we aren't willing to reimagine what is possible, it's as good as running in place.

    Great stuff, Jeff! Thanks for sharing.


    1. Dennis,
      Thank you for reading and commenting! Your last two sentences are powerful. If we are to personalize learning for our students, we will also need to personalize learning for teachers. Important to reimagine learning for students---and teachers--to ensure we are not, as you say, running in place. Best,