Friday, September 9, 2016

BYOD and Personalizing Learning, Part 1

A goal for my school is to continue to increase personalized learning.

Similar to my previous school, in my new district a gap persists between the perception by teachers that learning is highly personalized and the much lower numbers of students who report that this is their experience. Personalized learning is undoubtedly eduspeak and it is quite possible that students and teachers do not share a common definition of the term which would explain the disparity. However, we must check our inclination to explain the disparity in this way or, worse, to dismiss the student perspective if for no other reason than it shows a lack of empathy for our students' perspectives which isn't very -- wait for it -- personalized. However, it is important to know: what do we (students, teachers, parents) mean when we say "personalized"? I am reminded of a twitter chat I facilitated that focused on regard for adolescent perspective. We had a really thoughtful discussion about how to make curriculum, resources, daily experiences, etc. reflective of and relevant to our students' points of view and life experiences. What I see now, looking back, is that we are presuming that we know what an adolescent perspective is and that we understand it.

When teachers report that almost all of their instruction and assessment is personalized, I think they mean several things have happened. They have differentiated for the range of skill development among their students by, for example, providing texts at a range of reading levels and assessments with expectation thresholds unique to students' developmental achievements. I also think they mean they have provided for student choice, for students to select their own topics of investigation and propose the means by which they will demonstrate their learning. Why then do only half of students report that their academic experiences are personalized?

If the text reading level has been adjusted to be accessible to each student, but the subject of the text holds little interest for the student is the resource personalized? Should students expect that all materials be high interest? If, for example, the purpose of the lesson is to examine, let's say, humor and the teacher is highly amused by the selected text but the students are not, is the lesson personalized? Is there a point where students have to submit to certain experiences, let's say studying Shakespeare, because it has been deemed important or good for them even if they might not consider it personally interesting?

This year, as part of our professional learning around the roll out of our BYOD initiative we are considering how we can leverage students' daily tech access to increase the personalization of instruction, resources, assessment and curriculum as a whole. This is the logical and achievable blending of two initiatives but we must continue to ask ourselves: how do we know whether or not what we are doing is actually reaching students on a personal or individual level?

Does personalized mean different for every individual based on each individual's unique interests, i.e. students diagramming sentences are each given unique sentences about their lives and interests. Or does personalized mean that a personal connection has been made by the student with the content the meaning of which endures and perhaps prompts the student to modify behavior, i.e. studying the water cycle when your community is experiencing a drought. And, there is also the difference between instruction that is personalized and a teacher-student relationship that authentic and insightful.

So now the question is how can BYOD help teachers with any of the metrics of personalization? To figure this out and implement it purposefully (applying a model like SAMR) we need to figure some things out:

  • what technology do the students use most frequently?
  • assuming that they use this tech frequently because they enjoy it, what do they enjoy about it? what are they getting from it?
  • how much of your students' tech use is focused on consumption of media and how much is spent creating it?
  • how do we get student consumers to consume what we want them to and become creators?
  • how do we get the creators to create from the content our curricula require they consume?
  • once we, the educators, start to influence if not control the consumption and creation is it no longer personalized?

Hmm. I think I have reached a moment for reflection. I am going to query and observe my new students in my new school with regard to the questions I posed. Stay tuned to see what I learn and how I begin to apply the SAMR model and try to increase personalization with that information in mind.

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