Giving Students Voice And Choice

I just read Ed Week’s Blog post Q&A: Bill Gates on Teaching, Ed Tech, and Philanthropy and felt compelled to share my thoughts on it. Normally, I do not find myself agreeing with Bill’s educational philosophy but as I read through his responses they made a lot of sense. He makes a lot of good points. Teachers matter. In fact, they matter a lot and there is a huge need for teachers to get feedback on how they can improve their practice. I’ve been teaching for nearly 20 years and this kind of feedback practice is rare but golden when you get it. However, if you want feedback you can seek it out and ask for it. Simply put, you don’t get what you don’t ask for.  Ask a fellow teacher, principal, friend or better yet a student to be your “secret shopper” for the week. Tell them you need their help to become a better teacher and you want them to generate ideas that will help you move learning forward in your class. If we all did this in every class, every week, and reflected upon it do you think that would change the education equation? It certainly wouldn’t cost billions of dollars!  This may be be a scary proposition for some, because being open and exposed for critique, takes trust and sadly, that is not the foundation our current system of public education is built upon, but don’t let that stop you!

Now back to the Q&A and technology’s role in education, specifically the Graphite tool Bill Gates & Common Sense Media are promoting. To make sure I understood how the system worked, I spent at least an hour learning about the system. I created an account, put in all my bio. information and immediately found this redundant. Why not use an OAuth with Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook? It would also make a lot of sense to team up with projects that are already well established like the open-sourced National Learning Registry and make them better or focus on interoperability between all the databases and platforms that are already out there. I am not against having searchable directories of digital learning resources tagged by standard grade-levels and subject areas. These can be useful and give teachers and students starting places to find tools to explore. The most disturbing problem here is the student voice is missing! I was so excited to see that Graphite had a “Learning Rating”, however I felt hoodwinked when I found out that this metric is calculated solely from their panel of expert teachers. Shouldn’t the actual learners do this? I mean, if something helps me learn wouldn’t I be the one who knows that best? Do we care about what our students think? Do we empower them by trusting them and asking them for their feedback?

Tools like Graphite are a popping up everywhere and plenty of companies and non-profits are scrambling to develop the holy grail of digital learning resource directories with built-in, eye-catching learning effectiveness ratings. Most of these tools requires you to use a particular product or system for full effectiveness. Activate Instruction looks like it has a promising tool in the making. I’ve never used it but they are onto something here because students can personalize teacher created playlists and rate each resource’s effectiveness. I don’t think this system is truly student-centered but it is a step in the right direction. Will a system be developed that challenges students to prove what they are learning by creating their own assessments?  Will the students own the data from learning systems by being able to manage it and take it with them wherever they go? Will systems like this take full advantage of the interoperability that technology can afford us by opening up their APIs (read & write) and supporting widely adopted integrations such as IMS Global?

We are certainly in for some choppy seas and crashing waves as we sail into the future of education. We need to set our course on giving students a choice and a voice in their learning. By challenging students to take charge of their learning now we can bring about the results we are hoping for tomorrow, and that is what I call LearnWorthy.

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