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Profile of a technologically literate graduate

By Jorge Valenzuela
January 7, 2019
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When school leaders set out to create a profile of their ideal graduate, many trip up on defining technological literacy and subsequently struggle to select the right edtech to get students there.

One way to simplify this process is by connecting the criteria to your school or district's computer science (CS), edtech and STEAM initiatives. Start by incorporating CS and STEAM into instruction through classroom projects that also address digital equity and digital citizenship while teaching science, math, ELA and other subjects.

Using the four steps below, you can thoughtfully create a profile of a technologically literate graduate.

STEP 1: Have a model and unpack it

To jump-start the conversation within your school, use your divisionwide or statewide profile of a graduate. Many departments of education have developed such profiles that are helpful for educators to review.

First, choose the knowledge and skills that every graduate must have. In my state of Virginia (like many other states), we focus on these four:

  • Content knowledge
  • Workplace skills
  • Community engagement and civic responsibility
  • Career exploration

Since these categories are very broad, you'll want to describe how they apply specifically to CS and STEAM education. You can start by presenting a model of what a student maker looks like.

For example, the Edutopia video below illustrates the type of student who is well on his way to becoming a technology literate graduate. Watching the video enables educators to identify where they need to focus both teaching and learning to align to the four categories listed above.


Next, unpack your example of a model maker and develop a list of the knowledge and skills students should demonstrate. For both CS and STEAM, I suggest programming, creating circuits and 3D fabrication as the top skills that students need. Of course there are others as well, such as engineering, reading, math, global citizenship, collaboration with peers and helping others. These skills now become the representation, or unpacking, of the bullets for your graduate profile.

Here's a short list of other good models for you to unpack as you create your graduate profiles:

STEP 2: Tag team with colleagues to plan instruction

In step one we created our graduate profile by brainstorming and identifying both the personal and professional knowledge and skills that our future graduates need. Now it's time to formulate plans to bring the profile to fruition. To ensure student success, implementation should take place in the classroom and tap the expertise of our colleagues.

Student  success is never due to one teacher, but a collaborative effort. The same can be said about the achievements of a technologically literate graduate. Although our classrooms are typically siloed in schools, our students are not. They see each teacher in their grade level at least once every two days. It, therefore, makes sense to connect our classrooms by planning a project-based learning (PBL) unit together.

Making solid cross-curricular connections by a grade level team is often not easy, especially when the learning goals of student technology products are not always tangible. That's why I highly recommend that you (CS, STEM, art, math, etc.) have students use edtech to transfer learning and bring in working models or examples of whatever you want students to create in their class. This provides clarity to the other collaborators and sets up a meaningful way to structure the learning experiences, which each team member can then support in the classroom.

A great example of this is the Anatomy of a Project: Kinetic Conundrum video below by King Middle School in Portland, Maine. In this eighth grade cross-curricular project involving art, history, engineering, language arts and technology teachers, the technology teacher created a model of a kinetic sculpture and brought it to a teacher planning session. Seeing the features of the model and learning why it is kinetic provided his colleagues the needed context to begin planning their part of the project. Each teacher in the video had the students make products relevant to the subject matter of the class (Google Maps, letters to Portland officials, public presentations, etc.) to support the interdisciplinary learning of each student.


Although step one focuses more on developing a profile of a technological literate graduate for both CS and STEAM learners, both steps three and four use explanations and examples that are relevant to other content areas as well. However, the methodologies discussed can also be applied to both CS and STEAM classes. 

STEP 3: Identify and leverage the right industry partners

Technological literacy requires students to create authentic products using appropriate edtech, therefore developing technologically literate graduates should not be left entirely to teachers and schools.

Soliciting the help of our industry and business partners is so crucial to this process that in her blog maximizing the power of industry and community partners in PBL, educator Sarah Field advises involving industry partners during the project ideation process (step two).

To identify and leverage industry partners, seek out people in your community who are using the knowledge and tools you’re teaching — and then invite them into your classroom. Let’s say you’re teaching students how to build a tiny house and want to make real-world math connections. Inviting a structural engineer into your classroom is a surefire way to do so in the context of blueprints, layouts and elevations.    

Expert know-how will help you structure your projects around real-world scenarios (even fictitious ones) and provide better alignment with graduate profiles. Also, bear in mind that industry experts do not always have to be physically present in classrooms for helping students achieve the goals and outcomes of the graduate profile.

The fifth grade Medical Interns project featured on the NapaLearns YouTube channel illustrates how easy it is to bring experts into the classroom remotely via Skype, Google Hangouts and even FaceTime to launch the inquiry in a PBL unit. Assuming the role of medical interns, the students met a real doctor via Skye to guide their investigation into the human body systems and learn the various causes of diseases as they developed treatment plans for adults playing the role of sick patients. Using edtech, the students conducted research and presented their findings to their audiences.



It’s also good practice to allow industry and community partners to engage with students while they work on their projects and as they present their findings at the end.

Step 4: Create career pathways in schools

Imagine the learners we’d produce if we allowed students to dive into academic content while simultaneously developing their tech literacy via authentic interdisciplinary projects throughout their K-12 experience? This can be achieved when schools create systemic K-12 career pathways or pipelines — for their students and give teachers ample time and space to plan and work together to maximize the learning aligned to well-developed graduate profiles.

There are many schools and school systems, like Gwinnett County Public Schools in Georgia, that have been hard at work making relevant and model career pathways for students. Gwinnett County's campus pathway chart for CS, engineering and other career and technical (CTE) offerings is accessible to both those who are certain and those who are unsure about which pathway would best suit their high schoolers.

Career-themed academies are also becoming more commonplace in U.S. high schools. The Academies of Nashville and the Academies of Loudon are two fine examples of educational institutions that provide amazing career pathways for students and use PBL as their preferred instructional approach.   

Change is necessary

So always remember that the process of developing and implementing graduate profiles is forever evolving so be open to change that will always require educators to update our skillsets. In this regard, a quote by educator and author Stephen Covey comes to mind: “Your most important work is always ahead of you, never behind you.” Begin with the end in mind when identifying and planning what we need to know and do to prepare future graduates.

Jorge Valenzuela is an ISTE member, an educational coach and a graduate teaching assistant at Old Dominion University. He is the lead coach for Lifelong Learning Defined, a national faculty of the Buck Institute for Education and a national teacher effectiveness coach with the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association (ITEEA). He is also a member of the Lead Educators Team for littleBits. You can connect with Jorge on Twitter @JorgeDoesPBL to continue the conversation.