I’m fond of backpacking – there’s nothing like a week in the woods to clear one’s mind and heart. I love hiking up at higher elevations largely because of the view; when you’re down lower, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees because, quite literally, you’re in the thick of it. Although beautiful, the lower elevation does not support the same sense of perspective. Instead, a nice view is best for finding that.
The Center for Digital Education recently published an infographic I’m fond of titled “Hoarding data is not a strategy.” As a data analyst, my favorite client mantra is, “Don’t worry about the data. What is it you want to know?” With the proliferation of “big data,” it’s easy to get carried away with gathering data without a sense of purpose. That’s like trying to solve a problem without knowing exactly what you’re solving for.
Given the rapid pace of technological and social change, I’d like to offer a reminder for all of us around perspective – to not get stuck in the weeds; to not miss the forest for the trees. Consider these examples.
Schools and districts regularly face the question of which devices to purchase. It’s important, no doubt, but it takes second place to a more important question, “What kind of learning environment should we provide for our students?” Ideally, that environment includes 1:1 access so all students reap the benefits of having a personal device. It includes a ubiquitously adopted learning management system so that students can access academic activities anywhere and anytime – even on a ride to a basketball game two hours away (if your buses broadcast Wi-Fi). So rather than thinking about devices, it’s about what instructional goals are desirable and feasible.
Teachers face dilemmas around how to teach to academic standards efficiently. While every teacher must negotiate academic standards for him or herself, wonderful digital and pedagogical solutions exist that support personalizing learning and academic standards. Using a blended or flipped model can drastically cut down on the class time teachers must spend delivering content to make room for projects, discussion and personalized support. To nurture students’ digital age skills, teachers can relinquish control over what is taught when and how in order to make way for student discovery – even of solutions that don’t work. If students can find information, document their methodologies and digitally share their ideas, we are helping them grow into the problem solvers of tomorrow.
Here’s my point: In the choices we make around learning, teaching and administration, how does perspective guide our journey? Rather than busily amassing terabytes of data, are we clear on what we need to know? Rather than focusing on which devices to buy, are we clear on what we want our students to be doing at school? Rather than ensuring compliance with a curriculum-pacing guide, are we clear on the skills we need our students to build?
Several frameworks support this kind of thinking. Both learning sciences and game design can provide insight into what types of learning activities are engaging. Developments in coaching and evaluation show us that peer coaching and ongoing professional learning cultivate more productive relationships among teachers and administrators. New ideas in computer science education suggest that programming a computer sits second fiddle to being able to think computationally, a skill set that is applicable across content domains.
With this in mind, let’s all make or renew a commitment to see the big picture, to set aspirational goals for ourselves and those around us, and to keep our perspective, even when we’re feeling stuck in the weeds.
Brandon Olszewski is ISTE's senior education consultant.