In June 2017, ISTE released the ISTE Standards for Educators, a road map for guiding students to become empowered learners. Formerly known as the ISTE Standards for Teachers, the Educator Standards have changed drastically — as have teaching and technology — since the last update in 2008. The refreshed standards focus on inspiring educators to deepen educational practice, promote collaboration with peers and rethink traditional approaches.
The first of those standards emphasizes the importance of educators as lifelong learners, stating, “Educators continually improve their practice by learning from and with others and exploring proven and promising practices that leverage technology to improve student learning.”
Today’s schools are no longer the egg-crate, closed-door institutions of the past. As educators strive to become consummate professionals and keep up with advancements in research and technology, they must develop relationships with others in order to learn and grow.
Let’s look at the indicators for the Learner standard and examine practical tips for how educators might engage in these practices.
Set learning goals and participate in global learning networks
1.a. Educators set professional learning goals to explore and apply pedagogical approaches made possible by technology and reflect on their effectiveness.
1.b. Educators pursue professional interests by creating and actively participating in local and global learning networks.
Setting professional learning goals is an essential practice that supports educators in becoming lifelong learners who try new things and advance their knowledge and skills. Of the many goal-setting strategies, one of the most common is SMART goals, an acronym for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely, that’s often used to set personal development objectives.
There are many pedagogical approaches made possible by technology that educators may want to explore, including increasing personalization and differentiation, virtual collaboration (either in real time or asynchronously), project-based learning, makerspaces and STEAM projects.
Fortunately, you don’t have to start from scratch. There are many organizations that offer ready-made lessons and resources to help you get started.
Looking to learn more about computational thinking and computer science projects? Visit Code.org, Scratch or read the K-12 Computer Science Framework.
Want to delve deeper into global collaboration or project-based learning? Check out iEARN, TakingITGlobal or get ideas from the ISTE Global Collaboration Network.
To keep up on pedagogical approaches and stay current in the field, educators can read professional articles on research-based practices such as those found in the Education Resources Information Center (ERIC) database, or participate in online learning opportunities like ISTE Expert Webinars (formerly ISTE Professional Learning Series) or those offered by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).
Another way to stay current is to engage with innovative educators on social media. If you don’t have a Twitter account or don’t use it regularly, set a goal to find new people to follow each week, explore educator blogs and set aside time to read sites like Edutopia, Cult of Pedagogy and the ISTE Blog.
Once you set a goal to connect with more educators globally, you’ll find an embarrassment of riches. Lesson ideas, PD approaches and new pedagogies will fill your brain. But don’t stop there. The next step is to choose something new and test it out.
Whether you intend to refresh an old lesson with a new type of technology or try out a new pedagogy like flipping your classroom or employing gamification, start small. Give it a try and then reflect, asking yourself what worked and what didn’t.
Many educators find it useful to videotape lessons and even record reflections in order to revisit them at a later date. The key is to iterate. Never stop stretching, innovating, testing.
Exploration via technology
Indicator 1.a. also guides educators to explore new teaching strategies, methods and approaches that are now possible due the advancement of technology. New technologies impact learning environments and challenge both students and educators. Educators who are working toward this standard are committed to taking risks with new technologies and implementing strategies that empower student learning.
The learning experiences implemented in these technology-rich learning environments are starkly different from the classrooms of old. In these classrooms, educators develop authentic learning projects that engage students in real-world, complex projects that require high-level thinking skills, result in real products or data, and encourage collaboration.
Take, for example, NASA’s Citizen Science project. Using the Globe Observer app, individual students or entire classrooms can collect data from their local environments and put their observations into global context. The data are sent to the GLOBE data and information system for use by scientists and students studying the Earth. Students can use these observations for their own investigations and interact with a vibrant community of individuals from around the world.
For the English language arts classroom, students can identify a literary character they empathize with and engage in a videoconference with an author to get the author’s viewpoint on the character and help students overcome challenges and conflicts – for themselves and the character. The Skype an Author Network offers an extensive list of authors willing to connect with classrooms via videoconferencing.
Educators who embrace these learning experiences provide personalized instruction to meet student needs. They differentiate and scaffold activities modifying the content, process, product and learning environment in ways that support students in successfully achieving learning outcomes.
These experiences integrate digital age skills and engage students in inquiry. In these projects, students are asking questions, and their curiosity and wonderment drive the direction of their explorations. Students identify their path for learning, determine how to display it and voice their opinions and reflections about it. Providing students with choice and voice in the classroom and promoting curiosity empowers students to take ownership in their learning. As Sugata Mitra says, “When children have interest, education happens.”
Getting to the data
Technology not only opens up new ways of teaching, it also brings about an array of new skills needed by educators. For example, technology has made it easy to collect, analyze and interpret data; however, many educators lack the skills to efficiently and effectively do so. Using data to inform classroom practices was a more ad hoc skill for educators in the past, but it is essential today.
Educators can use a variety of tools beyond Google Forms and Sheets to not only track academic progress but also to see where the gaps in learning are.
GoFormative allows students to respond to questions and assignments by typing, drawing or submitting images. Teachers can see in real time what their students need.
Plickers is a free formative assessment tool that’s great for classrooms that are not 1:1. Students hold up cards with their answer displayed as a QR code. A teacher can poll the class, the students select a card with their answer and the app immediately indicates who answered correctly.
Socrative allows teachers to instantly assess students to get insight into student understanding and then helps them determine the best instructional approach for the most effective learning.
Staying current on learning science
1.c. Educators stay current with research that supports improved student learning outcomes, including findings from the learning sciences.
In the past, the teacher was the holder of knowledge and worked to impart that knowledge to their students with strategies like copying, memorization and reciting information.
Today, we have a great deal of research to help educators gain a better understanding of how the brain works and the ways culture and environment impact student learning. This research has resulted in the development of new instructional strategies and teaching methods. It has also helped determine the level of effectiveness and age appropriateness of some older educational practices.
Staying up on the research can give educators the data they need to move away from strategies that have been proven ineffective or to be just plain myths. One example is the notion that students have different learning styles, or that they learn better when information is presented in words (verbalizers) vs. students who learn better when infor-mation or ideas are presented as images (visualizers). Research does not support this theory and yet it’s widely believed by educators. Students may have preferences, but learning according to preference hasn’t been shown to improve their learning.
One way educators can stay informed of the latest research and instructional prac-tices is to engage in high-quality, ongoing professional learning opportunities like those provided by the eMINTS National Center. Educators can also harness the power of their PLNs by connecting to research via social media platforms, following blogs such as Teach to Reach or Learning Scientists, and subscribing to professional journals such as ISTE’s Journal of Research on Technology in Education.
When educators strive to become lifelong learners by connecting and learning with others, they take opportunities to try new things, provide educational opportunities that empower students and implement strategies and methods that focus on doing what’s best for our learners.
Jen Foster is an instructional specialist for the eMINTS National Center, providing support and professional development for educators and administrators working in technology-rich environments. She is also a Google Educator, Trainer and Administrator, and is currently pursuing her Ed.D. from the University of Missouri.